Cleansing the Sacred Habitat in the Time of Coronavirus: Buddhist Sang Rituals in Sikkim in Response to the 2020 Covid-19 Pandemic


  • Kalzang Dorjee Bhutia University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), USA


The Riwo Sangchö (the Mountain Incense Smoke Offering) is a Buddhist smoke offering ritual associated with purification that has become popular in response to the coronavirus in west Sikkim, India in 2020. Inspired by the mountainous landscape, the incense at the center of this ritual appeases local spirits and in turn ensures their protection. The incense itself is made from widely available medicinal plants that are sourced from local forests. The popularity of the ritual represents the continued efficacy of historical traditions that have adapted to the new challenges brought by the pandemic.

Author Biography

Kalzang Dorjee Bhutia, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), USA

Dr. Kalzang Dorjee Bhutia (he/him) is an ACLS/Robert H. N. Ho Research Fellow in Buddhist Studies and a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is originally from west Sikkim, India, and completed his PhD in Buddhist Studies at the University of Delhi. He is currently completing a monograph on the environmental history of Sikkimese Buddhism.

Kanchendzonga, the mountain deity protector of Sikkim. Photograph by Kalzang Dorjee Bhutia. CC BY 4.0.