Sacred Economies of Kalimpong: The Eastern Himalayas in the Global Production and Circulation of Buddhist Material Culture
Abstract The eastern Himalayan region has long been associated with its commodities, including tea, timber, flowers, and tourism. However, as these commodities have ebbed and flowed with broader socio-political changes, one form of economy has remained constant: Kalimpong’s sacred economies, based around its institutions and production and trade of sacred objects. This article will sketch out the contours of the materiality of Kalimpong’s Buddhist material culture by outlining the processes of production and distribution attached to religious objects produced and procured in Kalimpong. The communities who participate in these networks of circulation and consumption are far from homogeneous, as manufacturers, merchants, and consumers are not always Buddhist; and Buddhists have eclectic tastes that are not always based on concepts of authenticity. Instead, ritual transformation is the key element that determines the function and value of an object, and new technologies that facilitate mass production and dissemination do not inevitably lead to the disappearance of the sacred. These key themes are highlighted through the study of the interaction between Buddhism, trade, and material consumption in this local setting, which is made possible by Kalimpong’s key historical position as a center for cultural and economic exchange between empires and nations.