Academic journal article International Journal on Humanistic Ideology

Rituals, State and Legitimacy: A Study in the Context of Political Power Shifts in Nepal

Academic journal article International Journal on Humanistic Ideology

Rituals, State and Legitimacy: A Study in the Context of Political Power Shifts in Nepal

Article excerpt

Culturally significant rituals whether they are conducted in Kumari Ghar (abode of the virgin goddess) of Kathmandu or in Ram Janaki Mandir of Janakpur among others, offer roles for the state head of Nepal to perform.

With the 2006 peoples' uprising leading to the declaration of Nepal as a republican state in 2008, such rituals have become sites of contestation for legitimacy between and among the former king, the president and common people. The first president of the Republic of Nepal, a Madhesi intellectual and the erstwhile senior Nepali statesman, Dr. Ram Baran Yadav, and the second president Ms. Bidhya Devi Bhandari, a widow of the late Communist leader Madan Bhandari, and a senior politician herself, performed rituals that were considered the sole prerogatives of the Hindu monarchs for centuries. Media and the public reported and watched as well as participated on these occasions with great interest and curiosity. The 'New Nepal' has opened up very different power trajectories for the future Presidents and Prime Ministers irrespective of their castes, religions and gender. But the fact that rituals need to be given continuity and the state heads need to participate in them for the sake of cultural legitimacy is bound to promote liberal and pragmatic notion of rituals in Nepal.

This socio-cultural reality of Nepal, the paper argues, demonstrates some important facets of rituals - they may not be as strict and closed as they are often thought about. Nor can they be taken as thoroughly open since much depends upon the policies that the state lives by. Rituals can also be used to create gaps. But the fact that relationship needs to be mended keeps on reminding both the parties the exigency of maintaining moral, political and cultural order in the communities and beyond. Thus the heads of the state need to take and handle rituals carefully.

Rituals and Republic State

Nepal was rigorously rehearsing to be a republic state during the years 2006-2008. Political protagonists of different generations and ideological backgrounds were working on the scripts with a republican texture of the nation. A series of political and constitutional rituals were being set out only to be violated next moment. Though often hailed as the historical moment and a fast changing phase in the history of this nation, the times occasionally seemed mundane and fixed, as it were. For a researcher of performance cultures of the Kathmandu Valley, the following questions would sound pertinent then:

Will these phenomenal tremors in politics and emotions of the Nepali people bring any changes in traditional performance culture? What will happen to the roles performed by the king as head of state on cultural events and performances in Nepal, especially in the Kathmandu Valley since many cultural performances here demand his ceremonial presence? Are the traditional communities and committees formed to look after such cultural events and performances prepared to explore out alternatives? Will the absence of the king-protagonist make any difference for such performances? (Rijal, 2007:7).

Such questions were prominent then because the last Shah king of Nepal, Gyanendra Bir Bikram was trying his best to secure his or 'Hindu king's' space in the psycho-cultural sphere of the country. In the capacity of the last bastion of the still functioning Shah dynasty, he desperately tried to secure space for him and his progeny. He kept on participating on the annual Shivaratri pooja held on the premise of Pashupatinath temple. Though the then Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala observed the bhoto jatra (the festival of vest) of 2006, Gyanendra was still the king and resided in the Narayanhiti palace. Disgruntled, as it were, he offered a series of rituals including the famous pancha bali ritual at Dakshinkali temple, located in Southwest point of the Valley. Deities seemed to have ignored him, as it were, this time round too.

The 21 July 2008 meeting of the Constitution Assembly elected Dr. …

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