Thursday, November 15, 2001

Nepal Era awaits government recognition

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.

Monday, November 12, 2001

New scheme to save ancient idols

By Razen Manandhar

Time has changed and the technologies to conserve the ancient monuments should also undergo a worldwide change. So, many international agencies have landed in this country and each of them has taught one or another lesson to Nepali neo-conservationists. Just to name a few are those who built the inner courtyard of the Keshav Narayan Chowk at Patan and Chyasilin Mandap of Bhaktapur. Let’s learn from them.

The Department of Archaeology (DoA), the body that has been entrusted by the government to safeguard the historical monuments of this country, is launching a new project largely to save thousands of idols in the Kathmandu valley. It is just "the thousands" because the department has neither made a complete list of the existing monuments, nor of the stolen ones; so it often quotes foreign heritage experts. Well, the leader of this innovative project has a grand design in his mind to protect the monuments, which will put an end to the decades old saga of priceless idols being stolen from the valley almost every week.

Actually, devising a great plan to launch this new scheme was quite difficult. To make it happen, the enlightened officers of DoA had to travel in one or another country almost every month. They were so busy in attending seminars that they did not remember the topics and outcomes.

The unprecedented scheme will be implemented in three phases: In the first phase, all the ancient idols will be removed from the old and out-of-fashion temples. The department has recently announced a vacancy for the post of plucking officers. Only professionals will be allowed to touch the idols. It would have been better, if the temples had also been preserved, but that needs more money than it is possible for a government body where nobody can escape the Auditor General’s report. Though the authority has not yet imagined how big a warehouse they need to store those idols, the department will manage to keep all of them in its dusty godown.

In the second phase, the newly made fake idols will be reinstalled on those vacant nitches or pedestals of the temples. DoA sources said that the government was ready to spend quite a lot of money to instal fake idols for cultural monument preservation. Local craftsmen will be approached first to copy 200 to 2000 years-old idols. If they can’t install them satisfactorily, international craftsmen will be invited from across the border. If the budget does not allow the authority to have all the replicas of the idols made, they will place colour photographs instead.

The city dwellers have no sense to differentiate between the century old idols influencing the creed, sentiment and culture and the fake idols and photographs. The project manager has a premonition that devotees will love to rest their foreheads on the fake idols and photographs.

The readers might wonder where on earth are the displaced idols supposed to be kept in future. Here is the answer.

In the third phase, all the plucked-out idols will be distributed to royal palaces to make them decorative pieces. Antiques will be kept in air-tight cases of glass, with artistic looks. The cultural property that the UNESCO recognizes as symbol of the local civilization will enhance the value of such luxurious buildings where public access is almost impossible. Even if they can go, they will strictly be prohibited from performing foolish acts like worshipping and asking for blessing.

Authorities say this scheme will also prevent such valuable archaeological objects from being smuggled out.

Sunday, November 11, 2001

Controversy puts Mhapuja in limbo

By Razen Manandhar

KATHMANDU, Nov 10 - Mhapuja, one of the most significant festivals among the Newar community of Nepal is facing a problem since over a decade due to controversy in dates a group of astrologers bring about almost every year, says the community leaders.

The controversy of dates has put the people in a difficult situation as they find it extremely difficult to make time for Mhapuja, which is traditionally celebrated on the evening after Laxmipuja and a day before Bhaitika.

"Mhapuja is the day when the indigenous people of the Kathmandu Valley worship their own body as a platform to exercise the spiritual power but over a few years due to the controversy in dates people tend not to celebrate the festival at all", they say.

Tihar generally a five-day-long festival of lights contains days for worshipping crow, dog, Laxmi or the Goddess of wealth, cow-dung (Goverdhan) and brothers. According to tradition, the evening of the fourth day of Tihar or the day to worship Goverdhan is celebrated as the Mhapuja.

According to chancellor of Nepalbhasa Academy Satya Mohan Joshi, this festival binds the diverse nature found among the Newars.

"This festival embodies the ethnical unity and hereditary common original culture of the Newars," said Joshi, quoting the Birtamod Declaration of 1995 recognised by the second national conference of the Newars.

However, General Secretary of Newaa Dey Daboo (Newar National Forum) Naresh Bir Shakya said that since a decade or so, the chain of festive events has not been regular except once or twice.

Shakya said "A handful of astrologers want to distort the spirit of Tihar to please some high profile people."

Prem Man Chitrakar, the chairman of Nepal Traditional Artists’ Association, who has been publishing the lunar calendars since the last 11 years said that though different social organisations publish calendars for the following year - from Tihar to Tihar, a Calendar Decision-making Committee (CDC) dispatches a notice through state-owned media a week before the festival and most of the time they change the five-day series of the festival.

"They (CDC members) turn it into either four-day or six-day long, saying it is decided according to the lunar movement", Citrakar said.

He added, "A number of astrologers want to please the Royal Palace by setting the appropriate time of Bhaitika as per the Royal Authority’s demand. As a result, the former day, that is the day of Mhapuja, keeps shifting," he said.

