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Ritual Paradoxes in Nepal: Comparative Perspectives on Tamang Religion Author(s): David Holmberg Source: The Journal

Ritual Paradoxes in Nepal: Comparative Perspectives on Tamang Religion Author(s): David Holmberg Source: The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 43, No. 4 (Aug., 1984), pp. 697-722 Published by: Association for Asian Studies Stable URL:

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Ritual Paradoxesin Nepal:

ComparativePerspectiveson TamangReligion


N umerous empirical accounts depict the religions of Nepal, like those of other parts of South and Southeast Asia, as a myriadof religious specialists and ritual complexes. These accounts show that Magars, Gurungs, Chantels, Thakalis, Newars, Tamangs, Sunuwars, Sherpas, Rais, Limbus, Tibetan speakers, and the prevalent Indo-Nepalese Chetri and Bahun (to mention some commonly cited groups) all

engage severaltypes of specialists, distinguishable by a division of labor. The western

Tamang,1 upon whose

specialists organized into three complexes associated with three prominent practi-

tioners:2 Buddhist lamas, who preside over rites of death; sacrificial lambu, who propitiate chthonic divinities and exorcise harmful agents; and "shamanic"bombo, who resuscitate the living.3

religious beliefs and practices this essay focuses, employ nine

David Holmberg is Assistant Professorof An-

thropology, Asian Studies, and Women's Studies, Cornell University. The author resided among the western Tamang of Nuwakot and Rasuwa districts from 1975 to

1977 and briefly in 1983. His research was sup-

ported by the National Institutes of Mental Health and Cornell University in affiliation with the Cen- tre for Nepal and Asian Studies, TribhuvanUniver- sity, Kirtipur, Nepal. The author thanks Dr. Prayag Raj Sharma, then Dean of the Centre, his col- leagues and officials of the Research Division, and officials of His Majesty's Government of Nepal for their assistance. He also thanks Michael Allen, James Boon, Davydd Greenwood, AndrfasHofer, A. Thomas Kirsch, Kathryn March, P StevenSangren, and RobertJ. Smith; they all offered helpful criti- cism and comments on early versions of this article or the ideas expressed in it. 1 In this article all references to "Tamang" mean particularly the western Tamang of the locale whereI resided, and who correspondto the Tamang reportedon by Hofer (1969; 1974; 1981) and Toffin (1976). Forspecific details of Tamang history, their place in Nepal, social structure, ritual and myth, consult Holmberg (1980) and March (1979). There is no standard system for transliterating Tamang, an unwritten language. Forthe ease of the reader, I have rendered Tamang with consonant clusters and vowels that most closely approximate the pronunciation of English speakers;at the same time, I havetried to be trueto phonology. Retroflexes are written with capitals, as in lenTeor spirit of deceased bombo;h, when it appears after a usually unaspirated consonant, indicates a breathy tone as

in mhangor evil spirit; otherwise breathy tones are indicated by an h after a vowel; long vowel sounds are indicated by italics, as in tdpa;all other vowels areshort. Except in the caseof prominent divinities, I have avoided giving Tibetan or Sanskrit equiva- lents, which will be obvious to philologically ori- ented specialists. Such equivalents might erron- eously suggest to the readerthat Tamang language and culture are somehow derivative of textual traditions. Nepali words are transcribed according to standard devanagari transliteration. Other lan- guages are transcribed as they appear in the sources cited.

2 Other practitioners are gurpa, who chant specialized Buddhist texts in order to ensure blessings; shyepompo,who are leaders of devotional songs; sangtung, who are similar to bombobut per- form only simple rites; pudari, who conduct all- Nepali sacrifices; astrologers; and, occasionally (twice in the last decade), brahman.

3 "Shamanic,"like "shamanism"and "shaman, has been overused in anthropological literature to the extent that it has lost interpretive value (Geertz 1973:122). Shamanism may well be an "illusion"in the same way that "totemism" (Levi-Strauss 1963) is. In fact, there is strong evidence to counter the old anthropological saw that shamanism is some sort of panhuman Ur-religion (cf. Ohnuki-Tierney 1980). Whether one looks to the Tungus (Shiro- kogoroff 1935)-from whom the term "shaman" entersWesterndiscourse -or the "elementary"reli-


of Australia (Stanner 1959-1963;


1944) or the Amazon (Reichel-Dolmatoff


one finds multiple specialists or, at least, multiple types of ritual practice.





With some notable exceptions (see Sagant 1973; Fournier 1978; Samuel 1978a, 1978b; Paul 1979), studies of religion in Nepal concentrate on separate strands in this variegated web, interpreting each strand as though it were autonomous. For example, Hitchcock and Jones (1976) in order to escape the view that the religious situation is a function of the diffusion of Hindu and Buddhist practices into the Nepal Himalayas, document a "third"category that revolves around indigenous specialists who become possessed by spirits (p. xii). These excellent ethnographic accounts and others, though, perpetuate the picture of the religions of Nepal as the accretion of separablestrands. Most studies consider these strands as though they reflect separate historical periods4or psychosocial functions,5 repeating explanatorystrategies applied in the study of religious complexity in Southeast Asia (Kirsch 1977:242). In these reconstructions, the relations among ritual activities that appearsimultaneously in a single society are neglected. To limit discussion to isolated strands-whether Hinduisms, Buddhisms, spirit cults, shamanisms, sacrificial cults, or other "folk"practices-precludes consider- ation of the symbolic logic that connects these apparently disparate practices in particular cultures, whether Gurung, Tamang, Newar, Indo-Nepalese, Tibetan, or whatever. Concentration on total religious systems does not prevent comparisons but relocates the objects of comparison. From such a perspective, the religious systems of Nepal reveal a common pattern. Such a vantage permits a reassessment of the historical, sociological, and psychological dimensions of ritual in Nepal. Among western Tamang, Buddhist, sacrificial, and shamanic practices are logi- cally interrelated, forming a religious field characterized, as Tambiah has demon- strated for Thai religion, by relations of "opposition, complementarity, linkage, and hierarchy"(1970:2). No aspect of Tamang religion can be isolated from the others; each derives its meaning from its position within a superordinate system. Kirsch, writing again about Thai religion, has proposed: "If the animistic component provides a kind of symbolic opposition to Buddhist world-view, its perpetuation is linked closely to the perpetuation of Buddhism" (1977:260). In Tamang religion, Buddhist lamas attempt to determine the world into a final order by binding it to Buddhist words; bombo,on the other hand, expose indeterminacy in the cosmos. This article focuses primarily on these two practitioners and their rituals; the lambu, whose rituals have the same effect as those of the lama, I discuss only secondarily. Buddhist lamas are the most respectedof ritual specialists. Their primaryresponsi- bility is to preside over large-scale memorial death feasts that "rescue"the dead into

