Sunday, October 20, 2002

This Kumari needs not follow strict rules

By Razen Manandhar

BHAKTAPUR, Oct 19:Rukmani Devi Shakya, in her early 40s, gives the love and honour to her five-year old daughter Sajani Shakya that must be much more than any mother in the whole world can give.

For her as well as the most people of Bhaktapur, the little girl is a Living Goddess, a Kumari. This has been a tradition in Bhaktapur since the 14th century along with similar traditions in the other ancient Newar cities of Kathmandu and Lalitpur.

The Goddess is about to finish the fifteen-day-long special puja she receives during the festival of Dashain. She resides at her building at Prasannashil Mahavihar for the fifteen days of the Dashain and observes all ceremonial rites from here. For the rest of the year, she is free to go to her parents.

Even her mother calls her Kumari Maju, using the honourable title meaning ‘Mother Kumari’. She communicates with her daughter in the most respectful and honorific form of the language and waits patiently to fulfil any task the Kumari desires.

Mother Shakya, the hereditary caretaker, Nakin of Ekanta Kumari of Bhaktapur, said that she has been honoured with the opportunity to serve the Goddess, especially as her own daughter was chosen to be the present Living Goddess since the last three years.

"I feel special, a pride to see my daughter on the holy throne. I have taken care of two other Kumaris previously and my personal experience has been that the family from where the Kumari is chosen enjoys prosperity and success in their lives," said she. She or any other female member from her family has to take the Kumari to a special daily worship.

According to Narendra Prasad Joshi, the chief priest of Taleju temple of Bhaktapur, the priests take the Goddess to the Mahavihar on Sunday or Thursday, before the first day of the Dashain, to prepare her for the ceremonial Dashain puja. Everyday she is brought to a courtyard of Chaturbramha Mahabihar, beside the Royal Palace, and offered puja in ceremonial settings.

"On the ninth day, she is taken to the temple of Taleju Bhawani inside the royal palace where she is worshipped with much fanfare, in a one hour ceremony," he said.

After the annual puja, the Kumari is taken to a special seat at the temple of Bramhayani, where the pilgrims offer puja to the child goddess. For the rest of four days, she remains at her residence, giving tika to pilgrims.

However, this Kumari is not the only one worshipped in this cultural city. There are altogether 15 such Living Goddesses in Bhaktapur alone.

"There are nine Gana Kumaris, who represent the tantric structure of the ancient city of Bhatkapur; and three more, Bhairav, Ganesh and Kumar," said historian Dr Purushotam Lochan Shrestha.

The eleven Kumaris are chosen from different parts of the city. They first receive worships in the Dashain festival. Then come three others - from Wane Laykoo, Chasukhel and Sakotha Bahaa. The Ekanta Kumari or the prime Kumari of Bhaktapur makes the final entry in the holy courtyard.

Unlike the Royal Kumari of Hanumandhoka in Kathmandu, the Ekanta Kumari of Bhaktapur need not follow the strict rules during her tenure as the Living Goddess. She enjoys most of her days in her parent’s house and goes to a private school everyday. Regardless of minor physical injuries, which is strongly restricted in Kathmandu, they change the Goddess when she reaches 11 years.

The priest, Joshi said that there might have been similar restrictions but, as the government showed no interest to provide facilities to this aspect of Bhaktapur’s heritage, the locals also became indifferent to the strictures.

"So much so, the Guthi Sansthan has already sold the land in the name of Kumari and now, instead of rice grains, it gives the interest of the cash deposited at a bank," he added.

The Kumari of Bhaktapur receives Rs 450 per month which after retirement becomes a hundred rupees monthly from the government.
[Kathmandu, Sunday October 20, 2002 Kartik 03, 2059. ]

A multi-dimensional personality: Lain Singh Bangdel

By Razen Manandhar
Rarely does God give both a brush and a pen to one person. But here, he also gave zeal and mission to one man. He is none other than Lain Singh Bangdel who passed away last week on the very auspicious day of Vijaya Dashami.

