Nepali Times Asian Paints

A chariot through time

Monday, November 7th, 2016


The chariots of Rāto Matysendranāth and Minnāth in Thaina, June 1977. The first picture of the chariot festival taken by the author.

The chariots of Rāto Matysendranāth and Minnāth in Thaina, June 1977. The first picture of the chariot festival taken by the author.

Bruce Mccoy Owens

Forty years ago at Patan’s Mangal Bazar a gaggle of young boys vied to be my guide. All but one recited the same litany of sights to see: “Golden Temple, Mahabauddha Temple, Krishna temple…” But one boy asked if I wanted to see a festival. I hired him on the spot. The spectacle to which he brought me has fascinated me ever since.

A towering chariot was stuck on what was then the muddy road leading through Thaina, and hundreds of people were struggling to pull it without success. The grandeur of Darbar Square, combined somehow with its human scale and dizzying detail convinced me that this was where I wanted to live and study. I returned to research Rāto Matsyendranāth Rath Jātrā as a window into Newa culture.

I used photography as a tool for learning as well as documenting a festival that was inherently chaotic. As  an anthropologist, I try to have as little impact as possible and introduce myself to the people involved and ask to meet them again to talk about what they were doing. I give them copies of the photographs and use them to ask questions.

In the early years of my research, I used two cameras to shoot in color and black and white. Ganesh Photo Labs in Bhimsenthan developed hundreds of rolls of black and white, but for color I used Kodachrome slide film because of its accuracy and longevity. Though people were appreciative of the prints I gave them, upon receiving them, they almost inevitably asked, “Rangin madulā?” (“Aren’t there any in color?”)


The Exhibition at Patan Museum and my recent Photo Kathmandu exhibits in Matsyendra Bahal and Bungamati are continuations of my practice of learning through sharing images and thanking those portrayed within them. For the three exhibitions I have chosen only a few of the thousands, based largely on the power of the images to convey the beauty of the festival the wide range of participants who make it possible. I have focused primarily on images of decades past, as today thousands of festival participants are also photographing and filming it.

This exhibition is intended to honor all those who have contributed to the longevity and continued vitality of this extraordinary tradition, and I hope all those who view it will share their thoughts and memories with me and one another.

The Chariot Festival of Matsyendranāth: 40 Years of Photographs

Patan Museum, Open all days of the week 10AM – 5PM, Exhibit on view till 26 November, Entrance Free

Bruce McCoy Owens is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Wheaton College in the United States.

“Bizarre and baffling”

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

Photo: Kantipur daily

From the Nepali Press

Excerpts of Interview with Krishna Jung Rayamajhi, a former Supreme Court justice who headed the judicial commission that investigated abuse of power and misuse of the state exchequer during Gyanendra Shah’s authoritarian rule. Kantipur, 6 November

Kantipur: It has been almost a decade after the judicial commission headed by you submitted a report to the government, implicating several high-profile politicians, bureaucrats and security officers in abusing their authority to suppress the 2006 Democracy Movement. Are you satisfied with the implementation of the report?

Krishna Jung Rayamajhi: Not at all. Some of the authorities whom we found guilty of abusing power were later promoted, and they retired without being punished. Others were conferred medals and awards by the government. And some are still in power. The suspended Chief of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) Lokman Singh Karki was also named for perpetrating excesses and abuse of power against pro-democracy campaigners during Gyanendra Shah’s reign. But the same leaders whom Karki once targeted anointed him as the head of the anti-corruption agency.

Why do you think the government couldn’t implement your report?

Those who involved in criminal activities have political protection. They reach out to the leaders using their connections to get off the hook. Some might have even bribed political leaders.

Some have also argued that a person should not be convicted just on the basis of an inquiry commission report. What is your take as a former Supreme Court justice?

Our Commission had a mandate to investigate royal excesses, abuse of power and violation of human as well as civil rights by thoroughly examining evidence. And we just did that. It was up to the government to further investigate the cases, and punish or free those named. But the government trashed our report.