4For example, Watters (1975:155) observes:

"Manyof the themes of classical shamanism can be

found with varying degrees of modification in other ethnic groups of Nepal as well, at least in kernel

Does this suggest, perhaps, that there

was a proto-tradition of the non-Indic peoples of Nepal which may have very closely resembled the classic Inner Asian tradition? The incidence of Kham-Magar shamanism shows that such a tradi- tion can and does, in fact, exist in Nepal." This is an intriguing conjecture, yet one must be cautious in suggesting that contemporary practices represent vestiges of a unified prototype. Practices observed today represent centuries of dynamic intercommu- nication among groups, which undoubtedly have transformedprior practices into things quite differ- ent from what they were. Moreover,it is likely that complexity in one form or another has been an


essential feature of Himalayan religious systems since time immemorial (see n. 3). Such attempts to document original traditions reflect a tendency to

delineate an unique ethnographic presence for each group. As Allen remarked (1981:168), the image that emerges in these particularized ethnographic endeavors is "a mosaic of sub-areas, each with its own language, customs, and ethnonym" that blinds us to comparative possibilities. As I argue else-

where (Holmberg

1980:15-51), the ethnic groups

appear to be the products of state formation in Nepal, and they do not represent specific cultures that can be traced historically. 5 The mechanistic approaches, like the his- torical, neglect the relationship between strands; they explain divergent ritual practices according to prior social or psychological necessities (see R. L. Jones 1976a; S. K. Jones 1976).






rebirth and reestablish order in a local society of patrilineal clans. The relation of lamas to texts printed in Tibetan script is essential to the understanding of lamaic ritual authority.Tamangbelieve that these texts arethe wordsof ancient Buddhas who bound the world into orderly form through oaths. Lamaic logic asserts that the autochthonous divinities who rule the earth and the hordesof harmfulagents lurking everywhere in intermediate spaces are subject to the power of the text. Lambunor sacrificers, on the other hand, entreat divinities honorifically and sacrifice to them calendrically to bring rain, to stave off earthquakes, landslides, violent winds, hail, and tempests, and to keep evil influences at bay, thereby assuring such blessings as a prosperous harvest, wealth, resiliency, and long life. Lambualso expel ghosts and spirits, who are responsible for hardship, disease, and degeneracy,by coercing them with sacrificialand other offerings to quit homes and villages. Superficially,Buddhist ritual and sacrificial ritual could not appear to be contradictory; nevertheless, they show key similarities. Both work toward the affirmation of resolute order in the cosmos. Like lamas, lambu must chant "texts" (Hofer 1981) in an archaicand obscureform of the Tamanglanguage. On the level we are considering them, these "oral"formulas have the same effect as lamaic printed texts. Lamas and lambu, in fact, can replace each other for most propitiatory and exorcistic functions; together, they fix the cosmos and assure measured relations

between humans and the divine and malevolent forces, confirming that, despite significant differences, religions of the word, like Buddhism, and those of the act, like sacrifice, are both concerned with determining order.6



balance, and determinancy, and if they support life by displacing evil potentialities, bombo'srituals, which I call "soundings"(becauseTamangsay bombo"sound"),counter

or deconstruct that creation. Bombodwell on the alien,

nate in human experience. Although Tamangsay that the bombo"revivesthe living,"

in ritual practice bomborarelycomplete cures themselves; this is the work of lamas and lambu.When bombocall shadow souls, resuscitatelife-force, "reveal"sourcesof distress

by "going into the divine," or when they carrydivinities

their bodies, they "unveil"an aspect of the cosmos that lamas and lambuattempt to

displace. Soundings revel in irresolvabilities (Holmberg 1983) and deal with the preconditions and meanings of malaise; they are not the resolute events commonly

reported. The outline presented in this article is not exhaustive or definitive. Other sorts of ritual occur, and the Tamangreligious system is changing. Furthermore,each facet of the ritual system has the capacity to appropriatethe others, either partially or totally, expressingthe same oppositions observedin the total field; this is particularlytrue of the lamaic (cf. Paul 1979). On the level of the total system, however,the determinate rituals of lama and lambu in opposition to the soundings of the bomboform an

elementary structure common to the religious

If lamaic and sacrificial rituals construct a world order marked by

unpredictable, and indetermi-

or harmful agents on and in

systems of Nepal.

6 Herrenschmidt (1982a)

proposes two ideal

types of sacrifice, brahmanicand testamentary.The

formerdepends on the act and the latter on words. Until recently, in fact, sacrifices were part and parcel of Tamang Buddhist death rites (cf. Hofer 197 lb:22). Moreover,some Tamangtranslatedamla tcpa as "to cut an oath." I would not, though, want to overexaggerate the associations of Bud- dhism and sacrifice; they are distinct in several importantways. Forexample, using Kirsch's typol-

(1977: 260), the lamaic is "otherworldly" in

"whole society"

whereas the sacrificial is "thisworldly" and focuses on lower-level sociopolitical orders. Following Herrenschmidt, the relation between divinities, humans, and cosmic order is different in these two systems. Both, though, are "determinate" in worldview, and their rituals are, above all else, "standard-routine."It is on this level that I consider them similar.

orientation and focuses on the




This structure, though, is not closed into a coherent and tensionless field. What

emerges through an examination of the Tamang field is the juxtaposition of contrary orders, not consistent order.A final, totalizing picture of Tamangreligion nevertakes

form; the field can be

those of the different ritual specialists that may be brought to bear on it.7 From this point of view, the field, like a kaleidoscope, never resolves into an image composed of all its variants. Nevertheless, by examining relations among the sym- bolic constructions of ritual components, a logic of differencesthat form a total field can be abstracted. Tamang religious complexity, then, is not simply the residue of an irretrievable history or the conglomeration of fragmented functions; it results from cultural processesthat createparadoxes.These paradoxesarecondensed in a myth about a lama and a bombowho go on a competitive pilgrimage. This myth is an intriguing artifact. Within it, the Tamangthemselves, in a discourse that we may call indigenous, reflect on the same problems that have inspired the Westernstudy of syncretism in Buddhist societies, and through it the Tamangrevealthe dynamics of their religious structure. Before examining this myth, however, an elaboration of the meaning of lamas and binding oaths and of bomboand shamanic soundings is necessary.

