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Of Myths And Legends

Semeen Ali

By Isabella Tree
Penguin Books, Delhi, 2014, pp. 350, Rs. 599.00


In Kathmandu we discover, all the stories of the past are suffused with myth, and legends run circles around historical facts. To Nepalis this is natural, as if facts alone cannot reflect all the hidden meanings and relevances. The idea of writing this book came to Isabella Tree in the light of the regicide in 2001.Though the focus of the book is on the Living Goddess—the Kumari, it does not restrict itself to exploring the lives of the Kumaris—past or present. It takes into account the historical past interspersed with the myths and the legends that give rise to the Kumarichen.In order to understand the Kumari one has to understand the story of Goddess Durga which is tied up with the myth of creation of the world. For the people of Nepal, these are not merely myths and legends but are influences that live with them. ‘…the myths and stories the “dyas” generated are wellsprings of interaction and inspiration in daily life.’ There is a fascinating story of how the place Manjupattana came to be known as the present-day Kathmandu—it throws light on a tiny detail—Nepal had never been colonized. The suffering and the rebellion that one internalizes when fighting a colonizer has never been experienced here, although one cannot overlook the fact that the politics and economy of Nepal had been influenced by British Raj and later by Independent India.  There is a veering away from the myths and legends to focus on the political unrest and the present day political scenario that is faced by Nepal. How rituals associated with the celebrations of Dasain has one where animals are sacrificed and is a matter of debate in the current scenario. Although Tree maintains a balance when it comes to the views regarding the rituals and the life observed by the Nepalis, in this particular context—the adjectives used to describe animal slaughter as well as the feelings that it evokes in the writer leaves the reader assailed by the negativity that the account exudes. But, it is through these details and descriptions that Tree manages to give an insight into the reasons behind it and why the people of Nepal revere it.  The book then keeps going back and forth to give the reader a peap into the lives of the Kumaris. It is not only about power and respect that the Kumari ...

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