Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Lakhe culture in jeopardy

Razen Manandhar

Kathmandu, September 13[2003]:
The tradition of dance of the red-haired `demon' Lakhe, a popular
emblem advertised for attracting tourists to Nepal, now faces a
crisis of existence as the government hardly shows any interest in
conserving the age-old cultural heritage.

The Lakhe is taken around Kathmandu streets during the eight-day
Indrajatra that ends on Sunday from Lakhenani in Mazipat. The Newar
families of Ranjitkars, the traditional dyers, have kept the
tradition of Lakhe alive, though hardly any of them are now involved
with dyeing.

According to historians, the tradition began as early as in the
seventh century, though opinions vary about the exact date. A popular
legend has it that a man-eating demon fell in love with a local
farmer girl and married her on the condition that he would protect
the city and stop eating human flesh. The dance is to honour the
Lakhe's keeping of its pledge.

Today, people worship the masked dancer as a God and offer coins.
However, the rich culture is on the verge of extinction as the
government's annual contribution of Rs 7,000 to a trust meant to keep
the tradition alive is insufficient to carry out the rituals even for
a day. The trust has to manage lunch for 20 persons and dinner for
around a hundred guests each day, resulting, obviously, in financial

"Problems? The arrival of Indrajatra itself is a problem for us,"
Binod Ranjit, the chief of Sri Lakhe Aju Guthi, the organising trust,
said. He joined the trust as a three-year-old boy, playing the role
of Jhyalincha, the naughty teaser of the demon. And after dancing as
a Lakhe for almost a decade, he is now head of the management team.
However, for livelihood, he has to work as an electrician and sell
wares on the streets at Sundhara in the evenings.

The trust does not have any money to pay the dancers and other
volunteers, who contribute their time and energy. Still, to keep the
tradition of Lakhe alive, the trust members shell out money from
their own pockets to accrue around Rs 50,000 every year. "But how
long can it go on like this? With the changing times, one day you
might hear that the Lakhe could not come out on the streets for that
year because of lack of funds," Ranjit said.

With the government showing no interest in providing security for the
Lakhe dance troupe, they often have to face gangsters and looters on
the streets, particularly at night. Ram Ranjit, a volunteer, said
while the tradition of Lakhe itself faces extinction, a large number
of `fake' Lakhe dancers are earning moolah in hotels and other
cultural programmes by exploiting the tradition.
[Kathmandu, 24, September, 2003]