front cover of Being a Buddhist Nun
Being a Buddhist Nun
The Struggle for Enlightenment in the Himalayas
Kim Gutschow
Harvard University Press, 2004

They may shave their heads, don simple robes, and renounce materialism and worldly desires. But the women seeking enlightenment in a Buddhist nunnery high in the folds of Himalayan Kashmir invariably find themselves subject to the tyrannies of subsistence, subordination, and sexuality. Ultimately, Buddhist monasticism reflects the very world it is supposed to renounce. Butter and barley prove to be as critical to monastic life as merit and meditation. Kim Gutschow lived for more than three years among these women, collecting their stories, observing their ways, studying their lives. Her book offers the first ethnography of Tibetan Buddhist society from the perspective of its nuns.

Gutschow depicts a gender hierarchy where nuns serve and monks direct, where monks bless the fields and kitchens while nuns toil in them. Monasteries may retain historical endowments and significant political and social power, yet global flows of capitalism, tourism, and feminism have begun to erode the balance of power between monks and nuns. Despite the obstacles of being considered impure and inferior, nuns engage in everyday forms of resistance to pursue their ascetic and personal goals.

A richly textured picture of the little known culture of a Buddhist nunnery, the book offers moving narratives of nuns struggling with the Buddhist discipline of detachment. Its analysis of the way in which gender and sexuality construct ritual and social power provides valuable insight into the relationship between women and religion in South Asia today.


front cover of The Biography of a God
The Biography of a God
Mahasu in the Himalayas
Asaf Sharabi
Amsterdam University Press, 2023
Mahasu is the joint name of four gods whose influence is widespread throughout the Indian states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Like other deities in the Western Himalayas, they are regarded as royal gods who rule over territories and people. This book traces changes in faith and practices surrounding the Mahasu brothers, and shows how the locals understand these changes by emphasizing the dominant role of humans in the decisions of the gods. The locals are also constantly testing the authenticity of the human mediumship. Thus, the book presents the claim that the gap between local conceptions of divinity and the perceptions of anthropologists regarding gods may be narrower than we think. The Biography of a God: Mahasu in the Himalayas is based on ethnographic research, resulting in an important contribution to the study of Indian village deities, Himalayan Hinduism, lived Hinduism, and the anthropology of religion.

front cover of The Cold War in the Himalayas
The Cold War in the Himalayas
Multinational Perspectives on the Sino-Indian Border Conflict, 1950-1970
Reed Chervin
Amsterdam University Press, 2024
Extensive in scope and drawing on newly available evidence from multinational archives, this book reconsiders Sino-Indian border issues during the middle Cold War using multiple established analytical frameworks. It demonstrates how key countries perceived and engaged with the border conflict by aiding the two main participants morally and materially. Before, during, and after the 1962 Sino-Indian border war, multinational political actors pursued their foreign policy goals (e.g., trade, security, and prestige) concerning the frontier, and often tried to destabilize spheres of influence and bolster alliances. Therefore, this contest signified a variation of the Anglo-Russian Great Game in Asia during the nineteenth century, and the theater of operations encompassed not only the border itself, but also the Himalayan kingdoms, Tibet, and Burma. A reevaluation of the border conflict between India and China is necessary given current, ongoing clashes at their still unresolved border as well as the fact that these two countries now possess enhanced technology and weapons.

front cover of Recasting Folk in the Himalayas
Recasting Folk in the Himalayas
Indian Music, Media, and Social Mobility
Stefan Fiol
University of Illinois Press, 2017
Colonialist, nationalist, and regionalist ideologies have profoundly influenced folk music and related musical practices among the Garhwali and Kumaoni of Uttarakhand. Stefan Fiol blends historical and ethnographic approaches to unlock these influences and explore a paradox: how the œfolk  designation can alternately identify a universal stage of humanity, or denote alterity and subordination. Fiol explores the lives and work of Gahrwali artists who produce folk music. These musicians create art as both a discursive idea and as a set of expressive practices across strikingly different historical and cultural settings. Juxtaposing performance contexts in Himalayan villages with Delhi recording studios, Fiol shows how the practices have emerged within and between sites of contrasting values and expectations. Throughout, Fiol presents the varying perspectives and complex lives of the upper-caste, upper-class, male performers spearheading the processes of folklorization. But he also charts their resonance with, and collision against, the perspectives of the women and hereditary musicians most affected by the processes. Expertly observed, Recasting Folk in the Himalayas offers an engaging immersion in a little-studied musical milieu.

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Ritual Speech in the Himalayas
Oral Texts and Their Contexts
Martin Gaenszle
Harvard University Press
The traditions of oral ritual speech in the Himalayas have a lively existence alongside the written “great” traditions that predominate. However, as Martin Gaenszle shows, the oral traditions are still little known and even less understood. This collection of oral texts from Nepal, Bhutan, and northeast India, rich with translation and interpretation, serves two purposes. First, it presents the texts themselves, not just as fragments, but as coherent performances of ritual speech, varied in their linguistic form. Second, it displays various possible methods of presenting oral ritual texts in written form; no single standard form is yet agreed upon. In Ritual Speech in the Himalayas, each contributor showcases a unique style of transforming the spoken language and its translation or comments into an editorial format to fit the respective genres and scholarly interests, such as interlinear or sectional translation, morphological glossing, or musical scores.

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