Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Art History

First Advisor

Dr. Dina Bangdel

Second Advisor

Dr. Babatunde Lawal

Third Advisor

Dr. Michael Schreffler

Fourth Advisor

Dr. John Herman


Every four years, in the middle of a cold winter night, devotees bearing images of 126 Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and other important deities assemble in the Nepalese city of Patan for an elaborate gift giving festival known as Samyak Mahādāna (“The Perfect Great Gift”). Celebrated by Nepal’s Newar Buddhist community, Samyak honors one of the Buddhas of the historical past called Dīpaṅkara. Dīpaṅkara’s importance in Buddhism is rooted in ancient textual and visual narratives that promote the cultivation of generosity through religious acts of giving (Skt. dāna). During Samyak, large images of Dīpaṅkara Buddha ceremoniously walk in procession to the event site, aided by a man who climbs inside the wooden body to assume the legs of the Buddha. Once arranged at the event, Dīpaṅkara is honored with an array of offerings until dusk the following day.

This dissertation investigates how Newar Buddhists utilize art and ritual at Samyak to reenact and reinforce ancient Buddhist narratives in their contemporary lives. The study combines art historical methods of iconographic analysis with a contextual study of the ritual components of the Samyak Mahādāna to analyze the ways religious spectacle embeds core Buddhist values within in the multilayered components of art, ritual, and communal performance. Principally, Samyak reaffirms the foundational Buddhist belief in the cultivation of generosity (Skt. dāna pāramitā) through meritorious acts of giving (Skt. dāna). However, the synergy of image and ritual performance at Samyak provides a critical framework to examine the artistic, religious, and ritual continuities of past and present in the Newar Buddhist community of the Kathmandu Valley. An analysis of the underlying meta-narrative and conceptualization of Samyak suggests the construction of a dynamic visual narrative associated with sacred space, ritual cosmology, and religious authority. Moreover, this dissertation demonstrates the role of Samyak Mahādāna in constructing Buddhist identity in Nepal, as the festival provides an opportunity to examine how Newar Buddhists utilize art, ritual, and performance to reaffirm their ancient Buddhist heritage.


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Available for download on Monday, December 09, 2024