Folklore for Identity and Understanding
The First International Folklore Congress, Kathmandu 2001


Metaphorically, Nepal is often referred to as a flower orchard of various languages and cultures. Thus, it has been a great repository of folklore varieties, and naturally of the opportunities for folklore studies. The establishment of Nepali Folklore Society in 1995 was a natural development of this background context. Since its inception, this Society has stablished a mode of folklore research, disseminated the Nepali concepts of folklore studies, and established wider contacts with the folklore societies and scholars in different parts of the world. In the meantime, the Society decided to hold an international congress in Kathmandu to discuss various issues of folklore studies in Nepal and the South Asian countries. Accordingly, the Congress was held in Kathmandu for the first time in its history on May 5-7, 2001. The main theme of the congress was “Folklore for Identity and Understanding”, and papers on various sub-themes under it were presented in the Congress.


The Society requested various national organizations for supporting the congress. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism became the pivot for this congress. Other institutions such as the Royal Nepal Academy, Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu Metropolitan City, and Nepal- India B.P. Koirala Foundation were the sponsors. Similarly, Nepal Rastra Bank, Nepal Chamber of Commerce, National Committee for Development of Nationalities, Hotel Association of Nepal, Nepal Association of Travel Agents, and the Association of National Booksellers and Publishers of Nepal supported the event. Nepal Tourism Board took the role of a promoter of this unique event and the hall of the board was the venue of this 3-day event.

The Participants

There were 22 registered participants from 7 foreign countries (France, Finland, Netherlands, Germany, USA, Bangladesh, and India) and 57 from Nepal. Besides, there were invitees on the special sessions, and some other interested persons. About 9 student volunteers were present during the sessions to help the participants. Thus, more than 100 persons had participated in the congress.

The Sessions Inaugural Ceremony

The congress started with the inaugural ceremony at 9.00 A.M. on May 5, 2001. Mr. Mohan Koirala, Vice- Chancellor of Royal Nepal Academy, chaired the session. The Chief Guest was Hon’ble Minister of Culture and Tourism Mr. Omkar Prasad Shrestha. After a brief welcome speech by Prof. Dr. C.M. Bandhu, General Secretary of Nepali Folklore Society, the Chief Guest inaugurated the congress by lighting a lamp and delivered the inaugural address. In his address, Mr. Shrestha highlighted the role of folklore in expressing national identity and understanding in a multicultural country like Nepal. He hoped that the congress would come up with fruitful suggestions for preserving national traditions. Mr. Barun P. Shrestha,Secretary, Ministry of Culture and Tourism, said that the congress was organized in right time to help promote cultural tourism in the country. He hoped that the congress would also help to specify the national goal of cultural promotion. Prof. Tulasi Diwasa, President of the Society, delivering his presidential address, emphasized that folklore should be used for national development and therefore it should be studied, preserved and promoted for future generations. He hoped that this unique event in the history of Nepalese folklore would encourage the native scholars to study its various aspects. Finally, Prof. Dr. Abhi Subedi expressed Vote of Thanks on behalf of the Society to the attendants as well as the contributors for making the event a success. The inaugural session ended with the remarks of the chairman Mr. Mohan Koirala, who wished the success of the unique event and emphasized the need for a systematic study of national cultures for national identity.

Congress Sessions

The congress sessions presented a unique example of an international seminar ever held in Nepal. In three days a total of 50 papers were presented and discussed by scholars from South Asia, America and Europe. There were 8 academic sessions including one special session on Indo-Nepal Folklore Studies. The themes of the sessions were:

(1) Identity, ethnicity and folklore,
(2) Folklore, tourism and development issues,
(3) Folklore, literature and performing arts,
(4) Folklore, Folklife and folk practices,
(5) Folklore, gender and power,
(6) Folklore and folk literature,
(7) Nepali folklore, and
(8) Indo- Nepal folklore studies.

The first session was chaired by Dr. Mazharul Islam, a prominent folklorist from Bangladesh. In this session, Dr. Lee Haring from USA, Dr. Anwarul Karim from Bangladesh, Prof. Dr. Abhi Subedi from Nepal, and Dr. P. Subbachary from India presented their papers on “Identity, Difference and Mixing in Folklore Studies”, “The Ojha Shamans, Mystics of Bangladesh”, “Folk in Urban Space: A Study of Newari Theatre”, and “Folk Arts and the Issue of Displacement” respectively.

