Medicinal Mandala

Potency in Spatiality


  • Anna Sehnalova



Sowa Rigpa, medicine, ritual, mendrup, Bon


This article explores the complexities of accomplishing potency, nüpa (nus pa), within a Tibetan healing, rejuvenation, and longevity ritual practice known as ‘medicinal accomplishment,’ mendrup (sman sgrub). The study is based on the observation and examination of the Light-Swirled Mendrup performed in the Tibetan exile Bonpo community in Nepal in 2012. The mendrup represents a meditative sādhana practice, which involves the production and consecration of ritual materia medica derived from the Tibetan medical Sowa Rigpa tradition as well as Buddhist tantric heritage. The article analyzes the generation of potency based on spatiality within the mendrup ritual—the potency of the ritual itself and of its main substance, the consecrated ritual materia medica referred to as ‘mendrup medicine.’ It argues that within its cosmological scheme, the mendrup ritual follows a spatial pattern of categorization of substances that impacts their potency based on their pharmacological properties and effects. This categorization reflects the ritual’s categorization of diseases. The ritual incorporates various spheres of knowledge into its notions of potency, such as medicine, pharmacy, and botany. The organizational cosmological scheme of the ritual, with its central mandala comprising the five directions and the five fundamental elements, structures the space of the ritual, and also its consecrated medicines. The scheme structures and generates the potency of the ‘mendrup medicine’ substance. Other aspects co-create the potency: the deities invoked, the acting religious figures and their blessings, suitable medicinal ingredients used, the right ‘fermenting agent,’ the depth of meditation of the performers, proper empowerment practices, and the time and space of the rite. This study shows that it is also the allocation of specific substances into particular spatial arrangements that makes them potent, especially in relation to the whole of the ritual space. The Bonpo Light-Swirled Mendrup creates this structure of potency through its fivefold mandalic scheme typical of tantric ritual.




How to Cite

Sehnalova, A. (2019). Medicinal Mandala: Potency in Spatiality. HIMALAYA - The Journal of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies, 39(1), 164–188.



Special Section Research Article

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