The Annual Kathmandu Conference on Nepal and the Himalaya – Kathmandu, Nepal

Hotel Shanker, Lazimpat 24-26 July, 2024

 About the Conference

The Annual Kathmandu Conference on Nepal and the Himalaya has been hosted by Social Science Baha since 2012 in collaboration with the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies, Britain–Nepal Academic Council, the Centre for Himalayan Studies–CNRS (since 2015) & Nepal Academic Network (Japan) (since 2016). The objective of the conference is to provide a scholarly platform in Kathmandu to scholars working on various aspects of social life in Nepal and the Himalaya from the perspective of social science as well as the arts and the humanities.

Conference 2023

Panel A1 | Trading on the Trans-Border Livelihoods 9:00 -11:00

Jeevan Sharma, General Secretary, BNAC

Alice Millington, PhD Candidate, University of Cambridge

Li Zhinong
Professor/Vice President, School of Ethnology and Sociology, Yunnan University, China
Wu Di
PhD candidate & Research Assistant, Yunnan University, China
Chinmaya Shah
Secretary and Programme Coordinator, Institute of Himalayan Environmental Research and Education, India
Chitra Rawat
Research and Operations Manager, India Migration Now

Break 11–11:30 am

Poster Presentation

The poster presentation will be on display on each day of the conference during tea/coffee and lunch breaks.

Sanjaya Aryal
Senior Research Officer, University of Essex, UK
Aaron Wyllie
Lecturer, University of Essex, UK
Kathryn Chard
Liliane Silva
Senior Research Officer, University of Essex, UK

Panel A2 | Literature as Aspirations and Representation 11:30 am–1:30 pm

Nirmal Man Tuladhar, Chair, Social Science Baha

Rosy Chamling, Head, Department of English, Sikkim University

Lunch Break 1:30–2:30 pm

Panel A3 | Nepali Diasporic Identity in the Context of Multiculturalism

Lokranjan Parajuli, Senior Researcher, Martin Chautari

Komal Phuyal, Lecturer, Tribhuvan University

Rosy Chamling
Head, Department of English, Sikkim University, India
Prayash Gupta
Assistant Professor, Sikkim Manipal University, India
Bhaskar Chettri
PhD candidate, National Institute of Technology Sikkim, India

Panel B1 | Creating and Governing Subjects 11:30 am–1:30 pm

Pratyoush Onta, Research Director, Martin Chautari

Sohan Prasad Sha, Researcher, Martin Chautari

Rita Baramu
Programme Manager, Body & Data, Nepal
Neha Gauchan
Programme Coordinator, Body & Data, Nepal
Shubha Kayastha
Executive Director, Body & Data, Nepal
Shambhawi Paudel
Programme Officer, Body & Data, Nepal
Lokranjan Parajuli
Senior Researcher, Martin Chautari, Nepal

Lunch Break 1:30–2:30 pm

Panel B2 | Political and Private Identity in Violence 2:30–4:30 pm

Richard Bownas, Professor, University of Northern Colorado

Tracy Fehr, PhD Candidate, University of Colorado Boulder

Prakash BK
PhD candidate, University of Notre Dame, USA
Niki Rai
Research Scholar, B.R. Ambedkar University Delhi, India
Claire Willey-Sthapit
Assistant Professor, University of Kansas, USA

Panel A4 | Reimagining Marginalisation 9–11 am

Mahendra Lawoti, Professor, Western Michigan University

Amar BK,
Independent Scholar

Mitra Pariyar
Research Fellow, Kingston University, UK (Last affiliation)

Break 11–11:30 am

Panel A5 | Mixed Panel 11:30 am–1:30 pm

Claire Willey-Sthapit, Assistant Professor, University of Kansas

Sudeshna Thapa, Research Coordinator, Social Science Baha

Sanjaya Aryal
Senior Research Officer, University of Essex, UK
Aaron Wyllie
Lecturer, University of Essex, UK
Kathryn Chard
Liliane Silva
Senior Research Officer, University of Essex, UK
Apolline Dupuis
MA student
Bimla Gurung
Lecturer, Morgan International College, Nepal
Claire Martinus
Lecturer, University of Lille, France; Lecturer, University of Mons, Belgium
Bhuwan Thapa
Assistant Professor, Appalachian State University, USA
Ujjwal Upadhyay
Senior Program Coordinator, National College, Kathmandu University, Nepal
Indresh M Sharma
Senior Research Coordinator, National College, Kathmandu University, Nepal

