By Razen Manandhar
KATHMANDU, Nov 14 - He was only a layman but he not only liberated all of his fellow citizens from all their debts but launched a new era by the name of his country, after taking permission from the monarch. That was exactly 1,122 years ago.
The New Year is celebrated with extravaganza — in cultural milieu, rock-n-roll concerts and boisterous motorcycle rally at least in the Kathmandu Valley and some other cities where the Newars predominantly reside.
"There was a merchant called Shankhadhar Sakhwa in ancient Kathmandu who possessed piles of sand that turned into gold. Rather than using it for his personal purposes, he paid off all the people’s debt and launched a new era," says historian Bhuwan Lal Pradhan, quoting ancient history books.
The kings of all the dynasties marked this Era in their historical inscriptions for over a millennium until the year 1911 when Rana Prime Minister Chandra Shumsher replaced it by a solar calendar Bikram Era, on the pretext that the government had to pay salary of 13 months in every three years when lunar calendar was used.
Pradhan adds that Nepal Era plays a pivotal role in the cultural life of Nepalis as most of the festivals are celebrated according to the lunar calendar upon which Nepal Era is based.
Though the whole cultural life of Nepali people is guided by the Nepal Era, it is never used directly in administration these days.
Secretary of Nepalbhasa Academy Indra Mali said that the Nepal Era deserves government recognition as it is established by a citizen and carries the country’s name. This must be only one Era of its kind in the world as most of the eras are either based on religions or established by monarchs.
The Newars, the indigenous people of the Kathmandu Valley took initiative to revive the glory of Nepal Era after the democracy of 1950. The Nepalbhasa Mankaa Khala (NMK), a community organisation gave it a formal touch after the NMK started carrying out cultural rally on the first day around the core city in 1988 and a glamour events like motorcycle rally also became the part of the festival-cum- movement.
However, as community leaders admit, this support of the Newars to Nepal Era unknowingly gave an impression among the people that the Era belongs only to the Newars.
Padma Ratna Tuladhar, the chairman of NMK says that as the Newars show active participation in celebrating this national event, people from other communities as well as political parties have a misconception that Nepal Era is a Newari one with significance only to the Newar community.
"This is the reason why after promising speeches on its value and importance of its recognition by the government from political parties, several prime ministers and other prominent political figures, the implementation is showing lukewarm response," he says.
Tuladhar says if Nepal Era belongs to the Newars only, this must also be the case with the art and architecture of the ancient Kathmandu Valley that was created by none other than the Newars.
"The state should recognise Nepal Era as the national heritage and emblem of unity, coming out of boundaries of who created this Era in the name of the country," Tuladhar adds.
He says since the present official calendar Bikram Era is Indian by origin, the state should replace it with Nepal Era, which has a rich history and is attached to the cultural life of the whole country.
Tuladhar suggests that the state could use internationally recognised Western calendar for daily use after accepting Nepal Era as our national calendar.
He further clarifies that the movement of Newars for indigenous people’s right or development of their mother tongue is quite different from the annual function that takes place on the fourth day of Tihar.
"The movement of Nepal Era may end after the government recognises it. But the movement for the development of local language and culture will not," he says.