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Panel 1: Nepal Maṇḍala – the setting

A Newar Offering in Buddhist History

Eric Huntington, Rice University

One of the core rituals of tantric Buddhism is the offering of a maṇḍala to the teacher, which involves ritually re-creating an entire cosmos filled with wealth for donation. Newar and Tibetan versions of this ritual show subtle differences in the ways the cosmology is articulated that correspond to differences in the material objects created to represent the gift. Newar versions of these constructions help explain early artistic depictions of similar rituals, including several in Pāla manuscripts and Western Tibetan sites such as Alchi and Tholing. They also may illuminate significant features of some much earlier non-tantric texts, including the Aśokāvadana (Life of Aśoka), the Vajracchedika-Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra (Diamond Cutter Perfection of Wisdom Sūtra), and Śāntideva’s Bodhicaryāvatāra (Introduction to Bodhisattva Practice).

Crowns of Transformation: Tracing Nepalese Vajrayana Ritual

John Guy, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

At the center of Vajrayana ritual in the Buddhist community of Newari Nepal are the consecration rituals that invest Vajracharya boys into a form of Buddhist priesthood, a ritual that has its antecedents in the final phase of Indian Buddhist esoteric thought and practice. A defining moment in the steps of this induction, in which the novice is admitted to the Buddha-path, is the Consecration of the Crown puja, known as ācāryābhiṣeka. To undertake this, he must already have undergone the monastic initiation ceremony which enters him into the community of monks. At the climax of the ācāryābhiṣeka, the newly inducted Vajracharya has the crown placed on his head, and becomes buddhamargi, a bodhisattva follower of the path of the Buddha (Gellner 1997: 660). This paper will examine the antiquity of these crowns as a barometer of Vajrayana ritual practice, and relate them to antecedents arguably present in medieval Buddhist India and their trans-regional connections in the early modern period.

Indra’s faces in Nepal, The Newarization of an Indian god

Gérard Toffin, CNRS, Paris

The adoption of the god Indra by the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley, Buddhists and Hindus, has led to a number of iconographic and religious innovations related to this divinity. I will address here these transformations by focusing on the Indrajātrā festival, celebrated every year, at the junction between Bhādra and Aśvin lunar months, in Newar settlements. Newar farmers (Jyapu) emphasize the culprit facet of Indra, caught red-handed in robbing a flower from a private garden. They also venerate the ancient Vedic god under the form of a cucumber, a phallic symbol linked to fecundity and they associate him with his mother, Vasundhārā (Vasudhārā)/Dāgiṃ, his son Jayanta, and his elephant Airāvata. Vasundhārā and Indra are represented side by side in the streets, more often than not as a couple. Last but not least, they link Indra with funeral ceremonies performed in the memory of the departed souls. These folkloric repertoire and ritual practices display interactions between classical Sanskrit models and local culture, as well as between Hinduism and Buddhism. They are among the numerous examples of Newarization of Indic elements, a feature that characterizes Newar culture.

Panel 2: Nepal Maṇḍala in the early modern era (the late Malla period)

Hanumān Worship under the Kings of the Late Malla Period in Nepal

Gudrun Bühnemann, The University of Wisconsin-Madison

In the late Malla period (1482-1768) the Kathmandu Valley was divided into the three independent kingdoms of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. The rulers of these kingdoms mainly worshiped the goddess Taleju. But the string of titles of many of these kings characterized them not only as Taleju's foremost servants but also as hanumaddhvaja ("with Hanumān in their banner"). That this title, which attests to the importance of the divinity at that time, was no mere flourish is borne witness to by surviving royal banners with an image of Hanumān on them. In this paper I examine how the kings of the late Malla period promoted the worship of Hanumān in the Kathmandu Valley and what goals they wished to attain through the worship of both the public exoteric and the specifically esoteric manifestations of the deity. I will focus mainly on the period from the mid-17th to mid-18th century but will also touch upon the earlier history of the Tantric worship of Hanumān. Among the different forms of the deity, the amalgamation of the five-headed form of Hanumān and Bhairava as Hanūbhairava is a specific Nepalese development. Artistic representations of the five-headed Hanumān are also found in India but the representations there usually do not exhibit the fierce traits of the Nepalese manifestation.

