Posted by: JPEG May 5, 2009
The Exchange at Halesi : A Sacred Place and a Societal Context
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18. The new temple committee, called the Halesi Mahadev Natural Temple  Preservation and Management Committee, has been running for two years now.  Its main source of funds comes from the temple offerings. Sixty percent go to the  school and 40 percent go to temple preservation and other village development  projects. This idea that the temple can be used to aid the practical and societal  needs of people in Halesi is exactly what people want. Whenever people discuss this developmental purpose, they always contrast it with the Giris, who the people
say never did anything for development and kept all temple money for themselves. The Maoists and their educational programs were instrumental in realizing the rights of all castes and people in Halesi as well as de-seating the  Giris. But people in Halesi are quick to point out that these ideals were something  they themselves had fought for for a long time. They only needed the Maoists power of force to make them a reality.  

Total caste equality is not a complete reality in Halesi, but most people are  hopeful, recognizing that this is a process that takes time. It is most difficult for  older people to make the change, which involves changing one’s learned culture.  It is still difficult for many low caste people to visit the homes of high caste  villagers. Some elders of the low castes are still hesitant to enter the temple, and  some elders of the upper castes, including the Baba, still feel that they should not  be allowed because it is harmful to god. But one hard-working Pariyar man, a low
caste name popular in Halesi, says that if you are clean then it should be no  problem. He believes that people should be judged by their character and not their  caste. Therefore the responsibility for decency is in everyone’s individual hands.  Pariyars, he says, comprise the vast majority of beggars in Halesi. The  responsibility to adjust to new opportunities is their own. Just as high caste people  might hesitate for a while, low caste people may hesitate as well. Time will tell.

As mentioned earlier Buddhist and Hindu relations, after a very difficult  beginning, are entirely at ease. This is the product of the Buddhists’ own efforts  and the aid of the Maoists to fight any kind of social stratification. Generally  speaking, old Giri priests that remain in Halesi are allowed to live but are not necessarily liked. Their kids, who are growing up under normal conditions, are  fairly well integrated.   
What is important to note here is that the temple is at the center of all this  conflict and change. It was the means by which one elite family dominated a community. It was also the emotionally and spiritually charged means by which 
the oppressed low castes could exert their will for equality. Its abuse was a source  of outrage for all people in the community and the impetus for Maoists to come to Halesi and force a change. It made Halesi stand out. After the new restructuring of  society and the recent Constitutional Assembly elections that took place last  month (April, 2008), the temple is also the embodiment of people’s hope for the  future. 

Halesi Temple and the Future of a Village 
     In the recent Constitutional Assembly elections the vast majority of  elected officials in Khotang are Rai people belonging to the Maobaadi political  party. They represent the same views as the Maoists, but are the tamer, post-
conflict version of that group. Khotang, the large region of Nepal of which Halesi  is a part, is once again dominated by Rai leaders. In the Rai memory and consciousness Khotang and part of neighboring Solu is the age-old homeland of  the Rai people. Today there are hopes to reclaim that kingdom after centuries of  marginalization. Most Kirant people in Halesi are hoping that this old homeland  will be reclaimed in the form of an independent Kirant State that operates under the national government. If all goes well in the Constitutional Assembly this will 
be the result. They envision Halesi as the future jewel and center of their Kirant  State. Halesi temple is a point of cultural pride for the Rai. It is their very own  discovery and one of the most powerful temples in the world. Some Kirants argue that a Kirant pujari is necessary at this temple, though not all Hindus would be  ready to accept this change.  

Most non-Kirant people in Halesi are familiar with the general concept of  the Kirant State and do not mind that idea. As long as there is no caste discrimination then they are fine with it, they say. Whenever Kirant people  discuss the State they are always sure to say that there will be no discrimination.   The main purpose of the State will be to preserve Kirant culture, religion, and  language, mainly through programs in public schools. Many Kirant people in  Halesi are conscious that their culture is being forgotten and lost. They want to do  something about it. The two youth clubs mentioned earlier, the Jana Jyoti Club  and the Panchawati Pragati Youth Club, make preserving the Kirant culture one  of their missions. Members from these groups spoke passionately about the  importance of cultural identity. 

