Kelsang was an Air Nomad monk hailing from the Southern Air Temple who served as a later airbending teacher of Avatar Kuruk and became one of his best friends. After Kuruk's death, Kelsang tried to keep the peace in the world while searching for the next Avatar.
He was originally one of the most respected masters among the Air Nomads and the designated heir to Abbot Dorje of the Southern Air Temple, though stealing the Avatar relics to help his search and decimating a Fifth Nation's pirate fleet caused him to fall from grace and become an outcast among his people.
After years of searching, he and Jianzhu initially misidentified Yun as the next Avatar, though Kelsang eventually met and became the de facto adoptive father of Avatar Kyoshi. After it was revealed that she was the true Avatar, Kelsang confronted Jianzhu and ultimately gave his life to protect her.
As Kuruk's companion
Kelsang grew up in the Southern Air Temple, where his reputation quickly preceded him to the point where he became the designated successor for Abbot Dorje. He once visited the Spirit World unintentionally, and described the beauty of the other realm to the temple's monks. This upset many of his elders, who imagined the Spirit World as a plane of blackness, mirroring the detachment of the visitor.
One day, Kelsang caught Kuruk and Jianzhu sneaking into the bison pens for a joyride, and pinned them to a wall with blasts of airbending. The abbot reprimanded Kuruk, and assigned Kelsang as a companion to him despite the airbender's protest that he wished to have nothing to do with two bison thieves. Though Kuruk intially considered Kelsang to be a grump, the airbender soon became close friends with the Avatar and Jianzhu. When Hei-Ran coldly denied Kuruk's advances in First Lord's Harbor, Jianzhu and Kelsang laughed to each other about Kuruk's brutal rejection.
Despite Kuruk having already mastered the four elements, he asked his companions for further instruction, believing that the greatest Pai Sho players never stopped learning. Kuruk's companions kept correcting each other's mistakes and bad habits, and worked to improve their bending.
After Kelsang admitted his journey to the Spirit World, Kuruk was determined that Kelsang would guide him there. Kuruk's companions traveled to a meadow near Yaoping where Yangchen liked using the Avatar State to practice their bending, and the pair crossed over to the Spirit World. After Kelsang returned to the physical world, the Avatar was nowhere to be seen. Kuruk's friends found the waterbender crawling through the streets of Yaoping, foaming from the mouth. Some days later, Kelsang and his friends walked into Kuruk's room at the town's inn, and found him surrounded by broken bottles of wine, and having slept with the inn's maid, but the airbender did not judge him.
Kuruk and his companions went their separate ways around 316 BG. The first time Kelsang saw Kuruk in months was after Hei-Ran's wedding, and found that Kuruk had composed a love poem to the firebender. Kelsang berated Kuruk for trying to destroy their friend's relationship, and made the Avatar destroy the poem right in front of him.
Searching for Kuruk's successor
After Kuruk's premature demise, Kelsang blamed himself for not having been a better mentor to the Avatar. This feeling of failure motivated Kelsang to take it upon himself to track down the next Avatar. He was joined on his quest throughout the Earth Kingdom by his good friend, and Kuruk's earthbending teacher, Jianzhu.
After years of fruitless searching, a desperate Kelsang stole the Avatar relics from Abbot Dorje in the hope of expediting their search. In 305 BG, seven years after Kuruk's death, the quest for the new Avatar took Kelsang and Jianzhu to the remote Yokoya Port, where they presented the relics to a number of Earth Kingdom seven-year-olds, including Kyoshi. After choosing the clay turtle, Kyoshi ran off with the relic, and Kelsang let her, figuring it would return to where it belonged sooner or later.
Facing the Fifth Nation
In 296 BG, Yun and his companions confronted Tagaka, a pirate queen, on an iceberg at sea. Unknown to them, the pirates had lured them into a trap, as waterbenders had hidden under the ice to ambush them. When the battle began, most of Yun's allies were dragged into the ice. Thanks to his extraordinary reflexes, Kelsang avoided this fate by jumping into the air and using his airbender staff to fly away. He then attempted to save Yun who was locked in a duel with Tagaka, but the purported Avatar urged him to try stopping Tagaka's pirate fleet instead of helping him.
Accordingly, Kelsang changed course, but was thwarted by Tagaka. The pirate queen targeted him with a storm of tiny icicles. She thus destroyed his glider, whereupon the monk fell into the sea. His allies rescued him, but he was badly hurt and forced to recover at the Avatar mansion. When he learned that Kyoshi had saved the group from the pirates through a feat of nearly impossible earthbending, he became convinced that she could be the Avatar. He subsequently revealed his belief to Jianzhu, Yun, and Rangi. Kyoshi was extremely upset when she learned that Kelsang had told the others about her possible Avatarhood, as she regarded this as impossible, and considered the monk's suspicions a threat to her friendships and safe life. Kelsang attempted to reassure her, only to be angrily rebuffed by his adoptive daughter.
In course of the subsequent time, Jianzhu put Kyoshi's abilities to the test, but she failed just as Yun had before him. One day, the Earth Kingdom sage finally took Yun and Kyoshi on a secret journey to determine who was the Avatar. Kelsang had long suspected that his old friend had become too extreme in his methods, and suspected the worst upon learning that he had taken the two teenagers away. The monk broke into Jianzhu's office, and his fears were confirmed upon reading the documents there. As Jianzhu had taken Kelsang's sky bison, Pengpeng, the desperate airbender had no other option than to follow him using his airbending staff. Travelling for many miles exhausted the wounded monk, and his wounds reopened; regardless, he pushed on.
Kelsang eventually arrived at the deserted mining village where Jianzhu had taken the teenagers, finding his old friend holding Kyoshi in an earthen gag, which the earthbender promptly released at his appearance. After telling Jianzhu how he came after him, Kelsang demanded to know Yun's whereabouts, only to be told that Kyoshi just firebent, proving her identity as the true Avatar. Though Jianzhu attempted to claim that their attempt to commune with a monstrous spirit went awry, resulting in Yun being taken, Kyoshi blurted out that Jianzhu actually sacrificed Yun to the spirit. The monk believed his adoptive daughter and, after a moment of hesitation, ordered her to get behind him. He told Jianzhu that he and Kyoshi would leave peacefully and that Jianzhu should stay away from them for good, declaring him unfit to serve the Avatar. When an enraged Jianzhu attacked, Kelsang intended to just blast him away and knock the madness out of him, but he was wounded, a weakness Jianzhu readily exploited by slitting his throat with a tiny slice of earth he bent. The trauma of his death caused Kyoshi to go into the Avatar State, incidentally obliterating Kelsang's body.
Kelsang had been reduced in status in the Air Nomads' regard due to the numerous deaths for which he was responsible. When Kyoshi discovered this during her visit of the Southern Air Temple, she ordered the temple's leaders to restore Kelsang's position, as well as put the monk's likeness in a spot of great honor.
Caring and compassionate, Kelsang did his best to mentor and protect teens and was generally known to be good with children. He was raised with the Air Nomads' strong belief in peace and balance, though he was not above using lethal force, as evidenced when he decimated the Fifth Nation's fleet, killing its crew in the process. He did admit to being haunted by guilt every day by these actions.
- Kelsang shares his name with the 7th Dalai Lama, Kelsang Gyatso.
- Kelsang has a long beard and is noted to be a very tall man, even taller than Kyoshi.
Kuruk's first airbending master
|Avatar's airbending master|
Unknown BG - 312 BG
| Succeeded by|
Unknown; eventually Gyatso