Cultural Flows across the Western Himalaya", Shimla 2009


A symposium entitled „Cultural flows across the Western Himalaya“ was held in Shimla from 15th to18th of April and jointly sponsored by the Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS), the University of Vienna, and the Austrian Science Fund (FWF)/ National Research Network (NFN). Following high tea - the program began on Wednesday afternoon with blessings recited by the Venerable Lochen Tulku Rinpoche, Rin chen bzang po. The participants were welcomed by Professor Peter Ronald deSouza, Director of the IIAS and the inaugural address was held by Professor Mungekar, President of Indian Institute of Advanced Study and Chairman of its Governing Body. The distinguished speakers and the important topic “Heritage Preservation in the Western Himalayas” attracted a capacity audience and we would like to thank all those who attended this opening program. (For participant’s institutional affiliation see the “List of participants” and for titles of the contributions see the attached program. Photo 1)

IIAS Conference 2009, Shimla - Group Photo 1


The deliberations, chaired by Deborah Klimburg-Salter, Director of the NFN began with a short statement from Lochen Tulku Rinpoche regarding the importance of Buddhism and Buddhist monuments in the history of Himachal Pradesh. Deepak Sanan discussed the social and economic changes that have occurred in the last two decades in Himachal Pradesh and how they have affected Buddhist monastic life and therefore the conservation of Buddhist monuments. Professor Laxman Thakur offered a critique of the recent preservation projects undertaken by the Archaeological Survey of India (A.S.I.) and the Nako Research and Preservation Project (NRPP, www.univie.ac.at/nako) and praised a number of individual initiatives by local communities. Dr. Verena Widorn presented a very short summary of the history of the NRPP at Vienna University and introduced the extensive website which contains all the many scientific reports produced during 4 years of work at Nako. Thus Widorn was able to clarify some of the dates for structural interventions at Nako, discussed by Prof. Thakur that had taken place before the NRPP began. Prof. Karel Kriz presented a work in progress demonstrating “The Virtual Reconstruction of Nako”, a Google Earth based interactive online application that allows the user to explore reconstructed virtual space.

The program held on the following three days was organized according to the structure of the trans-disciplinary research network (NFN) funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) and housed at the University of Vienna which consists of six sub-projects each with a distinctive disciplinary orientation (www.univie.ac.at/chwh). The NFN works closely with the Research Platform CIRDIS (Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Documentation of Inner and South Asia, www.univie.ac.at/cirdis) funded by the University of Vienna. CIRDIS has initiated the Bon manuscript research unit – the results of which were also presented at the Symposium.

 

Panel 1: New Research in Geography-Mapping Cultural History

IIAS Conference 2009, Shimla - Group Photo 2

The panel on Thursday was chaired by Prof. Karel Kriz, who is also the leader of the NFN sub-project CHIS (http://www.univie.ac.at/chis). Prof. Kriz focused on research goals and trends within the scope of cultural history and mapping. Prof. William Cartwright spoke about mapping the past and the present. He gave an overview of the development of mapping in a broader sense and then focused on the current scientific situation in the fields of cartography and geo-information science. Dr. Pradeep Srivastava outlined the current situation of topographic mapping and remote sensing in India. Kriz focused on the goals and objectives of the Cultural History Information System (CHIS), an application that is being developed at the University of Vienna, Department of Geography and Regional Research within the context of the NFN. This research comprises a collaborative spatially enabled system for archiving, analyzing, and visualizing datasets of cultural relevance.

In the afternoon a session was held on applying mapping tools in cultural history. David Schobesberger and Ben Nausner presented a GPS data acquisition tool that was specially developed for the purpose of data capture in field research related to the goals of cultural history. In the course of a hands-on workshop all conference participants were invited to use the acquisition devices and to capture geo-data (points, lines and areas) of interest (Photo 2). After the field work the collected data was visualized in Google Earth and the relevance as well as efficiency of the tool was analyzed.

