Modern Ladakh


pp. 138-152 – III.2 Martin A. Mills : "Possession States and Embodiment in Buddhist Ladakh".

p. 146 Matho oracle

"The Matho oracles ... are oracles that are annually possessed by two local protector deities ... . Two monks ... go into possession, make state-level prophecies – usually concerning the agricultural prospects for the region – and perform ... feats designed to demonstrate ... the validity of their divine powers. Their possession is brought about through the performance of certain rituals, including the painting of each of the possessing deities’ faces onto the stomachs of the monks; it is through this face that the deity is supposed to ‘see’ whilst in control of its monastic vessel. The feats performed by these possessed monks famously include each oracle running the high and narrow parapets of the monastery ... . ... the possession itself is deemed to begin at the precise point at which the ritual painting of the deity’s face onto the torso is finished".

p. 147 S`ug-den oracle

[S`ug-den oracle at Leh] "Ordinarily possessed by two deities – the ... ‘worldly’ protector Dorje Shugden, and his ‘minister’ ... Khaje Marpo – the oracle thus often bore two successive ‘numinal presences’ within a single possession. When in full possession, the oracle wore different crowns as the different deities took possession; moreover, the oracle was not allowed ... public healings unless he was wearing his official clothes. ... the very capacities of the possessing deity to heal depended on the availability of these clothes and implements. Thus, while in possession, the choskyong

could only summon and exorcise bamo ... through using a ritual hook, and

could only bless ... by using his ritual sword. ...

[3 "tests of his identity" undertaken by candidate to become S`ug-den oracle]

1st "his ability, when in possession, to twist up and re-straighten his sword".

2nd "the shoes that the deity traditionally wore ... fitted perfectly".

3rd "possession by the choskyong deity is held to change the colour of the oracle’s face, with a different colour and shade emerging depending on which of the various forms of the choskyong are being shown".

pp. 140-141, 148-149 spirit-possession by ba-mo

p. 140

"possession by witches (L. bamo) ... ‘travels’ [fn. 1 : "Bamo are considered occasionally visible ... as ... a dust-devil".] from the sleeping form of a witch (L. gongmo) ... . ... Taking hold of the [possessee], the bamo ... may begin to speak through the possessed, often in a voice very different from the [possessee]. ... .

p. 141

... accusations of such ‘witchcraft’ by possessees have also been used as social strategies in disputes."

p. 148

"possession by bamo (possessing witches)" : "a bamo can be trapped and interrogated during possession by tying together the possessee’s

p. 149

two little fingers, which blocks the bamo’s departure from the possessed person. [fn. 5 : "sparkha flows between the little fingers throughout the lunar cycle."] The shadow ... of the possessed individual can then be ... until the possessing bamo divulges the identity of the gongmo."

{possession by ba-mo is similar to the "walk-in" – on "walk-ins", vide e.g. "SP-W"}

"SP-W’ = "Spirit Possession – Walk-ins" in :- Ian Lawton : Book of the Soul.


pp. 153-174 – III.3 Laurent Pordie’ : "Contemporary Ritual for Consecration of Medicines in Ladakh".

pp. 156, 163-164 in Ladakh

p. 156

"the smandrup ritual ... is a long and costly ritual specific to medicine, the object of which is to ‘realize’ (sgrub) medicines (sman), which thereby assume the value of ambrosia (bdud rtsi)."

p. 163

"These medicines were then put in bags under a three-tiered altar at top of which was a statue of Sangye Smanla wrapped in ceremonial scarves, katags (kha btags). The altar represented a man.d.ala ... . ... The ... medicines were put in the closed shelves of the lower part of large glass cabinets containing the painted hangings, thangka (thang kha), and the statues representing the deities."

p. 164

"While [the priest] used the bell and the small d.amaru to summon the deities, [his assistant] ... formed mudra with his hands. ... [The assistant] was then ‘connected’ to the altar by a string to which a dorje (rdo rje) was attrached. ... [The priest] ... began ... ritual purification of the medicines by placing a mixture of water and Kashmir saffron (Crocus sativus, gur gum) on a reflecting metal disk (me long). ... All of the participants continuously recited texts, performing specific gestures ... . The recitations were punctuated by ... the clashing of cymbals."

pp. 168-170 elsewhere than Ladakh

p. 168

"annual smandrup of the Chagpori (lcags po ri), the Iron Hill Medical College in Lhasa" :

p. 169

[quoted from Meyer 1995, p. 118 :] "unprocessed drugs and medicinal preparations were arranged around a symbolic representation of the palace of the Buddha ‘Master of Remedies’. The ambrosia produced by the continuous chanting of esoteric formulas, and who virtue impregnated all the remedies, was supposed to collect ... in ... this arrangement."

p. 170

Sman-sgrub "ritual among Bon communities : Krystyna Cech describes the ritual in Dolanji ... (1987:272-73)".

Meyer 1995 = F. Meyer : "Theory and Practice of Tibetan Medicine". In :- J. V. Alphen & A. Aris (ed.s) : Oriental Medicine. Serindia Publ.