conceived only through the apperception of severalvantages-

Tamang Buddhism

The Tamang, the largest Tibeto-Burman population in Nepal, are a clan-based society who live forthe most part in the mid-hills of Nepal that surroundKathmandu and in the Kathmandu valley proper.The Tamanghave been enmeshed in the Hindu state of Nepal for centuries, and they have had important historical relations with Tibetan Buddhist populations to the north. They call themselves "Lamas"to outsiders, who, in turn, addressthem honorificallyas "Lama."By calling themselves Lamas, the Tamang declare themselves Buddhist, and they set themselves off from the Hindu society that surroundsthem and in which respectfor the brahman, not the lama, is an important distinguishing feature.8 Although in some contexts lama may referto any Tamang, it has a more specific meaning in Tamang culture. Just as the brahman in Hindu society is comprehensible only within the hierarchyof castes and in relation to both the renouncerand the "shaman,"lamas among Tamangmust be perceived in the context of Tamang society and in the complementarity of lamal/ambulbombo. Although lamas participatein numerousaustereretreatsand once a yearperambu- late through villages begging grain, they arenot celibate renouncerslike the monks of Sri Lanka, Thailand, or Tibet. Monks and nuns are known, but monasticism is not a fact of western Tamang life. Tamang lamas are married householders who farm like their kinsfolk, although they avoid plowing. During ritual, they don red robes, chant

As Boon remarks (1973:16), "The danger- ous tendency in studies of significant forms and in seeing 'culture' as holistic significant form is to 'over-literalize'the facts at hand. The investigator attracted by bound, multivocal, sensory rich pro- ductions only derives full satisfaction if he can finally abstractand completely interrelate the total range of components." In an essay on festivals in Andhra, Herrenschmidt (1982b) makes a related point; he demonstrates that unitary reconstruction of a village festival cycle may be impossible and that we are confronted with multiple points of view. I

am working from a similar point of view and am concerned with the relations between differences more than constructing a final, grammatical struc- ture of the Tamang religious field.

8 My concern here is not ramifications of the opposition of Buddhist/Hindu or lama/brahmanin Hindu or Tamangideologies. An all-Nepal vantage metonymically opposes lama/brahman, both of which resonatemetaphorically formembers of these societies. These complementarities cannot be elabo- rated here (see Bista 1972; Sharma 1978).






texts, display scroll paintings, and employ ritual implements. At these times,

villagers address them by the honorific sangkye,the as well, villagers use honorific speech when talking

word for Buddha. In everydaylife to lamas and serve them food and

drink with special signs of respect. In many villages, local lamas maintain small temples that house brightly painted clay images of Guru Rhimborotshe (Sanskrit:

padmasambhava;Tibetan: gu ru rin po che)and other prominent Buddhas. Significant rituals, however, rarely focus on these temples. For instance, memorial death feasts -the essential Buddhist rite among Tamang-occur at brilliantly decorated altars erected in empty fields. In the villages where I resided, Tamangspoke of two kinds of lama: "ancient"and "hunter"lamas. Ancient lamas claim patrilineal descent from lamas back to a time when their ancestors reputedly came down from monastic communities surrounding Kyirong, Tibet. Ancient lamas call other lamas, those who are not the direct descendants of lamas, hunter lamas. Most often, hunter lamas, following routinized Buddhist patterns, say they pursued training because of disaffection with suffering and a concern with religious truth. Lamahood is also an avenue to prestige and, sometimes, to power. Just as hunter lamas claim distant ancestors who were lamas, ancient lamas, in addition to their claim of hereditary legitimacy, usually say that they undertook training for the same reasons as hunter lamas. To become a lama, one must attend retreats, the first of which constitutes an initiation. Severalprospective lamas jointly invite a lopanor guru, who cannot be the father of any of the novices, to conduct a retreat in the forests or high promontories above the village. Lopanor masters may be regionally noted experts, but sometimes they come from distant places such as the Kathmandu valley, Bhutan, or Tibet. During retreats, which last from severalweeks to severalmonths, the lopanallows no contact between the novices and other villagers. According to some lamas, the lopan performs mock rites of death during the first retreat and initiates the novices to lamahood. Students spend their days performing incessant obeisances to the Buddhas and their lopan;they drill the letters of the Tibetan script and their pronunciation, repeat elementary texts, memorize the meaning of ritual symbols painted on icono- graphic cards and scroll paintings, absorb mantrasor formulaic incantations, learn to construct altars and to mould dough images of the Buddhist pantheon, and acquire experience in simple ritual procedures. After leaving initiatory retreats, novice lamas continue to study on their own and with other lamas in their home villages. Above all, they refine their abilities through practical experience gained by joining accomplished lamas in rituals, at first beating drums, clanging cymbals, running errands, performing menial ritual tasks, and serving the superior lamas. Later,after attending advancedretreats, which familiarize them with special texts and procedures, and after accumulating texts, paintings, paraphernalia,and experience, they gain status in the community. Mastery of the recitation and application of texts is critical to lamaic legitimacy and a primary function of retreats. As a lama masters a text, the lopaneither inscribes missing or secret passages in the text using red ink or the student commits the missing passage to memory. This at once activates the text and authorizes the lama in its application. From lay perspective, lamas acquire arcane powers in the secrecy of retreats, which, although normally employed for benevolent service, may be applied for malevolent ends. Lamas, then, through regular oscillation from immersion in daily life to retreat, from non-ritual to ritual contexts, and through their annual nod to cenobitism, re-createthe institutional separation of lay and monastic communities and reexpress




values of renunciation common to other Buddhist societies. Lamas are conversant

with these refined forms of religious action but claim that they are but one possible

path. Their affiliation with more literate expressions is also evident

in their valuation

of texts. Although lamas can rarely translate the Tibetan language of the texts, they and other Tamang impute important meanings to them. When lamas chant texts, they bind oaths.

Lamas and Binding


Although their relation to texts authorizes lamas to practice, lamas do not "read" texts for pedagogical purposes; lamas cannot translate the Tibetan words of their texts. Texts are chanted and the lamas learn a paralanguage associated with texts:

proper pronunciation, cadence, gestures, secret passages, and ritual acts closely related to particularmoments in the recitation of a text. Texts and their paralanguage are ritually effective. Tamangvalue texts metaphorically (Derrida 1976; Burke 1970); the metaphoric meanings are the message for Tamangas they are, at least in part, for other Tibetan Buddhists.9 'Among the Tibetans, grapholatry is more real than idolatry" (Ekvall 1964:114). Tamang believe texts are the words of primordial Buddhas who brought order to the cosmos by binding oaths. Tamangmyths regularlyrepeatthe refrain"the Buddhas bound an oath," as in these examples from a version of creation:

The Buddhaof within {NhangkaiSangkyel Boundan earthoath to the earth,

A rockoath to the rock,

A wateroath to the water.

After binding water, Oathsto those who moveand feel werebound. The male and the femaleof humankindwereoathbound. The femalesof humankindwereoathbound Within the mountainLapsangKarpo.

They wereboundto stay in the Lo Demo river. The malesof humankindwereoathbound Within the mountainLari, Within the hill Ganhrejung. They wereboundto stay in the hill Sati.

