Despite Nepal being declared a ‘secular’ state constitutionally, traditions, rituals, mythology and legends continue to play a much bigger role in politics and power.
As Dashai, the main festival of the Hindus with over 80 per cent of the population begins, security forces are beefed up in and around major ‘Shakti’ and ‘Bhairav’ temples where the President Bidhya Devi Bhandari is scheduled to pay a visit on Sunday.
On Sunday, the community Trust (Guthi) of the local Malla community invited former King Gyanendra Shah to offer a ‘vessel’ and have his ‘sword’ exchanged with Pachali Bhairav, the presiding deity in Basantapur-Teku area in continuation of what they believe is a tradition in which royals seek divine guidance and blessing in conduct of the state business.
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The tradition that began some five centuries ago during the Malla dynasty rule continued to get the state recognition and patronage even after King Prithvi Narayan Shah conquered Kathmandu and and other smaller kingdoms and brought into existence Nepal in 1768. All the ten Shah rulers during the following 238 years followed the tradition. Gyanendra Shah had last performed the ritual of exchanging swords with Pachali Bhairav as King 15 years ago, but the confusion over how far a secular state should be involved in such rituals put a brake on that for some years.
Highly-placed official sources said the government was not very comfortable over the community Trust approaching the former King, and at one point, even contemplated stopping it, but was allowed to take place after ‘security warning that the fall out of backlash could be serious’. And the local trust and the organiser announced that Shah was given all the traditional honours and respect due to a ‘Head of the state’ when the ceremony took place on Sunday.
Its impact on Nepal’s politics with prolonged transition and instability and with political leaders discredited, is not hard to speculate. President Bhandari expressed the will to visit shrines Sunday (Maha-Ashtami day) at 4 pm, a time that former King Shah, used to go there routinely each year. Instead, he will be visiting the shrines Sunday at 5 pm, one hour after the President’s scheduled visit.
On Tuesday, on the occasion of Vijaya Dashami and the last day of the ten-day long dashai, the gates of both Shital Niwas–Presidential office cum and residence– and that of Nirmal Niwas (former King’s residence) will be thrown open for general public with unhindered entry to exchange greetings and ‘take blessings’ from them and the number of visitors will be seen as an indicator of their popularity and acceptability among them.