Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Religious Studies

First Advisor

Holly Gayley

Second Advisor

Jules Levinson

Third Advisor

Ariana Maki

Abstract

The term Kangsöl (bskang gsol) means "fulfillment and offering, usually to a Dharma protector" and refers to appeasing local deities, including protective deities (srung ma) and tutelary deities. At Sumthrang Temple in central Bhutan, the Kangsöl is performed to appease its tutelary deity (yi dam) Vajrakīla (rdo rje phur pa). In all his manifestations, Vajrakīla is considered to embody the enlightened activities of all Buddhas, and is considered most efficacious in removing obstacles, purifying spiritual contamination and destroying negative forces through his wrathful compassion. Sumthrang’s form of deity practice is undertaken both for soteriological and apotropaic purposes. While there are some studies on the soteriological aspects of Vajrakīla practice, there are fewer that focus on its apotropaic aspects. This thesis seeks to contribute a clearer understanding of the apotropaic aspects of the practice, with the hopes of clarifying the ritual contexts for the violence articulated in the subjugation rites.

This project, and its focus on Kangsöl as practiced at Sumthrang, further elucidates how the annual Vajrakīla performance is enacted to affect this-worldly issues, particularly by appeasing deities and invoking a hierarchical order that brings malevolent spirits under control. Concurrently, the study reveals how this hierarchical order is thereby reflected among local community members. This is accomplished through examination of the intersections of three key components: lineage, ritual, and visual art of Sumthrang. Analysis further demonstrates how this specific Vajrakīla tradition and the annual Kangsöl festival function together for the community, offering a reliable mechanism to restore the perceived balance between the physical and non-physical realms that surround the monastery. The efficacy of this restorative tradition is understood through Sumthrang’s lineage transmission, distinct ritual enactment, and the display and propitiation of textually prescribed images that then house the living presence of Vajrakīla and his retinue. In summary, this thesis focuses on an understudied ritual endemic to one central Bhutanese community, and draws on textual attestation, ritual practices, and the visual arts to support Sumthrang’s claims of spiritual and temporal efficacy.

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