Did you also recommend action against Gyanendra Shah?

We have concluded that Gyanendra Shah was the Chairman of the Council of Ministers, and hence guilty. Tulsi Giri and Kritinidhi Bista who were Vice Chairmen of the Council of Ministers and were also found guilty.

What actions were recommended against them?

We had recommended warning and dismissal against those found guilty of abusing authority to suppress pro-democracy movement. They should have given a fair chance to defend themselves, and punished only if found guilty. If the government had implemented the report after due process, Lokman Singh Karki would never have been appointed.  Implementation of the report could have benefitted the accused, probably including Karki, themselves.

How come?

Had the government implemented our recommendations some of those found guilty could have got a clean chit. But they were neither further investigated nor punished on the basis of our report. The Big Three chose the man found guilty as the CIAA Chief. The process is now on to impeach Karki, which is shameful for those who ignored our report and unilaterally recommended him as the CIAA Chief.

Why do you think the Big Three chose Karki?  

It looks like political leaders were not genuinely interested in investigating excesses of the royal regime. They formed a judicial commission only to douse public anger.

Political leaders argued that Karki was getting a second chance to reform himself.

Only an individual with a high moral character and integrity should be appointed CIAA Chief.  This CIAA Chief was only fulfilling his own interests. He even obstructed the Supreme Court from issuing summons to him, which is wrong and has been counter-productive.

How do you view the role of the Chair of the then-Council of Ministers?

As a former justice, I find it unfortunate that Karki was made the CIAA Chief when Chief Justice Regmi was the Executive Head of the country. He definitely knows what worked in Karki’s favour. He knows who lobbied for Karki, and from where. To the common people, Karki’s appointment was bizarre and baffling.

Are you hinting at a foreign hand in Karki’s appointment?

The political events surrounding Karki’s appointment clearly indicate that. There is absolutely no need for an independent and sovereign country to rely on other countries to make its decisions.


Empowering girls

Saturday, November 5th, 2016
Pic: Uma Bista/Stars Foundation

Pic: Uma Bista/Stars Foundation

An NGO based in Kathmandu, Her Turn, became one of the twenty organisations in the world to receive the ‘With and For Girls’ Award – a global initiative to support and recognise local organisations working with girls.

The organisation along with other two Nepali organisations, Shakti Samuha and Women LEAD Nepal were recognised by London based charity Stars Foundation.

Her Turn was acknowledged for its work with adolescent girls in the rural areas of Nepal and was awarded $US 15,000 as funding and capacity-building support.

“These 20 outstanding organisations demonstrate the power of grassroots movements and girl leadership to affect change, both in communities and the world at large,” said Muna Wehbe of Stars Foundation.

Her Turn has worked with over 2,000 girls in earthquake-affected districts like Sindhupalchok and Gorkha and plans to extend to other districts in Nepal. 

Considering the high rate of child marriage in Nepal, the organisation also runs a four-week workshop for girls in rural government schools, including those who have already dropped out of school. Conducted by local female trainers in the districts issues including health, safety, sexual violence and trafficking are discussed. Additionally, girls are also given skills training in confidence building, public speaking and leadership. 

Mukherjee in Janakpur

Friday, November 4th, 2016

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Photo: RSS

India’s President Pranab Mukherjee has received a grand reception in Janakpur – a Madhesi town where Nepal’s President Bidya Bhandari was humiliated last year.

Janakpur is the cradle of the historic Mithila civilisation, and its famous Janaki temple is the birthplace of Sita, the princess of the ancient Mithila kingdom. Sita was married to Ram, the prince of Ayodhya, an ancient Hindu kingdom now in India.

Mukherjee’s visit to Janakpur is symbolically meaningful as this town in Nepal’s southern plains bordering India is not just signifying the shared history between the two countries, but also one of the flashpoints of last year’s Madhes protests overtly backed by New Delhi.

