The Tidiness of Chaos: Tradition and Innovation in the Sadak Nyelam De Zhi Ritual at Triten Norbutse Monastery

Verity, Jonathan, Religious Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Germano, David, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia

The following monograph centers on the performance of the Sadak Nyelam Dé Zhi (sa bdag nye lam sde bzhi) ritual at the Bönpo Triten Norbutsé monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal. The study includes an evaluation of the ritual’s textual bases as well as detailed ethnographic observations and interviews from in-person attendance at the performances in 2009 and 2010, and from living among the performers and other extended community members in the months before and after. This ritual, also known by monks and others as the “summer ritual,” is undertaken every year in the 4th month of the Tibetan calendar, from the 12th to the 16th, corresponding roughly to the end of May and beginning of June of the international calendar. It is one of many annual events at the monastery, but it is unique among others for the scale of its prominent dö (mdos) mound, adorned with greenery and flowers and so on from the woods around the monastery, in lieu of a more traditional altar, as well as for its emphasis on worldly deities.

Due to this emphasis on worldly deities and thus on primarily lay concerns, the ritual is unique also in its disconnection from the priorities of an academic-focused monastery (bshad grwa) in exile, with very little laity in the immediate vicinity. This tension, combined with many others that will be explored in the pages that follow, produces a ritual performance with a conspicuous lack of concern for traditional outcomes, as defined in the texts and in conversation, and which thus begs the question of why and how this ritual and its performance persist as relevant in other ways.

The central argument of this paper answers these questions, first by showing the various pressures that disengage the community from the ritual’s ostensible goals – or their own varied understandings of the ritual’s goals – and from fidelity to performance as prescribed by texts and other community standards. Second, it reveals the ways that these pressures and other phenomena create space in and through the performance for actors and the community as a whole to impute new meanings to or otherwise address diverse community imperatives. Third and last, it describes those alternative meanings and appropriations of the ritual, many of which relate to the community's exiled context, thereby illuminating a rich process of cultural creation for a new community in a new environment.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: