Girl children at lunch during their ṛṣīnī retreat at Dharmakirti Vihara, Kathmandu, Dec. 2007. (Photo: C. Emmrich.)


Volunteer at the Kyaik Tan Lan Paya, Mawlamyine, Dec. 2008. (Photo: C. Emmrich.)

The locations of the project are monasteries and meditation centres in the Nepalese cities Lalitpur and Kathmandu and comparable Burmese institutions in Mawlamyine, Mandalay, and Yangon. On the Nepalese side the practices under scrutiny in this project consist of a set of early childhood rituals modelled upon marriage (Newar: ihi and bārha) and various forms of usually temporary monastic retreat (Nepali/Newar: anāgārikā, ṛṣīnī, yogī), the latter imported from Burma/Myanmar in the 1960s and rapidly replacing or imitating the older Newar ritual for girl children called bārhā. On the Burmese side the series consists of an early-childhood ear-boring ceremony (Burmese: nadwin) containing elements of ritual partnership in its coordination with the male siblings’ temporary ordination (Burmese: shinbyu), sometimes succeeded by a temporary taking of monastic vows by the girl children (Pāli: isinī) and a period of training in Buddhist doctrine any time after ear-boring.

The tensions between the qualification for partnership on the basis of performances of asceticism and the equivocations of gender and seniority in the performance of learning, as well as the re-appropriations and transformations of these practices by girl children in the transfers between Burma/Myanmar and Nepal will be key issues while analyzing the transformations of agency. As we are dealing with interconnected Buddhist monastic lineages the project’s comparative aspect is primarily historical-genealogical, trying to trace the emergence of forms of girl children’s agency along specific historical trajectories of shared literatures, values and institutions, historical events of exchange and differences in the local reception, mimesis and reflection of the transferred practices.