In 2014, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also wanted to pay a visit to Janakpur. His plan was to enter Nepal via Janakpur, offer prayers at the Janaki temple and address a public gathering. But he was disappointed when Nepal’s then-Prime Minister Sushil Koirala did not agree to his plan, citing ‘extremist’ and ‘intolerant’ activities against India by Maoists.

But Mukherjee did not face obstacles in realising his dream to visit Sita’s birthplace. Locals lined up by the roadside waving national flags of the two countries to welcome Mukherjee, who landed at the Janakpur Airport by a special Buddha Air flight.

Mukherjee’s carcade passed through more than 50 welcome gates between the airport and the Tiruhutiya Gachhi – a historical place of Janakpur where he was felicitated at a grand civic reception. He later offered prayers at the Janaki Temple, the shrine Janakpur is famous for. The temple was cleaned, painted and decorated ahead of his visit.

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Photo: RSS

In December 2015, when Bhandari visited Janakpur to offer prayers at the Janaki temple, cadres of Madhes-based parties waved black flags and hurled stones at her carcade. They later cleaned the shrine with ‘holy water’, saying ‘a widow’s entry had made it unholy’.

When the temple purification act was vehemently criticised on social networking sites, Madhesi leaders downplayed the incident saying the shrine was cleaned not because of a widow’s entry but because sniffer dogs were allowed in there.

The contrast to the welcome Mukherjee, a president of a foreign country, received could not have been more stark.

On the eve of Mukherjee’s Janakpur visit, Madhesi leaders met him in Kathmandu, and complained that even the new Maoist-NC government supported by them is not undertaking genuine efforts to amend the Constitution. Mukherjee asked them to wait for some time, saying he had advised Nepal’s political leadership to take everyone on board in implementing the Constitution.

When the Constitution was promulgated last year, Madhesi parties felt alienated, and spearheaded an indefinite strike in the country’s southern plains. That was when Bhandari was assaulted in Janakpur. India backed Madhesi parties, and imposed a five-month border blockade against the earthquake-devastated Nepal to pressure Kathmandu to address their demands.

Madhesi demands were partially fulfilled, and the blockade was lifted in January this year. But Madhesi parties are still threatening another stir, and India is still championing their cause. As the ceremonial head of the Indian state, Mukherjee just reiterated the Indian establishment’s stand.

 Om Astha Rai

An eye for Kathmandu

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016


Being posted to their Embassy in Kathmandu seems to be a great career move for Indian diplomats. Several former Indian ambassadors have gone on to become Foreign Secretaries, or posted to important missions like the High Commission in London.

Diplomats also tend to be keen photographers and trekking aficionados. Former Indian ambassador to Nepal, Deb Mukharji, published the photobook the Magic of Nepal in 2008 and another one Kailash and Mansarovar: Visions of the Infinite  which was published by nepa~laya in Kathmandu in 2009.


Jawed Ashraf (right) was posted to Kathmandu
2004-7 during the critical period of the 12-point agreement between the Maoists and the political parties in New Delhi that led to the ceasefire and ultimately Nepal bidding goodbye to its monarchy. Like Mukharji, he hiked the Himalaya and snapped pictures along the way. Just before taking up his assignment as Indian’s High Commissioner to Singapore, Ashraf was in Kathmandu last week to launch his own photobook, A Day in the Life of Kathmandu.

Asraf dedicates the book to the victims of the 2015 earthquake, and recounts in the preface how he felt the tremors as far away as New Delhi and watched aghast as news came in about the devastation in his beloved Kathmandu. Because of his knowledge of Nepal, Ashraf was given the responsibility to support India’s rapid response team that rushed air support and relief to Nepal. A week after the earthquake, he came to Kathmandu and took more photographs. ‘I saw the devastation around Kathmandu’s Durbar Square. I saw despair, but also hope. And, the quiet determination and resolve of the people to rebuild their lives,’ Ashraf writes.

