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Fuentes, Ayesha (2021) On the use of human remains in Tibetan ritual objects. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This dissertation explores material knowledge and cultural histories of the use of human remains in Tibetan ritual objects by means of the combined methodologies of conservation, technical art history, iconographic analysis, cultural anthropology and material culture studies. This research describes historical narratives for the formalization of Buddhist tantra through the incorporation of practices and materials for ritualized charnel asceticism as well as the diverse refinements, applications and representations of these objects in Tibetan visual and material culture. Specifically, this work explores evidence for the use of skulls and charnel (viz. bone) ornaments in sources for Buddhist mahāyoga and yoginī _tantra; the rkang gling or thighbone trumpet in the material culture of gcod; and the cultivation of Tibetan iconographies which utilize these instruments in representations of siddhas or other accomplished ritual practitioners as well as the characterization of wrathful deities (e.g. Heruka) and yoginī/ḍākinī _intermediaries. Furthermore, this dissertation presents a technical study of skulls, bone ornaments, rkang gling and the skull ḍamaru by means of objects accessible in museum collections and a campaign of fieldwork in which a variety of practitioners, fabricators and observers were engaged directly in order to document the sourcing, preparation, construction, and circulation of these materials and a diversity of present social values, handling strategies and ritual functions. By positioning current practices in relation to the historical narratives and sources which have conditioned the use and valorization of these objects in Tibetan material religion, this research suggests an interpretive rubric and technical vocabulary for understanding the ritual instrumentalization of human remains as a dynamic and continuously innovative cultural process.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
Keywords: human remains, material religion, Tibet, Buddhism, tantra, visual culture
SOAS Departments & Centres: School Research Centres > Centre of Buddhist Studies
Departments and Subunits > School of Arts > Department of the History of Art & Archaeology
SOAS Research Theses
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
T Technology > TT Handicrafts Arts and crafts
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion
Supervisors Name: Christian Luczanits
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 01 Feb 2022 17:34
Funders: Other, Other

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