Linda Iltis

Seeing the Dance that can’t be seen: Masked Gods and Everyday Esoteric Meanings in Newar Religion


The Harasiddhi, Pachali Bhairav, and Sīkālī Pyākhan, ritual dance dramas of Kathmandu Valley, are all historically significant for understanding Newar religious identities. The absence of sustained dialogue in these performances, however, leaves audiences, performers and researchers wide room for interpretation of meanings ranging from free association from the esoteric. This talk explores the challenges of eliciting, interpreting, and untangling the complex web of polyvalent multiple meanings.


Linda Iltis is a Lecturer in Comparative Religion and South Asian Studies at the University of Washington in Seattle. She earned her doctorate in 1985 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, writing her dissertation about Newar women and ritual and translating the Newari Swasthānī Vrata Katha. Her research areas include women and religion, Hinduism and Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, shamanism, spirit possession, ritual healing, Newar ritual dramas, and anthropology of South Asia. Over the last 30 years, she has conducted research primarily in Nepal, also in India and Sri Lanka, and among South Asian immigrant communities in the United States. She has also begun comparative research in Ghana, West Africa on spirit possession and healing. Her interdisciplinary publications feature studies of goddesses; space, place, and identity; women’s agency and identity in Nepal; expressive culture; ritual performance; and spirit possession. She authored a textbook for and regularly teaches a course: Introduction to World Religions: Eastern Traditions, and has published numerous articles on goddess traditions and women and religions of Nepal. She is currently completing a book manuscript on The Goddess of Self and the Power of Place.