Oct 3, 2015

Importing And Marketing Culture

Prem Khatry
The Rising Nepal
October 4, 2015

There is a feeling in Nepal – we are one small but important market for Indian products – and these products are coming to Nepal in different forms, shapes and denominations. An open Nepali mind is fundamental and more receptive than our open borders. This is the main reason why such products make an easy entry and stay here. The flow of many products discussed here as cultural products has a long and steady history in Nepal whereas some have made recent but successful inroads. They have survived, thrived and sustained in the hands and purses of the highly receptive Nepalis.

Let us begin with the producers and go on to production. Nepal has old and strong cultural links with India through various aspects of the Vedic culture – polity, law, faiths, sacraments, education, arts, health and economy, to name the most important aspects. In historical times, beginning from the Maurya-Kirata to the modern times, great teachers, their missions and visions, the court regalia and the like have always left their mark in the process of urbanisation, political development and culture.

The Buddha and Emperor Ashoka took the opportunity to send their men and mission to Kathmandu for the propagation of Buddha's timeless teachings. Nepalis not only gave the visitors a green signal to do so, they also promoted Buddhist thoughts and practices at times when they had difficulty in India.

Big names in Nepal

History says from another angle Shankaracharya was doing his best to stop the popularity of Buddhism in Nepal and asserting on the establishment of the Vaishnava school of thought. He is said to have created a spiritual wave against Buddhism. This wave, it is said, was felt very seriously by the Buddhist monks and laity in Kathmandu. It took a long time for the Buddhist faith and practices to raise their heads and steer their right paths. And, in less than one hundred years, Nepal was recognised as the home of Tantric Buddhism after the fall of the faith in the north and east Indian plains.

Whether it is Hindu or Buddhist, the spiritual waves from the south have always been influential and strong on the soils of Nepal. During the time of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu of Bengal and Goswami Tulsidas of the northern region, and afterwards the Vaishnava faith and practices became almost a household culture and conduct in Hindu Nepal. Pilgrimages in India became common and regular routine work of Nepali devotees. Sanskrit language and literature also influenced the courts and middle class society of Nepal.

In more recent times, saints, gurus and their missions have been creating visible and lasting impression on the culture of recent Nepal. From Sai Baba to controversial figures like Asaram to Nirmal Baba, they have their strong followings here. The most famous Vaishnava saint Jagatguru Shri Kripaluji Maharaj and/or Shree Shree Ravi Shankar have the largest number of followers in Nepal. Similarly, the healer-yoga teachers like Ramadeva or Pilot Baba or Mantra teacher Kumaraswami of Prabhukripa Nivaran family have been raising their following in more recent years.

There is a rumour building strongly in Nepal that even the ruling government of India is planning to work closely with the Hindu fundamentalists of Nepal to restore Hinduism as the state religion that was in pre-2007 Nepal. But these are unsubstantiated statements.
The promotion of Hindu faith and practices through several cult figures and their preachers has been mostly one-way traffic as our own saints like Bhikshu Amritananda, Shree Khaptad Baba, Dr. Swami Prapannacharya, Kamalnayanacharya Dr. Ramananda Giri and several others have very little or no following in India.

It is now strongly felt in Nepal that the south-north traffic of faiths and practices is not only limited to holy men, their missions and the goods that accompany them. Now there are other commercial items, too. Like the faiths travelling north as spiritual commodities, there are actually different forms of commodities coming to Nepal and creating small to medium to big dents in the body-culture of Nepal. Just a few items would be sufficient to substantiate the writer's analysis.

Take Mehendi (a herbal paste with long lasting designs painted on hands) for example. Until some years ago, this colourful paint was shown on the hands of the Marwari and other upper class ladies of the plains during some festivals and ceremonies at home. Today it has hit the market. From the Terai, this colour has been making its entry into cities like Kathmandu, attracting females of all castes and ages. Even elementary level female students want to have this paint on their tiny hands to mark the coming of a festival at home and the community.

One can only guess, as the Mehendi cone goes to many hands at a fast rate, its business could be rated into millions per week, if not per day. Such a business certainly brings the entrepreneurs as business promoters and add to the already saturating population statistics. And, this is just an example of a new addition in popular culture.

Take another example from Janai Purnima and Rakshyabandhan. The traditional Nepali belief held that the holy thread is to be renewed every year on this auspicious day by the thread holder castes. Similarly, the colourful thread is to go to the wrist through the family (in cities the temple) priests as marks of 'protection', hence the name. This is fine and good. But lo and behold! A 'Rakhi culture' has now come all the way from the plains through Hindi serials and migrants.

Now a sister is taught to tie this colourful, expensive and laboriously made thread around her brother's hand as another kind of protection and welfare of her sibling/s. Now almost every corner of the city has this temporary stall with hundreds of varieties of this thread. Earlier it catered for the migrant Terai-Indian population, but now it has infected the Pahadi and valley population of youngsters.

Flourishing business

Finally, one writer suggested rather jokingly how our 'Fagu' has been 'Holi' and added new features and soon the wife could be 'bibi ji'. It is not just a change of a name; it has also changed the earlier character and added new paraphernalia. A business is flourishing in these names and taking a big amount of money out of the country just for the sake of imitation of a neighbourhood culture. One must say – Nepalis are very innovative and change-seekers but have no or little thought about how new inventions can come heavy on our own traditions that are simple, inexpensive and carry history as well as meaning.


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