ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Constraining Liminality and Performing Culture the Face of Transnational Scrutiny and Shifting Local Sensibilities: The Festival of Buṃgadyaḥ in the Kathmandu Valley


Owens Bruce - Wheaton College, Anthropology, Norton, United States


10 – Stasis and Motion in the Processional Culture of Kathmandu Valley: The Buṅgadyaḥ Yātrā Revisited


The annual chariot festival of Buṃgadyaḥ, also known as Rāto Matsyendranāth has persisted for at least 1,400 years. Though remarkably stable in many ways, its celebration has undergone relatively minor transformations in the face of technological innovations, socio-political change, economic upheaval, and cultural shifts. Examples of these transformations and the forces that brought them about range from chariot axles, originally made of wood, being cast of bronze then steel; the abolition of the monarchy and advent of multiparty democracy; the rising importance of wage labor, value of land, and diminished traditional resources; the commoditization of sacred material culture; and the involvement of women in what were previously exclusively masculine domains. Celebrations over the past decade, however, have seen more radical transformations that can be attributed to a new self-consciousness and understanding of cultural heritage in the context of a transnational gaze, and most recently, a pandemic that knows no borders. This paper will examine these latter transformations and the ways in which they threaten one of the hallmarks of festivity writ large and the festival of Buṃgadyaḥ in particular: its liminal status. Danger, conflict, and unpredictability, once integral to the festival, are now under threat.