Monday, May 23, 2016

The invention of Kailas?

I'm not sure what it says about me, but I was thrilled to discover at the library today a new book which argues that Kailas has only been fêted as the world's most sacred mountain for a century or so. Alex McKay's Kailas Histories: Renunciate traditions and the construction of Himalayan sacred geography (Brill, 2015) doesn't just argue that our Kailas was only recently connected to ancient Indic traditions of a cosmic mountain, but that there are several Kailas in the Western Himalayan, one of which has a stronger claim to be the earthly manifestation of the supernatural Kailas. To me this has the ring of
truth. But why, and why should it make me tingle with delight? Is it just what a few decades of "the invention of tradition," including the "world religions," would lead one to expect? Or is there a hidden desecratory agenda to religious studies as I practice it after all, a principled raining on the picnics of those who claim to be able to transcend, or bypass, human-all-too-human history? I'm not proud of my delight here. While it's surely in part a joy at being able to engage with Kailas in the most serious way I know - historically, critically, with data, argument and contingency, getting beyond the level of ahistorical wish to the messy reality of life in time - it does also seem a little schadenfroh.

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