A mouth oath, a heart-mindoath

Toexchangein marriage,

Toexchangeheartsand minds,


Within the nine territorieswasclaspedround.

Among the mythic Buddhas, Guru Rhimborotshe embodies the essential characteris- tics of the Buddhas and is important to an understanding of lamaic ritual. Guru Rhimborotshe passed through Tamang territory on his way to Tibet, taming moun- tain and earth divinities and defeating the forces of evil as he went. He bound the

9 Writing has important technological

sociopolitical consequences (see Goody 1968). However, I am concerned exclusively with sacred


writing. In contemporary Nepal, Nepali is the language of the state and facility with the written word has important consequences (Caplan 1970).





ar thoeial'ikdt hs nin udhstruhasre flpno uu
ar thoeial'ikdt

'Thmang lama chantinglong-life book

divinities and their awful power to submit to Buddhist law. He banished and tied up all kinds of evil in entwining formulas. Lamas now say that Guru Rhimborotshe resides in a western heaven where he is taming cannibal fiends. Contemporarylamas




who stretch back to time immemorial. Many lamas even hint that they are incarna-

tions of past lamas. Moreover,synchronically,they are the

of the primordial Buddhas who now reside in heavens at various stages of remove. Like the Buddhas of myth, lamas reimpose the order of the Word in the world. They etch Tibetan letters and mantras into rocks; they empower printed talismans to keep harm at bay; they attach woodblock prints with powerful mantras and symbols to the doors and windows of houses, thereby protecting them from the onslaught of evil forces;they fly prayerflags; they dispense printed medicines; they chant binding texts to contain water sprites and earthdivinities. Aboveall, lamas are the directorsof memorial death feasts where textual authority allows them to erase demerit, to conscript the soul to rebirth and karmic law, and to bind the soul over to the Buddhas. This relation to texts and their power has innumerable correlates in other Buddhist societies and particularlyin Tibetan Buddhist societies. Forinstance, Ekvall (1964:105) notes the following Tibetan beliefs and practices:

earthbound representatives

By a strangeworking of the law of association,the written or printed letters themselveson anypaper,even when the meaningis unknown,arealso sometimes called CHos[religion; law] by the illiterate and accordedworshipfulcare and

treatmentby all. A devoutTibetanscholarwill

Tibetanbook,evenwhenhe knowsit is secularin subjectmatter,becausethe letters

in themselvesretainsomethingof religion.

reverentlytouch his head with a

Pignede (1966:389) remarks that the Gurungs likewise value the letter:

Gurungshavea greatdeal of respectfor that which is written. We haveseen the importancegiven to the fact that the booksof the pucuand the klihbrihad been burned.On theotherhand,the lamaandthebrahmanreadtheirprayersandconsult writtenhoroscopesdecoratedwith illuminations.ManyGurungshavehoroscopes madeforthem by brahmansand, eventhoughtheyoftencannot understandthem, they are proud to unroll the scroll of papercoveredwith letters, numbers,and multicoloredfigures.

Similar observations have been made throughout Nepal (see Caplan 1970:69), and Tambiah(1968) has demonstrated the importance of texts in Thai Buddhist ritual. Thus lamas distinguish themselves from bomboby their possession of texts and their adherence to respected teachers. In private, they say that bombolie and deceive because they have no texts. Bombo, for their part, play down their association

with gurus orparticular"shamanic"lines and often claim that they are "selfgenerated."

In practice,


lamas and bombojoin together

for several rites confirming


Bombo and Soundings

Like lamas, an ancient bomboonce had texts but reputedly threw them in the fire

and ate the ashes. Bombosound because they are charged by a visceral motivation

whereby words exude from their mouths. One

stay in seclusion like the lama. Youcannot say just what the lopansays;you must learn by yourself. The lama just learns ka, kha, ga, ca, cha,ja [the beginning letters of the Tibetan syllabaryl."Bomboare inspired to sound by a host of divinities, spirits, and harmful agents who seize, alight on, and enter their bodies, making them shake in possession. Seizure by lenTe is what compels someone to become a bombo. LenTeare the spirits of deceased bombowho, in spite of lamaic death rites, are not

bomboremarked, "The bombodoes not






reborn. They reside in intermediate heavens in the high reaches of the Himalayas. LenTecravereinvolvement in the world and grasp lineal descendants in either the male or female line. 10 Those so struck can reputedly eat coals and carryred hot fire grates on their heads without being burned; one afflicted man was reported to have flown about the village. All whom lenTegrasp become violently ill. By agreeing to become a bomboand honoring the lenTe,one can convert the lenTeto allies, thereby tempering the uncontrollable afflictions. A lopanor guru teaches the bombothe techniques needed to honor lenTeand to enter into other sorts of possession. Bomboare the only ones in Tamang society who become possessed, and as Hofer (1974:151) observes, "The Tamang shaman is not a passive vessel of the possessing agent. A state of possession is rathercontrolled than simply 'endured'by him." Bomboentice multitudes of divinities, spirits, and harmful agents to attend soundings. As they arriveat a seat in the altar, the divinities pulse through the bombowho shudder, clanging bells that they have wrapped around their torsos, and rattling their drums. During exorcistic sequences, harmful agents enter their bodies and the bombomay call out, "Eat my flesh; suck my blood; crunch my bones! Flesh food, chew, chew! Blood food, suck, suck! Bone food, crunch, crunch!" One bombocalls out to furies who lead him to the heavens:


the midst of the sun rays,


costumedbombo, I am not.


the midst of the moonrays,

I havedressed.

When breathing,movingbeingssleep, When the sun sleeps,

I dress[as a) bombo. Cometakemy bombo'sbody! Cometakea goldenhorse! Cometakea silverhorse! By the sky traillet's fly.

Bombo"carry,""steal off" like a sack of grain, and "playfully toss" divinities and

spirits as they alight or "perch."They share their cups, plates, food, and seats with divinities. They tease, trick, and deceive harmful agents. Bombohave knowledge acquired from their lopanand an inner strength that allows them to suspend these beings on and in their persons without being taken over by them; when bombo shudder,it is a sign of strength or power,power which derives from their lopan, from their knowledge, from their lenTe,and from the water of high-altitude lakes. They

generate an internal energy which equals that of

bomboremarked, when he gets too old to shake he must stop sounding. The only uncontrolled possessions are the initial seizures by lenTe.When this happens, the

whole edifice of Tamang ritual works to contain this possibility by encouraging the afflicted to become a bombo. Along with powersof possession, bombohaverevelatorysight. Bomboritually "open

up"and reveal, whereas lambuand lamas shut

certain exorcisms of the lambu, they lose this sight. The unique revelatorypower of bombois associatedwith their necessaryrelationship to tsen,divinities or sprites closely associated with women, who mediate between humans and the divine and who are

the possessing agents; thus, as one

down and put out of sight. If bombodo

10 SomeTamangcall spirits who attack through a female connection shyulTo.




ILI prcIce utproal oo sn hrb,te eoe sigh liketa ftete anI esetv rmi ewe. hsbmoaeal

