Volume 63 Number 1, September 2011
Nepal: Nostalgia and Modernity
|Specifications:||128 pages, 128 illustrations|
|Dimensions:||305 x 241 mm|
When we speak of the arts of Nepal, we refer to the Kathmandu Valley, rich in art and culture. This tiny valley was and still is the hub of Nepal where 2,000 years of history has been frozen in time. Today, Nepal has become and will continue to become a modern nation. Yet its people and culture continue to evolve – conflating traditional as well as modern features that are uniquely “Nepali” in character.
Nepal: Nostalgia and Modernity brings together works of scholars from diverse fields to form a unified volume. Their different approaches are deftly married to provide an appreciation of Nepal’s art, culture, and religion. The style of art called Nepali is primarily produced by the Newars, the original inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley, who shaped it since medieval times. The volume celebrates various artistic expressions of the Newars and other ethnic groups.
Deepak Shimkhada earned his PhD from Claremont Graduate University and taught courses in Asian religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism at Claremont McKenna College. He retired in 2008, and now teaches courses in Hinduism as an adjunct professor for the School of Religion at Claremont Graduate University.
PART I ARCHITECTURE
Architecture: The Quest for Nepaleseness
In Pursuit of Modernity: The Revival of Classicism in Nepali Architecture
Living Traditions: Aquatic Architecture and Imagery in the Kathmandu Valley
Julia A.B. Hegewald
PART II VISUAL ARTS
Traditional Religious Painting in Modern Nepal: Seeing the Gods with New Eyes
Contemporary Nepali Art: Narratives of Modernity and Visuality
Re-Imagining the Universe: Neo-Tantra in Nepal
Katherine Anne Harper
The Potters of Thimi: Village Ceramic Traditions in Flux
PART III PERFORMANCES AND RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS
Street Theatre: The Agora where Gods and Humans Meet
Tantric Buddhist Dance of Nepal: From the Temple to the Stage and Back
Celebrating Shiva at Pashupati
Kumari: Caught between Past and Present
The book is a portrait of modern Nepal and offers a vision of how it has changed and how, in many ways, it will remain the same. A philosophical discussion on nostalgia sets the tone of the essays. The book has 3 sections: Architecture, Visual Arts, Performances and Religious Traditions.
Traditionally the architecture of Nepal referred to that of the Newars, the original inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley. But since the country is no more a "Hindu kingdom", it is no more politically correct to talk of "Nepalese" architecture. Since early 2008, ethnic communities like Tharu, Rai, Limbu, Thakali, and Magar have been in search of their identity and have developed a distinct village architecture with shrines tied to trees, rocks, and springs. Since the 1970s, formative activities in Nepal have aimed at preserving the traditional for the sake of nostalgia, while straddling the modern in its architecture. The results have been mixed: international cooperation for preservation of architectural heritage as well as foreign planners' advocacy of modernism are forthcoming; the tourism industry is insistent on promoting a hidden Shangri-La of pagodas, while the nation itself is in search of an identity - a unique Nepaleseness.
From the mid-19th to the mid-20th century, neoclassical and indigenous forms were negotiated in Nepalese modern architecture: The Newars built new local architectural responses to the Rana palaces that, in turn, had been inspired by the colonial architecture in India. The houses reflect the multiple identities of their Newar builders that combined both indigenous values and an imported modernity. Today, Nepalese neoclassicism is referred to as cultural heritage while there is nostalgia with a reference to Nepalese history. Former palaces are renovated and converted into high-class heritage hotels. Coevally, there are classic forms produced as goods in bulk that contrast and, at the same time, intermingle with contemporary modern mirror glass and cement. In this case, the classic forms are reconsidered as modern while Nepal is once more following an Asian trend.
Situated on the banks of rivers, the towns of the Kathmandu Valley are rich in water. Over the centuries, a series of architectural features were developed to make the river water safely accessible. In addition, the inhabitants retrieve ground water through wells, and shallow aquifers are tapped and made to issue through elaborately decorated spouts in deep stepped basins. These are known as dharas and constitute the most widespread type of water structure in Nepal. Dharas are linked to drinking water fountains and their surplus water is stored in large reservoirs. Water structures in Nepal constitute complex engineering achievements but simultaneously are religious places where sacred statues are enshrined and rituals are conducted. This indicates the multi-faceted functions of these monuments. Despite the introduction of modern technology, traditional water structures continue to provide the towns, villages, and temple sites spread throughout the valley, with a secure supply of water.
The art of painting Buddhist and Hindu images in Nepal has continued for over 1000 years. In the last century, traditional artists developed several new schools, which have taken the painting of Buddhist and Hindu icons in new and interesting directions. Nepali paintings may be categorized in 3 formats: mural, manuscript, and scroll. Mural paintings are from the Licchavi period (c. 300-879), manuscript from the Newars of the 12-13th centuries, and scroll from the 13-14th centuries. However, by the 18th century there was a drop in artists committed to the religious arts. The 20th century saw the rise of religious painters Manikman Chitrakar and Siddhimuni Shakya who are now considered the most important in the revival of this genre of art. The Chitrakars are the hereditary caste of painters among the Newar caste hierarchy. Manikman was known to paint religious themes in a realistic style. Siddhimuni worked in a similar vein but on secular themes. Other important revivalist painters to emerge were Udayacharan Shrestha, Dineshcharan Shrestha, Deepak Joshi, Roshan Shakya, and Purna Prasad Hyoju. And though today many of the Nepali youth abandon the arts in favour of seeking employment abroad, the religious school of painting, having been revived and now prospering, may not die out at all.
