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A world of its own



Sanu Maya Maharjan asks for a household appliance at a utensil shop in Chapagaun. The Newar shopkeeper fails to understand her and instead gestures to say that he does not have the item she is looking for. Sanu Maya smiles and points to a pan right in front of him and the shopkeeper looks sheepish as he hands it over.

Sanu Maya speaks Newar language and hence the shopkeeper shouldn’t have had trouble understanding her. But 40-year-old Sanu Maya speaks a different kind of Newar language that even people living 500 meters from her locality can’t understand.

It’s not just Sanu Maya but the entire village of Pyang Gaun where Sanu Maya lives speaks a unique Newar language that does not match that of any Newar community of the capital or across the country.

“We don’t understand their language. It’s very different from ours,” says Kamala Deshar, a resident of Chapagaun that lies at a distance of approximately 500 meters from Sanu Maya’s village.

50-year-old Shyam Maya Maharjan, a resident of Pyang Gaun, remembers her grandparents telling her that as the Newars of the entire valley had the same language, they mixed Tamang language in theirs in order to maintain secrecy in public. That fusion is perhaps what led to the indecipherable language the residents of this small village speak today.
According to the elderly residents, the locals of Pyang Gaun used to go to the southern end of Lalitpur near the Makwanpur border to find the perfect bamboos to make pyang – a bamboo vessel for measurement in ‘mana’ and ‘pathi.’ That area was predominantly a Tamang community, and as a result, their language became infused with Tamang language.

Now the residents write Maharjan as their surname but there was a time when they introduced themselves as Gam Mallas before writing Jyapu in their citizenship certificates.
“Some of the elderly villagers still have Jyapu in their citizenship certificates but Gam Malla disappeared a long time ago,” says Bhim Maharjan, head of the Pyang Gaun Conservation Committee.

“The Pyang villagers had less interaction with other communities around the valley as they were busy in jungles searching for fresh bamboos not exceeding one year of its plantation,” says Rajan Lal Joshi, Lecturer at Patan Campus, adding that the locals do not know about their origin and very few researches have been carried out on Pyang Gaun.
Located just 10 kilometers away from Satdobato in Lalitpur, Pyang Gaun is almost a “living museum” of the community that thrived during the Malla period hundreds of years ago. The octogenarians in the village consider themselves to be descendents of the royal clan. One of the legends even suggests that once the children of a Malla King of Bhaktapur, they found the settlement here after being displaced and lost from their land of origin.

The village starts with Chandra Bahadur Maharjan’s traditional three-storey home where he can mostly be seen busy making dokos. He generally weaves around a dozen dokos every week and sells them at Rs 250 each at the local market. He earns Rs 3,000 after six days of hard work and almost all of it is spent in the treatment of his asthmatic wife Jhul Kumari.


His neighbor, Shyam Maya, makes straw mats for a living. The rest of the house is mostly an ancient inn with multiple holes big enough for easy entrance and exit of goats, dogs and kids. The inn is also where Pyang Gaun’s women gather around for chats.

Opposite the inn is an office that is the only cemented structure in the entire locality made of mud and bricks. The office houses a shop operated by the Pyang Village Development and Conversation Committee. The village ends at roughly 200 meters from the committee office near the Dabali where the residents can be seen sitting around gossiping and smoking.
The villagers had long stopped making pyang, and in 2009, there were only two villagers who still had the skills to do so. This worried some youths in the village and they decided to register themselves as an endangered indigenous community at the Social Welfare Council.

With support from former lawmaker Barsha Man Pun who had won the first CA from their constituency, Lalitpur 1, the Committee succeeded in running training for youths so that the endangered skill is transferred to the new generation. Rachitra Maharjan, one of the 11 new pyang makers, now can be seen hard at work at the pyang shop in the community.
Unless new carving techniques are taught to the youths, it’s impossible to revive the pyang market, says Bhim. However, according to him, just training the youth in pyang-making isn’t enough, and commercial viability also needs to be developed alongside.

The products are sometimes sold in Patan and also during the occasional visits of foreigners in search of pyang but other than that, it’s pretty much a slow business. Modifying the traditional skills with modern techniques can revive pyang in the future, believes Joshi.

Though the place is still thriving on its own with its old traditional ways, the youths want to break free and be at par with the modern world. However, the community has never ventured beyond their village. Marriage ceremonies are performed within the 3,500 residents spread over the 300-meter area. Hemanta Maharjan, an employee at a hydropower company, says that the five guthis in the community decide who marries whom and they don’t accept people outside their community.

“We want to break this barrier and think and interact beyond this community,” says Shyam Maharjan, a youth who is frustrated that his place lacks doctors, engineers and government jobholders. He says that at the most, the village has a few teachers and staff nurses.

The young men of this community also aren’t really happy with their reality. Shyam says that metallic and plastics material have replaced the bamboo containers and pyang will not have a decent market even if they continue production.

Even though it’s registered as an endangered indigenous community, the challenge remains for them to weave pyang and its makers to survive the next generation while at the same time making the residents a part of the whole. But it seems like the youths are taking matters into their own hands and slowly emerging from the confines, and this is a promising start.


Source- Republica Daily


Published on 2014-03-21 14:32:06

About nirjanasharma

Nepali Journalist.

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