He was born in Darjeeling, India in 1924 in a lower-middle class family. After spending his school days at Government High School of Darjeeling, a District Board Scholarship took him to Government College of Arts and Crafts and from where he was graduated in 1945. But instead of returning home, he stayed in Kolkota and tried his luck there. He worked for several advertising agencies, was even sacked for being "incompetent". More than art teachers, he was trained by struggles and failures that also encouraged him to set a goal of his own.

His firm ambition to become an artist inspired him to set off on a one-month-long voyage to London without a single companion and then he moved to France, his ultimate destination in 1952. Since he had no funding, a mountain of difficulties stood on his way. He lived in the outskirts, in chilly rooms and he had to walk around the city to sell his early paintings in the streets. For almost two decades, he lived truly as a struggling "artist" in Paris and London, where he learned much more than the techniques of making strokes on empty canvasses.

The dice was cast in 1961, when artist Bangdel had an opportunity to be introduced to His Late Majesty King Mahendra. The Panchayat system was quite new, and King Mahendra was in search of personalities, who could show Modern Nepal to the world from different angles. The four-year old Royal Nepal Academy needed an artist to showcase Nepal’s art. Though Nepal had been a treasure of art and architecture for millennia, and contemporary art had entered Nepal much earlier than Bangdel was born, he was granted membership of the Academy for being an artist by the King. Luck had it that his working place became Nepal, the country his ancestors had left generations ago.

In the Panchayat period, being a king-nominated member of the Academy was advantageous. His well-maintained relation with the royal family as well as his expertise made him Vice Chancellor in 1974 and again the first non-royal chancellor in 1979, and worked as the head of the Academy till 1989. He was fortunate to remain in the state-backed organisation of the scholars during almost whole of the Panchayat period. He capitalised his power and expertise to enhance his career. This period was also the most productive days of his life - a series of painting exhibitions and book publications, followed by dozens of awards. Most of his books were published from the Academy, whereas some were came out from abroad.

Jadadish Samsher Rana and Genendra Bahadur Amatya had come up with abstract works here when Bangdel exhibited his semi-abstract paintings at Saraswati Sadan, but his were more polished and had a European outlook. Making a position in Nepal’s art arena, where most of the artists were submissive, shy and unexposed to the western world, was not difficult for him. And he became a spokesperson of the art activities of Nepal for at least three decades.

Bringing Nepal Association of Fine Arts under the Academy’s umbrella (it is still a controversial issue amongst some artists) and establishment of Nepal Art Council were Bangdel’s another contributions. The Council was opened as a gallery to exhibit the replicas of Western art, but it was later turned into a kind of art institution, with a building of its own and regular government funding.

Bangdel’s ability to understand the need of the time distinguished him from other artists. So the follower of monarchy did not mind making portraits of BP Koirala and Ganeshman Singh after the 1990’s Popular Movement. Beside his God gifted talent, he had power, blessing from the royals and talent of expression to retain the position he had in the city of art. Nevertheless, the "deified" artist was reluctant to teach art in public. Instead of teaching, he formed a group of half a dozen confident young artists who followed his ism of painting. A group of artists, better known as New Artists’ Circle, are following his path. Most of them were awarded in an art competition organised by the Nepal Art Council some three years ago.

Bangdel was born to be an artist but his contribution to Nepali literature is not less remarkable. He also made his room there as a humanitarian novelist, a freak travelogue writer and an incisive biographer. He had published ‘Bishwa Katha Sangraha’ before he left for London. His stay in London, France and Spain helped him in his literary pursuit. Students of literature today remember him for his books, mainly ‘Spain ko Samjhana’, ‘Muluk Bahira’, ‘Maitighar’, ‘Langadako Sathi’, ‘Bishwa Ka Chha Mahan Kalakar’ and ‘Rembrandt’.

