Songs, plays, stories and other performance traditions are central elements of various kinds of ritual, festive and ceremonial events in West Tibetan societies. From a social-anthropological perspective one of their main functions can be identified as imparting or (re-)confirming order to the world of local communities and social groups.

Various different categories of songs, stories, and plays in different social and religious contexts were documented by the project director in the course of fieldwork in areas of historical Western Tibet, today either belonging to India (such as Spiti and Upper Kinnaur), the Tibet Autonomous Region of China (such as Purang) and Nepal (such as Limi). Based on the audio-visual recording and photographic documentation (of plays, rituals, songs, stories, and related textual materials), for the most part achieved in collaboration with the late Guge Tsering Gyalpo, Veronika Hein, Christiane Kalantari, Dechen Lhundup, Tsewang Ngödup, and Patrick Sutherland, to a minor degree also on archival sources, a selection of such performance traditions is studied and prepared for publication.

This includes, in particular, also songs by lower caste musicians in Spiti and wedding songs (as well as the related context) of which audio-visual recordings were made in Pin Valley (Spiti) and also in Khorchag (Purang) in the course of so-called ‘big weddings’. Written versions in Tibetan script (in the form of manuscripts and notebook copies) are additional source materials of this project.

Of many of these songs and related rituals, manuscripts and notebook copies exist in Tibetan script which are used by expert singers for learning and rehearsal purposes.

Another category of performances which is examined are specific plays which are referred to all over Western Tibet mainly as biographies (rnam thar, literally ‘complete liberation’ [from the cycle of birth, life and death]). These plays which are commonly based on written texts feature stories and lives of legendary, partly also of historical figures, and serve to demonstrate to the audience the merits of leading a life according to Buddhist principles. Originating most probably from south-western Tibet, they were performed in pre-modern Tibet by special troupes. In two areas of historical Western Tibet, this performance tradition is specifically upheld: in Spiti and adjacent areas by the Bu chen (“Great Sons”, ritual performers adhering to the tradition of the Tibetan saint Thangtong Gyalpo), and in Limi in north-western Nepal by lay villagers, partly also by monk performers. As these performance traditions are strongly embedded into the local social environment and normative status culture (visible, for example, in dress, seating order, organization, sponsoring, etc.) these aspects are integral elements of the study.

Christian Jahoda

Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Documentation of Inner and South Asian Cultural History (CIRDIS), Universität Wien; Patrick Sutherland, University of the Arts, London


Erstmittel, private Stiftungen