Chitrakar further added that the date of this year’s Mhapuja had been set a year ago when his association, including other two dozen bodies published calendars according to the Nepal Era, which follows the lunar movement. "But CDC, as usual, published a notice on November 5 which claimed that what we set a year ago is wrong and warned that unwanted hazards would follow if CDC’s new timing is not followed."

Most of the astrologers had fixed this year’s Laxmipuja for November 15 and Mhapuja on November 16, leaving November 17 for Bhaitika following the lunar calendar a year ago. But last week, CDC issued a notice that Bhaitika must be carried out on November 16 Friday and carrying out Bhaitika on 17 would not be appropriate.

Chairman of CDC Dr Mangal Raj Joshi said that it is the committee’s duty to find out auspicious time of Bhaitika for the Palace and the general public also follows it.

"We issue the notice for interest of the general public saying that they should follow the dates issued by us. Bhaitika is the festival of all the people whereas Mhapuja is only celebrated by the Newars. In this context we have to give priority to Bhaitika rather than Mhapuja," he admitted.

On the other hand, cultural scholar Maheshwor Juju Rajopadhyay charged Dr Joshi for working under other people’s pressure and that even he himself cannot follow what he prescribes through the fabricated notice of CDC.

"Last year he said that the date of the festival should be determined with the lunar date of the time of the sunrise but this year he contradicted his own philosophy and followed the clock," Rajopadhyaya said.

Dr Joshi has prescribed us to first "invite" Laxmi in homes and then go to worship dogs — which is just against the tradition.

He warned, "In many cases a group has been quite active in suggesting people to celebrate religious festivals on wrong dates. This is why serious ominous events are taking place in the country. And even bigger catastrophe will follow if not checked in time."
[Kathmandu Sunday November 11, 2001 Kartik 26, 2058.]

Thursday, November 08, 2001

Future of Okharpauwa landfill site still uncertain

By Razen Manandhar

KATHMANDU, Nov 7 - The future of the 250 million-rupee landfill site at Okharpauwa is still uncertain as the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC), the prime user of the site, is not convinced that the solution is indeed practical.

Municipality officials say the new landfill site being constructed by the government will cost about Rs 680,000 per day for the municipalities because it is located far away from the city centre.

The Solid Waste Management and Resource Mobilisation Centre (SWMRMC) of Ministry of Local Development is constructing infrastructures to turn this 430 ropanis of land at the northern fringe of the Valley, Sisdol of Okharpauwa VDC, into a landfill site. Okharpauwa has been regarded as the proper alternative for solid waste management in the Kathmandu Valley, at least for the next 5 to 7 years.

But KMC is still indifferent to the solution being sought since last two years after the previous landfill site at Gokarna was filled up.

Mayor of Kathmandu Keshav Sthapit has repeatedly opposed the government’s selection of the site, saying that it is not practical and is "motivated by the personal interest of political figures." Instead, he has asked the government to provide 200 ropanis of land outside the city area, where a composting plant could be established to manage solid waste.

"Everybody knows that dumping 300-400 metric tonnes of solid waste at a place as far away as Okharpauwa, about 28 kilometres away from the city, in trucks is not possible," the mayor said. "This will only create unwanted hazards everyday."

Head of KMC’s Environment Department Shanta Ram Pokharel said KMC has been asking the government to provide a nearer location, where a composting plant could be established because solid waste is not a thing to throw away but to reuse it.

"We have been asking the government to provide us some land in Halchowk or Chobhar areas but our voice has never been heard," Pokharel said.

But he did not say whether KMC would deny using Okharpauwa or not. Rather he added that the present facility of vehicles KMC now has is insufficient to transport solid waste there.

Solid Waste Section Chief of KMC Rajesh Manandhar said the biggest problem KMC will have to face now is because of the distance. The site lies 28 kilometres away from the city centre and the vehicles will have to face long traffic jams, especially at the Balaju Bypass.

He estimated that the transportation alone would cost KMC about Rs. 250 million if they use the new landfill site. Instead, the government should use this money to acquire land in nearer location, he said.

KMC presently has seven compactor trucks and one open dump truck to transport 650 cubic metres of solid waste that the Kathmanduites produce everyday.

"We will have to make four trips of eight trucks to travel 28 kilometres each carrying 20 cubic metre of garbage in narrow roads. That is quite difficult if not impossible. And one cannot expect all the vehicles to be in condition everyday," says Manandhar.

However, Devi Prasad Subedi, general manager of SWMRMC, says that finding a site near the city is not possible.

"We agree, the proposed site is far away. But there is no other way than choosing that place to make a landfill site," Subedi said. "And the distance is not very far in the present day."

Subedi added that the construction of roads has been completed except for the last three kilometres and two bridges and a public notice for land acquisition is being published soon.

Kathmandu and Lalitpur have been dumping the wastes along the banks of the Bagmati river for the last seven months. Earlier, the garbage was used to fill the area around Guheshwori and Jorpati until protests arose as birds hit aeroplanes in the nearby Tribhuwan International Airport.
[Kathmandu Thursday November 08, 2001 Kartik 23, 2058.]