April 15, 2013

CELEBRATING A NEW YEAR EVERY YEAR : THE NEW 'VIKRAM SAMVAT' OR OLD 'NEPAL SAMVAT'?

[The Government of Nepal adopted the Vikram era as the official calendar of Nepal only in 1903 AD. Least emphasis has been given to other calendars. Even the Nepal Samvat, despite its 1132 years long history, has become obscure in the country and unknown to the people of Nepal. It all happened within a century or lesser than that as the state came forward  typifying itself how it could alter the culture and traditions of a country when it desired to do so. It is a common practice to name an era after a king, a popular individual or a religion throughout the history, but in case of the Nepal Samvat, it is named after the country itself. In this regard, it is a unique example. However, following the Government's introduction of  'one language and one culture' policy, the Nepal era has lost in status despite its exclusive history. This clearly indicates the disrespect to the culture and tradition of the country by the then Governments. They went as far as importing a foreign calendar to replace already widely used era in the country.]


By Bal Gopal Shrestha PhD
Oxford University, UK 
It is notable that the people of Nepal celebrate New Year’s Day several times in a year. The Government of Nepal celebrates its New Year’s Day during the change of the Vikram calendar on the first day of Vaisakh in mid-April. The people of Tibeto-Burman and Mongol origin in Nepal, such as the Gurung, the Tamang and the Sherpa celebrate their New Year festivals Tola or Tamu Lhosar (December/January), Sonam Lhosar (January/February) and Gyaplo Lhosar (February/March), respectively in three different times of a year. Similarly, people in Tarai celebrate their New Year at different times of a year. Most recently Rai and Limbu people of Nepal also have begun to  celebrate New Year of the Kirata or Yela Samvat. Nowadays a small minority in Nepal also celebrate New Year on the first day of January with the change of the Gregorian calendar. However, only the Vikram Samvat is used for official purposes in Nepal while all other calendars do not receive any such recognition. In October 2011 during the celebration of New Year 1132, Prime Minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai declared Nepal Samvat to be used as an official calendar of Nepal and formed a committee under the chairmanship of Padma Ratna Tuladhar, the ardent campaigner of Nepal Samvat. In the following year, during the celebration of the New Year 1133 in November 2012, the same Prime Minister, Dr. Bhattarai promised implementing the report that Padma Ratna Tuladhar submitted to his Government. He clearly stated the need of removing Vikram Samvat from official use (Bhattarai 2012). However, before taking any action towards this direction his opponents succeeded at dethroning him from his chair. This means the objective of replacing of the Vikarm Samvat with a national calendar will continue to remain in limbo.


Since past several decades, people across Nepal, especially the Newar people have began nationwide campaigns demanding the recognition of the Nepal Samvat as the country's national calendar. Due to the fact that the Vikram era had its origin in ancient India while the Nepal Era was originated in Nepal, and named after the country ‘Nepal’ itself, the pressure for the recognition started to grow after the restoration of democracy in 1990. In 1999, the then Government led by the Nepali Congress Party under the premiership of the late Krishna Prasad Bhattarai recognized Samkhadar Sakhva, the person believed to be founder of the Nepal era as a national hero of Nepal. During the Nepal Era 1128 New Year celebration the then Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala 'proclaimed' that he would use the epoch dates in his letter pads and would direct the Government administration to follow the suit, but that never happened. On 24th October 2008, the Maoists led cabinet meeting of the Government of the Republic of Nepal unanimously declared that the Nepal Samvat as a National era of Nepal. Politicians such as Dirgha Raj Prasain believes “Vikram Samvat is a glory of Nepalese nationalism” and thinks, “Nepal Sambat is becoming like the begging bowl for all party’s Bahun leaders” (Prasain 2010). Despite disbeliefs and doubts, Prime Minister Babu Ram Bhattarai proclaimed he would recognize Nepal Samvat as the  official calendar of Nepal during the celebration of New Year 1132 Nepal Samvat on 25 October 2011. He even read out his speech in ‘Nepal Bhasa’ ( Newar language) during the celebration, which was unprecedented as no Nepalese Prime Minister had made his speech other than in Khas–Nepali ever before.