Bomboat the conclusion of an all-night-long sounding

said to "see things differently" from humans (Holmberg 1983). What is small for humans is large for tsen;what tsencan see, humans cannot. All bombo,in order to



(bla), to revealthe condition of life-force (so), to "openup" sourcesof affliction, and to unveil the faces of divinities. Humans have nine bla (shadow souls), all but one of which can stray from the body. Tamang believe that wandering bla dream our dreams, and thus Tamang are always careful to call out the names of people before waking them. Otherwise the roaming bla will not return to the body. Bla are commonly lost in this way. Bla may also be lost in moments of fright: when thunder bolts crash; when feet trip on precipitous trails; when one encounters fighting dogs or bulls; or when one happens upon demons or spirits in the forest, at crossroads,in high pastures, or in the village at night. Once separated from the body, bla may take refuge in all sorts of intermediate places or may be captured by harmful spirits. Loss of bla leads to a generalized weakenedstate that leaves one open to the attack of a variety of malevolent forces. If one has been sick or uneasy for long periods of time and the ministrations of lamas and the endeavorsof lambu have been to no avail, one must call a bomboto perform a sounding and call back the bla from whereverit may be. In calling back bla, one bombo searchesin these and many more places:

Abovea greatrock, Abovea greattree, Abovea greatcliff, Abovea greatlandslide, Abovea crevasse In a low hoveringcloud, In a circlingwind, In a greatbolt, In a greatlightning flash, In the mid-sky, In the puddlesof a marsh.

In a place [heaven] of the living, In a placeof the dead, In the handof an evil lama, In the handof an evil Bombo, In the high pastures,and so on.

In a place[heaven] of the homeless In a placeof confusion In a placeof distress, In a placeof rumorousgossip In a placeof cannibals, In a placeof closedmouths, In a placeof licentioussex.

Once discoveredand called from these intermediate places, bla are reaffixedto people by the bombo.At the time of death, lamas separate the nine bla from the body and conjoin them into a unitary bla that is reborn. So (life-force), on the other hand, dies with the body. About age twelve, an individual develops a so that grows up through the torso like a tree. On a heavenly hill, the whereabouts of which only bombocan reveal, there is a so dungma(life-force tree) that is directly linked to the condition of the so in the body. When the branches break, the trunk rots, or it bends over, this heavenlytree is reflecting the condition of the bodily so. During soundings, bomborevealthe condition of the sodungmaand they erect a sapling outside of the house, resuscitating weakened life-force.



Just as the retrievalof bla and the revivalof so depend on unique powersof sight, likewise divination or general revelation depends on these powers. In the middle of soundings, bombo"go into the divine" and make apparentthe sourcesof distress. One bombodescribed a journey as follows:

When youarriveto curesomeone,it is like a chainthere,a placeof chains.As you go, you must say,"Ohguardians!Lookbehindme, look in frontof me, look from yourheart-mind.I havecometo this place.Thispersonis afflictedin such-and-such

a way. Youask them to revealthose places, to releasethose iron chains.Yousay, "Let'sgo revealall thoseplaces."

After falling

into silence and with eyes closed, the bombosees dreamlike signs in

bursting flashes against a dark void. Upon descending from the heavens, the bombo

interprets these enigmatic signs for whomever has requested revelation. When

tell their revelations, they rarelygive specific reasonsfor the cause of distress; instead

they list sets of possibilities. Bombohedge their revelatory bets and always remain ambiguous about the validity of their visions. One bomboremarked, "Bombocan say nothing for sure. When they go into the divine [reveall, they do not know what hits them. They do not see with their own eyes. They only know by a sensation which comes around the heart."Significantly, the bomboneverperformsspecific cures for the ailments revealed; it is always the lambuor the lama who puts things in order by propitiating neglected divinities, banishing evil agents, or binding divinities and harmfulagents to oaths. Soundings are suspensions in which enigmatic divinities and


harmful agents erupt, temporarily unbound. Bombomediate by moving between earthand heavens, from human to divine vision, and by carryingdivinities and spirits on and in their bodies, thus deconstructing the fixed separation effected through lamaic and sacrificialrituals. Soundings play out in counterpoint to lamaicand sacrificialorderand determinacy. Bombosound because they are possessed by lenTeupon whom previous death chants were unsuccessful and the exorcisms of lambuare ineffective. Through the memorial

death feasts, in which

lamaic and shamanic ritual communications and a dynamic tension in the religious

field becomes apparent.

bomboaresubject to certain restrictions, the complementarity of

Memorial Death Feasts

It is not surprising that the most important and only essential Buddhist rites occur at the time of death. Like other Buddhists, Tamangelaboratesocial and cosmic ordersin referenceto death. " Tamangdeath is social creation. In fact, marriagerites, unlike Hindu practices, are unelaborate, and the ritual exchanges of marriage an- nounce death. When a woman marries, she receives from her natal kin a hoe and a sickle, which will clear her cremation site, and a bronze bowl, which will hold the waterwith which she will wash the facesof dead parentsand siblings. Memorialdeath feasts declare clan relations actualized through marriages, and thus memorial death feasts are performedonly for adult men and women. 12 In fact, memorial death feasts

1 Death is an occurrence rife with reflective

One need only

potential in Buddhist thought.

mention the centrality of karma,merit/demerit,

otherworld,andso forthto Hindu-Buddhist thought (O'Flaherty 1980; Keyesand Daniels 1983).

12 Children who die unmarried (and therefore

without full social identity) are "thrown out" or buried. If an adult woman dies unmarried, some man must marryher so that the propercategories of kin may be defined beforememorial death feastscan proceed. The essential categories of kin are present in the case of the death of an unmarried man.



