The paintings of the ‘travelling monk with tiger’ found in the Dunhuang caves, China, believed to be from the Tang and Song dynasties raise questions as to the symbolism of the tiger and its supposed relation to the spread of Buddhism to that part of the world. Through a keen study of the image of the tiger in pre-Buddhist times and the symbolism of the tiger in ancient China, this presentation will suggest that Dunhuang paintings of ‘monk with tiger’ need to be understood in a more ‘cosmopolitan’ light. Blending scholarship in anthropology and religious studies focusing on nonhuman tigers with scholarship in history and art history, this presentation highlights how the trope of the ‘travelling monk with tiger’ might have just as much to do with the arrival of Islam in the Tang dynasty than with the spread of Buddhism. But beyond this, the paper will also look at how the image of the tiger has been deployed in political contexts all through Asia, both in pre-modern as well as in modern times.
Dr. Annu Jalais is an environmental anthropologist currently Associate Professor at Krea University. She works on the human–animal interface, environmental justice, religious identity, caste, and migration. Her primary focus is on South Asia, specifically Bangladesh and India; and her zones of interest encompass Southeast Asia and China, especially around Indian Ocean exchanges in the religious, cultural and environmental realms. Jalais authored Forest of Tigers: People, Politics and Environment in the Sundarbans (Routledge, 2010) and co-authored The Bengal Diaspora: Rethinking Muslim Migration (Routledge, 2016). She is deeply committed to making academic work more relevant and likes to work with individuals and organisations committed to social justice and change. Dr. Jalais is one of four co-PIs at The Southern Collective, which was awarded a grant by the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) to build a Transdisciplinary Collaboratory in the Northern Indian Ocean, in partnership with the Dakshin Foundation, where she is also an Adjunct Fellow.
Bio: Dr Annu Jalais is an environmental anthropologist working on the human–animal interface, environmental justice, religious identity, caste and migration, particularly in Bangladesh and India. Her work engages in interdisciplinary research that brings together anthropological, environmental and historical methods and materials. She recently completed work on two grants – Non-humans and zoonoses: what do they tell us about ourselves? (awarded by UParis and NUS), which brings together Asian artists, academics and young scholars to collaborate and teach environmental humanities today; and The Southern Collective (awarded by the Social Science Research Council [SSRC]), to build a Transdisciplinary Collaboratory in the Northern Indian Ocean, in partnership with the Dakshin Foundation, where she is also an Adjunct Fellow.