Swargadwari: Heaven One Step Closer
Prem K Khatry
Lokvarta Council, Nepal took the central level caravan to west Nepal last week. It was a journey to reach Rolpa, Pyuthan and Rukum districts to finalise a place to hold the 9th annual Lokvarta national conference in October next at Libang, Rolpa. The long and hectic but enjoyable journey started from Kathmandu early in the morning of Baishakh 20th. But the team was excited to pay a maiden visit to Libang as the original home of the decade long war waged by the then Maoist fighters against the State.
At Libang, the Lokvarta team was informed that the senior and active Magar cultural historian and teacher Miss Bam Kumari Budha had arranged an interaction programme with 50 Rolpalis including the Mayor of Libang Purna KC, local leaders, journalists, teachers and business persons. The locals were interested to know more about Lokvarta, the theme of the Libang conference and the nature of participation of the local community in the proposed conference. Mayor KC promised to offer his heartfelt cooperation for the conference.
The windy but good road makes Rolpa an accessible district now. Roads also link Libang with Thabang, Khalanga, Jaljala and several small towns and villages of the region. The visiting team came to the conclusion that the large team of folklorist to assemble at Libang will surely enjoy the Magar hospitality and culture come October. Lokvarta conference will explore several aspects of ICH of the region. The Magar culture theme will overwhelmingly flow in Rolpa and beyond.
The nature of Lokvarta is to see on the ground and beyond and share the collected information with the mass of its readers. Each national annual conference is followed by a book, the proceeding of the event. These materials help students of the subject build their determination to go further in terms of research and publication. Now that TU and the Midwest University have opened Lokvarta departments, such publications will come handy in expanding knowledge of intangible cultural heritage of many regions, peoples and ethnic groups across the nation.
Lokvarta team branched off at Bhrigri, Pyuthan, and headed towards the famous Swargadwari. This was a maiden pilgrimage for several members of the team therefore the tough 13-km drive was enjoyed despite its hardships. The twisting and turning road has received much less attention from the governments – federal, provincial and local - despite the increasing flow of visitors to the beautiful holy hill. For the writer, the pilgrimage was a long-cherished dream fulfilled but the final 1.5 km climb was a joint effort with an old horse reminding such an adventure from Kharpunath to Simkot few years ago.
On the top, the small world of a visionary person Swargadwari Mahaprabhu (SM) was right in front of eyes. It is beyond imagination that he had given his life for the spiritual and academic gain of the new generation of seekers. This was at a time when strictly anti-development Rana prime minister Chandra Shumsher was in power. The effort also reminded of Balaguru Shadananda’s similar effort to educate people in Dingla, Bhojpur. Nature’s gift Swargadwari was the spot where the epic heroes – the Pandavas – had spent their final days on earth and stepped into heaven. Hence, this place was renamed ‘Gateway to Heaven, Swargadwari.’ Mahaprabhu, through his effort had ignited the epic glory one more time.
There are number of legends circulated in the area and documented by his biographers. These texts depict him as an extraordinary person with divine gifts. People consider him as an incarnation of god, hence the name Mahaprabhu, the great God. The Sanskrit school and several ritual traditions he founded speak the glory of Vedic tradition preserved in the serene natural setting. In all, Mahaprabhu created a small heaven on earth as he knew how during the epic period, gods assembled here and blessed the land and the people. Or, that is what the popular legends speak of.
The small spiritual town has been facilitating the pilgrims to make their short stay comfortable with food, rooms and tour of the holy complex. The ‘akhanda’ (perennial) flame and yagya continue the way Mahaprabhu initiated them more than a century ago. Those who tried to disturb the work in hunting spree were punished by gods, the local say. People also believe that this is a place where wild and ferocious animals dwell and move about together with the divine powered cows. Of 1200 plus cow heads of the past there are more than 400 in the shed now.
The main attraction of the ashrama is the ‘gurukul’, the great guru founded and blessed. He himself bought property in different parts of the village and out in the Dang area for the regular income of the ashram. Today 93 batus- students – study Sanskrit as the main subject with English, Math and Science to cope with the new demands and challenges they have to face in the contemporary world upon entering a career.
Finally, Swargadwari is a tourist attraction for those who love peace and serenity. For the seekers, the hill provides an atmosphere to enjoy nature, breathe pure clean air, meditate for concentration of mind and heart and stay blessed with the energy flowing freely in the chilly hills and green trees. Just one visit is not enough to inhale the pure air and integrate into the serenity of the ashrama. One has to feel the snow in the winter, the rain in the summer and lovely breeze in the spring. Swargadwari, with several access points from all directions has it all built in, naturally.
(Former Dean of Humanities & Social Sciences, TU and Fulbright scholar from University of California, Khatry writes on cultural issues)