Airbending emblem Air Nomads emblem
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Northern Air Temple statue
Biographical information

Air Nomads or Proto-Air Nomads



Physical description


Hair color


Eye color


Personal information
Fighting style(s)



Mila, students

Chronological and political information
  • Monk and Ascetic

First Airbender


Air Nomads

Lunggarepa, born Khyungpo Thopa, was a legendary/semi-historical figure who is considered the world's first airbender, analogous to Oma and Shu. He is considered the progenitor of the Air Nomad culture and a folk hero to the airbenders.


Lunggarepa lived in distant antiquity, and no reliable historical sources of information about him exist, although he is mentioned in almost all airbender spiritual texts and sutras. There is no way to tell which details about him are true and which are simply legend.

Lunggarepa was born in an era when the people who would become the Air Nomads lived a very different lifestyle than they did at the time of Aang. Their existence was dominated by factional warfare over the small patches of arable land and hunting grounds on the small, mountainous archipelago where they lived. The scarcity of resources precipitated the endless cycle of bitter fighting.

Lunggarepa's birth name was Thopa. His family was a fairly powerful clan of warriors called the Khyungpo. Thopa's father was a wealthy warlord, who was able to provide for his family's every need. Thopa lived a life of luxury, only exerting himself to train in combat.

When Thopa was seventeen his father died from illness, or possibly poisoning. Thopa's uncle Yungdrung assumed control of his brother's fiefdom and stripped Thopa, Thopa's mother, and Thopa's younger sister Peta of their titles and forced them to perform manual labor with the lowliest of his serfs. Thopa was enraged and wished for revenge, and his mother helped him escape his uncle's custody.

Flight from Yungdrung and Reclamation of Territory

Thopa fled to the mountains, where strong warriors often went to study in solitude. Living on the mountains was considered a test of strength and endurance, and the best trainers were to be found there. Thopa sought out a teacher named Yungton, with whom he studied for several years. After leaving Yungton's tutelage, Thopa traveled throughout the Patola Mountain range, enlisting the help of other warlords and their armies to contest his uncle. It is likely many of them had something to gain by unseating the powerful warlord Yungdrung. Thopa's travels are the subject of many airbender plays and poems.

He famously bested a warlord named Naro in a duel with spears, and thereby won his support. Naro decided he respected Thopa's abilities and they became friends. It was not long before Thopa returned to his uncle's domain leading an army, nine years after he had left. He attacked on the day of a festival, catching his uncle's army unaware. Thopa broke into the palace, fought his uncle, and slew him with his own hands. He was vindicated, but moments later he was told that while his army had taken the palace, his beloved sister Peta had died in the fighting.

Thopa assumed his late father's lands and armies, but he found no joy in winning that position, which he had striven to obtain for nine years. Mourning his sister, Thopa ordered his serfs to build a shrine to her memory. Though a few men died in its construction, and other peasants starved to death as food was diverted to the workmen, Thopa was dissatisfied with the final building. He ordered another shrine be built, but again he felt it was not good enough. Legend has it he ordered a total of nine shrines built, but was dissatisfied with all of them.

Epiphanies on the Nine Peaks

Thopa became despondent. He was as unhappy as he had ever been, though he had everything he had ever wanted. He abdicated his domain, leaving his top supporter Naro to lead his armies and serfs. Thopa again traveled into the mountains, supposedly intending to throw himself from a cliff. According to legend, as he neared a precipice high up on a mountainside, he discovered a flying bison grazing on a branch. Now, the people who would become the airbenders had known of flying bison before this, but no one had ever kept, ridden or even touched one before. Since they were very rarely seen, and considered too free-spirited to train, they could not draw chariots or cart war materiel, and no one paid them any mind and they were considered a curiosity. However, Thopa felt strangely compelled to touch this bison.

Thopa reached for it, but the bison flew away up the mountain. Thopa followed it, allegedly climbing to the mountain's very peak. As the story goes, upon reaching the peak, Thopa was gifted with an epiphany, specifically that following the bison gave him a purpose and would lead to further insight.

As soon as Thopa reached the peak, however, the bison flew back down toward another mountain. Thopa followed him, down the mountain and back to the peak of another. He climbed the mountain at great physical effort, but Thopa gained another epiphany on this mountain peak. He realized that his sister had died due to his desire for revenge on his uncle. He meditated on this for one day, while the bison remained near him at the peak.

He then followed the bison to a third peak, where he realized his desire to enshrine his sister had helped him no more than killing his uncle had. He meditated for two days on this, again while the bison remained near the peak.

Thopa followed the bison up another mountain, and when he reached this peak he realized that acknowledging his mistakes brought him greater peace than ignoring them, and therefore meditation, learning, and truthfulness should be sought and practiced. He meditated for 3 days on this.

