Accepted paper:

On sacred ground: Constructing an ancient tradition for 'Tibetan' Buddhism in Spiti


Latika Gupta (Jawaharlal Nehru University)

Paper short abstract:

The paper explores the complex relationship between the Tashilhunpo monastery in Tibet and the Kye monastery in Spiti through the Chham, an annual performative Buddhist ritual.It studies the transformations that occur when the Chham is performed in non-sacral spaces and contexts.

Paper long abstract:

The paper studies the Chham, an annual public performative ritual, at the Kye monastery in Spiti, to unpack the notion of an 'ancient' tradition that is constructed in a modern context for a culture-in-exile. The paper examines the construction of this tradition for the Kye monastery in order to establish its historical relationship with the Tashilhunpo monastery in Shigatse (a relationship that is today mediated through the latter's functional centre in Bylakuppe in southern India). The 'tradition' was created in the late 1960's by a Chham master from Tashilhunpo, replacing an earlier one that followed the Chham of Tholing monastery. The paper examines the transformations (and the reasons and effects thereof) that occur in the ritual when it is performed in 'non-sacral' spaces and contexts , both in India and abroad. This paper also explores the political reasons for the association between the Kye and Tashilhunpo monasteries and the complex relationship between the Tibetan culture-in-exile in India and a Tibetan form of tantric Buddhism that has flourished on the margins of the Indian nation-state.

panel P25
Transformations in contemporary South Asian ritual: From sacred action to public performance