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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Nepals-samvat va Shankhadhara, Sakhwa : A collection of writings by several writers. Edited by Premshanti Tuladhar and Nareshbir Shakya for the New Year's Celebration Committee, Nepala-bhasha Mankah Khalah, NS 1127. A Review by Kamal P. Malla

Nepals-samvat va Shankhadhara, Sakhwa : A collection of writings by several writers. Edited by Premshanti Tuladhar and Nareshbir Shakya for the New Year's Celebration Committee, Nepala-bhasha Mankah Khalah, NS 1127.

A Review by Kamal P. Malla

In the last several decades, there has been little serious research on the tradition and historicity of Nepalasamvat. The latest volume, edited for the Nepal Bhasha Mankah Khalak New Year Celebrations Committee by Prem Shanti Tuladhar with Naresh Bir Shakya,.is not too clear about its editorial objectives. The editors do not specify their aims, nor do they give the sources, or dates of their publication.

Almost all the 61 pieces are old and dated, with hardly anything new to say. The arguments are weak, repetitive and feeble in logic. The strategic focus of the movement is in widening the day-to-day use of the Nepalese style calendar, both in personal life as well as in public life. Only usage can keep the calendar alive. If we don't use it in practice no amount of noise can revive it.

We don't know the name of the samvat when it was founded because it began to be called Nepalavatsara only since year 148, and its association with Shankhadhara was as late as year 811. There is no historical document earlier than the 19th-century Bhasa Vamsavalis, such as the one edited by Daniel Wright in 1877, compiled at the time of Bhimsen Thapa, that associate the epoch-era with Shankhadhara.

The arguments that it was a national epoch-era because it is lunar etc., are ill-founded as tithi was discovered four thousand years before Christ in Babylon! Similarly, there is no such thing as "Newar astronomy"; all the five elements of it, the pancanga, are Indian in origin. Although there are about 31 samvats in South Asia, all of them use the same units of time-computation, depending upon whether it is mid-night to midnight, sun-rise to sun-rise or ending moment of a tithi to another tithi depending upon the phases of the Moon.

There are too many elementary mistakes in the articles included in the above publication, including Prem Shanti's own claim(e.g., Amsuvarma founded the Manadev Samvat "to show loyalty to King Manadeva" p. 226) Or, the Kaiser Vamshavali is not written in palmleaf as Manik Lal Shrestha says (p. 220), it is paper thyasaphu.

Some of the articles should not have been included (e.g., Jyapu Pancha, Ashok Shrestha or Shyam Sunder Rajvamshi's). They do more harm than any good to the cultural movement.

There are also mutually contradictory statements among the writers. For example, some say NS was founded on Tuesday others say on Thursday, October 20, 879 A.D. Some give wrong ending moment of the tithi, Karttika Sukla Pratipada ( K.B. Udaya)

As I have shown it conclusively in my elaborately argued paper (Contributions to Nepalese Studies, Vol 32 No 1 January 2005, pp.1-49) there was no "Manadev Samvat”.

Manik Lal Shrestha says that the earliest dated inscription of Nepal is dated Samvat 386 when we already have the Jayavarma Statue dated Samvat 108!

Bhuvan lal Pradhan has been arguing that there were three Anandadevs in ancient-medieval Nepal whereas there never were more than two. There was no Anandadeva ruling in Bhaktapur in A.D. 879 as the kingdom was founded only in 11th century A.D.

Sugatratna Shindhukar's list of articles published on Nepala-samvat since the 1980s is far from complete. It doesn't include numerous publications issued by the New Year's Day Celeberations Committees and leading publications such as . Kohity, Bhintuna, Palistha, Deshyamaru Jhya etc. For reasons none too clear to me he didn't include my paper entitled "The Relevance of Nepala-Samvat", published in the New Year's Day Souvenir, the Ganga Club, November 1982, pp. 1-4, nor does he include an elaborate interview I gave to Palistha in NS 1124.

A much more cogent, impressive and relevant publication could have been brought out by the New Year Celebrations Committee with so much resources and so many well-wishers at hand. The Newa Dey Dabu advertized for research proposals. A few were submitted, but none too credible. So the funds promised by the Govement had to be returned.

Although the Newars have been publicly celebrating the New Year's Day every year since Cwasa Pasa initiated it 57 years ago in NS 1074 there is no credible publication on Nepala-samvat so far.