When he followed the bison to the fifth peak, he realized the soldiers and peasants who had died because of him were beloved by people, just as his sister was beloved to him. Therefore, all people deserved equal consideration and a right to live. He meditated for 4 days on this.

On the sixth peak, he realized that he also loved this bison he was following, for it had lead him to serenity and the happiness of insight and freedom. Therefore, life itself is sacred and all sentient creatures deserved equal consideration and a right to live. He meditated for 5 days on this.

On the seventh peak, he realized that it was his desire for revenge on his uncle, then atonement for his sister that had caused him and those around him to suffer. Therefore, the cause of unhappiness is desire. Consequent to that, freedom from desire leads to happiness, as embodied by the element of air. Air flows anywhere and everywhere, is fully yielding, but also fully resilient. By examining the nature of the element of air, spiritual ideals could be attained. He meditated for 6 days on this.

On the eighth peak, he realized that he had an obligation to teach these insights to his people, because he reasoned that if his insights were true, if they bring happiness, and if all sentient beings deserve equal consideration, then it was morally correct for him to teach these insights to others. One being cannot attain peace and freedom at the exclusion of others, because all sentient beings deserve equal consideration, and peace and freedom cannot be truly enjoyed knowing others do not share them. (This was an early form of the idea of universal karmic connection). He meditated for 7 days on this.

On the ninth peak, Thopa gained a secret insight that was never taught or described. Most airbenders believe it cannot be taught or described, but only gained for oneself through diligent meditation and reverence. He meditated for 8 days on this, after which he had meditated for a total of 36 days, which later generations made to correspond to the 36 tiers of airbending training one must pass through to become a master. Thopa's insights are set forth in an important airbender text, The Sutra of the Ninefold Illuminations of the Bison, also called The Nine Peaks Sutra.

Finally, through the travail of climbing the nine peaks, Thopa had divested himself of his negative karma, and gained enough insight to begin on the path to enlightenment. When Thopa opened his eyes at the end of the eighth day, the bison had settled before him. First he touched the bison's forehead, then began to pet him, and finally the bison allowed Thopa to ride him. Thopa called the bison "Mila," and according to airbender tradition the bison was actually a personification of Lotsawa, sometimes also called Vayu, a spirit of wind and air. Thopa lived in solitude with Mila and Mila's herd for many years. Although airbender tradition says Thopa was able to develop airbending because he could directly communicate with the bison—either because he had learned to speak their language or Mila had learned to speak his, depending on the story—he most likely simply observed and mimicked their body movements when they flew or blew air with their tails. His meditation on the spiritual nature of air may have also contributed to the development of his airbending. Thopa shed his old life and consequently decided to rename himself Lunggarepa. He lived in cave during this period, and subsisted on berries and tea from a certain plant, which was said to have turned his skin light blue. Airbender tattoos are supposedly inked in this same light blue hue in homage to Lunggarepa.

Contest with Bon-Chung

Eventually Lunggarepa had a dream which told him he had learned all he could, in terms of both airbending and philosophy. He left the mountains and returned to the lowlands to teach his people so they could find freedom and peace for themselves. However, he discovered that during the time he had been away his old ally Naro had been rather brutally perpetuating that same old cycle of violence that had dominated the culture of the proto-airbenders.

Lunggarepa was welcomed to Naro's court, but he was quickly dismissed and banished from the domain when he asked Naro to dismantle his army and distribute his wealth to the peasants. Lunggarepa persisted, and though many of Naro's advisers and lieutenants attempted to argue with Lunggarepa and dismiss his teaching, he defeated them all in debate. Finally, Naro ordered his guards to attack Lunggarepa. Though Lunggarepa, being the only bender among them all, could have defeated an army single-handedly, he could not permit himself to harm anyone. Therefore, he proposed a challenge to Naro's chancellor and chief advisor, a man named Bon-Chung who was supposedly a powerful shaman and sorcerer. Lunggarepa would allow Bon-Chung to choose the form of the competition, but if Lunggarepa won Naro and his court would allow Lunggarepa to teach them and would dismantle his army.

Now, the religion of the proto-airbenders was rather simple, based on animism and ancestor worship. Powerful warlords were especially venerated. The people were superstitious, believing strongly in portents and shamanism. Bon-Chung was one of many people reputed to be able to invoke the aid of these deceased warlords thorough spells. By the time of Aang, these beliefs had been either dismissed as the stuff of fairytales or ascribed to the Air Nomads' modern understanding of the Spirit World, that is, some of these "sorcerers" had somehow found a rudimentary method to tap into connections to spirits or the Spirit World. In the case of the following incident with Bon-Chung, many airbenders believe Lotsawa himself granted Bon-Chung such powers as a ruse, so that when Lunggarepa defeated him it would be more meaningful.

