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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010


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Incredible I.S.P.s

From Instructor Team

Mornings are our favorite part of the day. It's when we reunite as a group and listen to students' impressive tales of adventure and homestay bonding.

Our schedule at the program house starts promptly at 8 o’clock, withthe majority ofstudents arriving at 7 to take advantage of our optional morning yoga practices and travel writing seminar. After a hearty breakfast, and following two hours of dynamic language class taught in intimate groups, we congregate upstairs in our funky program house for morning meeting announcements and a daily activity. Once a week students prepare presentations (for instance, Nepali ethnic groups and Hindu deities). Mondays students facilitate development discussions. Other days leaders facilitate activities or present lecturers who share their expertise and experience in English, or in Nepali with translation facilitated by Sweta.

A surprise assuredly awaits us in the dining area for lunch, where we share momos (Tibetan dumplings), or pizza, or samosas, or vegetable curry, or soup, pumpkin pie, or spaghetti, or salad, or the house specialty - dhal bhat(lentils and rice) -which we often take into the patio and munch to the birds’ song.

And then students clear out of the house and spread into the city for their I.S.P.s.

Each student is invested in an Independent Study Project, and some may spend up to 10 hours a week pursuing their interests. All students have been matched up with Nepali Independent Study Project mentors. Here is some of what our students are pursuing each afternoon:

- Maya (Montana) is learning the craft of Nepalese jewelry making, with a focus on Tibetan design, creating numerous pieces, buying the metal and cutting it from scratch.

- Sushma (Sarah) is learning to play the harmonium, an important instrument in religious services, and will attend performances and events where the harmonium is used. She is now the proud owner of her own harmonium.

- Nabin (Nick) is an apprentice to a Nepali mask-maker, chosing and carving masks, learning the art of wood carving and the importance of this craft in Nepali culture.

- Pawan (Dougie) has gone head-first into the sticky matter of the constitution and is working with a youth-centered Nepali organization, Alliance for Peace, to make sense of it all.

- Amrita (Amy) is learning to play the sitar, a beautiful and large Indian string instrument, and will soon be the proud owner of her own sitar and case.

- Ambika (Alex) has found a match with a Nepali mentor that presents her with lessons on yoga and psychology.

- Hema (Hannah) is working at an orphanage called Orchid Garden, for children of impoverished single mothers, helping with the feeding, cleaning, and playing.

- Jamuna (Janet) is learning the art of jewelry making, and on the side is keeping her ears and eyes open to the issues of food politics and food sustainability.

- Devika (Deva) has become an apprentice to a Nepali tailor and after learning basic techniques has sewn a bonnet.

- Sujana (Susannah) lends her nimble body to the study of the philosophy as well as to the physical practice of yoga.

- Kalpana (Katey) is learning about Nepali food and its crossover into Nepali culture, where food comes from, and how to cook with the multitude of spices.

We are proud of our students, who have shown such varied interests, taking local transportation to their ISP locations and then back to their Nepali homesstays. We greatly look forward to gushing over their crafts they will produce and learning from their ISP Presentations, which will wrap up in the days before we leave Kathmandu.


 

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

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Incredible I.S.P.’s

Instructor Team,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

Description

Incredible I.S.P.s From Instructor Team Mornings are our favorite part of the day. It’s when we reunite as a group and listen to students’ impressive tales of adventure and homestay bonding. Our schedule at the program house starts promptly at 8 o’clock, withthe majority ofstudents arriving at 7 to take advantage of our optional morning […]

Posted On

03/10/10

Author

Instructor Team

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For many of us, last Sunday was the most we had ever been exposed to death. Our Student Lead Excursion was a trip to the Pashupati Temple, one of the holiest Hindu temples in the world. Because of its importance in the religion, it is also one of the holiest sights for Hindu funerals. Our group gathered at the Program House at 9:00 in the morning, piled onto a bus taking us to our stop, and walked casually past stands and stands of religious souvenirs, laughing at the hundreds of monkeys that dominated the area. We had absolutely no idea about what kinds of emotions we were about to feel.

As we approached the temple, the air grew thicker with smoke, and an unfamiliar burning smell penetrated our senses. Before we knew it, we were overlooking the Bagmati River witnessing not one or two, but several Hindu cremations and funeral ceremonies.

