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AAS 2016 Print Program
In Event: Beyond Commodification: Mass-Produced Religious Objects and Deep Authority in South and Southeast Asia
I investigate the recent mass-proliferation of objects central to the Theravada Buddhist sīmā consecration ceremony. Sīmā space is ritually established ground in which certain monastic ceremonies must be held. Historically, sīmā space has been consecration by burying nine large stones, suspended by rattan, around the perimeter and center of the sīmā space. The stones are ritually buried by nine elite patrons, who cut the rattan supports with ritually produced swords. Participation in this ritual is usually secured by generous donations. Cutting the rattan is considered to be one of the most spiritually beneficial rituals in the Thai Buddhist repertoire. The swords and stones used in the ritual are held as rare efficacious objects imbued with large stores of power emanating from monastic, royal, and local sources. While it is still the norm for these rituals to produce nine stones and nine rattan-cutting swords, a growing number of northern Thai sīmā consecration rituals now feature hundreds of stones and participants who collectively cut the rattan supports with mass-produced swords.
These swords and stones have recently transformed from rare objects restricted to the elite, into highly proliferated items that are accessible to the general population.
Here I track the myriad of meanings that accumulate on these objects throughout time, and how these objects serve as anchors of meaning and narrative for Thai Buddhists. I argue that the recent changes and innovations surrounding the production and accessibility of these objects points toward a “democratization” of the sīmā consecration ceremony in northern Thai Buddhism.