It is ironic that these same Rai officials pushing for a Kirant State are  members of the Maobaadi party. The official Maobaadi stance on religion is a  classic Leninist approach. One young member invoked Lenin as he espoused his  belief that dharma is like an addiction. He was followed by the impassioned retort of his friend and peer from the Jana Jyoti club, “Culture is the identification of a  people. So we preserve it.” It was simple, but firm. And it is representative of the  general feeling among Rai. This is something that the young Maobaadi committee 
member recognizes as well. He went on to say that right now his people are not  ready to give up their religion, they cannot escape the bounds of their culture. But  he has hope that one day they will be able to see that there is no God. This will  change everything, he says. Meanwhile, it is still very common even for members 
of Maobaadi and Maobaadi supporters to have religious belief and pray at Halesi  temple. The bottom line is that the Maobaadi is dependent on the support of the people. This is why during the insurgency period the Maoists never took steps to  hurt religion in Halesi in any way1. Even from an antireligious perspective Halesi 
temple is valued as an attraction of great economic worth. All agree that Halesi  Temple will never be harmed by the Maobaadi. 

Some old, upper-caste Hindus believe that the Moaist involvement in making the temple  accessible to all castes was in fact harmful to religion since it goes against tradition. They believe  that Shiva’s anger is manifest in decreased rainfall and the collapse of Kakani Cave a few years ago.  Ujan Giri Naga Baba is a proponent of this view but says that it is all part of the Kaliyug. Other middle-aged to young Hindus in Halesi had initial fears, repeating an old tale that the  Shivalinga would sink into the ground upon contact with lower castes.  When it remained where it  was they abandoned their fears and decided that this move towards caste equality was in fact a good thing characteristic of modernity.  

Regardless of whether or not the Kirant vision succeeds, it is accepted by  many people that Halesi is evolving into the new regional center in a natural  process that will require no governmental intervention.  Already, Halesi is a local  area attraction because its shops sell a wider variety of goods than any other  village nearby. Most of these shops have been built a maximum of seven years  ago, many within the year. When walking around Halesi new construction is visible everywhere. People are moving to Halesi by the day because they see  economic opportunity there. One man observed that owning a shop is a lot easier  than working fields and everyone wants to try their hand at some such business.  Pack mules are a common feature of Halesi’s streets, a business that arrived only 
two years ago and can greatly accelerate the rate of business. Most goods come  via Jairam, a small town on the Dudh Koshi that is the last stop on a vehicular road that can eventually reach Kathmandu (and even that road is somewhat  recent). There is only a walking path now, but a vehicle road connecting Halesi to  Jairam is nearing completion. This new mule business will become obsolete with the even greater ability of trucks to move people and goods. The road will be the  first ever road connecting Halesi to Kathmandu.  

People say that Halesi will soon become a large town, if not a city one  day. There are some fears. People mention the inevitable pollution that will  accompany unplanned urbanization, the vulgar dress and attitude of urban youth. 
One man expressed his fear that following the infiltration of foreign values he will lose control of his sister and daughter in the presence of so many outside boys.  Despite these fears the positivity and hope that accompanies this vision of a  growing Halesi far outweighs the bad. People in this small village are excited by  the prospect of development and modernization that growth will bring. Another  man added to this vision of Halesi as a modern town, hoping that Halesi would become a place of culture and scholarly research. He expressed the need to 
advertise about the power and history of Halesi temple because, even though the word is spreading, it is still relatively unknown. One man, after explaining the  inevitability of these changes, then explained to me the reason why. It is all  because of Halesi temple, he said. He said that nobody would ever harm Halesi  temple because Halesi temple is the “fortune and hope of the people.” All this will  happen in Halesi, but only because the temple is here. It is the blessing, or curse,  of Shiva that will carry Halesi into a different kind of struggle from years past. 
For the people of Halesi there will be new advantages, but there will be new  challenges as well. 

Works Cited 
Battarai, Radheshyam. 1984. Halesi: Poems of a Holy Place. Kathmandu, Nepal. 
Buffetrille, Katia. 1994. The Halesi-Maratika Caves (Eastern Nepal): A Sacred  

Place Claimed by Both Hindus and Buddhists. Institut Francais de  
Pondichery, Pondy Papers in Social Science. 

Chonam, Lama and Sangye Khandro, translators. 1998. The Lives and Liberation  
of Princess Mandarava. Wisdom Publications, Boston.  

Mumford, Stan Royal. 1989. Himalayan Dialogue: Tibetan Lamas and Gurung  
Shamans in Nepal. University of Wisconsin Press. Madison, Wisconsin. 
Sherpa, Lopon Karma Wangchhu. 2000. The Guide to Maratika. New Nepal  
Press. Kathmandu, Nepal.  

Tsogyal, Yeshe. 1999. The Lotus-Born: The Life Story of Padmasambhava.  
Shambhala South Asian Editions. Boston, Massachusetts.  
Whelpton, John. 2005. A History of Nepal. Cambridge University Press, New  

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