Lunch Break 1:30–2:30 pm

Panel A6 | Whither Education in Nepal 2:30 am–4:30 pm

Ramawatar Yadav, Former Vice-Chancellor, Purbanchal University, Nepal

Arjun Kharel, Research Fellow, Social Science Baha

Panel B3 | Improving School Education and Performance 9–11 am

Pramod Prasad Bhatta, Member, Martin Chautari

Uma Pradhan,
Lecturer, University College London

Shak Bahadur Budhathoki
Member, Lifelong Learning Mandala, Nepal
Suman Gyawali
MEAL Officer, The Leprosy Mission Nepal
Pragya Paneru
Lecturer, Tribhuvan University, Nepal
Prativa Paneru
Lecturer, Trinity College, Nepal

Break 11–11:30 am

Panel A7 | Displacement and Perseverance 9–11 am

Stefanie Lotter, Senior Research Fellow, SOAS University of London

Michael Hutt, Emeritus Professor, SOAS University of London; Research Affiliate, University of Oxford

Nimesh Dhungana
Lecturer, University of Manchester, UK
Sanjay Sharma
National University of Singapore
Kripa Basnyat
National Project Coordinator, International Labour Organization
Narayan Adhikari
CEO & Director, Accountability Lab Nepal
Prekkshya Bimali
Flora Cornish
Amit Gautam
Research Officer, Social Science Baha
Jeevan Baniya
Assistant Director, Social Science Baha
Niraj Lawoju
MA, Tribhuvan University, Nepal

Break 11–11:30 am

Panel A8 | Identity and Community Formation through Discourse 11:30 am–1:30 pm

Kumud Rana, Lecturer, Lancaster University

Sanjay Sharma, Independent Scholar

Binita Magaiya
Researcher, Social Science Baha
Stefanie Lotter
Senior Research Fellow, SOAS, UK
Rinzing Ongmu Sherpa
PhD candidate, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India
Paulina Stanik
PhD candidate, University of Warsaw, Poland

