Volume 28, 2021
Living with the Mountain: Mountain Propitiation Rituals in the Making of Human-Environmental Ethics in Sikkim
Kalzang Dorjee Bhutia
University of California Los Angeles
In 2019, a debate erupted in the eastern Himalayan Indian state of Sikkim over whether the Indian Government should allow climbers to attempt to summit Mount Kanchenjunga, the world’s third highest mountain, located on the western border of Sikkim and Nepal. For local communities in Sikkim, Kanchendzonga, as the mountain is known, is seen as the protector deity of the land and its human and nonhuman inhabitants. Summiting him is considered deeply disrespectful. Ritual and textual traditions in contemporary west Sikkim provide insight into how local Buddhists create and reaffirm their relationship with Kanchendzonga and provide context for understanding the 2019 debates. These traditions outline appropriate ethical behavior and function pedagogically to demonstrate how the mountain and humans have historically engaged in forms of reciprocal care, healing, and protection, and how they can continue to do so, thereby ensuring a generative future for all of Sikkim’s transdimensional residents.