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How to Purify a Dead God: Theory and Design of a Seventeenth-Century Tibetan Holiday

Tue, Feb 13, 4:15 pm
GA 1134

Please join us in welcoming Ian MacCormack (Harvard University) for his talk "How to Purify a Dead God: Theory and Design of a Seventeenth-Century Tibetan Holiday"

Inaugurated in Lhasa in 1694, the Great Worship Assembly (tshogs mchod chen mo) marked the passing of the fifth Dalai Lama. This holiday, especially the bombastic parade on its final day, was conceived as a city-wide display of worship, purifying the karma responsible for his suffering and death. Insofar as the Dalai Lama (the highest authority of this government) also famously identified with a bodhisattva, this holiday raises the question of just how his divinity and humanity--hence also the office and person of the ruler--related to one another. Through a reading of the event's founding text and the design of the parade itself, I argue for understanding this holiday as a ritual response to that problem of Buddhist kingship. Here I depart from past emphasis on the spectacle of state ceremonial as a religious means for expressing political power. Studying this particular holiday offers insight into broader questions about what it means to rule within a Buddhist world, and howpolitical projects and religious traditions may enable or constrain one another.