Bon-Chung challenged Lunggarepa to a race to the top of Mount Patola itself, the highest peak in the Patola Mountains. According to legend, Bon-Chung performed a spell and summoned a magical drum and began riding it up the slope, beating a war chant on it. Some believe this refers to either riding a Leopard-ram--which was used as a war beast and often had its skin made into drumheads--or to some kind of strange war chariot, as remains of primitive but oddly-engineered chariots have been found in the lowlands of airbender territory.

The story says Lunggarepa sat and began to meditate. Bon-Chung looked back as he soared upward, but Lunggarepa had not moved. Even as Bon-Chung neared the top of the mountain, there was no sign of Lunggarepa. Lunggarepa calmly arose and, as the legend says, "walked on the rays of the sun," and reached the top of the mountain in six steps. Scholars from other nations believed this refers to gliding, some kind of esoteric airbending technique early airbenders might have known, or possibly even flight (as opposed to gliding). In any case, the story says that Lunggarepa sat there sipping tea when Bon-Chung reached the top.

Naro, his armies, and his subjects had no choice but to acknowledge Lunggarepa's philosophy. But very quickly they discovered its benefits, and all of them found much happier lives through Lunggarepa's "peace and freedom." Lunggarepa and his new retinue traveled the archipelago spreading his teachings. He therefore became known as "The Air Nomad," a name which the entire race of people subsequently adopted as his teachings spread.

Later Life


Sketch from an Airbender text of Lunggarepa holding a disarmed opponents weapons

Stories of Lunggarepa go on, but many follow this same pattern of his convincing of a hostile warlord to accept his philosophies through superior intellect or moral rectitude. Lunggarepa also allegedly instituted the monastic lifestyle, the custom of keeping flying bison as companion animals, vegetarianism, and meditation among the airbenders.

Lunggarepa reportedly traveled with Mila for his entire life, and legend has it that when his teachings had been embraced by the entire southern archipelago he reportedly mounted Mila and flew off from a spot on the peak of Mount Patola where the cornerstone of the Southern Air Temple was later placed. He flew into the heavens, where Mila transformed into Lotsawa and carried him into the Spirit World, where he was made immortal, the patron spirit of the Air Nomad race.

With the help of the flying bison the airbenders later migrated to other uninhabited islands and archipelagoes where they found similar conditions, and began new colonies there, each one headed by the spiritual leadership of an air temple, according to principles Lunggarepa created.

Lunggarepa is often portrayed with the airbender arrow tattoos, although even in the airbender spiritual texts there is no reference to him ever being tattooed, and all evidence suggests airbenders instituted the tattooing of masters after Lunggarepa's time. More likely, the tattoos were added for depictions in later generations to demonstrate that he was an airbending master. He is considered the greatest airbender of all time, with the possible exceptions of airbender Avatars, although realistically he was probably a very poor airbender since his style would have been very rudimentary and unrefined.


  • Lunggarepa is mainly based on one figure, the Tibetan Buddhist saint and progenitor of the Kagyu-pa school, Milarepa. This is where the name "Mila" and the element "-repa" in Lunggarepa's names are derived. Milarepa had a well-to-do father who died and had his estate stolen by Milarepa's uncle, who was named Yungdrung. Milarepa was urged by his mother to regain their possessions, so he learned "black magic" from a teacher named Yungton. He killed his uncle and 35 others by summoning a scorpion, but he realized that he was wrong and began to study Buddhism to atone. Milarepa also had a sister named Peta, but she did not die.
  • Milarepa's teacher, Marpa Lotsawa, (who lent his title meaning "translator" to the air spirit in this story), made him build several houses but disassemble each one before he was finished. He claimed it was because Milarepa had done a poor job, but it was really to allow him to purify his soul through suffering. This is where the idea of Thopa's shrines comes from, as well as the idea of Thopa having to purify himself by climbing the nine peaks.
  • Milarepa was famous for having green-tinted skin from drinking only nettle-leaf tea while in ascetic retreat, from which the idea of Lunggarepa's blue skin is derived.
  • Milarepa is also said to have won pilgrimage rights for Buddhists to Mount Kailash from a sorcerer of the native Tibetan animalistic Bon religion by "walking on the rays of the sun" to the top. The sorcerer was named Naro Bon-chung and also rode to the top of the mountain on a magic drum. Milarepa was said to be able to run faster than a horse using an ability to control something called "internal air" or lunggompa, which means "wind meditation."
  • Lung is the Tibetan word for "wind" and ga means "joyful". Repa means literally "cotton-clad" but the connotation is a yogi or ascetic meditator, since these people often wore white cotton robes. So the name Lunggarepa means "Ascetic of Joyful Wind." His birth name Thopa was part of Milarepa's birth name, which was Mila Thopaga. The name Khyungpo was Milarepa's clan name. Vayu is a Hindu wind deity.

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