Lunch Break 1:30–2:30 pm

Panel A9 | Examining Identity in Nepali Politics and Society 2:30–4:30 pm

Hari Sharma, Executive Director, Purak Asia

John Whelpton, Independent Scholar

Closing Remarks

Individual Papers

SN Presenter/Affiliation Abstract
Thomas O’Neill
Professor, Department of Child and Youth Studies, Brock University, Canada
Brabim Kumar KC
Ex-Communications Advisor, UNDP–UNESP
Kalawati Rai
Economic Inclusion Coordinator, Rural Enterprises and Remittances Project
Kanchan Jha
Founder, Sano Paila, Birgunj
Pradip Pariyar
Executive Chairperson, Samata Foundation, Kathmandu
Bijaya Raj Poudel
Director, Hands-On Institute
Samrat Katwal
Co-Founder, Hands-On Institute
Youth Deliberation on Post-federalism and Political Culture Nepal
Sabin Ninglekhu
Principal Investigator, ‘Heritage as Placemaking: The Politics of Solidarity and Erasure in South Asia’, Social Science Baha
Monica Mottin
Research Fellow, Heidelberg University
Placemaking and Placelessness in Janakpur: ‘Saffron City’ and the Subversive Politics of Mithila Heritage
Monalisa Maharjan
Post-Doctoral Scholar, Social Science Baha
Sabin Ninglekhu
Principal Investigator, ‘Heritage as Placemaking: The Politics of Solidarity and Erasure in South Asia’, Social Science Baha
When Are Water Sprouts (Hiti) Part of Basic Needs Provision and When Do They Become Cultural Heritage?
Binita Magaiya
Conservation Architect, Kasthamandap Reconstruction Committee
Alina Tamrakar
Co-founder, Baakhan Nyane Waa
Rija Joshi
Urban Planner
Shristina Shrestha
Conservation Architect
Stefanie Lotter
Principal Investigator, ‘Heritage as Placemaking: The Politics of Solidarity and Erasure in South Asia’, SOAS
‘Baakhan Nyane Waa’: Local Heritage Documentation for the Future
Rose Schwietz
Fulbright US Student Research Nepal; affiliated with One World Theatre and Actor’s Studio Nepal
Trance-Dance & Actor-Gods: From Himalayan Storytelling to Contemporary Nepali Theate
Tracy Fehr
PhD Candidate, University of Colorado Boulder
The Multiplicity of Widowhood in Post-Earthquake Nepal: An Intersectional Analysis of Lived Experiences
Vanicka Arora
PhD Candidate, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University
Reconstructing Pasts and Curating Futures in Bhaktapur, Nepal
Ujjwal Prasai
Faculty, Institute of Advanced Communication, Education and Research, Kathmandu
The Loneliness of a Nationalist Madhesi
Subodh Chandra Bharti
PhD Research Scholar, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Problems of Nation-Building and Identity Politics in Nepal
Shushma Bhatta
Researcher, Dignity without Danger
Babu Kaji Shrestha
Director, Global Action Nepal
Helena Aryal
Curator, Kaalo 101
Sara Parker
Reader in Development Studies, Liverpool John Moores University
Creative Visual Outputs Matter: Visualising Menstruation in Nepal
Shak Bahadur Budhathoki
Project Coordinator, Voluntary Services Overseas
Inclusion and Governance in Education Committees of Local Governments
Ritu Mangar
Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Himalayan Studies, University of North Bengal
Urban Married Women in Service Sectors of Darjeeling Hills: Gender Dynamics in Their Everyday Family Lives
Rajya Laxmi Gurung
MPhil (Sociology), Tribhuvan University
Lina Baniya
Lecturer (Social Work), Presidential College
Madhusudan Subedi
Professor and Chair, Department of Community Health Sciences, and Coordinator of School of Public Health, Patan Academy of Health Sciences/Central Department of Sociology, Tribhuvan University
Stefanie Lotter
Senior Research Fellow, SOAS University of London; Co-Investigator, 'Dignity without Danger'
Intersectional Perspective on Menstrual Practises in Nepal: Lessons from ‘Dignity Without Danger’ Research Project
Rajya Laxmi Gurung
MPhil (Sociology), Tribhuvan University
Bargaining with Patriarchy – Woman Quest for Power and Security within the Patriarchal Families
Rajendra Sharma
Research Associate, Social Science Baha
Nepal’s National Security Council and National Security Policy: Internal and Geopolitical Sensitivities
Pragya Paneru
Permanent Lecturer, Nepal Commerce Campus, Kathmandu
Implied Gender and Cultural Nuances in Young Children’s Responses to Textbook Images
Pankaj Pokhrel
Research Associate, Inter-Disciplinary Analysts, Kathmandu
Shreezal G.C
Research Associate, Inter-Disciplinary Analysts, Kathmandu
Sudhindra Sharma
Executive Director, Inter-Disciplinary Analysts, Kathmandu
COVID-19, Nepal’s Political Economy and Rural Agricultural Households: Examining the Impacts and the Inter-Linkages
Ojaswee Bhattarai
Research Fellow, The Open Institute for Social Science, Lalitpur
Moving Out from Nepal
Nirvan Pradhan
PhD Candidate, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Detritus: On the Decay and Afterlives of Abandoned Tea Plantations in Darjeeling, West Bengal
Naresh Shakya
Lecturer at Lotus Academic College, Kathmandu, Nepal
Rich Buddhist Heritages in Nubri Valley along Tracks of Manaslu
Nar Bahadur Saud
PhD Student, University for the Creative Arts, Farnham, United Kingdom
Performance Art as a Peace Promotion and Advocacy Tool in Nepal: An Arts-Based Research Perspective
Mingma Lhamu Pakhrin
PhD student, Jawaharlal Nehru University
The Beginning of the Making of Darjeeling: ‘Threatened Frontier’, Settlement and Labour
Lokranjan Parajuli
Senior Researcher, Martin Chautari
Concocting the Parliament: A Tale of a Momentary Institution
Kumar Prasad Aryal
Research Associate, Social Science Baha
Inequality in Earthquake Reconstruction: An Ethnographic Account of Peri-Urban Locality in the Northern Part of Kathmandu
Kshitij Sharma
PhD Candidate, Department of Political Science, Panjab University
Growing Urban Waste in Himalayan Cities: Trends and Impact in Urban Local Bodies of Himachal Pradesh
Komal Phuyal
Lecturer in English, Central Department of English, Tribhuvan University
Why Does Fiction Matter? A Tale of the 1960s from Nepali Literature
Jigme Yeshe Lama
Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Calcutta
Religious Syncretism in ‘Dorjeling’ – A Study of the Mahakal Mandir
Dechen Dolkar Bhutia
Research Scholar, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, SRM University, Sikkim
Empire on High: The Absent People on the Mountains
Bimla Kumari Gurung
Lecturer at Morgan International College, Basundhara, Kathmandu
Decisions-Making and Child Care among Intermarried Couples
Anukta Gairola
PhD Scholar, Department of History, University of Delhi
Forays of the English East India Company into the Kumaon-Garhwal Belt of the Central Himalayas
Anna Stirr
Director, Centre for South Asian Studies; Associate Professor of Asian Studies, University of Hawaii Manoa
Mason Brown
Lecturer, University of Colorado Boulder and Kathmandu University
Lochan Rijal
Head, Department of Music, Kathmandu University
Embodied Theories of Melody in Nepali Music: A Case Study from Central Dhading
Ambika Rai
PhD Research Scholar, University of North Bengal
Looking at ‘Circulation of Labour’ in the Himalayas: A Study of Bharias (Head Porters) In Darjeeling Hills


