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The sands of time

JAN 28 - Nepal Sambat that was started in the name of the country is the original era of Nepal. It was established on Oct 20, 879 AD after Nepali citizens were freed of their debts by a great philanthropist. During the Lichchhavi period, it was likely that there was a custom or provision to start a new era in the name of an individual provided that this person was willing and able to pay off the people’s liabilities.

Sankhadhar Sakhwal, one of the heroes and builders of Nepal, lived at Ilachhen Tol between Simhasatal and Bhimsensthan near Kathmandu Durbar Square. Sankhadhar’s contribution is that he freed the Nepali people of their debts. He was a great philanthropist of his time.

How Sankhadhar managed to pay off the debts of the people living in and around the Kathmandu valley is very interesting. In the Bhasa Vamshavali (chronicles), it is clearly mentioned that initially he was no more than an average businessman. His contemporary was Siddhiwant Joshi who was a noted astrologer of King Anand Dev, the ruler of Bhaktapur and surrounding areas like Nala, Panauti, Banepa, Dhulikhel, Sindhupalchok and Charikot. During this time, King Raghav Dev reigned in Patan and Kathmandu.

Siddhiwant made a prediction after carefully working out an astrologically determined time that sand taken from Likhu Tirtha (Sapna Tirtha) at that auspicious moment and kept covered for four days would turn into gold! Likhu Tirtha is the confluence of the Bhadramati River (Bhacha Khusi) and the Bishnumati. So one fine morning, King Anand Dev sent some Jyapus (farmers) to bring some sand from there. As luck would have it, Sankhadhar happened to see them taking baskets and baskets of sand from there; and he was curious why they had to come all the way from Bhaktapur just to get some sand. Although the porters didn’t know and so couldn’t tell him the secret behind the sand, clever Sankhadhar prevailed on them to take the sand to his house.

Thinking that the sand they had dug up must be just ordinary sand, the porters went back after the auspicious moment had passed to get some more and took it to Bhaktapur for the king. On the stipulated auspicious day and time, King Anand Dev went to see if the heap of sand had actually turned into gold as predicted. He found to his utter dismay nothing but sand and sand! Meanwhile in Kathmandu, the sand that had been taken away and kept covered by Sankhadhar had turned into gold!

Because it was such a massive windfall he got without much toil of his own and because he believed it was God’s blessing to him, he made up his mind to do something that would earn him not only name and fame but religious merit too. So after consulting astrologers and pundits and making an agreement to pay off everybody’s debts, Sankhadhar pleaded with King Raghav Dev to start a new era. After consulting with his courtiers and getting the approval of his counterpart King Anand Dev, he complied with Sankhadhar’s request and ordered that the existing calendar be discontinued and a new one started. New Year’s Day occurs on the first day of the bright phase of the moon in October which coincides with Gobardhan Puja and Mha Puja during the Tihar festival. This sambat became famous as Nepal Sambat from the 12th century onwards.

Realising that it is the bounden duty of each and every one of us to appreciate what Sankhadhar has done for us and the country, Nepal Bhasa Manka Khala has been organising all sorts of cultural rallies in Kathmandu for more than 25 years in order to create public awareness about Nepal Sambat. As a result of the long and untiring efforts of this organisation, the Cabinet headed by the late Prime Minister Krishna Prasad Bhattarai declared Sankhadhar Sakhwal a national hero on Nov 18, 1999. Justice has been done to Sankhadhar by this historic declaration and national recognition.

Because it is usually monarchs who start a new calendar and because Sankhadhar had paid off everybody’s debts even though he was just a businessman, King Raghav Dev gave him permission to set up his statue holding a conch in his hands on the premises of the Pashupatinath Temple. Sankhadhar himself was a great devotee of Lord Pashupatinath, and he breathed his last on the bank of the holy Bagmati River next to the temple.

There is no doubt that human society 11 centuries ago at the time of Sankhadhar wasn’t as materially developed or as informed as it is today. Regardless of how prosperous and developed today’s society is considered to be, there is still an uneasy common feeling that there has been a massive erosion and deterioration in terms of our social, cultural, religious and spiritual values. It is no small sacrifice to give up such a thing as wealth for the common good. Nor is this something that everybody can and will do. Because Sankhadhar did it and set his countrymen free from the bondage of debt and because he was so devoted and dedicated to the country, he has rightly been named one of the national heroes and builders of Nepal.

Posted on: 2012-01-29 07:56

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