It is a Hindu belief that when a person dies, their soul remains and will be reborn in a new form in their next life. It is then customary to have a funeral no later than the day after the death took place. If the body were to remain for any longer than that day, a demon spirit is believed to appear in the family’s household. For most devoted Hindu families, they bring their deceased relative to the Bagmati River as soon as possible. It is believed that if the feet of the person who has passed is put in a body of water close to the time of death that they will have a greater chance of attaining enlightenment. This ritual of putting the feet in the river also purifies the body and prepares it for the cremation. During this first portion of the funeral, the bodies are wrapped in yellow and white sheets, exposing the face. The family crowds around the body, claps and blows into a conk shell to alert the Gods to welcome their relative’s soul.

After the body is purified, the body is carried down the river a ways to where the cremation platforms are. Several platforms are carved out of the cement that lines the river. On these platforms, a bed of logs is set up for the body to be laid on. From this point on, the son of the deceased, dressed in all white (the Hindu mourning color), performs most of the cremation rituals. He covers the body with hay, says the necessary prayers, and then proceeds with the actual cremation. The burning process takes 4-6 hours, so the son stays with the body for this time to make sure that it is burned completely. The ashes are then thrown into the river to be carried away.

As a group we had the unique opportunity to witness this ritual from the start to the finish. Overwhelmed with emotion, many of us sat watching, speechless; however, it was very clear that our minds were moving at the speed of light. What amazed and moved me the most was seeing how the Hindus can think of the body as so temporary and so impermanent. I found it rather beautiful how they focus more on the continuation of the person’s soul and less on the ending of the person’s life. In this way the funeral is more like a celebration for the person’s next life rather then dwelling on and clinging onto their past life and the body that the soul resided in.

One thing that upset me more was seeing how public the funerals were. More than forty bodies are brought to the river everyday. The area was swarmed with people of all sorts including travelers just like us who were snapping photos and analyzing the funerals as if they were cultural anthropologists. I felt within me a great feeling of guilt for intruding on a ceremony that I thought deserved more privacy and respect. However, it was then explained to me that death is a much less private or touchy subject in Nepal. For example, the son and the widow of a deceased man are supposed to wear all white for an entire year after the death. Rather than trying to conceal grief, they are openly sharing it with anyone they encounter on the street.

I have shared only my thoughts and opinions on the day. Everyone in our group felt and reacted in a different way. I think, however, that I can confidently say that the excursion made all of us realize a little bit about ourselves, and it definitely generated some new questions in our minds to think about. It was the first time I realized how much you can learn about yourself through learning another country’s culture.

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

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Our Trip to Pashupati Temple, the Hindu Crematorium

Suzanna McMillan,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

Description

For many of us, last Sunday was the most we had ever been exposed to death. Our Student Lead Excursion was a trip to the Pashupati Temple, one of the holiest Hindu temples in the world. Because of its importance in the religion, it is also one of the holiest sights for Hindu funerals. Our […]

Posted On

03/9/10

Author

Suzanna McMillan

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The Lonely Planet guide to Nepal states that "no other stupa in Nepal comes close to Bodhnath," and it seems that we dragons would agree. In fact I may go as far as to say it is the current group hot spot, having been visited by the majority of the group at least three times in the past week.

I was personally introduced to it this past Thursday, on a recommendation from Shannon. I had inquired as to a section of the city filled with impressive works of jewelry that could trigger an inspiration for my next project; Boudha fit the bill quite perfectly. Not only is the entire stupa surrounded by shops selling beads, Tibetan rugs, shawls, singing bowls and Nick's favorite, porcelain horses, but the stupa itself is simply breathtaking.

A giant white marshmallow with a central square-shaped tower and piercing eyes, the shape of the stupa is meant to encase the body of the Buddha, and this particular stupa claims to even have a bone from the Buddha buried within.

Surrounded by gompas, Tibetan and Buddhist monks in flowing red robes can be foundstrolling alongthrough every twist and turn. It is not purely the Buddhists who are allowed to partake the spiritual activities of the stupa, but anyone can circulate the monument (clockwise), spinning the hundreds of carved, golden prayer wheels, and we were even given the opportunity to walk around the top of the rounded base, or the plinth.

