The Aromatics Network in the Mongol Empire―Aromatics, Palaces, Shrines, and Gods of the Sacred Mountains and Rivers

Dans le cadre du séminaire des études mongoles et tibétaines, Paehwan Seol, maître de conférences à l’université Nationale Chonnam (Corée du sud), donnera une conférence sur le thème suivant :

“The Aromatics Network in the Mongol Empire―Aromatics, Palaces, Shrines, and Gods of the Sacred Mountains and Rivers”.

Date

Vendredi 17 février 2023, de 14h à 16h 

Lieu  

54 boulevard Raspail, sous-sol, salle 15

Résumé

This study analyzes the vast network of aromatics and incense exchange, including its operation, within the Mongol Yuan empire. Through this network, aromatics and incense could act as media connecting the Mongol court with the “gods of the sacred mountains and rivers” (yuezhen haidu 嶽鎭海瀆), Daoist, Buddhist, and Islamic temples and churches within the empire or beyond, and maritime world at its frontier

Aromatic culture was natural to the Mongol grasslands. Processed aromatics and incense, however, remained somewhat unfamiliar to Mongols until after the turn of the 13th century. This changed during the reign of Chinggis Qan (r. 1206–1227), when a Chinese Taoist in Samarqand introduced some Mongols to burning incense. By the reign of Qubilai (r. 1260–1294), the culture of burning incense was established in the Mongol imperial court, beginning with the sacrifice to the gods of the sacred mountains and rivers as late as 1261.

While people burned incense in offerings to the great Qan in their ordo, or felt tents, on the grassland, envoys of the Qan burned incense in offerings to the gods of the sacred mountains and rivers in the incense halls of his dual capitals of Dadu (大都, M. Khanbaliq, modern-day Beijing) and Shangdu (上都, or Xanadu in modern-day Zhenglanqi, China). By so doing, the Qan connected his empire’s territory through sacrificial rites performed by proxy. Thus, royal envoys and Daoists sacrificing to the gods of the sacred mountains and rivers joined Confucian scholars in Confucian shrines and Tibetan Buddhist monks during their “Buddhistic city tour of the Imperial City” (you huangcheng 游皇城) as performers of a great political and religious incense ritual.

Through this incense-burning culture, the Mongols inherited the traditional Chinese ideology of “correlative resonance between Heaven and people” (tianren ganying 天人感應), expressing it with the magical, territorial, and festive qualities of Mongol culture. A representative example of this phenomenon is the you huangcheng, a Buddhistic ceremony that combined Tibetan Buddhism with a Mongol-style festival and city tour. Called gdugs dkar in Tibetan and bai sangai (白傘蓋, “white canopy”) in Chinese, the event took place every year on February 15th, and centered around a tour of the inside and outside of the imperial city after welcoming a white canopy installed beside the imperial throne in the main hall of the great Qan or Da Mingdian (大明殿). This constituted a Buddhistic and civic version of a “jāma and ǰisün feast,” a royal banquet featuring dress in one-color robes bestowed by the great Qan.

Burning incense was a cultural activity with a strong religious aspect, but it had political and economic functions as well. Economically speaking, it offered material rewards for religious temples and their people. Daoists, Buddhist monks, Confucians, and (Nestorian) Christians were highly incentivized by the political and economic benefits they gained from burning incense bestowed by the Mongol royal families. This, as a consequence, reshaped the politics, economies, and cultures of China, Iran, and Goryeo (modern Korea). Aromatics and incense from Southeast Asia all the way to Tamla 耽羅 on Korea’s Jeju Island (Danluo in Chinese) connected the material world of sea ports, palaces, and the spiritual world of sacred mountains and rivers, temples, and the Heavenly Concubine (Tianfei 天妃), namely, sea-goddess Mazu 馬祖. Thanks to incense, the Mongol Qan, from the time of Qubilai, dominated the worlds of both mountains and streams and also spirits within his realm through a network that integrated ordos and incense halls (xiangdian 香殿) with the main imperial halls of Shangdu and Dadu.

Contact : isacharleux@orange.fr

Monique Abud

Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, EHESS, Paris, France

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