Epic Gesar in Kham and Amdo Tibet: religious dwelling, local institutions and state apparatus
(Trinity College Dublin)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores religious dwelling and the intervening state and local institutions, in the context of a UNESCO cultural heritage - performance of Tibetan Epic Gesar.
Paper long abstract:
King Gesar shrining and worship are important everyday religious practices in Kham and Amdo Tibet. They are generally related to sacred mountain beliefs which territorialize dwelling spaces for local communities. Performance of Tibetan Epic Gesar is a UNESCO cultural heritage which features a pervasive system of practices involving the dissemination of religious and cultural knowledge. Besides the chanting of this mythic tale, prayers to King Gesar both as a part of performances and as everyday religious practices are inseparable from this epic tradition. Being enlisted by the UNESCO has profoundly changed the way this epic tradition is received and transmitted by local people and authorities. And the game between local religious authority's enshrining King Gesar and national institute's objectifying epic performances as cultural capital also started. The debates derive from its dual function of being both an index of national cultural diversity and a local religious sign. This paper focuses on the process of negotiation among local, domestic and international parties. It reveals the interesting aspects where traditional religious forms constitute a social force that transmits new values to national and local institutions. The related field researches were carried out in Derge town, Kham Tibetan area, and Zaduo town, Amdo Tibetan area, where national ethnic policies and socio-economic structures bring complexity to local religious practices. Based on demographic data and detailed oral accounts, I look into the inner tension of value systems that belong to different authorities and to the individuals who perform the everyday religious practices.