Christoph Emmrich

The List, the Priest, the Client, and the Shopkeeper, or How To Know and How to Get What You Need in Newar Buddhist and Hindu Ritual

Lalitpur, 2018. Photo by Christoph Emmrich

Rites are made, among other things, out of stuff. Rites among the Newar Buddhists and Hindus of the Kathmandu Valley are big and hence require all kind of stuff, – and lots of it. It is hence not surprising that only few people are able to keep track of what is needed for which particular rite and for when it is needed, – particularly when the date is close and there is still so much to do. For that Newars, just as people elsewhere, use lists. Rites, hence, are not only made out of stuff, they are made from lists. What do these lists look like? What do they cover? How are they drawn? How are they used? How do they vary? How do they contribute to making the rite happen? And how do they help us understand better how texts, images, speech, human interaction, and the understanding of what rites are meant to accomplish work together? This lecture will provide a close reading of some of these lists, both textual and visual, share observations on their use in the exchanges between the main actors working towards making ritual happen, such as the family priest, the organizer or her collaborators, and the vendor, and will attempt to provide insights into crucial creative activities in the run-up to the envisaged ritual event.


Christoph Emmrich is Associate Professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of Toronto. With his research divided between the Kathmandu Valley (Nepal), on the one hand, and Yangon, Mandalay, and Mawlamyine (Burma), on the other, Christoph Emmrich has been studying the history of girl childrens’ involvement in Buddhist practices related to marriage, consecration, royalty, and travel by confronting the personal and ethnographic remembrance of singular religious events with the history of their local and academic exegesis on the basis of ritual manuals, narrative literature, and poetry in Newar, Sanskrit, Burmese, and Pali. He is currently completing a monograph titled Writing Rites for Newar Girls: Marriage, Mimesis, and Memory in the Kathmandu Valley (Leiden; Boston: Brill). His recent publications include “What Theravāda Does. Thoughts on a Term from the Perspective of Post-Colonial Nepal,” in Theravāda Buddhist Modernities. Theravāda Buddhist Civilizations, edited by Juliane Schober and Steven Collins (London: Routledge, 2017), and “Vessantara Opts Out: Newar Versions of the Tale of the Generous Prince,” in Readings of the Vessantara Jātaka, edited by Steven Collins (New York: Columbia University Press).