Marion Wettstein, April 1st 2022

chamdam status rituals among the Dumi Rai of Eastern Nepal

Nagire nakcho (ritual specialist) Gangaraj Rai on the left performing the mundhum (recitation) accompanied by a group of masumadi (ritual dancers), cuksatuksami (drummers) and tayami (ritual assistants) for the new luphini (chamdam sponsors) Tekmani Rai and his wife Guptimaya, sitting on the right. Daregauda village, Khotang, Nepal. 14-17 Feb 2022. Photo Marion Wettstein.

In my 20 years of conducting field research among the Dumi Rai of Eastern Nepal, I was repeatedly told about an ancient, discontinued ritual called chamdam (“dance”). Only a handful of old people remembered having seen it in their childhood, and it was believed to be long since extinct because hardly anyone fulfilled the conditions required for its performance any longer. It was therefore a surprise even to local Dumi Rai ritual connoisseurs, that at the beginning of the year 2022 a chamdam was announced for mid-February in one of the villages. Having had the opportunity to join the ritual on short notice, this lecture presents field research material, film and sound recordings, and a first contextualisation and analysis of the ritual performance.

The chamdam is the last in a series of four rituals – nagu, tidam, chidam and chamdam – each always bigger and more expensive than the previous one. Only the last, the chamdam, bestows the sponsor with an irreversibly high status in society: a new ritual name that will be recited in other ancestral rituals from then on. The Dumi Rai chamdam is comparable to a classic ‘feast of merit’, featuring all relevant characteristics as compiled by Kai Birket-Smith (1967). While ‘feasts of merit’ have been witnessed and described in many societies of Highland Southeast Asia and Northeast India, similar rituals have not till date been recorded in local shamanic societies of Nepal.

Lecture by Marion Wettstein, Institute for the Science of Religion
research colloquium, science of religion, Friday 01.04.2022, 14:15-16:00
University of Bern, Uni Tobler, Lerchenweg 36, 1st floor, room S113

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