This affection for the city is visible in A Day in the Life of Kathmandu, a photographic portrait of Kathmandu, and even in pictures from ten years ago one can see how much more the city is bursting at the seams. Flipping through the pages, it is clear that although the book is about Kathmandu Ashraf’s eyes often dwell on the snow-capped peaks to the north. The silhouettes of Himalchuli, Ganesh Himal, Langtang, Dorje Lakpa, Purbi Ghyachu appear in the many of the photographs like old friends. But there are also alluring images of the Patan temples emerging through the winter mist, pilgrims’ progress at Boudanatha and Swayambhu, the devotional fervour of the chariot pullers of the Machindranath and Indra Jatra festivals.

Asraf devotes a whole section to the bahals of Patan and Kathmandu, some of which were badly damaged during last year’s earthquake. ‘The soul of Kathmandu lies — for me certainly — in the bahis and bahals, a quintessentially Kathmandu treasure,’ Ashraf explains.

There have been many picture books on Kathmandu, and this one carries a special perspective of a visitor who has an eye for the urban landscape and the terrain beyond, images that us natives take for granted. We can only wait for Ashraf to bring out another book of photographs taken of Nepal’s landscape from during his numerous treks.

Ashraf’s gift for the written word is almost as perceptive as his photography, he writes: ‘Here is a tribute in photographs to Kathmandu — as life unfolds through the cycle of day and night, woven into its heritage, lived on streets and in public spaces and played out on a dramatic Himalayan stage.’

Kunda Dixit


Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

Illustration: Diwakar Chettri

Indian President Pranab Mukherjee arrived in Kathmandu on Wednesday for a three-day visit, but what is supposed to be a fence-mending exercise seems to have reopened wounds inflicted by last year’s crippling border blockade.

The visit triggered an avalanche of anti-Indian posts that reminded the Indian guest about his country’s first involvement in the blockade that crippled the economy.

Photos of over-crowded buses, empty gas cylinders and serpentine queues outside petrol pumps from last year were posted online juxtaposed with Mukherjee’s motorcade. The five-month blockade was imposed by New Delhi to pressure Kathmandu to amend Nepal’s new Constitution.

2As President Bidya Bhandari welcomed Mukherjee at Tribhuvan International Airport, Nepalis on social networking sites demanded an apology from India for choking off the supply of fuel, medicines and other essential commodities. The hashtag  #PranabDaSaySorry trended on Twitter. But the Twitterati  also slammed Nepal’s political leadership for kowtowing to India by declaring a public holiday on Mukherjee’s visit with a hashtag in Devanagari script #लम्पसारवाद.

Police have not allowed pedestrians4 to drive or walk along the roads that Mukherjee’s carcade will be taking during the three-day visit and Kathmandu commuters are furious. The streets in core Kathmandu wore a deserted look, and people said it was like a curfew.

Journalist Tirtha Koirala posted on Twitter a picture
of the deserted Baneswor road, and asked: “Are people not supposed to stand by the road with flowers and the national flags of the two countries in their hands to welcome Indian President? Is it an honour or insult to you, honourable President?”1

Writer Khagendra Sangroula tweeted in Nepali to lambast the way the government welcomed Mukherjee: “It is a total shutdown by the government, as if in a military dictatorship. I will be reading Pablo Neruda’s poems about dictatorship.”

Many compared the welcome to be of the kind more familiar in the streets of Pyongyang.

Ananta Koirala also tweeted in Nepali: “We have not forgotten the blockade, nor will we ever forget your inhumane behavior”.

Others even used the hashtag #IndianPresidentNotWelcome, saying they will not welcome any Indian dignitary unless India apologises for imposing a blockade against Nepal that was just recovering from a 7.8 magnitude earthquake last year.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had sent a rescue team to Kathmandu hours after the earthquake struck central Nepal. But the way the Indian media covered the disaster was also ridiculed in Nepal and the hashtag #GoHomeIndianMedia drew a lot of attention.

But Modi was still considered a hero. In 2014, he had visited Nepal – the first by an Indian Prime Minister in 17 years, and delivered a dramatic speech in Nepal’s Parliament that caught the imagination of the Nepalis. But he squandered the goodwill that he earned when he sent his special envoy S Jaishankar to stop Nepal from promulgating its new constitution.