On my first visit with Nick and Susanna, we wandered through the Tibetan shops and back-alleys, coming across goldsmiths, furnisher crafters and jewelers in the midst of their work. As I scoped out all the beaded and carved jewelry, Nick and Susanna kept their eyes peeled for gifts and nick-nacks to bring home to friends and family.

My personal favorite experience, which shows how much Western culture has infiltrated even the most sacred areas, came when weglanced in the shop-windowof a little back-alley bookstore on Buddhism. Susanna had mentioned that she wanted to read a Harry Potter book to her little Nepali-homestay brother and was just checking to see if the book store might contain such an item. The entire window was filled with books on Meditation, Buddhist Philosophy, Tibetan medicineand culture, and the Dalai Lama, and yet smack dab in the middle there was a Harry Potter book (in English).

Even if it has become a farely frequented tourist destination (we weren't even one of a few white people), I found it tohave far more peaceful and respectful of an atmosphere than other such destinations like Tamel or Durbar Square.

The following Saturday a number of us returned in the afternoon, opting to enjoy some drinks and ice cream at an adorable roof-top cafe that overlooked the stupa. On this occasion we were able to see practically eye-to-eye with the giant pair of eyes, instead of being glared down upon. This visit was just as relaxing and enjoyable and the last, and triggered the group's desire to return again the next day, on Sunday, for a tasty lunch at the Everest Cafe after the group excursion to the Hindu Cremation Temple, Pashupatinath.

We can't seem to get enough of this stupa, and I expect to make quite a few shop-keeper and restaurant staff Nepali friends over the next three weeks.

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

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Staring Contest with the Buddha

Montana Feiger,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

Description

The Lonely Planet guide to Nepal states that "no other stupa in Nepal comes close to Bodhnath," and it seems that we dragons would agree. In fact I may go as far as to say it is the current group hot spot, having been visited by the majority of the group at least three times […]

Posted On

03/9/10

Author

Montana Feiger

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To be honest, until recently (one week to be precise), I had never even heard of the genre of writing called "travel writing". But I enjoy writing, and when Nate announced that one hour a week from for one hour he would be running a travel writing seminar, I was game.

As it turns out, there is a lot more to travel writing that meets the eye. First of all, there is the actual travel. Then there is the writing. As travel writers, we are trying to accurately record and portray events, scenes and the life of a culture not our own. However, as Nate pointed out, often the most effective and interesting travel writing are those stories that represent the personal journeys and transformation of the writer as a result of interculture experiences. There are also some very distinct challenges to travel writing; How does onemake stories and emotions from another country as real and vivid to a reader as they were in real life? How does one keep pace with events that happen so fast? And perhaps the most challenging- how, in the course of a day, does one capture those special moments and remember them later.

Once a week from 7-8, Nate attempts to answer all these questions for us and give us excercises and tips to add to our writing repatoires and help uscreate fromour experiences in Nepal meaningful, reflective writing.

My own example of travel writing was inspired from a classic technique called "sensory poems" based on our first 3 weeks in Kathmandu. (see below for references)

I am Kathmandu.

I am reading by candlelight late at night. (1)

I am pigeons tap dancing on a tin roof.

I am sore eyes, clogged nose, tired lungs- all from pollution.

I am dirty nails, forbidden left hand. (2)

I am doughnuts frying in the morning, momos steamed for lunch.

I am the street dog who took tikka from a child.

I am the folds of a sari, the seams of a kurta. (3)

I am a child with a lola. (4)

I am an unfinished constitution and the hopes of a nation that rest upon it. (5)

I am Kathmandu.

References:

1- Kathmandu Valley is powered by hydroelectric dams. In spring during the dry season, not enough water flows through the dams, creating the need for "load-shedding" when power is rationed throughout the city. Currently, the power is cut from Kathmandu 14 hours a day with plans to go higher.

2-Kathmandu septic system do not support toilet paper thus the custom after using a toilet is to wipe using the left hand and water. Consequently, the left hand is termed JuTho or impure and is never used to handle food, point or other delicate activities.

3-traditional dress in both India and Nepal, the sari traditionally being for married women and the kurta surwal, a two piece baggy dress suit, for younger women (although widely preferred by women of all ages).

4-A water ballon, which children throw on the holiday of Holi which took place last Sunday.

