Shaligram: Sacred Stones, Ritual Practices, and the Politics of Mobility in Nepal

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dc.contributor.advisor McIntosh, Janet Walters, Holly 2018-09-17T15:02:30Z 2018-09-17T15:02:30Z 2018
dc.description.abstract For more than two thousand years, the veneration of sacred fossil ammonites (an extinct type of cephalopod), called Shaligram Shila, has been an integral part of Hindu ritual practice throughout South Asia. Originating from a single remote region of Himalayan Nepal, in the Kali Gandaki River Valley of Mustang, ritual use of these stones today has become a significant focus of pilgrimage, religious co-participation, and exchange between Nepal and India and among the global Hindu Diaspora. Viewed primarily as natural manifestations of the Hindu god Vishnu, Shaligrams are inherently sacred. For this reason, they require no rites of consecration or invocation as presiding deities over the household, the family, and the community. But at their core, Shaligrams are both manifest deities and divine movement incarnate, either through a geologically and mythologically formative journey down the sacred river or transnationally in the hands of devout pilgrims. Pouring out into the river each year following the summer melt high in the mountains, Shaligrams are gathered up by pilgrims, tourists, and merchants alike. On their way out of the mountains, they travel through forests and cities, into temples and homes, across great expanses of time and space; kept in perpetual motion by indescribable forces of nature and by complex networks of pilgrimage and kinship. In this ethnography, Shaligram mobility demonstrates the ways in which material, spiritual, social, and digital worlds are deeply intertwined. From the pilgrimage routes required to obtain Shaligrams to their intimate social ties within community and kinship networks of reciprocity and exchange, Shaligrams blur the lines between stones and bodies. Through practitioners’ radically different ways of viewing personhood and agency, Shaligrams become both fossil and deity in such a way that blends discourses of science and religion into equal parts geology, paleontology, history, spirituality, and mythology. As post-colonial Shaligram revival expands into online forums, practitioners also leverage digital technologies as methods for decolonizing and expanding ritual practices and for increasing community participation in a time of political instability and out-migration. By offering an intimate, ethnographically rich portrait of the multiple significances of Shaligrams, this dissertation demonstrates how new religious developments in the lives of Shaligram devotees in South Asia shape them into a distinctive, alternative, society which relies not on any single place or time to define them but on the inclusion of gods, fossils, and ancestors into a global community.
dc.description.sponsorship Brandeis University, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
dc.format.mimetype application/pdf
dc.language English
dc.language.iso eng
dc.publisher Brandeis University
dc.relation.ispartofseries Brandeis University Theses and Dissertations
dc.rights Copyright by Holly Walters, 2018
dc.subject South Asia
dc.subject Religion
dc.subject Hinduism
dc.subject Fossil
dc.title Shaligram: Sacred Stones, Ritual Practices, and the Politics of Mobility in Nepal
dc.type Thesis
dc.contributor.department Department of Anthropology PhD Doctoral Anthropology Brandeis University, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
dc.description.esploro yes

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