Dance, ritual and thunder dragons: exploring cultural politics and national identities
Ann R. David
(University of Roehampton)
Paper short abstract:
This paper compares elements of embodied Hindu ritual and Bhutanese Buddhist danced ritual in today’s globalised conditions, questioning their place in public performance and asking whether they are still able to speak to today’s cosmopolitan audiences in periods of rapid social, political and economic change.
Paper long abstract:
In the context of changing religious rituals that are currently being practiced, for example, by Tamil Hindu groups in the UK, this paper compares and contrasts elements of embodied Hindu ritual and Bhutanese Buddhist danced ritual in today's globalized conditions. How might embodied practices such as these reflect changed meanings of both national and transnational identities, of religious practices, of aesthetic sensitivities as well as manage political pressures from outside and within? What is the effect of the State sponsoring a newly choreographed ritual, as in the case of Bhutan, where cultural issues are at the forefront - including the question of how the need for military action in a state which is positioning itself as a peaceful Buddhist democracy is handled? What coded information is perhaps being carried through these embodied performances of specific movement genres? Using information gathered during detailed fieldwork in Bhutan at the Dochula festival and the three day Trongsa Tschechu, and the UK Tai Pusam Tamil festival, I argue that these newly formed, or transformed rituals, respond to perceived loss or rupture within a rapidly changing world (including, for the Tamils, their diasporic status). The rituals are driven by concerns for enculturation of cultural values, and religious precepts and the accrual of merit or power. The paper also considers the place of such 'sacred' action in public performance and questions as such whether these are performance of memory or are still able to speak to today's cosmopolitan audiences in periods of rapid social, political and economic change.
Transformations in contemporary South Asian ritual: From sacred action to public performance