1. Title of Panel: Heritage as Placemaking: The Politics of Erasure and Solidarity
The proposed panel takes into account myriad and multifarious functions, uses and values of heritage that are put to work for the purposes of governance, self-governance, sense of place, community as well as urban planning. These politics and practices are relationally co-constituted in the production of place, space and subjectivities with regressive and progressive possibilities. To this end, the papers in this proposed panel together document and examine the role of heritage in forming cleavages of divisiveness and difference on the one hand, and the possibilities for solidarity and commoning, on the other.
Chair / Convener: Tom Robertson, Kathmandu University
Discussant: Amina Singh, Kathmandu University

Paper 1.1:
Author: Binita Magaiya1, Alina Tamrakar2, Rija Joshi3, Shristina Shrestha4 and Stefanie Lotter5
Affiliation: 1Conservation Architect, Kasthamandap Reconstruction Committee; 2Consultant Architect at UNESCO Office in Kathmandu till July 2021; Co-founder of Baakhan Nyane Waa; 3Urban Planner, Genesis Consultancy; 4Conservation Architect (Urban Planner); 5Senior Research Fellow, SOAS, University of London; Co-Investigator, ‘Heritage as Placemaking: The Politics of Solidarity and Erasure in South Asia’ (2021-2025 funded by the Riksbankens Jubilemsfond); Co-Investigator, ‘Dignity without Danger’ (2018-2021 BA/GCRF)
Paper Title:Baakhan Nyane Waa’: Local Heritage Documentation for the Future
Abstract: Baakhan in Nepal Bhasa means stories. The phrase most commonly used by the older generation is “aa la baakhan ye jula ka”, which translates as, ‘all of these have become stories now!’. Once elders in Newa society told stories during family gatherings and during interactions in public spaces. However, changes in the use of public spaces and the increase of media consumption led to a recent decline in storytelling and the intergenerational transfer of knowledge has been broken. 

