Nepal seems like a continuous art gallery and museum, where the intangible cultural heritage of ritual, performance, music, craft, art and architecture, customary and other practices are inextricable intermingled. The finest woodcarving and the outstanding sculptures are often part of a building - a temple is simply not a temple without its finely carved roof struts. The visual impact also reflects the uniquely Nepali melting pot with its Tantric, Hindu, and Buddhist overtones and the hard to discern dividing line.

The great skill, knowledge and ability alive in the practitioners and transmitters is palpable and apparent on an everyday basis - while walking through the city streets and exploring alleyways. When the Hanuman Dhoka palace in Kathmandu and the Tachupal Tole buildings in Bhaktapur were restored in the 1970s the work was performed by purely traditional means and with craftwork of the same level of excellence as in the past. More recently the Chyasilin Mandapa in Bhaktapur, completely destroyed in the great earthquake of 1934, was totally rebuilt in 1989-90, again using traditional skills.

Yet Nepal today faces overwhelming odds ever since the opening up of its frontiers to the outside world little more than half a century ago. The large scale imports into Nepal, the influences of modern lifestyles, changing consumer habits and the dominance of television have resulted in many changes in the way of life. In this new scenario there has been a headlong rush to discard the old and acquire the new lifestyle. These changes are reflected not only in the country's economic indicators but in the human index - a steady decline in hereditary occupations and migration to the cities of skilled practitioners looking for daily labour work. In the arts and crafts and intangible heritage this is further reflected in the loss of many traditional practices and craft forms and the significant decline of many others.

On the positive side, however, is the remarkable appreciation shown by visitors to Nepal of its traditions and the tremendous boost and resurgence of some practices and crafts due to this.

The need of the hour is to preserve, document and disseminate information of these intangible traditions, a need made more pressing by the fact that these traditions are more often than not mainly oral in nature - with the passage of time they can be lost to the generations to come.

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