Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on Nepalese culture and traditions

Published on: September 16, 2020

The COVID-19 response is premised on physical and social distancing, which are two different concepts, with physical distancing not essentially precluding social connectedness, while social distancing unavoidably presumes disconnectedness. COVID-19 has by this time showing us a variety of patterns of racism, gender inequalities, and effects on cultures and traditions.

Culture — a system of shared values and norms, and collective consciousness, is a social glue that binds individuals and groups with similar perceptions. Therefore, culture encompasses a larger group of individuals which is also a socially constructed phenomenon, a human product and is shaped by people belonging to various groups. This culture has been passed from one generation to another as traditions that an individual follows.

In Nepal, the cultures and traditions differ from one part to another. Nepal enjoys a rich tapestry of cultures blending to form a national identity. Nepal can be characterized by cultural cohesiveness and harmony, rarest examples of ethnoreligious pluralism. Social interactions design Nepalese cultures and traditions. Nepalese cultural psychology has been defined through social interactions and communications. The Nepalese festivals can be characterized with rather large gatherings with a unique tradition of eating distinctive cuisine, dances, music and costumes. Culture for Nepalese people has been connected to their emotions, belongingness, philosophy, principles and ethics.

The social mobility and process of socialization, an integral part of culture and traditions in Nepal has become at once a victim of COVID-19, but the paradox is that social distancing is a key component of the collective response strategy. This is a big blow to the guiding principles of Nepalese cultures which require deliberative engagement on issues of mutual concerns and communications. Marriages, funerals, jatras, festivals and others have been curbed because of the pandemic. The numbers have been limited for the people to gather in a certain place to perform such religious and cultural rituals.

“Jindaoko Janti, Mardako Malami” [acquitees/well-wishers’ participation in the procession during the marriage ceremony and also during the funeral ceremony] this signifies the importance of social cohesion and support during the two important days of a Nepalese individual’s life. The cultures and traditions create emotions among the people, the foundation for social interactions and relationships in Nepal.

Thus, this has directly affected the Nepalese cultures and traditions. The lockdown has shut down the cultural and traditional life of the Nepalese people. Many jatras, pujas and key festivals have been cancelled due to the spread of coronavirus. For the communities who celebrate these festivals, this year’s cancellation has left a hollow space in their lives as they held more emotional ties than religious beliefs. Even if the festivals have been celebrated in Nepal, small processions have been held with the presence of masked devotees. This indicates the importance of culture and tradition in this dangerous situation that coronavirus has created. The festivals in Nepal are the day when people forget the sorrow and try to engage themselves in art, music and laughter. But this year, the festivals are muted, the songs and music are not heard in the alleyway of Kathmandu but complete silence, the silence of cultural cry.

This cultural cry was recently converted into aggression when the government failed to coordinate with the concerned stakeholders to conclude the pulling of the chariot of the Rato Machhindranath. Later, a symbolic chariot pulling was performed after the successive violent clash between locals and police, and curfew in the city. Previously, due to lockdown, other jatras such as Indra Jatra, Gai Jatra, Bisket Jatra, and festivals like Teej, Chaitra Dashain and others were cancelled.

Not only has the festivals, in response to the pandemic, there been the complete shutdown of the museums and cultural heritage sites. After the devastating earthquake in 2015, many cultural and historical sites have been destroyed and demolished. Nepal was the verge of reconstruction of these cultural and historical sites that reflect our culture and tradition. Now, this pandemic has brought a complete halt to the restoration, construction and rehabilitation of these important cultural sites. More there is a delay in the restoration and reconstruction of cultural heritages, more there is harm to our cultural values and traditional practices.

Moreover, one of the Nepalese soft power is our culture and tradition. The beautiful natural sites along with Nepal’s culture and tradition aid to the tourism of Nepal. The promotion of Nepalese culture and tradition has been on standstill because of the widely spread coronavirus. Additionally, cultural sites were the symbol of peace hubs that helped maintain reconciliation practices, which has nurtured environments that has brought societies together under a common canopy to absorb, comprehend, and animate tranquilly together. These potentially constructive effects are particularly significant in the pandemic period when the mental and emotional effects of social isolation are slowly becoming clearer.

Thus, in a bigger picture, there is a severe impact of COVID-19 pandemic in Nepalese cultures and traditions. From an individual’s emotion to societal harmony, cultures and traditions are connected to a Nepalese way of life which have been gravely affected by the pandemic. A pause of the reconstruction of the cultural heritage sites and the positive effects of cultures and tradition on individual Nepalese life has been sternly affected. Cultures and traditions are sources of inspiration, resilience, courage, and artistic innovation that is much needed during this pandemic. While there is undeniably a persistent prerequisite to investing heavily in the future, specifically to remedy the pandemic’s devastating impacts on culture and tradition.

Disclaimer: The article was originally published in The People’s Review Weekly.

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Manish Jung Pulami is a PhD candidate/Research Scholar at Department of International Relations, South Asian University in New Delhi, India.

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Manish Jung Pulami

Manish Jung Pulami

Manish Jung Pulami is a PhD candidate/Research Scholar at Department of International Relations, South Asian University in New Delhi, India.

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