The thesis concerns the religious practices of the ethnic Gurung group of Nepal. I conducted fieldwork in the Annapurna area in a Gurung mountain-village, as well as in the town of Pokhara. The Gurungs' religion is a blend of Buddhism, Hinduism and a remainder from pre-Buddhist Tibet, called Bon. The Gurungs have a shaman priesthood that is believed to practice a form of Bon religion. The Bon religion is the predominant and most traditional Gurung-religious form, while Buddhism has become increasingly popular the last years. Hinduism is the major religion in Nepal, and the Gurungs regarded themselves as Hindus until a decade or two ago. Now however, many Gurungs identify themselves less with the majority lowland Hindu castes, and, increasingly, with other mountain-dwelling ethnic groups under the influence of Buddhist-Tibet. One reason why Buddhism is becoming more popular at the expense of Hinduism is that people are reacting to the previous Hindu-assimilation policy in Nepal. Nepal has had a democratic constitution since 1991. The new constitution equalises all religions (Hinduism, Buddhism and Bon) and regards all castes and ethnic groups as equal.
The new democratic constitution awoke an ethnic revival process in Nepal. Two "competing" priesthoods among the Gurungs - the shamans and the Buddhist lamas - reinforce the ethnic revival process among the Gurungs, because both the lamas and the shamans are concerned with Gurung identity.
Among the many rituals, festivals and celebrations of Hindu, Buddhist and Bon character which the Gurungs perform, the funeral and secondary burial rituals are the most important. My thesis explores these mortuary rituals among the Gurungs. The mortuary rituals are originally a Bon practice, but the Gurung Buddhists increasingly perform funerals similar to those the shamans perform. One important current issue in the Annapurna area is a controversy between the shamans and the lamas. The shamans perform animal sacrifice in their rituals. The Buddhists, on the other hand, regard animal sacrifice as a sin. The Gurungs are divided over the issue of animal sacrifice.
My thesis applies the theories of "secondary burial" to the Gurung burial ritual. Robert Hertz is a leading theorist on secondary burials.¹ Hertz focuses on a presence of a corpse in a secondary burial. In the Gurungs' secondary burial, on the contrary, a constructed effigy symbolises the deceased. Whereas Hertz focuses on how the deceased causes fear and anxiety, such as ritual contamination, I principally direct the focus the other way - on how the people influence the deceased. The deceased's maternal and affinal kin members are responsible for constructing the effigy and providing it with necessary gifts (prestations) so that the deceased's soul can transmigrate successfully to the land of the dead. If the necessary prestations (gifts and labour) by the maternal and affinal kin are not presented, the deceased's soul cannot progress, and becomes a lost spirit. Therefore, I can conclude that the Gurungs believe in a relational destiny in the mortuary rituals.
Man's destiny seems to repeat at the time of death. I think the Gurungs' life-cycle transitions reveal a continuous relationship. The direction the gifts circulate reveals a continuation of exchange in all forms of life transitions, including the after-life transition to join the forefathers. The marriage-exchange cycle is repeated through the medium of gifts and prestations at the time of the death-transition. Necessary life-transition-relations resurface at the time of death when the person again changes status. The thesis applies to life-cycle ritual- and kinship theories.