 

Panel 2: Philology and History: Manuscripts, Inscriptions, Trade

The panel was chaired by Doz. Dr. Helmut Krasser. In the paper „Manuscripts en route“ Prof. Helmut Tauscher, leader of the NFN Manuscript sub-project, discussed possible streams of interdependence between the various Tibetan traditions of manuscript transmission and routes along which manuscripts might have travelled before they formed those collections that served as bases for the compilation of the various Kanjurs. As a point of departure he analyzed the proto-canonical manuscript collection of Gondhla (Lahul) with regard to its contents and structure. Thus questions were considered such as - which versions of the respective texts the Gondhla collection contains. Tauscher compared the proto-canonical Gondhla mss. collection with representatives of the two commonly accepted groups of Kanjurs, the Tshal pa and the Them spangs ma group, and with the Kanjur of Phugdrag, as well as with other proto canonical material and the catalogues from imperial Central Tibet (lHan kar ma, ’Phang thang ma).

This comparative analysis revealed a strong mobility of manuscripts all over pre-14th century Tibet, however, there was a certain predominance of regional travel. Although in the Gondhla collections those versions of texts are predominant that later served as the basis for the Kanjur of Them spangs ma, other known and hitherto unknown traditions are represented as well. A similar situation is to be expected also in other monastic or administrative centres along the main pilgrimage and trade routes, so that none of the Kanjur transmissions follows a homogenous tradition, and it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to single out all the diverse strands of transmission that mingle in the various Kanjurs.

Dr. Kurt Tropper’s paper was read by Prof. Cristina Scherrer-Schaub. Both scholars belong to the sub-project on Tibetan inscriptions lead by Prof. Ernst Steinkellner (http://www.univie.ac.at/Tibetan-inscriptions). Tropper drew attention to epigraphic palimpsests in the Tibetan cultural realm. Presenting clear examples from different regions and periods, he argued that such palimpsests are probably much more common than is generally assumed. The implications with regard to dating epigraphic sources and interpreting their contents were also addressed.

 

Panel 3: Places, objects and travellers. Art along pilgrimage routes

This panel was chaired by Prof. Deborah Klimburg-Salter who leads the NFN sub-project Art History. All three papers demonstrated the importance of ancient Uḍḍiyāna (Northern Pakistan, in particular the Swat Valley) for the development of the visual culture of the Western Himalaya. Uḍḍiyāna, the home of Padmasaṃbhāva was considered the holy land for Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims. Dr. Verena Widorn and Dr. Anna Filigenzi recreate with greater specificity than previously available the actual trade/pilgrimage routes. Dr. Erika Forte discussed the routes connecting Khotan to China and to historical northwest India, including ancient Uḍḍiyāna. Widorn focused on the ancient pilgrimage routes in Lahul used by both Buddhist and Hindu pilgrims, with emphasis on the information contained in the itineraries of three Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims from the 13th to the 16th/17th centuries travelling from Western Tibet to Uḍḍiyāna. As a result of associating the place names found in the itineraries with sites and monasteries of the region Widorn has been able to add many new or corrected identifications along the portion of their routes which crossed through Lahul, Kulu and Kangra. Dr. Erika Forte, through the presentation of previously unpublished art objects from Khotan, demonstrated the close connection between the visual cultures of northern Pakistan and the Khotan oasis. Dr. Anna Filigenzi discussed parallel problems on the basis of the archaeological evidence from Northern Pakistan. The cultural connections between these regions are referred to in Tibetan historical literature, but until now there has been little concrete evidence for this relationship from the 7th to 9th centuries.