5-After experienceing monarchy, democracy and communism in the past 10 years Nepal currently acts without a constitution or an governing body. The writing of the new constitution has been underwayfor nearly 2 years and is scheduled to be finished in May.

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

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Travel Writing

Deva Steketee,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

Description

To be honest, until recently (one week to be precise), I had never even heard of the genre of writing called "travel writing". But I enjoy writing, and when Nate announced that one hour a week from for one hour he would be running a travel writing seminar, I was game. As it turns out, […]

Posted On

03/7/10

Author

Deva Steketee

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As anyone from my group of fellow travelers can by now tell you I am especially inept when it comes to speaking any language other than poor English, so it only made sense that I share some of my more embarrassing moments attempting to speak nepali.

more often than not I am reduced to a combination of slow English, bar nepali, and a version of street charades, something I have come to refer to as nepinglish. believe or not most nepalis cant always make out my hand gestures when their eyes well up with tears and their stomach being to ache from laughing so hard, so thankful other members of the group are vastly more talented than me. Whether its waving down a crammed micro bus in thamel or trying to negotiate with a sapha tempo driver I have found that even if you try to get them to really, really slow down its still next to impossible to dicern all but the last word.

last weekend the group ventured to Patan, one of the preserved heritage kingdoms within the kathmandu valley and after touring the museum four of use ended up having lunch in a back alley mom and pop momo shop. from the state off the kitchen I don't think they got many English speakers in there so we had a really great opportunity for me to embarrass myself. after settling down we had to try and see what it was they served in this restaurant other than momos and what said momos where filled with. at this point I was just thankful that dooghy was with us, I think we have the same level of confidence and willingness to try using our nepali lessons but he can actually back it up with a considerable vocabulary, some how he seems to remember all those words elude me from the inside of my notebook. it turned out that the momos where buffalo and the only other thing they served was chow mein.

after we thanked our host for, in my opinion the most interesting meal thus far in nepal, we settled our bill to the tune of about four us dollars. but wait there were still more public places for me to misconjugate verbs and confuse pronouns so we couldnt leave Patan yet.

So after visiting a number of shops looking for some yak wool, which I am still shocked by the rarity of, we decided to leave Patan. the last nepali phrase that we ended up using that day was in a vain attempt to stay dry. in the days preceding the Hindi festival of holi nepalis love throwing water balloons at everyone, especially foreigners. Final nepali lesson: Ma Kheldina. but don't expect anyone to listen.

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

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Malaai nepali bolna manlaagchha?

Nick Gollner,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

Description

As anyone from my group of fellow travelers can by now tell you I am especially inept when it comes to speaking any language other than poor English, so it only made sense that I share some of my more embarrassing moments attempting to speak nepali. more often than not I am reduced to a […]

Posted On

03/4/10

Author

Nick Gollner

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    [post_date] => 2010-03-04 00:00:00
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Last Sunday, we celebrated the Hindu festival of Holi. Water balloons, or “lolas” and colored powder are the main instruments of Holi. Sunday was merely the culmination of weeks of escalating lola-throwing. As conspicuous foreigners, we were often the targets of water balloons. On Saturday, we got lost getting back to Kathmandu from Patan, the city just to the south, and entered a very residential area just at the time of afternoon when little kids and teenagers were out getting into the Holi spirit. Our pleasant afternoon jaunt turned into a gauntlet of lolas from which we emerged soaked and with newfound resolution never to take shortcuts.

Halloween is probably the only American holiday which comes close to expressing the vibrancy of Holi. I celebrated with my home-stay sister, brother, and one of my brother’s friends from the fifth-story roof of my house. Lolas come in two varieties: the tiny latex balloons which are tied closed, and the plastic, post-card sized bags which are filled with water and twisted temporarily shut. In the nearly three hours we played, we went through over four hundred of these “plastics.” A battle erupted between us a group of Nepali kids on the rooftop across from us, and we spent much of our time dodging the missiles which exploded in red and purple when they hit the concrete. My sister ambushed me and smeared red vermilion powder on my face. Other red and silver faces lined the rooftops, mostly children and teenagers. Lolas soared tremendous distances. People walking by on the streets below were fair game – it was easy to see who was celebrating Holi, from the color and soaking of their clothing. Gangs of boys wandering past were ambushed from above, but they gave as good as they got, lobbing showers of retribution four or five stories up.


