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Celebrating Nepal New Year

Issue 45, November 07, 2010

Siddhi B. Ranjitkar

On the first day of the bright fortnight in the month called Kartik, Nepalis proudly celebrate the New Year following the national calendar called Nepal Samvat. Some Nepalis erroneously think that it is the calendar of only one community but it is not so it is the cultural heritage of all Nepalis no matter where you live in. So, let us celebrate the Nepal New year jubilantly and preserve our cultural heritage.

If you take a look at all the calendars prevailing in the world you will find that all the calendars are run in the name of one person or another. However, Nepal Samvat is in the name of a country not in the name of a person.

Nepal has the history of rulers of Gopala and Mahispala, Kirats, Licchavis, Mallas and Shahs. We do not know much about what sorts of calendars they have used before Gopala rulers but we do know that Gopala and Mahispala have used an imported calendar.

Gopala and Mahispala have used Saka Samvat that began in 78 of the Gregorian calendar. It is called Saka because the Saka rulers have introduced it in one of the then kingdoms of the current India. Probably, Kirat rulers have simply followed the Saka calendar. However, Licchavi King Amsuvarman introduced the Manadev Samvat in 604. It was the Nepalese national calendar.

Then, Licchavi kings have started losing the power and they have been on the way to termination. A transitional period between the end of the Licchavi rule and the beginning of the Malla has been breeding ground for corruption and an authoritarian rule. However, during this transitional period the rulers have been very weak because of their discretionary rule rather than the rule of law. People have been heavily indebted to the state and to the moneylenders.

Taking the advantage of the shaky rule of the then ruler Raghavadeva, one of the commoners called Sankhadhara Sakhva must have led the indebted people to force the ruler to liquidate the state debt in 800 year of the Gregorian calendar and set up a new calendar called Nepal Samvat. Sakhva did not credit the ruler naming the calendar in his honor, as the people’s uprising has forced him to do so. It must be one of the Nepalese people’s movements against the ruler for liquidating the state debt, and setting up a new calendar called Nepal Samvat. Thus, Nepal Samvat symbolizes the people’s supremacy over the then ruler.

You will find a fascinating story about how Sakhva tricked the porters collecting the sand from Lakhu Tirtha River to dump it in his ground floor and then the sand turned into gold after four days. Then, he used the gold to pay the debts of the people for introducing a new calendar, as a new calendar could be introduced only after making all citizens free of debts. It must be a story made to save the face of the then Ruler Raghavadeva, as he has surrendered his authority to introduced a new calendar to Sakhva. It also might be the story in code as all other prevailing stories of the Hindu and Buddhist faiths.

Since 800, the Nepal Samvat Calendar has been in use in Nepal until despotic ruler Chandra Shumsher replaced the Nepal Samvat with the Vikram Calendar imported from one of the States of the current India. He did so to cut down the state expenditure. Following the Nepal Samvat he needed to pay the salaries to the state employees for thirteen months every three years, as Nepal Samvat follows the lunar movement and creates one more month every three years. Following the solar Vikram calendar, he could save the one-month salaries of the whole state employees that he has been paying every three year, and could pocket all the state savings for his private luxurious life, as at that time, the despotic rulers have made the rule of depositing the savings of the state to the private purse of the then Prime Minister.

Gorkha Ruler Prithivi Narayan Shah unified small principalities and city-states into a larger Nepal in 1769. He continued the Nepal Samvat. Later on, his successors have followed the Nepal Samvat until Jang Bahadur became the Prime Minister and received the so-called title of the king of Lamjung and Kaski.

Prime Minister Jang Bahadur upgraded him and his clan from the caste called Chhetri to Kunwar and then to Rana elevating to the level of the Rajput Ranas of Rajasthan, India. He borrowed the Vikram calendar from them and introduced it in Nepal to link him and his clan with the Rajput of Rajasthan. However, he did not stop Nepalis from using the Nepal Samvat. Then, Prime Minister Chandra Shamsher Rana stopped using Nepal Samvat for official purposes making the Vikram calendar only the official calendar of Nepal.

Some Nepalis have erroneously think that the Nepal Samvat is of the Nevahs only but it is not but of all Nepalis as all Nepalis had used it in the past for all the purposes.  Currently, for all practical purposes of celebrating religious festivals and marking cultural events, all Nepalis follow the Nepal Samvat. And, Nevahs have protected it from extinction.

After the people’s movement of 2006 and the demise of the monarchy, the Interim Government has declared Sankhadhara Sakhva a national celebrity and the Nepal Samvat a national calendar. The state has issued a postal stamp honoring Sankhadhara Sakhva. His statue has been set up in Bhaktapur.

Nepalis have been using the Nepal Samvat for celebrating festivals, and for holding life rituals in other words for religious and social purposes and the Vikram Calendar for official records and work even today.

For practical purposes, the Government of Nepal needs to switch on to the Gregorian calendar from the Vikram calendar to deal with the globalization. Nepalis have been feeling inconvenient to use both the Vikram calendar for the domestic business and the Gregorian calendar for the international business. So, for all practical purposes and for making life of everybody easy, we need to use only one calendar for domestic and international businesses, and for this purposes, follow the Gregorian calendar immediately.

November 3, 2010.

Note: Nepal New Year 1131 is on November 07, 2010.

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