UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Power, charisma, and ritual curing in a Tibetan community in India Calkowski, Marcia


This dissertation is concerned with the ways in which Tibetans living in Dharmsala, Northern India, react to events such as illness, personal distress, and misfortune, when they perceive such events as disturbances to a given social and moral order and as evidence of "spirit attack". To re-establish the order, the context moves/widens from a concern with an afflicted individual to include more general political issues and finally focuses on the legitimation of authority. Dharmsala Tibetans live in a hierarchical society and subscribe to a hierarchical cosmos. The ideology places responsibility upon humans for aligning this hierarchy and prescribes the legitimate means by which the hierarchy may be ascended. Two efficient causes of illnesses result in spirit attack: (1) the first attributes spirit attack to human violation of hierarchical tenets; (2) the second, to the illegitimate status ambitions of evil spirits. The logic of the ritual cure addresses the resolution of status ambiguities. Successful ritual cures are appreciated in terms of two idioms denoting two aspects of charismatic authority. When the spirit attack results from human violation of hierarchical tenets, the patient's cure is contingent upon his or her unsystematically acquired power (rlung-rta). When the second efficient cause obtains and evil spirits are responsible for the attack, the patient's cure depends upon the outcome of a duel between an exorcist and the spirit(s), and the successful cure is described in terms of systematically acquired power (dbang). These idioms serve not only to legitimate status in Tibetan society, but also to rationalize hierarchical ascent. In addition to ritual curing, the idioms are employed in assessing the outcomes of events such as sports, gambling, and weather-making. Where the idioms overlap moral ambiguities emerge. The two idioms are discernible in much of Tibetan history where they focus upon the legitimation of succession to charismatic office. The idiom of unsystematically acquired power appears to predominate in the present refugee context.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.