Before long, the roof was slippery with water and the shattered plastic carcasses of past volleys. The dryness was not helped by the buckets of water which were our occasional reprisals for domestic attacks.


On the nearby ring-road, the large thoroughfare circumnavigating the city, trucks of colorful Holi partiers rumbled past and the din of celebration hung over the city. Few women wandered the streets, and when they did, they were almost always accompanied by male family members. A furniture workshop stands across the road from my house, normally filled with the knocking of wood and clanging of metal. On Holi, the crowd inside and outside the workshop started a raucous dance performance accompanied by cheering and the clanging of impromptu metal drums. Spilling out onto the street, the crowd formed a singing, gyrating parade that wound its way down the road, conducted onward by the splash of descending lolas and the taunting of near-misses. A cow wondered past, unconcerned by the hubbub or the absurdity of its appearance in such a heavily urban neighborhood.

By mid-afternoon, the lola-throwing had quieted down. Little kids and families emerged for a while to play in streets dyed pink from the festivities, but the celebration ground on late into the night, evidenced by the lights and hubbub of Holi partiers.

It was a raucous, fun celebration, but one not without problems. Dawn the next day revealed a wasteland of plastic, and in the post-holiday return to somber normality, the copious amounts of water expended in the face of Kathmandu’s chronic water shortages seemed an extravagant excess. Still, the liveliness and fun of the holiday made it one of the most memorable experiences yet of our life here in Kathmandu.

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

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Holi Jamuna!

Janet Chikofsky,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

Description

Last Sunday, we celebrated the Hindu festival of Holi. Water balloons, or “lolas” and colored powder are the main instruments of Holi. Sunday was merely the culmination of weeks of escalating lola-throwing. As conspicuous foreigners, we were often the targets of water balloons. On Saturday, we got lost getting back to Kathmandu from Patan, the […]

Posted On

03/4/10

Author

Janet Chikofsky

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Holi!


Holi is a Hindu festival, the festival of colors, celebrated towards the end of February on the full moon. Depending on who you talk to, the mythology behind Holi varies from heroic stories of the gods destroying demons. In general, I feel its safe to say that the festival celebrates good overcoming evil. Everyone starts huge water fights and throws dye at each other all over the city.

Before the great event, I was a little intimidated by Holi because of the previous weeks of getting attacked by lolas (water balloons) every single day when walking around the city. Holi can be misrepresented as a holiday to attack the opposite sex with lolas as a sign of affection. Some of the dyes that are used have a lot of chemicals in them and you don’t want to get them in your eyes or mouth. The water being thrown around may also not be very clean. In preparation for Holi, my host sister, Alisha, helped me put tons of olive oil in my hair to protect my blonde locks from becoming permanently pink, purple, green, red, and orange.

My Holi experience was a blast! My initial nervousness vanished because of how playful and thoughtful my community was. My neighborhood thinks that a strong community is very important and puts forth a lot of effort to continually strengthen friendships and build trust. My language teacher, Rajeshji, lives a few houses down from mine in Dhapasi Heights. He is the ring leader of our community and spearheads a lot of the activities for the community. His family started off the Holi celebration. They walked to each person’s house and called them to come out and celebrate. Once you come out, the crowd of people shower you and your family with dye and water, screaming “Happy Holi!”. As a group, we all march to each others houses and continue the welcoming process. Once everyone was gathered, and multicolored, we gathered at Rajeshji’s house for a picnic. The food was great, a very traditional Newari meal with beaten rice, spicy potatoes, spinach, and other curries. Everyone sat around chatting for a long time and then the dancing started. Nepalis love to dance.

It was a great experience for me because it was interesting to see how everyone came together to celebrate a festival. The city was so full of life, it was like Christmas in Kathmandu. Surprisingly, all the dye came out of my clothes and hair and my family and I had a nice, calm dinner with relatives. I wished we celebrated Holi in the U.S. I just might have to start my own Holi festival with my friends and family back home next year!

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

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Holi Hannah!