are often the context in which couples elope, a favorite form of marriage. The memorial death feasts are the most extensive social rites, and Tamang congregate many times during the dry season to sever relations with the dead, pass the dead into rebirth, and reaffirmsocial order among the living. Tamangsocial structure is formed through the relations of exogamous patriclans. On its highest orders,13 Tamang society is divided into two halves composed of numerous patricians. Tamangpreferthat cross-cousins(mother's brother'schildren or father'ssister's children) marry,and the Tamangmarriagesystem is built on principles of restricted exchange (Levi-Strauss 1969:29-229). After a marriage, patterned obligations devolve on members of opposed patriclans. Marriageforms a circle of kin the extent and structure of which are announced through obligatory exchanges of

goods and services in memorial death feasts, as is common elsewhere in death rites (Hertz 1960; Huntington and Metcalf 1979; Bloch and Parry 1982). Tamangcremate the bodies on the day of death. Majordeath rites, the memorial death feasts (gral), occur months later, usually in the dry season when field labor and other obligations are not pressing and stocks of grain for feasting are high. Most Tamang households attend between ten and fifteen three-day memorial death feasts each year.They go in a variety of capacities, depending on their kin relationship to the deceasedand to the sponsors (usually the sons of the deceased). If they go in the party of the mha (literally, sister's husbands) or "wife receivers," they must labor for the

sponsorsand treat them with

(literally, mother's brothers-wife'sbrothers) or "wife givers," they give gifts of cloth

and food "to expel the grief" of mourners (sons, daughters, spouses, and parents of the deceased) who stand in the relation of sister's children or sister's husband to the

ashyang-shyangpo;they also jointly contribute a special piece of cloth to adornthe altar. Sponsors must accord them special respect. If they go as busingor anoninchen(clan

sisters), they offer cloth

wail in grief. If they go simply as members of the extended circle of kin, they make contributions of grain and money to help defray expenses for the feast. Although complex in detail, these exchanges of goods and services declare the orderof a local society.14 In any one feast, a specific set of relations between patriclans takes form, and over a dry season and over severalyearsin the calculus of thousands of

exchanges the total orderof a local society is expressedand reexpressed.1 The death of

deference. If they go in the party of the ashyang-shyangpo

to adorn the altar and special food to the deceased, and they

13 This was roughly a network of fifteen villages for the region where I worked.

14 All affinal and consanguinial kin (that is, everyone who can trace a trail of relationship) give set amounts of grain and money. Close patrilineal kin give more substantial contributions. There is no direct gain or loss, cost or benefit, in these "gifts."All the contributions (including the money, which is used to purchasemeat) areconsumed at the feast as food or alcohol. Moreover, contributors receive precise equivalent contributions when they become the sponsors of memorial death feasts. At the time of cremation, real and classificatory mha perform the polluting and menial tasks associated with death except washing the face of the corpse, which is done bydaughters orsisters of the deceased. Mha prepare the body for cremation, carry the corpse to the cremation grounds, build the funeral pyre, purify the house of the deceased, and care for the bereavedforseveraldaysafter the death. Months

later, in memorial death feasts, mba again serve

their shyangpo:they do the hardlabor,carryan effigy of the deceased to the altar, cook and serve the

feasting foods, and

tend to the effigy of the deceased until it is cremated. Depending on whether a man or woman has died, come the ashyangand/or the shyangpo. The ashyang-shyangpo, as the Tamang refer to them collectively, give a special piece of cloth for adorn- ing the altar and make special gifts of cloth and foods to their sister's children and sister's spouse, respectively,to "expel"grief. Some gral may require severaldifferent sets of ashyang-shyangpo. 15 Although from the perspective of a male individual a tripartite order of clans is apparent -one's own, one's sister's husband's (mba), and one's wife's brother's (shyangpo)-in fact, this is a doubling of the relation mhalshyangpo. Women have more ambiguous affiliations than men. They retain close relations to members of their natal clan and

a special "grasping" mba must




an adult who is linked into an extensive web of relations brings the very order of society into question. These feasts redeclareorder in the breachof death, and they are "positive"rites in the Durkheimian sense (Durkheim 1965:337-428). Death is not only about order among the living; it also concerns relationships between the living and the dead. Immediately afterdeath, lamas ritually combine the nine bla into a unitary bla and separateit from the body. After cremation rites, lamas and villagers turn their attention to the bla that does not fully separatefrom the living until the conclusion of the memorial death feast. In the interim between cremation and the conclusion of the death feasts,the bla hoversin the vicinity of the village and its former home. It is disoriented, motherless, homeless, and hungry; it craves association with kinsfolk. Although not a ghost (shyingo)in the strict sense, it is perilously close to being one. Indeed it acts like a ghost, and during the interim Tamang must feed the bla whenever they feast lest the bla attack them. Although the main sequences of a memorial death feast occur at an altar constructed in an empty dry field near the house of the deceased, lamas conduct preliminary rites in the homes of the deceased, where they call the bla and bind it to an effigy or mock body. Coresidents of the deceased then feed the bla a final meal.

The following day, the effigy is removed to the areaof the brightly

palace of the Buddhas, which will become the new home of the bla, symbolically announcing the movement of the bla from this to the other world. The guests gather for two large feasts, one focusing on the dead and the other on the living.

adorned altar, the

Residents of the village, and usually a large number of people from as many as

fifteen nearbyvillages, offer food,

of each offering is allotted to the deceased, the remainder is placed in large baskets

and flasks and divided among everyone except bombo.Things

hosts and guests await another feast. Led by song specialists, people sing and dance around the altar to honor the Buddhas and to benefit the deceased. Into the night young men and women engage in poetic song contests and courtship play. Mha distribute large quantities of liquor, rice, and meat to the guests. An arrayof lamaic rites parallels these commensal occasions. Tamang call these feasts gral or "rescue," for lamas are thought to save the deceased from a perpetual intermediacy and an unpleasant rebirth. Successdepends upon the invocation of oaths and texts. At the height of the feast, while guests are heaping their offerings to the bla, lamas "apply" the blessings of Chenreshih (Tibetan: spyan ras gzigs; Sanskrit:

take on a festive air as

liquor, and other gifts to the effigy. After a portion

ava/okite&vara),the compassionate and mothering boddhisattva, as daughters and clan sisters wail with untied hair. In response to each measured lamaic verse, the guests

sing back in tearful chorus the pervasiveHimalayan mantra, Ongsongmanepemehung

hri, juxtaposing dissonant grief and the continuity of Buddhist order. These chants

"erase"the demerit accumulated by the bla in life, and they

work to reassure a

fortunate rebirth. Lamasfinally sever the bla from its attachment to the living,and they turn it over

to the Buddhas and the play of karmic law by displaying iconographic cards and chanting a text called nebar. 16 As one lama explained,

play an important role in their husband's clans. Tamangsociety in its formalexpression is patrifocal, and men aremore fixed in their associations than are women. However, men retain complex relations, the most obvious of which is the relation to their sister's children. 16 Although this text is ritually homologous to

TheTibetanBookof theDead(Evans-Wentz1974;

Rinpoche 1975), Tamang insist that this book need only be read when someone is having difficulty dying. Tamang obviously ignore the "high" tradi- tion rule of rebirth after a forty-nine-day intermedi- ate period. One knowledgeable lama, though, in- formed me that the reason for the high infant mortality rate among Tamang was that during the gral lamas called bla that had already been reborn.