The social world of the Malla period manuscripts and paubhas

Jinah Kim, Harvard University

The Nepal maṇḍala (Kathmandu Valley) was an early and important center for Sanskrit manuscript production, showing remarkable advancement in the art of miniature painting from as early as the tenth century. Many important Sanskrit texts of medieval Indic religions, especially of tantric traditions are known and edited from surviving manuscripts from Nepal, and in most cases, the earliest known specimen is from Nepal. Along with this strong scribal tradition developed a distinct historical practice of recording one’s time and space in specific local terms, both textually and visually. Colophons and painted ritual scenes on Buddhist manuscripts and paubhas (painting on cloth) provide a small window to view the social world in which these objects were prepared and used. This paper examines some Malla period manuscripts and paubhas that exemplify vernacularization and transregional activities, focusing on the socio-cultural changes that happened during the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries.

Spectacle and Splendor: Newar Buddhist Celebrations in Art and Ritual Practice

Kerry Lucinda Brown, Savannah College of Art and Design

During the late Malla period (1482 – 1769 CE), increased competition for state support of Newar ritual culture was a turning point for Buddhist practice in the Kathmandu Valley. Newar Buddhist communities utilized public ritual celebrations to navigate complex political and social issues impacting life in the Nepal Mandala, in addition to concerns related to trans-regional Buddhist identity. This paper addresses the rise of ritual celebrations in the Kathmandu Valley in the 17th century and their survival to the present day. Through an examination of the artistic and ritual traditions associated with two major gift-giving festivals, Pañcadāna and Samyak Mahādāna, I will demonstrate how lavish ornament, rich ritual regalia, and fantastic processional imagery of these celebrations allow Newar Buddhists to link their contemporary religious practices to their Buddhist heritage. Further, these festival celebrations allow the Newar Buddhist community to reaffirm their cultural power and religious authority in the Valley.

Panel 3: Nepal Maṇḍala in the intra- & trans-regional context

Narratives of Place: Locating Nepāla Maṇḍala in the Folios of the Svasthānīvratakathā, 16th-20th Century

Jessica Vantine Birkenholtz, Pennsylvania State University

What can a vrata kathā from the sixteenth century tell us about Nepal’s cultural and political positionality in the early modern period? The Svasthānīvratakathā (SVK) is, as its title suggests, a folk vrata kathā that recounts the story of the redemptive and punishing powers of the local Nepali goddess Svasthānī. Between the mid-eighteenth century and the early twentieth century, however, the SVK increasingly assumed the form, function, content, and ideology of the Sanskrit Purāṇas. Through the process of Purāṇicization, the SVK reveals in its folios a history of Nepal’s engagement with regional social, religious, and political influences and conversations. This history suggests that, despite Nepal’s ruling elites’ efforts towards insularity, local religious agents and the lay Nepali population were deeply aware of their geographic, political, social, and religious peripherality vis-à-vis India. Moreover, these agents were working actively to situate Nepal and Nepali culture as part of the modern, regional center. In this paper, I begin by outlining the literary trajectories of Nepal’s local Purāṇa texts (namely, the Pashupati Purāṇa, Nepālamāhātmya, and Himavatkhaṇḍa) to contextualize the literary context out of which the SVK emerged and preexisting literary articulations of place. I then examine each phase of new Purāṇa narratives added into the SVK to illuminate the ways in which the SVK’s Purāṇicization reflected changing notions of Nepal’s positionality in the region. Reading these narratives as narratives of place-making enable us to consider the SVK as not just an archive for the goddess Svasthānī but for local articulations of place, identity, and history.

Beyond the Nepal Mandala: The Wider World of a painted Devīmāhātmya manuscript

Louis Copplestone, Harvard University

A thoroughly-illustrated, one-hundred-and-twenty-four-folio manuscript of the Devīmāhātmya (‘Glory of the Goddess’) made in Kathmandu in 1863 CE reveals a cosmopolitan artistic and cultural milieu and awareness of modes and means of art used far beyond the Nepal Mandala. This remarkable manuscript — as with other similarly dated artworks, including a colossal bilampau of the Svayambhūpurāṇa — disrupts a popular image of Nepal as isolated in this period. The world revealed in this manuscript is one in which a social elite deliberately constructs its own distinction through the selective adoption of unfamiliar and at times novel forms. The artists responsible for this Devīmāhātmya manuscript mobilized techniques, technologies, and modes of representation familiar to Rajasthan, the Punjab Hills, the factories of Calcutta, and ornithological sketchbooks to make a painted manuscript on an early — and, for many, a vitally important - theme: the feats of the Goddess and her witness, the archetypal king, Suratha. This paper will draw attention to technical features of these paintings and their mise-en-scène to begin asking what these meant — and did — for their audience in mid-nineteenth-century Nepal.

