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Mar 7 | The Mountain with Two Wives: Landscape and Embodied Memory in Kathmandu

  • Columbia University New York, NY, 10027 United States (map)
Swyambhu Dyama laughing, at Palanchowk Bhagwati (1).jpg

When: Thursday, March 7 2019, 6:10- 7:30

Where:  509 Knox Hall

The Kathmandu Valley in Nepal had a unique tantric religious culture that valued the feminine and gave high status to women and girls, different from most of the South Asian cultures around it.  At the same time, the Valley was a sacred landscape in which a biodiversity of plants and animals flourished along with its human inhabitants.  During the last century, however, enormous changes at a dizzying pace have both degraded the Valley landscape and altered the subjective experience of being a woman there.

More than thirty years ago, Ellen Coon began recording oral histories with Newar women, indigenous to Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley,  who possessed significant religious and ritual expertise.  At the time some of them were talking about events that occurred seventy years earlier or more – so the archive encompasses memories extending 100 years into the past.   

In this talk Coon will share stories from and about these narrators and explore how Newars have carried memory in their bodies, through rituals and festivals, through deity possession, and by walking from one sacred place in the landscape to another, physically tracing and affirming webs of connection, relationship, and story.  We will explore how her recorded and written oral history archive might be useful in decoding these bodily memories, and in nourishing our visions of the future.

Ellen Coon has been collecting oral histories in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal for over thirty years.  A former Fulbright Scholar, she holds a Master’s degree in Oral History from Columbia University, where her thesis was awarded runner-up for the 2017 Jeffrey H. Brodsky Oral History Award. She has published articles in The Himalayan Research Bulletin and Hinduism Today, and is currently working on a book based on her archive.