The Government of Nepal adopted the Vikram era as the official calendar of Nepal only in 1903 AD. Least emphasis has been given to other calendars. Even the Nepal Samvat, despite its 1132 years long history, has become obscure in the country and unknown to the people of Nepal. It all happened within a century or lesser than that as the state came forward  typifying itself how it could alter the culture and traditions of a country when it desired to do so. It is a common practice to name an era after a king, a popular individual or a religion throughout the history, but in case of the Nepal Samvat, it is named after the country itself. In this regard, it is a unique example. However, following the Government's introduction of  'one language and one culture' policy, the Nepal era has lost in status despite its exclusive history. This clearly indicates the disrespect to the culture and tradition of the country by the then Governments. They went as far as importing a foreign calendar to replace already widely used era in the country.

Facts about the Vikram Era


A most widely believed myth is that the king named Vikramaditya of Ujjain in India initiated the Vikram Samvat. However, many scholars consider Vikramaditya was a legendary ruler, while others stress him as a historical figure and founder of the Vikram Era (Pandey 1951). However, in his book D.C. Sircar states, it was only in the 8th century that the reckoning began to attach with the name of the king Vikramaditya, before that the era was associated with the Malavas of Rajasthan. He further states, the era was at first known as the Krita era and prevalent in Rajasthan among the Malava, hence also began to be known as the Malava era. He asserts the epoch era began to be called the ‘era of Vikram’ ‘the era known as Vikram’ or ‘Vikramaditya’ and ‘the era founded by Vikramaditya’ only in the medieval period. He dismisses the claim that king Vikramaditya of Ujjayani ever defeated the Sakas and founded the Vikram era (Sircar 1996:251-58). Another scholar Basham (1975:495) states ‘the only king who both took the title Vikramaditya and drove the Sakas from Ujjyini was Candra Gupta II, who lived over 400 years later than the beginning of the Vikram era’. Similarly, Kane (1994:653) maintains that the Vikramera is found mentioned not earlier than 8th or 9th century AD.


At its inception, the change of the year in the Vikram era used to be in the month of Kartika, but by the medieval period (twelfth to eighteenth century AD), it had become Caitradi or the ending in the month of Caitra. At many parts of India, still people use it as a lunar calendar. Till the medieval times the years of the epoch counted as beginning from Kartika Sukla 1. Nowadays, in North India, the Vikram era New Year begins on Chaitra Sukla 1 but in the South India from Kartika Sukla 1, in a difference of seven months. In the North, it is counted as Purnamantaka while in the South it is counted as Amanta. In some parts of Rajasthan and Gujarati speaking areas, the beginning of the year is counted from Amanta Asadha while in Udaipur region of Rajasthan it is counted from Purnamantaka. Therefore, depending upon the beginning of the year, the Vikram era is known as Karttikadi, Caitradi, Asadhadi and Sravanadi in India (Sircar 1996:258). In Nepal, it is used as a solar calendar for official purpose. In Nepal, every year on 13 or on 14 April the New Year’s Day of the Vikram era is celebrated.


Some legends also relate Vikramaditya of Ujjayan with Nepal for his mysterious deeds (Paudyal 1963:58-75). Daniel Wright edited History of Nepal tells that during the reign of Amsuvarma, Vikramajit, a powerful monarch of Hindustan who founded a new Era came to Nepal to introduce his era and spent rest of his life (Wright 1972:131-32). The supporters of Vikram Era also claim the bronze head kept at the temple of Vajrayogini temple in Sankhu as the head of Vikramaditya, which iconographically identified as a head of the Buddha (Sharma 1970:3). However, only rare use of the Vikram era is to be found in Nepal to substantiate its authenticity. The oldest inscription found in Nepal with the Vikram era at Patan Sundhara is dated 1404 AD. This inscription mentions the Vikram era 1461 but together with the Kaligata era 4505, the Saka era 1326 and the Nepal era 524 (Pradhan 1998:66). Only in 1903 AD that the Rana Prime Minister Chandra Shamser introduced the Vikram era in Nepal for the Government administration. By replacing the lunar based Saka calendar with the solar calendar the shrewd Rana Prime Minister tricked the Government staff and reduced the burden of paying salaries for thirteenth months every two years (Pradhan 2000:6).


Jaggannatha and Vaijanath Sendhain’s versified panegyrics written in praise of Chandra Shamsher explains his motives for adopting Vikram Samvat and tells 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 (Sendhain 1913:84). However, the solar based Vikram era has no cultural value in Nepal because the Nepalese people use lunar calendar for observing all religious festivals, life cycle and death rituals, birthdays and determining auspicious moment (sait) for any religiously important activities, as well as observing holidays.


