Michael Baltutis is Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies and Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, where he teaches courses on performances and narratives in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions of India and Nepal. His research has handled the Indrajatra festival of classical and contemporary South Asia, the god Bhairav in Kathmandu, and the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata.
Accompanying King Gyanendra’s February First, 2005, efforts to consolidate his loosening grip on national power, the royal Nepali government raised a series of highly visible billboards throughout the cities of the Kathmandu Valley. A small subset of these boards were explicitly religious, encouraging Nepal’s citizens to perform their patriotic bhakti (devotion), karma (action), and dharma (duty). This rhetorical support of a ‘universal’ Hinduism contradicted the inclusivism that was widely regarded as part and parcel of the ‘new Nepal’ and resulted in a contradictory vision of the same: a modern secular nation composed of citizens, rather than of subservient subjects, unified by and working together with a Hindu monarch for the betterment of the nation. This conflict contributed to the widespread skepticism with which these signs were met, indicated by the multiple acts of graffiti, vandalism, and outright destruction brought against them, and by their removal by the royal government fifteen months later. This paper will detail the form and content of these religious billboards and argue that this religious language was one of the reasons behind their failure to deliver a message amenable to the middle class citizens of Kathmandu, as diverse parties throughout contemporary Nepal worked to define the multivalent ‘new Nepal.’
This research was conducted with the assistance of a Fulbright grant (2005-2006). Many thanks to Binod Pokharel, Dina Bangdel, and Ramesh Parajuli, who assisted me with the translations of the billboards, as well as to Jessica Vantine Birkenholtz and Megan Adamson Sijapati, who provided comments on an earlier version of this paper.
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"Constructing the new Nepal: Religious Billboards in Nepal’s Second People’s Movement,"
HIMALAYA, the Journal of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies: Vol. 35
, Article 8.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/himalaya/vol35/iss1/8