Culture, Heritage & State
Eastern cultures thrived for millennia because of the strong flavor of moral education and practices people have been following in order to uphold the values inbuilt in their philosophy, teachings and daily practices developed and followed for the sake of peace at home and brotherhood outside. Family has always been the mainstay of social and cultural life. It is the primary unit of production, child development and socialisation; it is the basic unit of political and other activities of the society or/and the state.
An individual would grow up to become a mature and responsible citizen to shoulder responsibilities including the transmission of societal values to the new generation. This process is universal although the methods adopted for such actions may vary. Culture makes complete Individuals through special training – both formal and informal – where they are initiated to follow the learnt norms and standards of the social setting they are born in.
There are countries and communities in the world where individuals with special caliber are found, recognised and honored as the special gift of the society and community to the nation. Their works are made universal as important part of Outstanding Universal Values, or OUVs (ref. UNESCO). They can be oral historians, speakers of a dialect in crisis, singers, composers, dancers, choreographer, lyricist, and instrumental player acclaimed universally. Since they create unique identity of the place of their birth, their contribution is considered as the invaluable asset of the world. Sharing the cultural property of such individuals takes place nationally and universally.
The readers know very well there are few names constantly hitting the media’s headlines. Century Literary Persons – Satya Mohan Joshi and Madhav Ghimire are the two distinct heroes in the constellation of scholars in the field of culture and literature. When the NAI Prakashan, a private organisation based in Kathmandu and providing a host of honors and cash prizes in the field of literature, culture, arts, language, etc. to Nepalese and outsiders, first proposed the name of Dr. Joshi as the Centenarian to the Government of Nepal, he was only around 95, five years short of a Centenarian. So Dr. Joshi himself and the government had some hesitation to declare him as the Century Literary Person. A few years later Joshi accepted the honor by the government. Now both Ghimire and Joshi have comfortably stepped into the Century and shine brightly as the Star Centenarians nationally and internationally.
These are the individuals to be declared ‘the Cultural HERITAGE’ of Nepal. But this is not enough. There are, or there might be few others such genius engaged for the promotion of Knowledge and dissemination of Culture in the country. Few such genius have already been ‘Loved by God’ as they say in Nepali tongue. A thorough search can still yield result if this is done sooner than later.
After the 2010 signature by the Government of Nepal in the UNESCO’s 2003 Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, in collaboration with UNESCO/Kathmandu, launched a series of Capacity Building workshops offering specially tailored workshop/training for the inventorying and safeguarding of ICH across ethnic groups. While running such programs in the East, focusing on the Kirat ICH, few Nakchuns and Mundum singers/performers were encountered in the Halesi and neighboring areas. Mr. Jit Bahadur Chamling, for example, is one such oral historian who can narrate the Mundum classic like his Hindu counterpart would recite the Bhagawat Geeta. At this time, Chamling hardly makes it to Halesi complex from his home about two km south of the holy complex. He is a person to be declared a living legend of the Kirat Mundum. A very senior Rai speaking one special dialect passed away with the dialect itself. He also came from a remote village of Khotang.
The writer remembers, like many Nepalese, the name of Ali Miya of Kaski. Miya, a legend in folk songs, music and folklore passed away and is survived by his son Hanif Miya, also a folklorist and researcher. This duo is special as they come from Islamic background and yet specialise in the midhill folklore and music. They have made history, and they are history themselves to be recognised by the government and the people.
One more living legend in the field of history, culture and literature lives only a few km south of Singha Durbar, the Mega Center of the Federal Government of Nepal with the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation. Those who are reading the opening page of Nepal, a Nepali weekly, might be familiar with Hari Ram Joshi, the columnist at the moment. He is narrating interesting events he witnessed and/or was part of the incidents. These are his personal memories but in all these events thus narrated speak history.
Joshi, the founder of an interdisciplinary Journal called Rolamba (discontinued after more than 3 decades of service) has scores of books to his credit. Some of the Mega size books like ‘Abhinav Samskriti Kosh’, Festivals of Nepal, Encyclopedia of Culture and several such large size manuscripts are hidden treasures of his collection and Joshi, for sure, is the Treasure par- excellence. Spending an hour with him is taking a journey through the history and culture of Nepal. A scholar who does not like publicity sits in the middle of his personal collection, a mini library of unbelievable collection of manuscripts, texts and other genuine resources. Only a very few Nepalese would know Joshi is a poet and wrote more than 6 decades ago that ultimately the Monarchy in Nepal will go forever. He has never published the poems he wrote from 1957 till much later.
Finally, this is an Age of Heritage preservation and finding ways to safeguard them for the posterity. Cultures are now facing risks of all kinds. Only concerted and collaborated efforts of the government, the community, the youths and the experts dedicated in this field can produce desirable result. A constant support and encouragement from the government is a necessary condition. And, to cite a most recent example, when the Home Ministry reads the list of 300 distinct and selected individuals to be honored by the Government, Culture, Heritage, Arts and History make a very poor show. Culture faces crisis even in terms of national recognition. Unfortunate, isn’t it?
(Former Dean of Humanities & Social Sciences, TU and Fulbright scholar from University of California, Khatry writes on cultural issues)