Many people also like to relate the celebration of the Bisket festival with the New Year of the Vikram era because this festival falls around the first day (samkranti or salhu) of Vaisakha month. However, analysing a number of inscriptions and historical documents, Nepal’s prominent epigraphist and historian Shyam Sundar Rajvamsi has revealed that Nepal Samvat was used not only as a lunar calendar but also as a solar calendar. He affirms, inscriptions, copper plates and historical documents dated from Licchavi and Malla periods provide names of various important ‘samkranti’ or ‘salhu’, the first day of solar months while there existed no traces of the Vikram era. He asserts that the Nepal Samvat and the older form of the Nepal Samvat served the purpose of both lunar and solar calendars. He confirms the solar calendar of the Nepal Era also consists 365 days, as it is the case with the Vikram Era (Rajvamsi 2012:39). In fact, the Bisket festival carries a distinct history and myths that are entirely different from the celebration of the Vikram era New Year (Prajapati 2006). For the Newars, the original inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley, the first day of the month of Vaisakh was known only as ‘Khai Salhu’ until recently. However, because of the official status of the Vikram era, its New Year began to receive national attention and gradually people across the country started celebrating its New Year. Hitherto, except at the Government level, hardly general people were aware of its New Year.

In India, the central Government has adopted the Saka era as the national and official era together with the Gregorian calendar since 1957. To give uniformity to a national calendar, the Calendar Reform Committee of India submitted this recommendation despite the fact that people belonging to diverse religions, cultures and nationalities in India practised more than thirty epoch calendars before 1957. Since 1957, India celebrates 1 Caitra (22 March) as the New Year’s Day according to the Saka era and observes it as a national holiday, but in different provinces, regional New Year Day are observed according to their own tradition. The publication dates of the Gazette of India, dates in diaries and correspondences of the Government, and newspapers include the National Calendar in addition to the Gregorian date in India. Similarly, early morning broadcasts of All India Radio in various languages announce National Calendar dates (Bandyopadhyay 1981).


Limitation of the Vikram Era


In fact, the use of the solar-based Vikram calendar in Nepal has its limitation. Even though the Vikram era was introduced in Nepal the Nepal Era, as a lunar-based calendar, remained and continued to be a part of Nepalese culture, especially in the Kathmandu Valley. Astrologers used it for writing horoscopes and determining the dates of all the religious festivals and cultural rituals of Nepal. From the beginning of their publications, the Nepal Almanac Deciding Committee (Nepal Pamcanga Nirnayaka Samiti), previously Royal Almanac Deciding Committee (Nepal Rajakiya Pamcanga Nirnayaka Samiti), a body composed of astrologers, authorized to publish the solar-based Vikram era calendar have been including the Nepal Samvat identifying it as ‘the era of the country Nepal’ (Nepaldesiya Samvat) or ‘the Nepal era created by Samkhadhara’ (Sri Samkhadharakrita Nepaliya Samvat), etc. The Government of Nepal has been using the Christian era for all its official dealings with foreign countries but without pronouncing its official status. Especially, since the 1950s the Christian era has become more prevalent in Nepal. The Government as well as non-governmental organizations, and the private sectors use the Christian calendar very commonly, especially when they deal with their international counterparts. As a solar-based calendar, the Christian era is globally accepted one at present. Governments and general people, not only in American and European countries but also in almost all Asian countries that include India, Japan, China, Korea, Sri Lanka have long been using the Christian calendar. This is the reason why many people in Nepal think the best for Nepal is to replace the Vikram era with the Christian era for the administration of the Government. Recent news is that the Government is taking necessary steps towards this direction. However, people involved in the Nepal Samvat movement oppose such a move, and urge the Government to replace the Vikram calendar with the Nepal Samvat (Shakya 2008:12). Historians such as Professor Tri Ratna Manandhar opine it will be a blunder to replace the Vikram era with the Christian era. He recommends to introduce the Nepal era as an official calendar with necessary arrangement making it simple to use since it has been declared a national era of Nepal. He considers it is all matter of practice, once the Government starts using it people will be accustomed to it (Manandhar 2008:7).


