Sunday, June 22, 2008

A national museum bereft of all valuables?

Razen Manandhar

Kathmandu, June 22 [2008]

The 240-year Shah dynasty will vanish from the pages of history if the government fails to conserve artefacts and documents in a museum.

Historians do not know what kind of museum the Narayanhiti Palace will turn out to be if it cannot display historic objects, medals, trophies and personal belongings of rich kings of Nepal, one of the poorest countries.

When the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly announced that the palace will be turned into a national museum, the intellectuals appreciated the move. But they got distressed when they came to know that the palace hardly had anything valuable left in its bosom.

Members of the commission formed to gather details of palace property have started grumbling in low voice that the deposed king left in the palace those items that could not either be carried in loaders or the items that he did not like.

"Most of the artefacts and historic documents have gone missing from the palace," says a member, adding that the crown and the sceptre were left only because of pressure from the media.

From the very beginning, commission members were acting suspiciously. They were not ready to meet the press. It seems that commission members were shocked when they did not find valuable objects during their first visit to the palace, but were subjected to pressure from "unseen" quarters not to disclose the reality.

Beside all royal events, the palace was the centre of all conspiracies, popular propagandas, coups and infamous decisions. The proposed museum can indeed tell unwritten history of the Shah dynasty, provided it has the priceless items.

A palace staffer said the ministers might have let the former king take away everything.

"We know what kind of people go to the government in Nepal. The king might have promised to award the ministers if he is allowed to take away the valuables," he said.

The staffer said the palace staffers will one day come up with a detailed list of valuables the palace used to posses if the government-formed commission fails to unearth artefacts and historic documents.

Culture expert Satya Mohan Joshi is hopeful that the property and documents will be returned. "If the king has indeed taken the valuables, the government knows how to get them back," he said.

However, experts are yet to believe that the Palace will get rebirth as a museum.

"Making a museum is no joke. What kind of museum are you expecting out of tatters left behind by the king?" said Jala Krishna Shrestha, chairman of the International Commission of Museums, Nepal Chapter. He said though the decision of the Constituent Assembly to turn the palace into a museum was appreciable, the government failed to implement it.

"You cannot buy things for A museum in a supermarket. What on earth are you going to display after letting the former king take away everything he wanted?" he said, adding that the government has not even understood what a world-class museum means.

He said government ministers would be held responsible if objects needed for the museum are not found. "Just like deeds of former king Gyanedra, deeds of this government will be recorded in history books," said.

Keshav Raj Jha, former ambassador to France and residential representative of the UNESCO, "Most of major palaces of former kingdoms have been turned into world-class museums. But looking at the preparation of the government, there will be some old photographs, ordinary furniture and some replica to demonstrate how simply the Shah kings used to live in the palace. We all know that every valuable item has been carted off," he said.

Jha said that the former king took all valuables either with a hope of coming back to power after some turmoil or he did not believe that the government has the expertise to preserve the legacy.

He called on the government to seek technical and other assistance from recognised organisations like UNESCO.