 

Panel 4: Buddhist Philosophy in Kashmir

This panel was chaired by Doz. Dr. Helmut Krasser, leader of the NFN sub-project on philosophy. The four papers shed light on various topics related to Buddhist philosophy and Kashmir. Kashmir was especially relevant to the adoption of Indian Buddhism by the Tibetans as many of the Buddhist Sanskrit works were translated into Tibetan in the country’s capital city Anupamapura, today’s Śrīnagar. The first lecture by Prof. Parul Mukherji dealt with aesthetics and its relation to philosophy in Abhinavagupta’s work Abhinavabhāratī. Then Patrick McAllister explained Ratnakīrti’s theory of language as presented in his Apohasiddhi. Dr. Vincent Eltschinger presented newly discovered works of the “second Dharmakīrti,” the Kashmiri ŚaJkaranandana, and his relation to his contemporary Abhinavagupta. Finally Dr. Anne MacDonald explained the transmission and translation of Buddhist texts in Śrīnagar, including an identification of the textual resources available at the time in monastic libraries.

 

Panel 5: Bon in the Western Himalaya

This panel was chaired by Dr. Charles Ramble, who is developing Bon manuscript research at CIRDIS, Vienna University. On Saturday Prof. Samten Karmay presented a paper on the edicts of lha bla ma Ye shes ’od (947-1024) who ruled over some parts of Western Tibet in the 10th century A.D. Later in his life the king became a Buddhist monk. The texts of his edicts were recently discovered from the private library of the Vth Dalai Lama (1617-1682) in Drepung Monastery in Tibet. These edicts shed light on the history of Buddhist monastic establishments and the question of religious tolerance vis-à-vis the Bon religion in the llth century. Prof. Deborah Klimburg-Salter discussed the visual evidence for the same theme. On the basis of an analysis of the Old Entry Hall paintings at Tabo Monastery ca. 996 CE, she suggested the possible presence of a Bon community or at least influence at Tabo at the time of the monastery’s founding. Dr. Charles Ramble presented an anthropological analysis of two unknown Bon rituals for summoning good fortune (g.yang ‘gug)”. The rituals were documented during his recent fieldwork in Mustang. Phuntshok Nyima, a native of Dolpo, Nepal then presented “The Religious study of Dolpo”, describing the religious customs and beliefs of the Dolpo people. The Bon panel concluded with Charles Ramble’s presentation of the recently discovered manuscripts and wall-paintings from the caves of Mustang which he attributed to the ca. 14th-15th century.

Prof. Scherrer-Schaub shortly summarized the three days of sessions and discussions. She drew attention to the shared underlying structural and theoretical approaches in all of the presentations each of which essentially extended the traditional boundaries of their discipline. She highlighted the innovative character of problem definition and conclusions that could be achieved as a result of analyzing specific cultural and historical features within the framework of a trans-disciplinary methodology. She concluded that the Shimla conference was an important milestone in the work of the NFN towards evolving a more differentiated cultural history of the Western Himalaya 7th/8th-14th/15th century.

All participants were in agreement that the success of the symposium resulted in part from the generosity and intellectual interest of the staff of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study in Shimla under the direction of Prof. deSouza and with the active cooperation of Shashank Thakur. Prof. Tauscher offered a vote of thanks to the staff of the IIAS and Prof. Klimburg-Salter thanked the NFN staff, particularly Michael Zrenner, Linda Lojda and Dr. Matthias Pfisterer, who represented the Numismatic sub-project lead by Doz. Dr. Michael Alram, for their support in the organisation of the conference and the seamless cooperation with the IIAS during the conference. The presence of so many distinguished scholars, including the Fellows, Visiting Professors and visitors at the IIAS at each and every one of the sessions enabled a very lively discussion, the benefits of which will be mirrored in the published version of the seminar. The publication will be jointly published by the IIAS, Shimla and the FWF/NFN in the IIAS series to be published by Oxford University press, India in 2010. It is hoped that in 2011 the National Research Network scholars will be able to return to the IIAS in Shimla to review the next phase in the expanding dialogue on the Cultural History of the Western Himalayas.

ed. Deborah Klimburg-Salter, Vienna, June 2009


Program:
Download File: Program - IIAS, Shimla.pdf