Cech 1987 = K. Cech : The Social and Religious Identity of the Tibetan Bonpos. D.Phil. thesis, U of Oxford.


pp. 175-193 – III.4 Fernanda Pirie : "Losar Celebrations in Photoksar". [in Lin-s`ed area]

p. 182 generalities of the Lo-gsar festival

"For all of the dances, the participants take the same places in two lines, the dral ... . The ... astrologer and amchi (Am chi) (practitioner of Tibetan medicine) are normally at the head, followed by all the men, and then all the women, in age order. ...

After each of these dances, those who have led the lines host a small party for the dancers and the Mon. [p. 181, fn. 8 : "Mon (musician)"] They provide plates of food".

pp. 177-178 events (in 10th month) praeceding Lo-gsar festival







Gal-den Nam-chod

"Bagatam ... are evil creatures, made of iron, frightened away by the burning brands flung from the fire. ...

There is ... around the bonfire ... singing and dancing along with the telling of licentious jokes, at which point any watching women become embarrassed and run away."



S`ug-pa sPo-ba

"The annual changing of the juniper on the shrines of the pha-lha, the household protector deities ... . ... .

... they prepare a ... figure of a mountain ibex (skyin)".




"an elaborate food offering to the local spirits, both of the hearth or household and the benign spirits of the earth ... .

... the children ... make balls of dough which they fling at each other, boys against the girls."



S`i-mi Tshal-ma

"a large plate of food, primarily meat and offal from the Losar yak, is taken up the hill to be offered to the dead ancestors." [fn. 6 : "In Photokasar ... to ‘those who first marked out the fields and built their boundary walls’."]

pp. 179-181, 183-186 events (in 11th month) of Lo-gsar festival






"As they leave the temples a group of men erects a new payer flag on each of the tall poles outside ... . At the same time other men ... will be changing the smaller prayer flags ... which top every roof in the village ... . ...

One of the men then takes ... to pay his respects to the astrologer".



"the two Babar ... roles are played by two of the village men ... . One carries a small drum, ... and the other has two black horns. One of the horns is straight, and is said by some to come from a one-horned deer {unicorn}, and the other is a curved yak’s horn, which can be blown like a bugle. ... . ... the Babar ... blacken their faces completely ... . ... . ... the Babar ... would visit each household ... . They would put a foot on top of the stove ... to the deity of the hearth, recite a litany of illnesses and declare that they were carrying them all away with their black horns. Then they would run out, while the household members ... whistled."



"the three other ritual figures, the Api-Meme (A phyi me me) grandmother and grandfathers ... . The two Meme wear sheepskin jackets turned inside out ... . The single Api also wears a black hat ... the standard dress for old women who no longer wore their peraks (pe rag, turquoise head-dresses). The Api also wears ... the sheepskin back-covering worn by married women. ... . ... the Api-Meme ... because they are old and decrepit ... represent the passing year."



"the village god, the yul-lha, who has entered into possession of the lhaba, the local spirit medium ... arrives, ... to be dressed in his ritual headdress. He then ... addresses the assembled villagers, giving them instructions ... about how to treat dead bodies. ... Eventually the lhaba dances round the circle of villagers, who all bow in front of him".



"displays (ltanmo) by the ... girls of the village, known as ... patimo. The girls dress up in the embroidered shawls ... . The patimo was ... something that the girls do ‘to please the lha’ and ensure that there will be plenty of babies in the following year." [fn. 11 : "Dollfus (1987:86-87) describes how in Hemis Shukpachan the Patimo ... is said to represent ... the venerated Fatima of the Muslims." {this name is /FiT.aM/ ‘weaning’ (DMWA) – so is the emphasis on the subsequent weaning of the "babies in the following year"?}]



"made ... by the astrologer" : "dra-dzor (or dra-dor), it takes the form of a spindly figure with claws for hands and three dogs’ heads, yellow, red and green."



"a pantomime ibex, enacted by two men covered by a carpet, one of whom actually wears the heavy head of a real ibex.



At the same time one of the men acts as an astrologer ... and then dances with his ritual implements.



This is followed by a troupe of girls dressed as nyopa, the young men who go to steal a bride during a wedding. ... All the girls have their faces covered. Their dances are, again, interrupted by the young men’s alamdar, ... one of them wearing a wild yak’s hair wig."



"Giving the Api-Meme a new-born lamb ... will assure that plenty of new lambs ... are born in the new year."



"the astrologer is making two more storma figures, a white male belpo and a black female belmo." {bright yang, dark yin}

Dollfus 1987 = Pascale Dollfus : "Lo-gsar, le nouvel an populaire au Ladakh". L’ETHNOGRAPHIE LXXXIII:63-96.

DMWA = Hans Wehr : A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic.


BRILL’S TIBETAN STUDIES LIBRARY, Vol. 20 = Martijn van Beek & Fernanda Pirie (ed.s) : Modern Ladakh. Leiden, 2008.