Newar-Tibetan Relations since the Younghusband Invasion: Connections and Reconnections in Trade and Buddhist Relations

Todd Lewis, College of the Holy Cross

For at least a millennium, connections between the Kathmandu Valley and urban centers of highland Tibet have been a major nexus of economic and religious influence. Although so much yet needs to be discovered about a relationship that affected both Newar and Tibetan civilizations, it is certain that major events in the 20th Century profoundly altered the premodern patterns. This paper will begin by surveying the impact on the Newar Buddhist community of major events in this era: opening of the Sikkim trade route (1905), the effects of the Chinese occupation (1949-), and the changes wrought by the global diaspora of Tibetans after the flight into exile by the Dalai Lama (1959-). The impact of visits by prominent Tibetan lamas (Shakya Sri [1853-1919], Yangtse [in Nepal 1923-4]) will also be cited. Hitherto unreported connections between Newar and Tibetan Buddhists will be described: connections between the Karmapa and his school and Newar tantric teachers; and the practice of identifying incarnate teachers in Newar communities. The final section of the paper will focus on two paradigmatic Newar Buddhist families with merchant ties to Tibet, each with histories that interweave with the aforementioned events linking Nepal and Tibet.

Emergence of an Art School: Juddha Kala Pathshala during late Rana period in Nepal

Dipti Sherchan, University of Illinois at Chicago

In this paper, I aim to explore the emergence of “first formal Western-style art school” in Nepal during the late Rana period. Despite the dearth of archival materials on the school, the 18th and 19th century courtly art tradition of Nepal patronized by the Ranas gesture to cultural and aesthetic investments in displaying European aesthetic affinities. I argue that it is important to contextualize the emergence of Juddha Kala Pathshala in “the long 1950s” political milieu to examine the ruptures and continuities in artistic practices and patronages of the shifting political order (Liechty, Onta, and Parajuli 2019). This paper discusses the unconventional formation and eventual iterations in which the art school continues to operate as a cultural ecosystem for artists and art educators to produce art in Nepal. It also examines the relationship between the school and the emergent notions of national identity, national art, and nation-state in “modern” Nepal.

Reference:Mark Liechty, Pratyoush Onta, and Lokranjan Parajuli. 2019. “Nepal: Culture Politics in the Long 1950s.” Studies in Nepali History and Society 24 (1): 1–14.

Panel 4: Nepal Maṇḍala in global terms

The Radiantly Beautiful Center of the World: Deity Possession and Holy Ground in Kathmandu

Ellen Coon

Although many Newars refer to themselves as “the indigenous inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley,” their sophisticated urban civilization might obscure something they have in common with other indigenous people – a strong identification with the physical places, the land, that they call home. This paper explores how deity possession among Newar women gives voice to Newar religious values at a time of rapid change, defending the Kathmandu Valley’s inherent sacredness and value.

Naḥli Tisā, or, Where Is the Modern and the Global in Newar Jewelry?

Christoph Emmrich, University of Toronto

Jewelry is how Newars spell gender and beauty, how they celebrate and take care of themselves, how they fit in and create the extraordinary. It is what makes them both modern and old-fashioned, both broadly South Asian and very Kathmandu Valley. By confronting the sociology with the poetics of jewelry, this paper will try to ask how practices involving studs, anklets, and bangles, not to speak of hair chains, head combs, and forehead pendants, articulate the ways in which Newars precariously situate themselves and attempt to find their balance on the passing historiographical cusp and travel with the flows of gold, stone, and style that traverse skin, homes, shops, markets, and state borders. How do Newars manage desire, fulfillment, and the content of their purses, not to mention the words to express all this, without turning themselves into museum pieces or selling out to the highest bidding pawnbroker? This paper suggests that songs of love, tales of bodhisattvas, and modernist poetry may bear the answer.

The Chariot Festival of Rāto Matsyendranāth/Buṃgadyaḥ of the Kathmandu Valley: Forty Years of Innovations and Transformations

Bruce McCoy Owens, Wheaton College

This paper traces four decades of transformations of one of Nepal’s largest festivals through turbulent decades of Nepal’s history. Paradoxically, it is through innovative transformations, including collaborative efforts to tame its more hazardous features, incorporate more diversity among its participants, and contemplate the festival itself as embodying cultural heritage that this tradition of the last millennium and a half has been preserved.