Conclusion


In fact, there is no rational behind the use of the Vikram era as an official calendar of Nepal when we already have a calendar that carries name of the country (Nepal era), which is associated with the religious, cultural and social activities of Nepal. Historically too there is no connection between Nepal and the Vikram era except that the Shah dynasty began to use ‘Vikram’ as one of their titles. There is no logic behind keeping up the Vikram era calendar for official use in Nepal.


Some practical problems are there in using a lunar calendar, as it is an official calendar. However, ritual calendar as such is in practice all over the world including India, China and in all Islamic countries. The findings of historian Shyam Sundar Rajvamsi has made it clear that even if the Government of Nepal needs to use Nepal Samvat as a solar calendar, there should not be any problem. The declaration of the Nepal Era as a national era will be meaningful only when the Government recognizes it in practice. Besides the traditional calendars (Patro/Pamcanga) the two Government dailies: the Gorkhapatra and The Rising Nepal, and many privately run newspapers such as Rep├║blica and Annapurna Post dailies, have been mentioning the Nepal Era together with the Vikram and Christian eras. Other newspapers and electronic media might follow the suit.


The Vikram era was never used for official purposes in India where it had originated. Therefore, it is an insult for a sovereign country Nepal to retain a borrowed calendar from a foreign land when we have a calendar of our own. At a time when the Nepalese people have abandoned their own king and kingship it is totally absurd to keep up using a calendar named after an emperor that lacks historical facts. Nepalese people who feel proud of Nepal will be more than happy to abandon the Vikram Samvat, which has been a symbol of repression of native culture and


tradition. From the viewpoint of Nepal’s distinct national identity too it is very important that the Government of Nepal uses the Nepal Samvat in all her national activities, and makes it mandatory in formal dealings with foreign countries alongside the Christian era. The use of the Nepal Samvat together with the Christian era will

leave no space for any confusion. In addition, it will also help enhancing pride of Nepal and Nepalese people among international communities.


References:


Basham, A. L. 1975 (1954). The Wonder That was India. Fontana, Collins. 


Bandyopadhya, Amelendu 1981. “The National Calendar. How to Popularize it.” The Statesman, 29 March.


Bhattarai, Babu Ram 2012. PM Speech New Year 1133Program (Lalitpur). (retrieved on 15 November 2012).


Kane, Pandurang Vaman 1994. History of Dharmasatra (Ancient and Medieval Religious and Civil Law). Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Volume V, Part I.


Manandhar, Triratna 2008. “The Christian Era in Nepal.” Kantipur, a Nepali Daily, 27 December, page 7.

Nepalnews.com. 2011."PM Bhattarai addresses programme marking Nepal Sambat 1132 in Nepal Bhasa". 27 October. Retrieved 24 March 2012.


Pandey, Raj Bali 1951. Vikramaditya of Ujjayini [The founder of the Vikrama Era]. Banaras: Shatadala Prakashana.


Paudyal, Naynath (ed.) 1963. Bhasavamsavali. Kathmandu: Department of Archaeology.


Pradhan, Bhuvanlal 1999/2000. “Historical Evidence on Nepal Sambat.” Newah Vijnana The Journal of Newar Studies Number 3, pp. 1-6.


Prasain, Dirgha Raj 2010. “An Account of History of ‘Nepal Sambat.” The Himalayan Beacon, 1 November.


Rajvansi, Shyam Sundar 2012. “Nepal Samvatyata Dhathen Chyelegu Khahsa” [If we really want to use the Nepal Era]. Jhigu Svanigah, Special issue, pp 38-9 & 49-53.


Sakya, Naresh Vir 2008. “Nepal Samvat Manyata Dune Karmacari Tantra” [Recognition of the Nepal Samvat and the Bureaucracy]. Sandhya Times Daily.7 November. (In Nepalbhasa).


Sendhain, Jaggannatha and Vaijanath 1913. Chandra-Mayukha. Bombay: Nirnayasagar Press.


Sharma, Prayag Raj 1970. “A Note on Some Bronzes at Vajrayogini.” Tribhuvan University Journal 5 (1): 1-5.


Sircar, Dinesh Chandra 1996. Indian Epigraphy. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. Wright, Daniel (ed.) 1972 (1877). History of Nepal. Translated by M.S.S. Singh, and Pandit Shri Gunananda from the Parbatiya. Kathmandu: Nepal Antiquated Book Publishers.