The inclusion of the landscape in ritual practices of the local people is particularly common in the Tibetan Buddhist cultural area. Walking along circumambulation paths is one of these practices; it is widespread and part of a common religious custom. In context with circumambulation routes, the ritual space is defined by various interrelated spatial markers. These can be certain buildings or building structures but also include natural phenomena such as formations in the terrain or certain places in the landscape. The ritual use of this space brings the local people, believers, and pilgrims into an interaction not only with the space as a whole but also with particular spatial markers. The totality of this spiritual space can be understood as a historically evolved spatial concept. Social, economic, and natural changes also contribute to modifications in the ritual topography. This concerns, for example, a certain circumambulation ritual, the `ong skor. In this ritual, the location of the fields defines the circumambulation route. Advancing climate change, however, is contributing to a change in the size of the cultivated fields. This circumstance, in turn, is reflected in a change of the circumambulation route and thus in a change of the spatial definition of the respective ritual topography. The relationship of the local population to the ritual space stands in a social and social-hierarchical context, resulting in certain traditional activities and tasks within the village community. The ritual space not only encompasses the area of the village but also extends far beyond it to include natural phenomena such as mountains or rivers. In this context, mandalic structures are found at different scales and in different socio-spatial relation. As such, the ritual use of the landscape is connected to the spatial organisation of the settled area. With a research focus on the Western Himalayas, our hypothesis is that contemporary social patterns play a crucial role in creating and placing particular markers within the ritual space. Moreover, these social patterns are reflected in the spatial-social organisation of entire settlements. Based on this hypothesis, our research questions are: How is the village space in its materiality, layout, and design linked to the use of the local community? How do practices of circumambulation determine a three-dimensional understanding of an entirety of objects, architecture, and landscape?

Project leader:
Hubert Feiglstorfer

Martin Pospichal

[Info: more collaborators will be hired]

01.10.2023 – 30.09.2027

FWF stand-alone project