Khumbi yullha and the Beyul: Sacred Space and the Cultural Politics of Religion in Khumbu, Nepal

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Annals of the American Association of Geographers

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Many parts of the Himalaya are at once indigenous people's homelands, national parks or conservation areas, world-renowned trekking and mountaineering destinations, and the sites of ongoing ecological and socioeconomic development interventions. In addition, for many residents, protective territory deities reside in nearby peaks, and valleys between provide sacred places of refuge. Like in mountain regions elsewhere, these meanings represent overlapping and entwined claims of authority and territory from the state, indigenous communities, development agencies, and religious institutions. In this article I consider the ways in which resident Sherpas in Khumbu, Nepal, negotiate the overlapping spaces, authorities, and territories associated with understandings of the region as Khumbi yullha's—a local deity—territory and the Nyingma Buddhist institutional claim to the region as a beyul—a sacred, hidden valley refuge, which development actors, both inside and outside the Khumbu Sherpa community, have attempted to mobilize as a sacred landscape supporting environmental conservation initiatives. Based on eighteen months of fieldwork in 2009 to 2010 and 2013, I focus on the spatiality of the cultural politics of religion in Khumbu in competing claims of territory from the Buddhist monastic institution and localized practices and the ways in which such constructions shape the outcomes of intervention programs.



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