The real disaster in the Kathmandu-New Delhi ties came when the Modi government refused to welcome Nepal’s constitution, and imposed a blockade for five months.

This time last year, Nepalis were struggling to buy petrol, gas and other essentials. They celebrated their biggest festivals –Dasain and Tihar – without cooking gas. This year, the next day after Tihar, Mukherjee arrived with a mission to stop Kathmandu from cosying up with Beijing, and strengthen the Nepal-India ties that are still at the lowest point.

But it seems last year’s blockade is still haunting Nepal-India friendship, and Mukherjee’s visit has been clouded by its memory.

Om Astha Rai

Mukherjee’s fence-mending visit

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

pranab-mukherjee-the-president-of-india-will-not-cast-voteIndian President Pranab Mukherjee is coming to Nepal for a three-day fence-mending visit on Wednesday, the first from the giant neighbour in two decades.

The Nepal government has declared a public holiday to welcome Mukherjee, who will be visiting Janakpur and Pokhara after meeting Nepal’s President Bidya Bhandari, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and other top political leaders in Kathmandu.

This is the first time an Indian President is visiting Nepal in the last 18 years, the last was by President KR Narayanan’s in 1998. Indian Presidents APJ Abdul Kalam and Pratibha Patil visited many countries, but never visited Nepal during two decades during which the Himalayan republic suffered brutal internal strife and a prolonged political transition.

Mukherjee’s visit has been viewed as the two countries seeking a new beginning to restore bilateral ties, which soured after India expressed its unhappiness with a new constitution promulgated last year by imposing a crippling five-month border blockade to pressure Kathmandu to amend the charter. The blockade stopped the import of petroleum, essential commodities and even medicines, devastating the economy and delaying an already slow post-earthquake delivery of relief supplies.

In May, then Prime Minister KP Oli abruptly cancelled President Bhandari’s India visit, ostensibly concluding that New Delhi had a role in a coup against his government. Oli succeeded in foiling the attempted regime change, but was ousted two months later when the Maoists pulled out and formed a new coalition with the NC.

After Dahal became Prime Minister in August, President Bhandari invited Mukherjee in what was seen by many as a move to maintain balance between New Delhi and Beijing. Oli had invited Chinese President Xi Jinping to Kathmandu, but after Dahal became Prime Minister, Xi’s visit became uncertain and Kathmandu geared up for Mukherjee’s visit.

In an interview with the National News Agency, Foreign Affairs Minister Prakash Sharan Mahat expressed his hope that Mukherjee’s visit would help remove bitterness in the Kathmandu-New Delhi ties, and usher in a new era of friendship between the two countries. “This is a goodwill visit, and it will create the foundation of mutual respect between the two countries,” he said.

On Tuesday, Kathmandu’s streets were relatively less busy because of Bhai Tika – the last day of the five-day Tihar festival. But traffic police had blocked major roads in core Kathmandu in a rehearsal to manage Kathmandu’s traffic during Mukherjee’s stay.

DSP Vanendra Pakhrin of Metropolitan Traffic Police Division, Kathmandu has urged commuters to avoid using the city’s main roads which will be partially blocked to ensure Mukherjee’s smooth carcade in Kathmandu. Flights to and from Kathmandu are expected to be affected on Wednesday morning and Friday because the airport will be closed to all air traffic as Mukherjee flies in from Delhi, gets to Janakpur and Pokhara and flies back on Friday.

The Nepal government’s decision this week to make Wednesday a national holiday to honour Mukherjee’s arrival has met with widespread criticism and ridicule. Many commentators have pointed out that instead of asking India to apologise for last year’s blockade, it is kowtowing to New Delhi

Wary of negative comments about Mukherjee’s visit, Foreign Minister Mahat said: “We are known all over the world for our hospitality, and we must demonstrate it. It is a matter of pride to welcome such a high-profile dignitary, and we must not make insensitive and negative comments about his visit on social media.”