Accepted Paper:

Keeping the faith: the cult of Taklha Wangchuk ancient governance and disaster prevention in the age of climate insecurity  


Andrea Butcher (University of Helsinki)

Paper short abstract:

The paper examines the response to the 2010 flood in Ladakh, the Indian Himalaya, through a tale of divine oracular prophecy, local reaction, and the rise of the god’s mythology in local narrative. It explores the role of myth and ritual in explaining disaster in a time of changing climate security.

Paper long abstract:

In early 2010, the residents of Lalok, Ladakh, North-West India requested the presence of Taklha Wangchuk, their local protector deity, to visit through oracular possession. During his visit the deity complained that Ladakh was unclean due to increasing ritual and physical pollution, and therefore the gods were angry. He instructed those present that monks and villagers need to perform extensive ritual purifications to remove the dirt and prevent divine retribution. The people of Lalok performed the rituals as instructed, and a representative of the area approached the Ladakhi Buddhist Association warning them of the deity's prophecy. The LBA took no action.

Then, in August 2010, communities on the right bank of the Indus River were devastated by a flood previously unseen according to local memory. The Lalok region was unaffected. That autumn around 3000 people attended the deity's festival at his pilgrimage site in Lalok, more than double the numbers that attended in previous years. "This is no ordinary village god", they said. "This is a powerful protector with the blessing of the Buddhas. His prophecies are accurate. Why didn't we listen?"

This tale provides an opportunity to examine the localised, contextualised, and visceral responses to the flood and its causes in a year which saw unprecedented flooding in many areas of the globe. The paper will consider how creative memory and narrative contribute to responses and disaster prevention strategies in a changing climate, and examine the dynamics of the local cosmology's and religious authority's ownership of these strategies therein.

Panel P11
Living water: the powers and politics of a vital substance