[The cards] areinstructionsforthe bla. Theyinformthe blaof the differentlives it can take. They tell the bla which aregood lives to takeand which are bad: "You should be like this." It is trainingafterdeath. Lamascannottake people to the heavens;theycanonly tell the way:"Youareon yourown. Don'tlingeron the way; don'tstophalfway.Don'tstaywith theghostsandharmfulagents."Thebookwe read is the nebar.

The text, like the cards, describes the trail to the heavensof the Buddhas, who, lamas say, select a rebirth for the deceased. The bla "hears"and "understands"the letters and cards through the power of the Buddhas. Finally, lamas remove a wood- block print that has been attached to the head of the effigy and upon which is written the name of the deceased. Lamasconscript the bla to this printed page and burn it, annihilating relations between the living and the dead. Mha remove the effigy to the edge of the village and cremate it. Final rites of the gral occur the following morning, when the ashyang-shyangpo

expel the grief of the mourners-spouse,

deceased. This is accomplished by gifts of new cloth and offerings of food that have been denied the mourners since the time of death. In conclusion, lamas call down blessings on the houses of the sponsors. The social and religious registers of the death feasts simultaneously reimpose social and cosmic order on the disruptions of death. Behind the regenerationof ideal orderand continuity, though, hoversan opposed world of malevolency,and the orders imposed by death feasts are tenuous. On the bordersof this lamaic domain exists its logical opposite, a world of awful ghosts, evil spirits, and alien divinities.

children, siblings,

and parents of the


Tamang usually explain morbidity, malaise, degeneracy, and hardships of all

sorts as the effects of activity by harmful agents. These agents-whether stinging

local ghosts,

divinities-violate in image the orderof things theoretically established in lamaic or sacrificialritual. In fact, ghosts (shyingo),as well as many other evil spirits, are the

dead for whom the chants of lamas and the exchanges of the memorial death feasts were unsuccessful; they have not passed into rebirth. Forthe most part, ghosts are those who died an unusual or anomolous death and, like other harmful agents, they reside in a permanent intermediacy, homologous to that of the bla between the moment of death and the conclusion of the memorial death feast. They are craving, homeless, kinless, wandering, and desirous, and they havebeen wrenchedfrom life by accident, murder,suicide, sorcery,difficult childbirth, or when wandering alone. Those who were avariciousor jealous in life are likely to

become ghosts, when lamas do

Unlike humans, ghosts and harmful agents are unwanted guests; they offend against the principles of commensal reciprocity that are stressed in Tamang social and ritual life. Famished and in isolation, they grasp and feast on human flesh; lamas and lambuprovide substitute offerings to satisfy and to expel them. For these efforts, however, humans get nothing in return but hardship. During memorial death feasting, lamas attempt to keep the bla from joining this society of fiends by supervising a moral feast. The effort often fails; humans are only temporarily pro- tected from asocial feasting at the margins of death rites. This potential asocial feast, suppressedby lamas, becomes the center of soundings, an opposition made clear in the ways bomboand lamas call b/a.

villainous regional spirits,

rarified cosmic evils, or temperamental

wrenched as they were from worldly wealth. Bla also become ghosts not follow procedures correctly in the performanceof death rites.



At regularintervalsduring memorial death feasts, lamas must call the bla. It has a tendency to stray and is perpetually in danger of becoming part of the world of harmful agents. Unlike bombo,lamas call the bla "by the book," as one lama put it. They close their eyes, chant special mantras, place their hands in particular binding gestures, and call the bla, which comes as pure emanation, "white like milk, clearlike water," in contrast to ghosts who come with wild hair, bloody faces, and fierce expressions. When queried about lamaic techniques of bla calling, one lama answered that the power lies with the letter. He drew the first letter of the Tibetan syllabaryin the dust of the earth and added a hook to the top:

The lama explained that letters of their books and words of their chants hook the bla,

bringing them under the sway of Buddhist law and the power of

one hand, the letter separates the bla from teeming malevolency; on the other, the letter consigns it to the measured and determinate order of the Buddhas. Bombo, ratherthan hooking the bla out of the intermediate world, delve into "heavens"of the homeless, confusion, distress, gossip, cannibal fiends, licentious sex, closed mouths, and other harmfulagents and enigmatic divinities. They do not displace and separate humans from malevolent spirits and an alien divine; they suspend these beings in reflectiverelief. Bomboare inspired to sound by lenTe,who, like ghosts, are beyond the sway of lamaic authority; they result from inherent lamaic failure and reside in the intermediate spaces of secret heavens (beyhul)in the high Himalayas. Severalpractices mark the opposition between lamas and bombo.Bombowill not directly receive the blessings of lamas; bombotake the blessings on the thumb and themselves apply them to the forehead. More importantly, bombocannot touch corpses, enter the houses of those recently deceased, or consume food communally

offered to the bla-a requirement of all other villagers. Contact with

sully the life-reviving bombo,the exposer of a terrific malevolence and an enigmatic

divine, and submission to lamaic authority would make it impossible for bomboto practice.

the Buddhas: on the

death would

In an overview of

Rational Irresolution

of a Ritual Field

the rituals of lama and bombo,contrary reconstructionsappear.

Each alone is merely a partial expression of the field. This complementarity is the

subject of a myth through which Tamangmake apparentan irresolvablecontradiction and a logic in their ritual system. Myth can be helpful in the analysis of ritual:

Mythandritualdo not alwayscorrespondto eachother.Nevertheless,theycomplete eachotherin domainsalreadypresentinga complementarycharacter.The valueof the ritualas meaningresidesin instrumentsandgestures;it is apara-language.The myth, on the other hand, manifestsitself as a meta-language;it makesfull use of discoursebut does so by situating its own significantoppositionsat a higher level of complexity than that requiredby languageoperatingfor profaneends


By operating on a more encompassing level than ritual, the myth recounted below allows a fleeting glance at the system of differencesthat form the total field, a field which from the vantage of each ritual component appearsirrevocablyfragmented. The myth is widely known in Nepal and Tibet, and versions of it have been recorded among Sherpa (Ortner 1978b), Gurung (Pignede 1966:387-88), and in





7 13

Tibetan literature (Das 1881;

severalareasof Nepal (Hofer 1975; Peters 1981); western Tamang regularly recite it when askedthe differencebetween specialists; and bomboformally recite it (or, at least, cryptically referto it) at the time of the erection of the sodungma.The main characters in the myth are primordial brothers-Kalten Sangkye, a lama, and Dungsro Bon, a bombo. A lama recounted this version of the myth:

