22-28 November 2013 #682

The dance of gods

For eight days every year during the Nepali month of Kartik (October-November), Patan Darbar Square turns into an open air stage for a 17th century dance extravaganza started by King Siddhi Narsingh Malla. This year’s event ran from 9-17 November and saw throngs of people from Lalitpur and beyond gather in front of Krishna Mandir to enjoy the historic dance based on stories from the Vishnu Puran, which depicts various avatars of Vishnu.

PICS: SANGAM SHILPAKAR

On the last day of the naach, performers enacted a captivating chase and kill sequence between Narsingh, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, and Hiranyakashipu, the demon. When Narsingh hit his target, the crowd erupted in thunderous applause, bringing the show to a close.

While the original performance lasted for five days, Siddhi Narsingh’s grandson, Yog Narendra Malla, later extended it into a month long event. However, lack of money and the political turmoil of the 1950’s meant that the tradition had to be cut back to two days. In 1981, a Kartik Naach Management Committee was formed to help restore the ritual to its former glory. “The naach was started by our ancient king and it is an important part of our culture. We must do everything to preserve it,” says Hari Man Shrestha, director of the committee.

However, Shrestha and his team have a hard time finding artists every year and as result the same dancers have to perform several acts in a day, which makes their schedule extremely hectic.

Currently the committee is being supported by the government, Lalitpur Sub-metropolitan city, Nepal Investment Bank, and other religious and cultural organisations. This year, the US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation in partnership with Alliance for Ecotourism donated $75,300 which Shrestha believes will go a long way in keeping the 400-year-old dance alive.

Sangam Shilpakar

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