Hannah Oblock,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

Description

Holi! Holi is a Hindu festival, the festival of colors, celebrated towards the end of February on the full moon. Depending on who you talk to, the mythology behind Holi varies from heroic stories of the gods destroying demons. In general, I feel its safe to say that the festival celebrates good overcoming evil. Everyone […]

Posted On

03/4/10

Author

Hannah Oblock

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    [post_content] => As we dive into exploring the fascinating cultural and religious aspects of Hinduism this week, we took an afternoon to share the research we had done previously on some of the religion's most popular gods and goddesses. We had fun sharing the elaborate myths and images surrounding our respective deities, and afterwards, could see how truly complex and mystical the religion is. Below are some of the deities that we became acquainted with: Kali - Her name meaning both time and blackness, this goddess of destruction is famous for slaughtering demons and, drunk for their blood, dancing until her husband Shiva jumps underneath her, sticking her tongue our in surprise Durga - A divine mother, whose name means "invincible" and is formed from the angry energy of other gods Laksmi - Goddess of wealth, prosperity and good luck, businesses all around Nepal worship her, and it is popular in Kathmandu for banks to bare versions of her name Indra - God of war, storms and rainfall, he is believed to protect the heavens from demons while carrying is famous lightning bolt and bow Shiva - Known as the "auspicious one," the destroyer of the universe is commonly represented by a phallic symbol and is said to have the Ganges river flow through his hair Kama - The god of divine love, he carries a very masculine bow made from sugar cane strung with honey bees and supports prosperous marriages and fertility while riding a parrot named Suca Vishnu - The main preserve of the universe, whose ten reincarnations, or avatars, are famous for coming to Earth and restoring dharma, or cosmic order Ganesh - The familiar elephant-headed god, he is popular in Nepals and symbolizes success and the removal of obstacles We all look forward into knowing more about the oldest religion in the world and recognizing and being able to decipher the many temples and shrines we see daily!
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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

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Hindu Deities

Katey Parker,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

Description

As we dive into exploring the fascinating cultural and religious aspects of Hinduism this week, we took an afternoon to share the research we had done previously on some of the religion’s most popular gods and goddesses. We had fun sharing the elaborate myths and images surrounding our respective deities, and afterwards, could see how […]

Posted On

03/3/10

Author

Katey Parker

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Last Saturday, the day before Holi, the eleven of us ventured out into the city for our first unofficial Student Lead Excursion. The day was originally scheduled to be a family day, but because a lot of us were anxious to explore new parts of the city, we planned this excursion of our own.

The group agreed upon visiting Patan, a completely new part of the city, to look around the Patan Museum. Long ago, Patan was a city-state of Nepal, but because of Kathmandu’s rapid growth, it is basically now a suburb. Similar to Bhaktapur, Patan was very tourist friendly. It had many international cafes, souvenir stands, pashmina shops, etc. Our goal that day, however, was not to shop, but rather to head straight from the bus to museum.

The Patan museum is known as one of the finest collections of religious arts in all of Asia. It is in the old residence of the Patan royalty, so the exhibits are displayed in a series of beautifully carved wooden rooms. The exhibits include Hindu art, Buddhist art, bronze casting, and artifacts from past Nepalese culture.

Although we all made our ways around the entire museum, most of the group dedicated the majority of his or her time there to the specific exhibits that interested him or her the most. I spent most of my time in the Buddhism section. The written descriptions that were provided on signs on the wall and in cases were amazingly informative. At museums, I am usually the person that just moseys around and admires only the beauty of the exhibits. However, in the Patan museum I found myself engaged in a whole new way. I was starving for new information!

I learned not only some of the basic Buddhist philosophies, but also about the specific meanings of the symbols in Buddhist iconography. I was amazed at how detailed and elaborate they are! For example, in one display case there were five sculptures of the Buddha that looked exactly the same to me at first glance. After reading the descriptions of each one, I realized that the smallest changes in the Buddha’s hand positions completely change the message being portrayed.

The remainder of our day was spent enjoying a delicious lunch of curry and mo-mos, strolling the streets of the town, and finding the safest way home from the excited water balloons throwers that had been celebrating Holi a day early. All in all, the excursion was a great success. As a group we broadened our knowledge in eastern religious art, practiced our skills in working as a team, and gained a better sense of confidence in navigating ourselves around Kathmandu.

