Coming of Age Rituals in Nepal and the Renewal of Sacred Sites in Japan
10 May 2013
Religious rituals in South Asia along with ritual restoration processes in Japan are the subject of six documentaries produced by Heidelberg scholars Prof. Dr. Axel Michaels and Prof. Dr. Niels Gutschow. They show inter alia the youth initiation in Bhakatpur (Nepal) and the recurrent renewal of Shinto sacred sites in Ise (Japan). The films were produced in the course of research work in the Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context” and in the Collaborative Research Centre “Ritual Dynamics” of Heidelberg University and were made in cooperation with cameraman Christian Bau. Some of these documentaries are obtainable on DVD as part of book publications.
For the film “Bel Fruit and Loin Cloth” on the youth initiation ritual in Bhakatpur the filmmakers accompanied three different families and a 7-year-old girl for several days with the camera. The pictures show how boys aged four to eleven are draped with loin-cloths as a sign of their manliness. Girls, in turn, are married to the fruit of the wood-apple tree, representing the god Vishnu. Then the girls give part of the ritual food to the ancestors. The film does not only document the exact procedure of the initiation but also make clear what social and religious significance this ritual act has for people. The 65-minute film is enclosed as a DVD in the publication “Growing up” by Axel Michaels and Niels Gutschow. Two further films are concerned with Hindu wedding and death rituals in Nepal.
The film “The Authentic Replica” accompanies the restoration process with which Shinto sacred sites in Ise are ritually renewed. Every twenty years the two biggest shrines, plus over a hundred smaller ones, are replaced by detailed replicas. The place at which these shrines are to be found has remained the same for over 1,300 years. The appearance of the sacred sites and the restoration methods have been largely retained and have likewise preserved a special authenticity. The documentation shows not only the carpenters and smiths at work but also the daily gifts of food in the temples. The 70-minute film was made by Prof. Gutschow and Dr. Christoph Henrichsen. More films on restorations in Asia deal with preserving Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi and the building style of Jainism, an Indian religion.
“With our documentations we want to show the importance of rituals in South Asia and restorations in Japan, but at the same time preserve them as precisely and graphically as possible in images and sound for research purposes”, said Axel Michaels, an Indologist at the South Asia Institute (SAI) of Heidelberg University, who has intensively studied rituals in South Asian countries and regions. He is the spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Centre “Ritual Dynamics” and the director of the Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context”. Niels Gutschow is an honorary professor in the Department for Cultural and Religious History of South Asia at the SAI and also belongs to the Cluster of Excellence. The building historian and curator has contributed greatly to the preservation of different historical buildings in Asia and has pressed for the continuance of traditional building methods. Cameraman Christian Bau works for Thede Filmproduktion, an association of documentary filmmakers.