Seminar – 12 November – Anna Sehnalova

October 29th, 2019 by


Tuesday 12 November 2019

4.30–6.00 Mond Building Seminar Room

Anna Sehnalova

University of Oxford

Mountain Deities and Their Treasures: Tibetan Non-Buddhist Cosmologies and Possible Indigenous Origins of the Tibetan gTer ma tradition

The presentation attempts to reveal (some of) the key features of Tibetan non-Buddhist cosmologies based on mountain cults and specific perceptions of landscape: worship of ancestors as mountain deities, deified genealogies and lineages of power, notions of divine origin linked to perceived history and identity, and ideas of various forces of prosperity, in relation to history, migration, and actual social and political organisation.

The paper revolves around the question of possible origins of the Tibetan gter ma treasure traditions from outside its own testimonies and narratives, making use of other written historical documents (such as chronicles and genealogies), other ritual texts, and mainly oral history and recent fieldwork in East Tibet in the area of the sacred mountain of gNyan po g.yu rtse in the region of mGo log. Tibetan indigenous religious notions, particularly local, and mainly mountain, deities (variously called gzhi bdag, yul lha, gzhi bdag yul ha, also sa bdag, etc.), and their relationship to the concept of a hidden treasure, gter, are central. Such a gter treasure is an offering to the deities of land, acquires various functions, and is employed at different social and religious occasions. It represents a coherent part of local indigenous cosmological perceptions and linked ancestral worship.

Different kinds of treasures are offered to the deities of land as repositories of various forces of good fortune, prosperity and well-being (g.yang, bla, sa bcud), ensuring success and continuation of the social groups concerned. The treasures offered nowadays usually acquire the form of ‘treasure vases’ (gter bum) or ‘treasure sachets’ (gter khug), and based on the location of their placement can be ‘earth treasures’ (sa gter) or ‘lake treasures’ (mtsho gter). Treasure burials of bones of leading figures, typically clan chieftains, in ‘treasure vases’ as ‘earth treasures’ mark important sites of their groups’ history and religious practice, as well as places of own ancestry. The sites of such burials can become venerated as sacred mountains and the individuals thus buried as mountain deities, becoming worshipped ancestors by their descendants.

The paper aims to open the questions in which ways the gter is related to gter ma, if it eventually might have stood at its origins, and if, for instance, the latter might be an outcome of the Buddhicisation of the former.

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