Nepal sets its calendar back by eight centuries

October 26th, 2008 - 5:14 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Oct 26 (IANS) Nepal’s former Maoist guerrillas, who came to power pledging revolution and progress, have now endorsed a decision to switch over from the existing calendar to an ethnic one that will take the former Hindu kingdom back more than eight centuries.While the world ushers in the year 2009 in two months’ time, from Wednesday the Maoist-led government of Nepal will change over to the Nepal Sambat calendar according to which it would be year 1129 in the new Himalayan republic.

The change is certain to add to the complexities of a nation guided by its own peculiar cultures and traditions.

Currently, Nepal uses the Vikram Sambat calendar, which was established by the great king of India’s Gupta dynasty, Emperor Vikramaditya.

According to the Vikram Sambat calendar, it is now the year 2065, putting Nepal ahead of the internationally used Gregorian calendar by 57 years.

However, Nepal will relinquish its progressive status - in terms of years - and go 879 years back officially from Wednesday following a long campaign by the rich and powerful Newar community of the Kathmandu Valley.

The Newars, the original residents of the valley, had been campaigning against the Vikram Sambat on the ground that it was “imported” from India.

The prevailing anti-monarchy sentiment also contributed to the campaign.

In 1769, Prithvi Narayan Shah, the founder of Nepal’s Shah dynasty, conquered the valley and subsequently, imposed the Vikram Sambat.

However, centuries later, Shah’s descendant King Gyanendra tried to seize absolute power with the help of the army and triggered a public revolt that resulted in the end of monarchy in Nepal in 2006.

Since then, the new governments of Nepal have been chipping away at the power and position of the crown.

Though historically the Nepal Sambat has a rich legacy, the switch will create chaos since this calendar’s years have only 354 days, which requires adding an extra month every three years.

Also, it is associated primarily with Newari festivals at a time Nepal has officially become a secular democratic country.

According to the legend, Newari businessman Sankhadhar Sakhwa turned sand into gold by alchemy and paid off debts of all the valley denizens to the state and began a new year to celebrate the end of servitude.

But perhaps the most powerful argument against the new calendar is that it was decided by a government that is merely an interim one and whose mandate is to write a new constitution and hold a general election.

Even two months after coming to power, the government of Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda has not been able to begin the task of drafting a new statute. Only 22 months remain for the massive task.

The government also has just four months within which to integrate the Maoists’ guerrilla army with the state army, which is an essential part of the peace process.

However, it has still not been able to form the special committee that will undertake the mammoth task. Instead, last Friday, when the cabinet was to name the new committee, it announced the decision to switch over to the Nepal Sambat calendar.

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