Similarly, Bangdel had a deep knowledge of Nepal’s stone sculpture. He might never have imagined that the small Kathmandu Valley is rich in ancient sculptures, some dating as early as the first century BC. He, with his experience and tireless research, sought similarity between the early sculptures of the valley and the Kushan-period sculpture of Northern India. His diligent study and interpretation paved a new way for studying Nepal’s cultural heritage. His research produced Prachin Nepali Murtikalako Itihas (1982), Ancient Sculptures of Nepal (1982, India) Stolen Images of Nepal (1989) and Inventory of Stone Sulptures of the Kathmandu Valley (1995) are some of his books. Among others, his "Stolen Images of Nepal" is still a matchless gem for Nepali authors as it contains pictures of hundreds of idols that have been stolen, as well as detached pedestals. In the course of research, he had taken thousands of pictures of stone sculptures from courtyards and shrines of the valley. The treasure of photographs, yet to come out, is sure to make a history in the future.

Despite all this, he was noted for his isolation from the Nepali artists’ circle. He was accused of misusing his power, being undemocratic to juniors and favouring only his beloved ones. Some even raise questions over the pictures of the stolen idols. Nonetheless, his contributions to Nepali art, heritage and literature will be remembered forever, and it will take time to fill the vacuum left by Bangdel’s demise.
[Kathmandu, Sunday October 20, 2002 Kartik 03, 2059.]

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Election in a glass-case


Though the govern ment failed to bring back the stolen (or exported) idol of Dipankar Buddha from Austria, the authorities have lately found a curio item unclaimed, at the backyard of Shahid Manch.

The maker of the abstract sculpture, entitled "Election" is anonymous but he said to have been very popular among the public in past 11 years. The art critics have not yet analysed whether the poor people really love it or the exhibitors wanted to impose this show on the people’s back. The advertisers have made such an impression in the world that it was the people’s wish and not the organisers’ vested interest that guide this poor country to organise the extravagant show in every three or four years.

To be very frank, there was nothing to gain by watching this abstract sculpture for the public. But still, a handful of exhibitors, who earn money by showing of the sculpture often lure the visitors by explaining the beauty of artworks, curves, texture and composition. Their explanation of the curio sculpture reminds me of the political leaders who pretend to watch modern art and to understand it too at such exhibitions.

What could compel them to exhibit the mystic sculpture now and then if not the profit they gain? Though it was constitutional to open the display once in five years at Bahadur Bhawan, they have the practice of opening it in every other year.

A new exhibition of the same mesmerising sculpture is going to be held soon. It was said that this exhibition will benefit all the parties and the public, they have not come up with preparations from their sides. This clearly shows that they are not expecting any such exhibition.

But as a matter of fact the people will gain nothing only by watching it. And this time, the exhibition will be held amid strict security. The authority said that the exhibition would be marked by tight security, so much so that the exhibition will be there but the security will take out the breath of each visitor before s/he could watch it for the last time.

The authority has not yet made proper arrangement for the show to take place, but they are cocksure that they could hold it. They have not even consulted our Hydrology department whether it will rain or snow on that day.

The entertainers are also still not sure whether they should go to villages and lure the uneducated, poor and dim-witted people to the stage. Even going there is not the end. They will have to explain about the specialty of the show this time.

You will never know, the organisers do not want to bring the sculpture to the show. They are afraid that the right to hold another show might be snatched away. To keep their right tight, they have already laid off 205 guards who were working from Singha Durbar. Similarly, they have also deputed their pets instead of 4,000 representatives in local posts around the museum.

But things are not gonna be better anyway. If going there will be more boring than watching Nepal Television, I think the audience will choose the worse than the worst. It’s their right too.

What is interesting about this show is that the louder the authority start confirming the possibility of the election, the more suspicious the possibility of holding this show becomes. They have been repeating the same thing so many times that even the audience have forgotten what exactly will take place.
[Kathmandu, Wednesday October 02, 2002 Ashwin 16, 2059.]