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

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Our Patan Museum Adventure

Susanna,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

Description

Last Saturday, the day before Holi, the eleven of us ventured out into the city for our first unofficial Student Lead Excursion. The day was originally scheduled to be a family day, but because a lot of us were anxious to explore new parts of the city, we planned this excursion of our own. The […]

Posted On

03/3/10

Author

Susanna

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    [post_author] => 39
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Lecture by Sumitra Manandhar Gurung- Cultural Anthropology and Development

This Thursday, we were fortunate enough to have Sumitra introduce us to a wide range of issues which are currently affecting a wide range of Nepalis. Throughout her lecture, titled ‘Caste and Ethnicity in Nepal’, we dipped in and out of history, geography, women’s rights and current affairs, with a prevailing theme of the all-too apparent discrimination of the lower castes. Unfortunately even today this theme is changing peoples’ lives for the worse. ‘Dalits’, or ‘Untouchables’, the group stuck at the bottom of the social hierarchy, are known to tell white lies about their surnames in order to obtain such basic human needs as housing. Despite persuasion from my Nepali friends (and family) that instances such as this are on a steep decline, one has to be skeptical about these claims, which I feel often clouded by nationalistic pride and the need to be seen as a successfully Westernized (oxymoronic?) country. What’s more, the situation in rural areas is openly acknowledged to be more desperate, with some ethnic groups attaining a literacy rate of only 30%. This was confirmed by our group, who witnessed embarrassed denials to give signatures by many women in Bhaktapur.

Sumitra began her talk by explaining how the very foundations of Nepal’s current constitution (a new one is scheduled to be proposed by May 28th, though very few have faith in this deadline) are themselves the cause of many of Nepal’s problems. For example, the branding of the country as a “Hindu State” immediately poses a threat to the freedoms of women and people of lower castes (the caste system being a distinctly Hindu concept), people who have done nothing except be born from certain parents. The constitution also encourages a distinct “Nepali” culture, which seems practically impossible considering the diversity of peoples inhabiting the country. Estimates of the number of different ethnic groups range from ninety to a-hundred-and-twenty (fifty-nine of which are indigenous), and there are over a hundred recorded languages and dialects, many of which are mutually unintelligible. With all due respect to the effort of uniting the people of Nepal for peaceful progression, the attempt to scrape them all under a single cultural label seems, both ideologically and practically, incongruous.

Further interesting data which Sumitra presented illuminated the geographical grouping of these ethnic groups around the country. With maps showing which areas had a 50% or greater proportion of a certain ethnicity, it became clear that despite much integration of different ethnic groups, there are still very definite ethnic borders, and thus cultural ones. To appoint these groups a political representative from anywhere beyond these borders would undoubtedly lead to their demands being distorted, whether consciously or otherwise.

So why haven’t people apart from the Brahmins (who sit at the top of the chain, and hold 70%+ of civil servant posts) entered the political arena with any impact? Sumitra offered some enlightening suggestions. Firstly, the entrance exam for civil service is constructed with Brahmins in mind. Now, even if other ethnic groups were prepared to make the effort to learn about Brahmin history and culture, they would have a difficult time finding schools which taught in their language.

Secondly, India has been careful not to lose influence in Nepali politics. Their wish to keep Nepal as a Hindu country, despite the unambiguous lack of Hinduism among indigenous Nepalis, has surely excluded certain people from climbing the political ladder on account of their religious beliefs. These are the same people who provide the majority of Nepal’s manual labour services, such as blacksmiths, tailors and construction workers, and who are similar in every single way except caste.

Similarly, although there is better proportional representation (ethnicity/sex) in the Assembly (who have the unenvied job of writing the New Constitution), the political parties have a long way to go in attaining equal levels. Most put their level of female representation at under 10%.

It is obvious, therefore, why the people are campaigning for a federal system of government, and the voices calling for equal recognition can be found everywhere. However, with petty feuds occurring over the mere definitions of ethnic groups, political equality and stability looks a rather long way down the road.

Good luck to Sumitra in her Herculean task of illuminating these issues.

Dougie

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

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Lecture by Sumitra Tamang

Dougie Foster,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

Description

Lecture by Sumitra Manandhar Gurung- Cultural Anthropology and Development This Thursday, we were fortunate enough to have Sumitra introduce us to a wide range of issues which are currently affecting a wide range of Nepalis. Throughout her lecture, titled ‘Caste and Ethnicity in Nepal’, we dipped in and out of history, geography, women’s rights and […]

Posted On

03/2/10

Author

Dougie Foster

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