What is a mountain? : an ethnohistory of representation and ritual at Pure Crystal Mountain in Tibet.
Thesis DisciplineReligious Studies
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This dissertation records and analyses the Tibetan cultural discourses and social practices relating to the Himalayan peak called Dag-pa Shel-ri, or 'Pure Crystal Mountain'. The mountain and its environs constitute the borderland district of Tsa-ri in South-eastern Tibet. The area has long been of ritual importance to Tibetan-speaking peoples as a site of local mountain deity worship. Tantric practice and popular pilgrimages. This work gives the first comprehensive Western account of pre-1959 Tibetan life at Tsa-ri using an ethnohistorical method which makes extensive use of Tibetan oral and written sources. Chapter one discusses theoretical and methodological issues concerning this research in particular, and the study of Tibetan pilgrimage rituals in general. It concludes that closer attention needs to be paid to emic categories of place, person and substance in research on certain types of Tibetan practices and beliefs. Chapter two surveys the main Tibetan representational systems which contextualize Pure Crystal Mountain cosmologically and geographically, and which are used in the definition and ordering of space and place at the site. Chapter three contains translations of oral and written 'narrative map' texts. These are discussed in terms of how Tibetans construct their historical consciousness of the area and interpret and navigate its landscape. Chapter four introduces the mountain as a historically important site for Tibetan Tantra and gives an account of Tantric Buddhist ritual life there in the 1950s. Chapter five describes three popular annual pilgrimages which took place on the upper slopes of the mountain during the 1950s. Chapter six gives a detailed account of the large, twelve-yearly Tsa-ri rong-skor procession and the associated klo-rdzong ceremony based on Tibetan reports of the last two stagings of these events in 1944 and 1956. Chapter seven analyses the historical origins and cultural and social significance of the Tsa-ri rong-skor procession and klo-rdzong ceremony in pre-1959 Tibet. Chapter eight describes the local ecology and economy of the inhabitants of Tsa-ri district in the 1950s. It shows how representations of person and place at Tsa-ri were linked to the practice of a unique form of pre-1959 Tibetan life there. An appendix contains Tibetan oral texts used in this study.