The Other World Connection: A Study of the ‘Thread Cross’ Ceremony in Sikkim
Situated in Eastern Himalayas, the mountainous state of Sikkim shares its border with Bhutan, Tibet and Nepal. Among the many existing types of Buddhism, in Sikkim Vajrayana Buddhism (Lamaism) is practiced and rituals are an important aspect of this form of Buddhism, these rituals are not just bound within the monasteries, they are performed at home as well. Rituals are very important in every religion and it has a symbolic meaning attached to it.
One such ritualistic ceremony is the thread-cross ceremony practiced by the Buddhists of Sikkim. It was basically part of pre-Buddhist Bon faith in Tibet but with the passage of time it got incorporated in the Lamaist form of Buddhism. This ceremony is performed to trap the evil spirits in the web type structure of the thread cross. Basically a simple thread cross is made up of two wood which is tied to make into a shape of a cross; a diamond shape is made with thread which resembles a spider’s web. The threads used are of different colours; white, red, yellow, green and blue and each of them have symbolic meaning attached to it. These thread cross functions as a web where the evil spirits are trapped and after the ceremony is completed the thread cross is destroyed by breaking, burning and by casting away at a crossroad.
This ceremony is also practiced in other regions such as South-West China, Mongolia, among the Kachin and Naga tribes in India. Further, it is to be noted that these ceremonies are not peculiar only to countries where Buddhism is being practiced; it is also found in South Africa, Peru, Australia and Sweden.
Although one can trace certain facts about the mdos ceremony in the 1950s work of scholars like Wojkowitz and Gorer (1951), there is hardly any study on this ceremonies in the case of Sikkim (after its mergence with the Indian state). There is a paucity of adequate literature on the mdos or thread-cross ceremony especially in the present day Sikkim although this ceremony is very much prevalent in the state.
The paper will look into as how to historically contextualise the nature of thread-cross ceremony as practiced in Sikkim, it will also see if there is any gender dimension related to this ceremony. It will further try to analyse the manifest and latent functions (if any) of the ceremony and lastly the contemporary relevance of the ceremony will also be thoroughly analysed.
The research will be primarily qualitative in nature. It would be based on participant observation followed by semi-structured in-depth or short interviews. Further, the study would use purposive sampling techniques along with a snow ball attempt to collect data. It would further help to throw light on the complex yet very relevantly inter-connected this-worldly and other-worldly connection through the use of symbolism in the practice of thread-cross ceremony.