Baakhan Nyane Waa’ emerged in the aftermath of the 2015 Gorkha earthquake, addressing this lack of heritage knowledge transfer. Forming as a multidisciplinary informal group of heritage enthusiasts, members included architects such as Alina Tamrakar, Binita Magaiya and Shristina Shrestha, engineers such as Aswain Bir Singh Tamrakar, Rija Joshi, Raj Bikram Maharjan, Prajwol Shakya and multimedia experts Shailesh Rajbhandari and IT consultant Rajeev Bajracharya. 

Storytelling lay at the center of the group’s interest who organised events around thematic blocks (Festivals, Places, Karunamaya Series, Yenya Series). Public storytelling sessions were organised in the public spaces of chowks, nani, courtyards of baha and bahis, daboos, that once served the purpose of collective learning. After a year in which interviews with elders in Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Patan, Panauti and Banepa were conducted, the group entered the UNESCO ICHCAP competition in 2019 and won the Participatory Prize. With this stamp of approval, a growing online audience and a children’s book publication and the successful collaboration with ward offices and local clubs the group registered as an NGO. 

This paper is based on a content analysis of Baakhan Nyane Waa’s 32 storytelling sessions. It further combines interviews with members of Baakhan Nyane Waa as well as interviews with selected elders on their experience of storytelling for wider audiences. It critically evaluates how an informal friendship group centered on a common interest in heritage reformed as an NGO. This study concludes that storytelling can be a rewarding intergenerational urban experience. The multidisciplinary approach on which the group was founded resulted in skills sharing and enhancement as well and a varied project output. The codification of fluid oral history into recorded documented text has been identified as potentially problematic. However the group advocates that with a growing body of documented material variance and individual narrative style will be reintroduced to mediated storytelling. Access to documented content and its output has been limited to Nepal Bhasa and Nepali speakers. The project legacy is temporarily safe on the designated youtube channel and the project’s facebook page. Decisions over long term storage of data is pending as is the decision over output generation in other languages.
Keywords: Oral history, story telling, Baakhan Nyane Waa, public space

Paper 1.2:
Author: Sabin Ninglekhu1 and Monica Mottin2
Affiliation: 1Social Science Baha, Co-Investigator, ‘Heritage as Placemaking: The Politics of Solidarity and Erasure in South Asia’ (2021-2025, funded by the Riksbankens Jubilemsfond); 2Research Fellow at Heidelberg University, Heidelberg Centre for Transnational Studies
Paper Title: Placemaking and Placelessness in Janakpur: ‘Saffron City’ and the Subversive Politics of Mithila Heritage
Abstract: Placemaking as a tool for urban planning has its roots in the works of urban thinkers such as Jane Jacobs who coined the phrase ‘eyes on the street’ to indicate inclusive spaces in the city (Jacobs, 1961). Central to this approach to planning is the creation of a ‘sense of place’ in which the neighborhood is to adorn an ‘identity’ that is people-catered and people-centered. However, when actively mobilised, placemaking can create ‘placelessness’ too. In the age of identity politics on the one hand, and ‘united colors of capitalism’ under the guise of ‘multiculturalism’ (Mitchell, 1993), on the other, it can be argued that the ‘people’ are an increasingly variegated category. In other words, a ‘sense of place’ for some, can designate someone else as ‘out of place’, through logics that may be both cultural and political-economic. This paper brings these ideas of placemaking and placelessness into the cultural landscapes of Janakpur, in which ‘Mithila heritage’ has become a center-piece in rebranding the place as a ‘saffron city’ – a ‘Hindu’ city and a tourist hotspot. It does so to ask the following questions: Under what logic of planning, governance and bureaucracy is the discourse of ‘Mithila heritage’ being mobilized to legitimize the making of ‘saffron city’?  And concomitantly, what kind of ‘erasure’ is taking ‘place’, as an attendant politics, in creating the cultural ‘other’ of the ‘saffron city’? 

