Sunday, November 9, 2008

Dolakha Town

Dolakha Town is located approximately 134 kilometers to the east of Kathmandu, in the Dolakha district of the Janakpur zone. This town is composed of a series of tols ‘neighborhoods’ which are set on a steep, south facing hillside, high above the Tama Kosi river. The altitude is given as varying between 1700–1830 meters, or approximately 5500–6000 feet (Kalinchowk Youth Club 1988: 7). From Dolakha, one can see a spectacular view of the high peaks of the Himalayas, particularly the peak Gauri Shankar which towers above the village at 7,134meters (23,471 feet). Dolakha is only about three kilometers from the Dolakha District government center of Carikot, which is directly on the road between Kathmandu and Jiri.
The most recent statistics on the population of Dolakha are the results of a baseline survey conducted and published in 1988 by the Kalinchowk Youth Club with the assistance of the United Nations Volunteer Participatory Development Program. The door-to-door survey lists the total population of Dolakha as 5,645 (Kalinchowk Youth Club 1988: 19).1 While no explicit statistics on the ethnic breakdown of the village exist to my knowledge, generally it is assumed that the majority of these residents are Newar, although Thangmis, Tamangs and members of other groups are represented in smaller numbers. The Dolakha Newars are overwhelmingly Hindu, and tend to be from the Shrestha castes, including the Chatharia Shresthas (Mallas, Joshis, Pradhans, Amatyas, Rajbhandaris, etc.) and the Panctharia Shresthas (Shresthas proper and other groups) (Nepali 1965).
The number of speakers of the Dolakhae language is certain to be much larger than suggested by the door-to-door survey. This is because there is a strong trend in the village for young people to move to other parts of Nepal to follow business and educational pursuits, thus there is a large community of Dolakhae speakers in the Kathmandu Valley, and there are many others scattered throughout Nepal. Most teenagers move out of Dolakha for at least several years; many people remain permanently outside the village, although they may visit often, or leave their young children there to be raised by grandparents or other members of their extended family. There is a strong trend for Dolakhae people to marry Newars from the Kathmandu Valley or other areas outside of Dolakha. This provides further incentive to reside permanently outside the village. Children raised in these households tend to speak Nepali or other Newar dialects, although some may learn to speak Dolakhae if there are sufficient numbers of Dolakhae speakers living in or visiting the household. In general, though, there is a current trend for children not to learn the Dolakhae dialect. If this trend continues, the vitality of the language may be greatly diminished within one or two generations. One may thus consider the Dolakha dialect to be endangered.
While the lack of transmission of Dolakhae to the children of many Dolakha Newars is alarming, it should be noted that many in the community are making a conscious effort to preserve and promote the Dolakhae language. There have been three recent MA theses produced by Dolakha Newars on their language and culture (I. Pradhan 2001; U. Pradhan 2003; Y. K. Shrestha 2002). The last ten years has also seen the production of two newspapers in the language. In addition, Dolakha Nepal Bhasa Khalak is an active society expressly founded for the promotion of the Dolakhae language. Community gatherings, such as meetings of the Kalingchowk Youth Club, are multilingual, with speeches being made in Dolakhae, Kathmandu Newar, Nepali, and/or English. Thus the Dolakhae people are aware of the decline in the transmission of the language to the younger generation and are actively working to reverse this trend. Whether these efforts will be ultimately successful remains to be seen, but they are a clear attestation to the strength of the Dolakhae community, a clear prerequisite for language retention.
Dolakha is known for its antiquity and in particular its ancient temples. The most famous of these is the Bhimsen temple, which is important not only to the Newars but also to the Eastern Tamangs (Bickel 2000: 695; Tautscher 1998: 176–178). The legend which I was told by a Dolakha elder was that a group of porters were traveling over the hill and one traveler, discouraged that his rice was not cooked when his pot came into contact with a certain rock, struck the rock with a spoon, and that the rock began to bleed a mixture of blood and milk. People then realized that this rock was an incarnation of the god Bhimsen, asked his forgiveness, and built a temple surrounding it. A more elaborated, but
slightly different, version of this story may be found in Tautscher (1998: 177). The Bhimsen temple continues to be influential in Nepal to this day. Many people from Kathmandu make pilgrimages to worship at this temple, as the god Bhimsen is particularly well known for granting success in business. The stone itself is still claimed to be miraculous. Tautscher (1998: 177) provides the following account:
Bhimesvar is known to ‘sweat’ (liquid oozes from the stone) indicating a crisis in Nepal. Bhimeshwor is said to have ‘sweated’ in 1949, before the Rana prime ministers lost their ruling power, and in 1990 when heavy demonstrations occurred against the Panchayat government.
While the Newars of Dolakha celebrate many of the same ceremonies as those of the Kathmandu Valley, the customs and rituals observed in the ceremonies are often unique. Mahani (Dasain) is the most important annual festival in Dolakha and the manner of celebration is unique to this community. Many Dolakhae people return to the village from other parts of Nepal to participate in Mahani annually.


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