Written in stone: Inscriptions of the Kathmandu Valley's Three Kingdoms

Author: 
Bledsoe, Bronwen
Year: 
2004

     This dissertation centers on recovering previously unheard voices from one regional South Asian world. It examines inscriptions in stone, written in Sanskrit and in the Kathmandu Valley's own language, Newari, erected by a range of agents who consecrated temples and cognate structures in the Three Kingdoms period (mid-16th to mid-18th century AD). Looking to but distanced from affairs of the Indian subcontinent and implicated in but marginal to affairs in the trans-Himalayan north, Nepal's Three Kingdoms enjoyed a Golden Age.
     The words and works of three types of transient human agents who effectively volunteered themselves up to posterity are considered in some detail. Whereas other studies centered on inscriptions have taken the concrete work at hand to be more or less incidental to the inscriptional text, this study takes seriously the act of temple-consecration and the presentations of self in connection with it. People refashioned themselves along with the built environment.
     People of various classes worked to constitute the newly-sovereign realms of the period, and to position themselves with regard to Others at home and abroad. Theist kings and would-be kings resurrected the poetic Sanskrit eulogy (long vanished in India proper) to stake their claims on thoroughly classical lines. Some rulers paired themselves in relations of virtuoso intimacy with esoteric deities in elaborate Sanskrit verse. Turning from the rulers to the ruled, the study looks at the Valley's Buddhists, who fashioned a distinctively Newar Buddhist way of life emergent from a pan-Indic past and divergent too from Tibetan norms. Buddhists were solid subject-citizens of the newly independent Valley kingdoms, but they also subjected king and realm to ongoing oblique critique. Finally, the study takes up the words and works of the lowly, with a group of ex-renunciant sweepers. The Jogis (previously yogins ) operated within considerable constraints, but they too managed to built temples to their chosen deities, present themselves in inscriptions, and--notionally at least--refigure the realm that encompassed them.

Advisor(s): 
Inden, Ronald