Following the Anglo-Nepal War in 1814-16, Nepal followed a policy of strict isolationism for over a century where it was cut off from the rest of the world by the autocratic Rana clan. Yet, despite its isolationism, the colonial aesthetics of England and France inspired courtly patronage of the arts which became the precursor of modernism in Nepal. Under Rana rulers like Jung Bahadur who had Anglophile tastes, artists were able to visit Europe for a taste of aesthetics of Western portraiture which can then be applied in the styles of portraiture for the Rana courts. Bhaju Macha Chitrakar was the first such artist. In the 1960s a turning point in modernism emerged. Figurative and abstract works, a departure from established norms, surfaced from Lain Singh Bangdel. The following generations explored multiple contexts and diverse expressions, yet remained within a culturally located framework rather than directly derive from Western ideologies. These came to embrace feminist notions and postmodernism in an effort to include women in a largely male-dominated world.
The article examines the work of 12 contemporary Nepali artists who respond in vital, new ways to eternal religious themes and preoccupations. Each artist incorporates ancient tantric symbolism within a contemporary context and, in doing so, links traditional religious and philosophical ideas to the modern world. The works reveal aspects of ancient spiritual wisdom that are profoundly important to the modern nation of Nepal as well as the world.
The village of Purano Thimi is composed of approximately 2,000 potters' workshops run by families who are members of the Newar Kumale caste, and has been preserved as a ceramic producing centre since ancient times. There have been many challenges to the traditional life in Thimi, due to modernization, yet little innovation has occurred in the ceramic industry. On account of the changing needs of society around them, many younger potters have questioned the sustainability of ceramic production in the village, and have drifted away from the family occupation. Responding to these challenges, there are projects underway to help make the ceramics produced there more relevant to a contemporary market economy in Nepal. The article addresses ways in which the potters' culture can be preserved through modernization, as well as ways in which modernization changes the culture.
Traditional theatre in Nepal is a combination of performance and spiritual pursuit in a public space. The space therefore became the theatre that represented heaven, earth, community, aesthetics, and hope. The practice of street theatre in modern times has remained strongly a part of the festive tradition. It is a blend of the country's rituals, dance forms, and the Indic theatrical traditions. Hadigaon, today part of the urban sprawl of the Kathmandu valley, was once the hotbed of theatre. Street festivals such as Gai Jatra, Indra Jatra, and Bisket Jatra were performed like dramas with people dressed in divine and demonic costumes and masks. Theatre was born again in the 1980s with groups that addressed the specific needs of people living under political oppression. Themes were derived from myth and folklore and plays were written in Nepali. Experimental theatre rose in popularity outside the capital as people's desire for democracy increased. The street thus evolved into a political space for university students and playwrights alike. Even today in Hadigaon gods and humans ride palanquins, but a lingering political premise is hard to miss.
The Vajrayana Buddhist priests of Nepal include sacred dance among their esoteric yogic and ritual practices. For over 1000 years, the practice of this secret dance tradition was restricted to those born of Vajracharya lineage. The dance was not performed publicly until 1957, when 2 prominent priests made the controversial decision to stage a performance at a World Buddhist Conference in Kathmandu. This revelation of the dance ushered in a new phase in the history of Charya Nritya, as selected dances emerged from the temples and entered new lines of transmission and performance. This article traces the movement of Charya dance into an array of teaching and public performance venues, its recognition as the classical dance tradition of Nepal, and its return to a temple setting in the first Newar Buddhist temple in the west. Both the survival and authenticity of the dance are at stake in this saga of modernity.
Each year at Pashupati Temple, Kathmandu, sadhus gather from across Nepal and India to celebrate the birth of Shiva. Pashupati means "Lord of the Animals" and is Shiva's earliest manifestation, and remains one of his most important throughout the Hindu world. According to early scriptural references, the early followers of Pashupati were yogis - long-haired, god-intoxicated ascetics who covered their bodies with ash. In the 2nd century BCE, a formal Pashupata sect took shape. At the heart of the sect was the notion that human civilization covered up the true non-dual nature of reality, and so their yogic practices sought to free one from all social conventions. They let their hair and nails grow to stupendous lengths. They covered their bodies in ash, or wore tigerskins, or went completely naked. And so they were called Lunatics...This article explores the roots of this prehistoric festival and the men who still follow its austere and sometimes bizarre path - including interviews with 3 present-day yogis.
The Kumari is a virgin who is worshipped as Goddess Durga. Although the tradition of worshipping a virgin girl in the form of a goddess also is found in India, her worship in Nepal involves a religious harmony between Hinduism and Buddhism. The article traces the origins of Kumari to Goddess Taleju, introduced to Kathmandu by King Harasimha of Simrongarh in 1323. Ever since, Taleju has remained a tutelary deity of the ruling houses of Nepal from the Mallas to the Shahs. However, in recent years the Kumari tradition has come under attack by some human rights groups and the government itself. Because Kumaris are prepubescent girls who are separated from their parents when they are between 3 and 5 years old, human rights groups have called attention to their psychological damage. Nepal's new government, of Maoists persuasion, also has proposed to do away with the centuries-old tradition because the tradition is intimately associated with the king, now deposed.