Mount Ti-se (Kailash), Tibet
part of a monastery, Sikkim
monastery facing lake Manasarovar, Tibet

Buddhism and the Role of Gender in Sikkim: Cultural and Religious Perspectives on Current Challenges in the Himalayas.

Since June, 2020

prayer wheels in a Manilhakhang, Sikkim

Once a prophesied sacred Buddhist land in the Himalayas, then a Buddhist kingdom and eventually an Indian state – historically, Sikkim has seen not only political but also religious changes, influences, and modifications. Even more, recent developments such as climate change, dam building activities and border issues are changing people's lives in many ways. Religion takes a central place in society. At various points in time a synthesis and coexistence of the different belief systems emerged, which can be considered a form of resilience. But what role does gender play in all of these developments? Based on an analysis of primary sources, this study examines the role of gender from social norms and religious contexts in a Himalayan Buddhist ambience, taking into account historical and recent developments.

A Boat by which one Enters Liberation: Imagery, Unheard Voices and Religious Networks within the Barawa Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism

Since October, 2019

Tibetan text, Barawa Kagyü tradition

The aim of this project is to preserve, uphold and spread teachings, knowledge and history of the Barawa Kagyüpa ('Ba' ra ba bKa' brgyud pa), a less studied Buddhist tradition that has been kept alive in Tibet and across the Himalayas since the fourteenth century.

Even though the Barawa were less successful than other traditions, a few communities still exist in Indian exile and preserve first-hand knowledge.

The project is framed into three blocks that depict different aspects of the Barawa tradition and thus are meant to preserve and uphold this tradition's teachings, knowledge and history:

  1. IMAGERY: Imagery was frequently used by this tradition’s founding figure, Barawa Gyeltsen Pelzang (‘Ba’ ra ba rGyal mtshan dpal bzang, 1310–91). His main work, Boat by which one enters Liberation Trilogy (Thar gru skor gsum), is full of imagery: The choice of this title was elaborated by Je Barawa, who explained that a boat that has cracks from moral missteps has to be repaired by contemplating about the profound Buddhist teachings. Only then it will be possible to cross the river of cyclic existence and to arrive the dry banks of liberation.
  2. UNHEARD VOICES: A few texts of Barawa masters include parts mentioning the roles and the impact of women, a relatively unexplored field. By piecing together these parts, the lives of these women come to light as they emerge from the shadow of their masters.
  3. RELIGIOUS NETWORKS: Ever since this Buddhist tradition has been established, Barawa masters have crossed the borders and travelled across the Himalayas. By doing so, they opened new routes that enabled exchange of knowledge, teachings and moral concepts. The aim of this part is to advance the understanding of cross-cultural contacts in the Himalayas, especially of religious networks that were established by the Barawa tradition.

Element water – source of life. Rituals, myths, and tradition in a Buddhist society in the Himalaya.

October, 2018 - September 2019

Sponsored by the Bavarian Gender Equality Grant (BGF) and the women’s representative Ludwig-Maximilians-University (LMU) Munich.

Guru Rinpoche sitting on water, Sikkim

Water is provider of life, therefore, it is not surprising that some of the many lakes, hot springs and waterfalls are considered as sacred Buddhist places in Sikkim and are even under special protection. Sikkim is a Buddhist influenced Indian state in the Himalaya, and is part of the so-called Tibetan cultural area. The aim of this project is an approach to different aspects around the topic of water in Sikkim and thus to shed light on the meaning and impact of water in a Buddhist society in which nature, religion and culture are intimately linked. To reach this goal, Tibetan and Sikkimese primary sources will be translated, which illuminate water in various facets from a religious and cultural point of view. Particular attention will be paid to the meaning of sacred hot springs and every-day rituals concerning water spirits (klu) that have influence on the inhabitants, its land, political entanglements as well as on social life.

Glorious Riceland, gateway to Tibet. Northern Sikkim in Tibetan and Western travel reports.

October, 2016 - September, 2017

Sponsored by the Bavarian Gender Equality Grant (BGF) and the women’s representative Ludwig-Maximilians-University (LMU) Munich.

Barawa master in Chungthang, North Sikkim

Once an independent Buddhist kingdom, Sikkim is now part of India, lying in the north-east of the country, nestled between Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan. Villages in the north of Sikkim, such as Chungthang, Lachen, and Lachung, lie on ancient trade routes that were used by Tibetan masters but also by European travelers. The aim of this project is to analyse travel accounts of Tibetan masters who described the very north of Sikkim from historical, cultural, and religious points of view in their travelogues. Furthermore, these descriptions are compared with those of European explorers who came to this remote area. By analysing the heterogeneity in the Tibetan and Western perception of the same area, an unresearched facet of Sikkimese Studies will be examined.