Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

4 - Living Icons of Mongolia: Buddha-Palladiums and Wrathful Ancestors

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Wilson C, Mezzanine Level

This paper examines the specificities of “living icons” in modern Mongolia, that is, icons which have real agency and autonomy and are referred to as “bodies” (Tib. sku, Mo. beye), not as statues or paintings. They developed a life of their own, which is remembered in local lore, and often became main destinations of pilgrimage. These living icons sometimes show their liveliness by moving and performing miracles. Some of them are palladia that protected a country or a monastery.  Their efficiency and agency are legitimized and recorded by texts and legends about them. Tales about living icons refer not only to Buddhist images, but also to images of great ancestors said to have the power to protect or punish humans and even to kill. I here propose to study texts composed by high-ranking lamas, pilgrimage guides to monasteries, and legends and tales. This paper asks whether there are specificities of the treatment and meaning of images in the Mongol world linked to ancestors’ cults and shamanist practices, in order to have a better understanding of the religious material culture of the Mongols in the modern period.

Isabelle Charleux

CNRS, France

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