Imparting and (Re-)Confirming Order to the World: Authoritative Speech Traditions and Socio-political Assemblies in Spiti, Upper Kinnaur, and Purang in the Past and Present

Abstract

This study focuses on speech traditions and socio-political assemblies in the Tibetan-speaking area of the Spiti Valley in the Northwest Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. Important comparative material is drawn from field research in the adjacent areas of Upper Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh and from Purang County in the Ngari Prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. In accordance with the structural setting, contexts, and functions of these assemblies, where performances of authoritative speeches usually take place, three categories of formal or authoritative speech tradition are identified: those with a primarily state-related political function that occurred in ancient periods, mainly in royal dynastic contexts; the context of community politics, associated mainly with local village contexts in modern times; and, finally, occasions in which mythological and religious functions are foregrounded—settings that may concern either village or monastic Buddhist contexts. Based on the use of written and oral sources (audio-visual recordings made in the field), and the application of social-anthropological and historical methods, selected historical and contemporary examples of such authoritative speech traditions are discussed and analyzed. These include, for example, authoritative speech (molla; mol ba in written Tibetan) at a wedding ceremony, and an oracular soliloquy made by the trance-medium of a local protective goddess in Tabo Village in Spiti Valley.

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Fig. 1. Map of Historical Western Tibet.

Drawing: Christian Luczanits, adaptation by Christian Jahoda, 2012.

Fig. 2. Wall paintings of rows of deities and historical figures.

Photo: C. Kalantari, 2009.

Fig. 3. Nagarāja, Yeshe Ö, Devarāja and other historical figures.

Photo: C. Kalantari, 2009.

Fig. 4. Wall paintings of rows historical figures.

Photo: P. Sutherland, 2009.

Fig. 5. Assembly of village people, celebration of Phingri festival.

Photo: Christian Jahoda, 2002.

Fig. 6. Speaker (mol ba pa) at celebration of Phingri festival.

Photo: Christian Jahoda, 2002.

Fig. 7: Beginning of a mol ba text, Spiti valley.

Photo: C. Kalantari, 2009.

Fig. 8: Mes mes bu chen during the performance of a play.

Photo: C. Kalantari, 2009.

Fig. 9: Mes mes bu chen during the recitation of a roam that story.

Photo: C. Kalantari, 2009.

Fig. 10. Performance of ritual speech songs by a lay village priest.

Photo: Christian Jahoda, 2002 and 2009.

Fig. 11. Dabla trance medium, dog ra ground.

Photo: C. Kalantari, 2009.

Fig. 12. Dorje Chenmo trance medium performing a ritual speech.

Photo: Christian Jahoda, 2000.

Fig. 13. Trance medium of the protectress Dorje Chenmo.

Photo: P. Sutherland, 2009.

Fig. 14. Protectress Dorje Chenmo.

Photo: P. Sutherland, 2010.

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