The preceding two questions form the first part of the paper. The second part of the paper focuses on what might be seen as an obverse of the coin that is ‘Mithila heritage’: a counter-politics from below in which the power of art is mobilized as a discursive tool to fashion a potent critique of the ‘saffron city’. This mode of activism, which may be called ‘subaltern urbanism’ in action (Roy, 2011), subversively mobilizes Mithila heritage that can help reveal the dominant cultural political and political economic logic underpinning the Hindutva narrative that is the ‘saffron city’. Therefore, this dual use of heritage forces us to ‘expose’, ‘propose’ and ‘politicize’ (Marcuse, 2009) how the logic of ‘urban planning’ has been used to co-opt the discourse of heritage in service of Hindutva, on the one hand. On the other, by exalting the ‘subversive turn’ in the Mithila heritage, this paper forces us to radically re-conceptualize the Mithila heritage as an ‘inventive’ and ‘insurgent’ (Miraftab and Wills, 2005) counter-politics from below forged to reimagine Janakpur anew – as a necessary counterpoint to the ‘saffron city’. The paper is based on an ongoing long-term collaborative ethnographic research project called ‘heritage as placemaking: the politics of erasure and solidarity in South Asia’.
Key words: planning, activism, subversive politics, heritage, erasure, solidarity, placemaking

Paper 1.3:
Author: Monalisa Maharjan1 and Sabin Ninglekhu2
Affiliation: 1Post-Doctoral Scholar, Social Science Baha; 2Social Science Baha, Co-Investigator, ‘Heritage as Placemaking: The Politics of Solidarity and Erasure in South Asia’ (2021-2025, funded by the Riksbankens Jubilemsfond)
Paper Title: When Are Water Sprouts (Hiti) Part of Basic Needs Provision and When Do They Become Cultural Heritage?
Abstract: Water sprouts (Hiti) are ubiquitous build structures omnipresent in the Kathmandu Valley. For generations, people depended on these stone sprouts for their drinking water and to bath. Water and water spouts are part of religious activities and the upkeep of Hiti lies within the community. Over time, the number, size, and functionality of Hiti changed. This research contributes to the discourse of vernacular everyday Heritage. The paper explores the gendered everyday usage of Hiti as urban basic needs provision. Beyond the functional value of meeting household needs, the paper asks, how does a Hiti take up culture meanings to become part of urban heritage that communities strive to protect through means that, among others, include activism? As such, the paper discusses the Newa everyday life vis-à-vis Hiti as an everyday functional space, (in)tangible heritage as well as a mode of activism under the larger ambit of the Newa heritage movement.

For the qualitative study, eight Hiti were studied through participant observation. The Hiti were chosen on the basis of aesthetics, functionality, user friendliness and accessibility. Formal and informal interviews were conducted with users, non-users living in the vicinity of Hiti, caretakers and ward officers. Stemming from the discourse analysis of the study we conclude that while there is a discrepancy between user needs and planning provision, Hiti have been and are today focal points of community cohesion as well as solidarity formation. This research is part of the ‘Heritage as Placemaking’ project a collaborative research project between Heidelberg University, South Asian University, SOAS and the Social Science Baha funded.
Key words: Heritage, urban, community, space, everyday life, activism, solidarity

Title of Panel: Youth Deliberation on Post-federalism and Political Culture Nepal
Most Nepali youth today were born after the people’s movement of 1991 ended the absolute authority of the monarchy and established a parliamentary democracy.  They were children during the years of the Maoist “People’s War” that culminated in a second people’s movement in 2006 that established Nepal as a republic.  Now, as young adults, they are being called on to engage with new federal democratic institutions that were intended to reform Nepal’s centralized, patrimonial political culture. Our project explored deliberative democracy as an alternative political practice that engages young citizens in participatory decision making.  In 2018 and 2019, we organized seven deliberative “mini-publics” in Lalitpur, Itahari, Birgunj, and Surkhet in which we asked the following questions:

How do Nepali youth engage with democratic institutions?
How do Nepali youth perceive structures of political authority in Nepal?
What political aspirations motivate youth?
Can deliberative democracy facilitate a consensus on how these aspirations can be realized?