Milarepa 1970). It has been noted among Tamangfrom

In a time of only earthand stones, thereweretwo brothers.The olderbrother wasa lama,KaltenSangkye,andthe youngerbrotherwasa bombo,DungsroBon. At that time, DungsroBon did all things. He curedpeople;he expelledthe dead;and he performedthe gral [rescue]. The lamadid nothing. One day,the lama'swife chided her husband,asking him what good he was, why he did nothing, and why he had nothing. She told him that DungsroBon, the bombo,called the dead, that the dead appearedto the community,and ate their food offerings.KaltenSangkyetold his wife that it was all a trick and that those who actuallycome to eat the offeringswereevil spiritsandghosts. He told his wife to takehis dorje[symbolof truthandpower],and to displayit whenDungsroBoncalledthe blaof thedeceased.If it wasanevilspiritthatcame,it wouldbe destroyed,andif it wasthe bla, it wouldcomeunderthe careandprotec- tion of the Buddhas. The wife went, and at the appropriatetime she displayedthe dorje.It was revealedto be evil spiritsthat cameto eat the offeringsof food. DungsroBon was humiliated.He was madespeechless. The bombosaidto his brother,"Youhavemademe out to be a senseless,drunken fool. Youhavemademe yourrivalandnowwe musthavea competition.Let'sgo on a pilgrimageto TshomhamhoNgyingtso [a high mountainlake].Youhaveneverbeen on pilgrimagebefore." The bomboset off on the three-daytrail to the high mountainlake. His people went with him, carryinghis drum, his altar,and-some snacksfor the way. The lamasatat homealone.His daughterbecameworriedandsaid, "Father,the otherhas left on the competition.Why areyou stayinghere?They left threedays ago, and they haveprobablyalreadyarrived."The lamaaskedhis daughterto cook him some soup. Then he transformedhimselfinto a bird and flew up to Tshom- hamhoNgyingtso. Therehe plantedhis staff. The lamaperchedin the centerof the lake.Thebomboarrivedandlookedinto the lake. He sawnothingtherebut a vulture.Then, wonderingwhatthe vulturewould do, he threwthingsat it, tryingto driveit away.Thelamathoughtto himself,'Aha, he would do a thing like that to me. He must not recognizeme."The bombowas thinkingto himself, "Myolderbrotheris belowandhasnot yet arrived."The bombo threwmorethings at the vulture. This time Kalten Sangkyebecameangryat his youngerbrother.He took his spoon,dippedit in the water,and flippedthe lakeover,drivingDungsroBondown into the midst of the lake. The lamathoughthe hadfinishedoff DungsroBon and returnedto his home. KaltenSangkye'sdaughter,out of affectionforherfather,hadgone to the lake, but whenshe arrived,he hadleft, descendingby a differenttrailfromhers.All she heardwasthe soundof a drumbeating.Shelookedoveranddowninto the lakeand sawDungsroBondancingandbeatinghis drum.Shewonderedwhathadhappened. Threedayswent by while she looked.Up fromthe midst of the lake,DungsroBon sent the curse of the porcupinequill and ruined the eyes of Kalten Sangkye's daughter.

Kalten Sangkye came and tried to cure his daughter. He consulted his books and blew his mantras onto her, but could not find the cure. Finally, he called out to his




brotherwhowasstill dancingandbeatinghis drumwhilelodgedin the midstof the earth. The lama said, "Lookhere, big man. Don't call yourselfDungsro Bon anymore.Call yourselfNharuBon. Chantonly for the living. I will give you five rupeesand nine level measuresof grainif you cure my daughter'seyes."He then extractedthe bombofromthe midst of the lake. The lamathenboundthe followingoath:"Look,I will takecareof the deadand you will take careof the living."Bombonow go crazyif they eat the food of the communalfeastat a gral.Thebombocannottouchthe deadeither.Theportionswere dividedbetweenlamaand bombo.

On one level, the myth clearly confirms ritual reality. In fact, lamas recount it to legitimate their authority over death rites and their superiority overbombo.Rational- ized Tibetan variantsexclusively declare this ascendencyof Buddhism: "When Naro- Bon-chhun was attempting to rise abovethe neck of Tesi[the mountain}, he fell down and his tambourine rolled down towardsthe southern valley of Tesi"(Das 1881:210). Yet, even the lama's version recounted above leaves a place for the bombo,a place embellished in other Tamang versions. For instance, one respected bomboopened the myth with an inversion of the relation of the brothers:

In ancienttimes, DungsroBon andKaltenSangkyedid battleforthreeyears.The lamasaidto his brother,"Youwill takecareof the living, andI will takecareof the dead."Thebomboresponded,"Iwill not stayundermyyoungerbrother'sorder."The bombodid not obeythe lama,so the lamasaid, "Wetwo must go to Palkutang.We will meet there."The bombowent ahead.Along the way he expelledthe dead, he calledthe bla, and he performedthe gral.

Bomboalso add greater detail to the events surrounding the bombo'semergence from the lake:

Troubleand confusionovercameKaltenSangkye.He sat with his eyesclosedand meditatedto revealthe causeof his daughter'saffliction.He knewthat if Dungsro Bon did not emergehis daughter'seyeswouldcrackandbreak.So KaltenSangkye placeda tall palmtreeanda cedartreeassodungma.He [erectedthewrongspeciesof tree]asa jokeandto trickDungsroBon. Thenhe placedthe saplingof the chestnut tree, and DungsroBon emergedfromthe centerof the earthbeatinghis drum.

Other variantseven find a place for the lambu:One lamburecounted the following additional events: "[After the bomboemerged from the water}, they argued again. Kalten Sangkye put Dungsro Bon back into the earth. Travelingwithin the earth, Dungsro Bon went to Gang GangDe [a placel and came out again. With his dorje, Kalten Sangkye made him dissolve into the earth again. Then Dungsro Bon went to Parping Godavari [a placel and stayed there, becoming the [evil spiriti Aktung Mhang."7 Lambu,joining forces with lamas, ritually expel this evil spirit when it attacks humans. The association of the functions of lama and lambuin this variant point to a commonality between lambuand lamas as opposed to the bombo. The Tamang versions, in contrast to rationalized Buddhist versions (which the Tamangknow), do not charterone practiceabsolutely overanother,and a problematic picture of the religious system emerges. The bombois not defeated and continues to drum and dance incessantly in the middle of the earth. The question of who is the deceiver and who is the fool is never resolved. It is the bombowhen he performs the

17 This

is just one version of the origin of

Aktung Mhang.





7 15

RITUAL PARADOXES IN NEPAL 7 15 Bomboon pilgrimage memorial death feast, and then it is the

Bomboon pilgrimage

memorial death feast, and then it is the lama when he tries to deceive the bombowith improper life-force trees. After defeating the bombo,the lama must submit to his demands. These versions, whether taken singly or in combination, are not only a complex confirmation of ritual reality but expressions that reveal the dynamics of Tamang religion. Examination revealsthat events in the myth, in fact, do not conformto the actual division of labor between lama and bombo.Like many myths (Levi-Strauss1967), this one poses direct contradictions