Coming back to the publication, there are a number of factual inaccuracies.
  • For instance, the epoch era was NOT called "Nepala-samvat" before the year 148, it was simply called "Samvat" to begin with. It was mentioned as "Nepala-vatsara" in a manuscript dated Samvat 148, now in the collection of S.K. Saraswati of Calcutta (See Petech, 1984), 
  • Its association with the name of Shankhadhara is not attested before Samvat 827, when it was mentioned as "Sakhwa Samvat". The first inscription to mention Shankhadhara explicitly comes as late as Samvat 957, in Patan Tichhu Galli.,
  • The first printed Nepalese almanac, the so-called "dhunge-paatro", goes back to 1884. Its author Dharmadutta Sharma (the late Ravindra, Natha Sharma's grand-father) does not mention the name . But a, printed almanac to mention the name of Shakhadhar was dated NS 1024/AD, 1904 (See Levi, 1901-4).
  • Dr Diwakar Acharya of the Nepal Research, Centre has recently published a colophon, dated Samvat 766, in which, the epoch era is mentioned as "Shaknudutta Samvat". In the 19thcentury "Bhasha Vamshavalis" I have examined (some 20 or so, including the Hodgson Collection in the British Library), the name, of the founder is also confusing---from Saphaa, Saakhaa, Shankha to Shankhadhara.
  • The legend of its foundation too is not consistent. All that we know for sure is that the epoch era was founded at the time of Raghavadeva, on Tuesday, October 20, 879. The later vernacular chronicles, compiled between 1829-1880s, narrate the commonplace legend of the transformation of sand-into-gold.,
  • The only reliable archaeological evidence we have is the stone statue said to be of Shankhadara --the retail trader, originally standing by the south gate of Pashupati temple. There is also a caitya in , Madu-khyo, Kathmandu said to have been built by him. So was he a Buddhist or was he a Hindu? How did a retail trader make so much money so that he could cancel everyone's debts----the traditional story is not all too convincing.
  • Not long ago, I discovered a stone-pillar in Sina-mangala, on the way to Sanothimi, near the Pepsi-cola factory, a 10-12 ft tall slender, roughly-hewn stone-pillar, now worshipped as a Siva-linga equipped, with an iron trisula. Originally, this is said to have been used as, a "weighing scale" to weigh the debt documents, paid off by Shankhadhar's generosity.
  • Sinaa-mangala is, of course, a popular corruption of Sanskrit, Shila-mugala, or stone pillar. I searched and found that pillar out, on the basis of the precise directions given in a Nepali, vamshavali, published in Ancient Nepal, its original is now housed in the Kaiser Library. This modern chronicle is copied at the turn of the century.,
  • The authentic document explaining Chandra Shumshere's motives for adopting Vikrama -samvat is Jaggannatha and Vaijanath Sendhain's versified panegyric, entitled Candra-may=kha (Nirnayasagar Press, Bombay:1913, page 87), where there are three laconic verses, explaining how the State benefits from such a measure and how Chandra's calendar reform of "tithi into miti" had finally rid the country of the confusions of lunar tithi, 13-month year and dark half and bright half of a lunar month.,
  • The lunar calender was invented by Babylonians in ca. 4000 BC. It was brought to the Indus Valley by the nomadic Indo- Aryans in about 1350, BC. Unlike the solar calender ( in which a civil day is calculated from mid-night to mid-night or from a sun-rise to another sunrise), the lunar calendar is based on the phases of the Moon or periods of "lunation" which in Hindu calendar is called " tithi". Its duration is totally inconsistent and unpredictable so that a tithi may end and another begin at any moment, any second, in a solar day.
  • This gives rise to the problem of deciding WHEN does a tithi end. In order to know the ending moment of a tithi (which is the most crucial for calculation), one has to carry a pocket almanac, as it were, since it is simply unpredictable!,
  • Secondly, a tithi may span longer or shorter than a solar/civil day.
  • Thirdly, a tithi may be doubled or lost. The same civil day may contain more than one tithi.
  • Fourthly, in order to adjust the two reckonings, every two-and-a-half year, there has to be an intercalary month, or additional lunar month, because the lunar year is shorter by 11.25 days than the solar year. This also gives rise to the problem of a "lost lunar month". As lunar calendar is so fraught with practical problems it is not adopted as official one by any modern government in the world. However, it is still the RITUAL calendar in India, China and Islamic countries all over the world.
  • As far as I know, the first PUBLIC celebration of Nepala-samvat was organized by Cwasa Pasa in 1954 at Hanuman Dhoka where celebrities like Sardar Narendra Mani Acharya Dixit and Bal Krishna Sam were present. It was here that Sam said that he would start using it "from tomorrow" (See Paasaa, Souvenir Issue, No 4). I hope Prime Minister Comrade Puspa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda's, commitment is not going to be yet another "tomorrow"-syndrome!,

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