In this panel we will present a 45-minute documentary video “Chalphal” which resulted from these youth assemblies.  “Chalphal” is in Nepali, with English subtitles.  In it, Nepali youth debate their priorities for Nepal’s new political architecture, and then present these priorities to local, provincial, and federal political leaders.  The video contends that structured dialogue and deliberation are effective ways to pursue political outcomes, but also that centralization and patrimonialism are deeper structures that continue to shape Nepal’s political culture.  At the conclusion of the video, the Nepali activists who collaborated with the principal investigator on the youth assembly program will provide brief responses to the video, after which we will open the discussion to the conference audience.
Convener: Thomas O’Neill, Professor, Department of Child and Youth Studies, Brock University
Chair: Bijay Poudel, Hands-On Institute, Lalitpur
Discussant: Dan Hirslund, Independent Scholar, Copenhagen
Presenters: Thomas O’Neill1, Brabim Kumar KC2, Kalawati Rai3, Kanchan Jha4, Pradip Pariyar5, Bijay Poudel6, and Samrat Katwal7
Affiliation: 1Professor, Department of Child and Youth Studies, Brock University; 2Former Communications Advisor at UNDP – UNESP; 3Economic Inclusion Coordinator at Rural Enterprises and Remittances Project; 4Founder, Sano Paila, Birgunj; 5Executive Chairperson, Samata Foundation; 6Director, Hands-On Institute; 7Hands-On Institute


1. Author: Rose Schwietz
Affiliation: Fulbright US Student Research Nepal; Affiliate organizations: One World Theatre and Actor’s Studio Nepal
Paper Title: Trance-Dance & Actor-Gods: From Himalayan Storytelling to Contemporary Nepali Theater
Abstract: “Nestled in Nepal’s mountain villages, traditional dance-drama forms like Ghatu use trance-like methods to tell ancient stories of local people and their gods. Ghatu dancers align in perfect motion but with closed eyes, dancing an ancient royal love story on the feast of Buddha Jayanti. The entranced states, synchronized steps, and ceremonial purpose make this dance especially compelling to study; moreover, as the root of humanity, non-commercial ritual art forms like this can inform the work of modern performing artists. As Nepal’s urban theater scene booms and its artists juxtapose Western acting against their Nepali heritage, local artists hope to forge a unique Nepali theatrical identity. However, Nepal also currently faces huge demographic shifts due to natural disasters, globalization, the recent civil war, and now the pandemic; villages are increasingly drained of their youth and thus of preservation of their cultural memory. Delicate forms like Ghatu risk total disappearance, while the urban theater scene experiences a tug-of-war between Western theater and local performance traditions.

What is the current artistic and cultural state of Nepal’s traditional storytelling forms, and what can contemporary urban artists in Nepal and beyond learn from these styles? This project explores this question and the timely conversation between traditional and commercial art. There are three core concerns. First, to develop detailed artistic documentation of and engagement with Ghatu, using the Suzuki method of actor training as a performance template by which to catalog these forms. Second, to conduct interviews that gauge how audiences experience and connect with these dances, as these cultural arts face dwindling interest and changing times. Third, to investigate the extent to which traditional art forms are relevant to and applicable in contemporary urban theater contexts through a series of workshops with urban Nepalese theater artists.

Field research in Lamjung will involve observation of training, preparation, and performance, with practical engagement when culturally appropriate. To gauge audience experience and impact, interviews will be conducted among villagers, performers, and dance teachers. Following the field research, a series of collaborative workshops will take place with artists from Actor’s Studio Nepal and One World Theatre. These workshops will explore the performance methods of Ghatu and their application to contemporary urban theater, resulting in a final showcase performance.

This research impacts Nepal in three ways: it increases access to and appreciation of Nepal’s exquisite but fading art forms; it contributes to the rapidly developing urban theater scene; and it provides important insight into rural communities’ evolving relationship to their culture. Lastly, by using an artist’s lens to document this information, this project lays the foundation for future research into Nepal’s many other dance-drama forms and their communities.”


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Suzuki, Tadashi, and Kameron H. Steele. Culture Is the Body: The Theatre Writings of Tadashi Suzuki. Theatre Communications Group, 2015.
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Vatsyayan, Kapila. Traditions of Indian Folk Dance. Indian Book Company, 1976.