Monday, October 27, 2003

Government nod for Nepal Era, finally

Razen Manandhar
Kathmandu, October 26

The government today finally recognised the Nepal Era as the national calendar.

The movement started 24 years ago by the Nepalbhasa Mankaa Khalaa (NMK) to recognise the era was initiated by a Nepali, Sankhadhar Sakhwaa, the legend goes. The Nepal era follows the lunar system, by which most of Nepal's festivals are determined.

"The Nepal Era has got national recognition now, there is no doubt," Minister for Information and Communication Kamal Thapa said today, adding the Nepal Era should be used widely in public and ways to use it practically should be discussed.

Thapa was addressing a programme to launch a new postage stamp with the portrait of Sakhwaa who was recognised as the National Luminary by the government on November 18, 1999.

According to the legend, written in Bhasa Cronicle, Sakhwaa initiated the Nepal Era after he got citizens of Kathmandu out of their debts. That was possible as he got a huge treasure during the reign of King Raghav Dev. He had seen some porters bringing sacks of sand from the Bishnumati river on an auspicious day as per the king's order. Sakhwaa thought of it as extraordinary and bought the sand himself. On the next day, on October 20, 879 AD, the sand turned into gold powder with which he could let people be free of their debts and he, then, initiated the era.

Minister Thapa said all Nepali citizens are indebted to Sakhwaa, adding the contributions of "this great person" should not be confined to a small territory or any one community, but should be considered as national heritage.

Naresh Bir Shakya, secretary

of NMK, said though they have been raising the issue of recognising the Nepal Era by the state for the past 24 years, previous governments never acted. "I think it is a great achievement of the NMK movement. Now, people will be inspired to use the Nepal Era in public, too," he added.

In 1980, the NMK had started the movement to demand not only recognition from the state but also exchange New Year greetings. The movement also worked as a platform to protest against the Panchayati System before 1990, but later it turned into a cultural festival.

Nepal Era was the official calendar for over a thousand years in the history of the Kathmandu Valley and today it serves historians for study of historical documents all of which have dates from the ninth to the 19th century according to the Nepal Era.


Thursday, October 23, 2003

Stolen ancient idol on its way back

Razen Manandhar
Kathmandu, October 22[2003

The 400-year-old masterpiece from Patan, which was stolen 19 months ago
and was about to be sold to a museum in Austria, is to be returned to
Nepal, thanks to some Buddhist sympathisers and scholars of Austria.

The 1.2-metre tall gilded head of Dipankar Buddha was stolen on February
16, 2002 from its caretaker's house at Chibah Nani in Nag Bahal. The
trust members reported the theft to the

District Police Office but in vain. The idol was discovered later when a
German art dealer, Peter Hardt, tried to sell it to Dr Schicklgruber,
the curator for South Asian art of the Ethnographic Museum in Vienna, at
a price of $200,000 (Rs 16 million) in May 2002. When it was identified
as a stolen object by scholars of University of Vienna, with the help of
the Buddhist community of Lalitpur, the matter was reported to the
Interpol and the case taken to the court, which has now ordered to
return the image to Nepal.

"A series of lucky incidents led to the idol's discovery," Dr Alexander
v Rosatt, who had been involved in rescuing the stolen idol, told The
Himalayan Times today. He hoped that this particular incident would set
an example and it would make the smuggling of ancient art objects more
difficult in the future.

A special function is being organised on Friday in Kathmandu to hand
over the idol to the rightful owners. As Nepal does not have separate
Austrian ambassador to Nepal, the Austrian ambassador to India, Jutta
Setfan Bastl, is coming here with her credentials to hand over the idol
to the trust members through officials of Ministry of Culture, after
receiving credentials from King Gyanendra on the same day.

The idol would be flown free of cost courtesy Austrian Airlines and the
additional insurance and handling expenses will be met by local trust
members. Nepali government has not spent anything for the grand return.

It is the third instance when a stolen ancient idol is being returned to
Nepal, largely due to the efforts of the destination countries.

A local heritage lover said before the stolen object ended up with a
western art dealer, it was burgled by locals, sold by Nepali middlemen
and exported with the connivance of Nepali government officials.
According to him, it was officially exported with the proper
documentation of the Department of Archaeology.

"Unfortunately the western art dealer preferred to keep mum and the
Nepalis, including the government officials, involved in the smuggling
have escaped the net," said another expert on cultural heritage.
[The Himalayan Times (Kathmandu), October 23, 2003]