In the second session, which was chaired by Dr. Dulal Chaudhari from India, Dr. Makbul Islam from India, Dr. Ramesh Kunwar from Nepal, Mr. Prakash A. Raj from Nepal, Mr. Bihari Krishna Shrestha from Nepal, and Ms. Sonja Servoma from Finland made their presentations entitled “Folklore as a Source of Promoting Tourism”, “Anthropology of Tourism: A Case Study of Chitwan Sauraha”, “The Folklore and Tourism in Nepal”, “Some Insights into the Dynamics of Folklore in Nepal,” and “Folklore and Development Issues” respectively. Finally, Dr. Jyotirmoy Ghosh from India spoke on the relation between Folklore and Literature; and Mr. Pravin Khadka from Nepal Tourism Board explained the various activities of the Board for promoting cultural tourism and other related programmes in Nepal. The third session was chaired by Dr. Kamal Prakash Malla. In this session, Dr. Mazharul Islam (Bangladesh), Dr. B.K. Chakravorty (India), and Mariana Kropf (Germany) spoke on “The Study of Folklore: Aesthetic and Literary Theory”, “Folklore and Literature”, and “Folklore as a Form of Cultural Survival” respectively. The Nepali scholars presenting papers in this session were Mr. Nagendra Bhattarai (entitled “Use of Folk Expressions in Politics: A Study in the Discourse of Power”), Mr. Kishor Gurung (entitled “Ethnomusical Study of Ghaatu”), Mr. Jagadish Shumsher Rana (entitled “Kathmandu - A Valley that Resounds with Folklore”) and Mr. Prabodh Devkota (entitled “Nepali Troubadours, the Gaines: a Living Heritage”). On May 6th, the fourth session started at 9.00 A.M., which was chaired by Dr. Lee Haring. In this session, Dr. Bert van den Hoek (Netherlands), Dr. Mohammad Abdul Jalil (Bangladesh), Dr. Giribala Mohanty (India), and Dr. Kailash Pattanaik (India) delivered their presentations on “Serpent Sacrificein Nepal: Vedic Lore, Tantric Lore or Folklore?”, “Efficacy of Chants and Plans in the Treatment of Snakebites in the Northern Part of Bangladesh”, “The Girl Games of Orissa”, and “Story Telling in Orissa” respectively. Dr. Tirtha Bahadur Shrestha, and Prof. Ram Kumar Pandey spoke on “Practices of Folk Medicine in Nepal” and “Folklore behind Yeti Tales” respectively.

Dr. Sonja Servoma (Finland) chaired the fifth session. In this session, Dr. Jawaharlal Handoo (India) and Dr. Ranjeet Singh Bajwa (India) presented their papers on “Folklore: Male Bias and Discourse of Power” and “Anthropology of Power: Violence and Honour in Panjabi Legend – Noor Khan” respectively. Dr. Guy Poitevin from France spoke on “Popular Traditions: Strategic Assets”, while Dr. Geeta Khadka and Ananda Sharma presented the papers entitled “Mythmaking about Women’s Predicaments: Study of Badi and Devaki Women of Western Nepal” and “Treatment of Time and Space in Folklore: A Study of Black Elk’s Vision” respectively. The sixth session was chaired by Dr. Jawaharlal Handoo, in which Prof. Dr. Kamal Prakash Malla spoke on the “Oral Poetry as a Source of Oral History”, while Mr. Yogesh Raj spoke on “The Earliest and Unique Script of a Newari Dramatic Form JHAALECHA”. Both the presentations were from Nepal, while Dr. Dulal Chaudhari’s “Charya Gaan...” was from India. The seventh session, which was chaired by Mr. Satya Mohan Joshi, was held at the conference hall of the Royal Nepal Academy. All the papers in this session were in Nepali on various aspects of Nepali folklore. In the session, a welcome address was delivered by Dr. Tulsi Prasad Bhattarai, Member-Secretary of the Academy. Dr. Motilal Parajuli, Mr. Bairagi Kanhila, Dr. Hari Raj Bhattarai, Mr. Madhusudan Giri, Mr. Kusumakar Neupane, Mr. Shiva Prasad Poudyal, Mr. Jaya Raj Pant, Mr. Jibendra Dev Giri, and Mr. Drona Upadhyaya spoke on “Nepali Balans”, “The Birds in Limbu Myths and Legends”, “Folklore and Written Literature”, “Reflections of Folk Life in the Nyaula Songs of Karnali Region”, “Nature in Nepali Folk Songs”, “The Social Structure Described in the Nepalese Proverbs”, “A Comparison of Dotyali and Kuamauni Folk Songs,” “Women in the Nepali Folktales, and “The Sabais (narrative poems) of Nepali Language” respectively.

Special Session on Indo-Nepal Folklore Studies

A special session on Indo-Nepali Folklore was held on May 7, 2001, in which various issues related to the folklore studies in Nepal, India and other SAARC countries were addressed. Prof. Naveen Prakash Jung Shah, Vice-Chancellor of Tribhuvan University, chaired the session. Dr. Tirtha Prasad Mishra, Director of the Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies of Tribhuvan University, welcomed the participants attending the session. Dr. Jawaharlal Handoo (India), Prof. Dr. Abhi Subedi (Nepal), Dr. Manzharul Islam (Bangladesh), and Prof. Dr. C.M. Bandhu (Nepal) spoke on “Folklore Studies in India”, “South Asian Studies in Nepal in the Context of Folklore”, “Folklore Studies in South Asia”, and “Folklore Studies in Nepal” respectively. On this occasion, Mr. Manoj Bharti, Cultural Counsellor of the Indian Embassy, presented his remarks and emphasized that such workshops with Nepalese and Indian scholars were highly useful. Prof. Tulasi Diwasa, President of Nepali Folklore Society, expressed his heartfelt thanks to the participants of the session and hoped that a fruitful collaboration between the countries of South Asia would be started in future to promote the studies of folklore of the region. Finally, Mr. Shah ended the session with his remarks from the chair, emphasizing the need for promoting folklore studies. He also assured that folklore studies would be promoted in Tribhuvan University in the days to come.

The Valedictory Session

The valedictory session was held under the chairmanship of Prof. Tulasi Diwasa, President of Nepali Folklore Society. The special guest was Mr. Satya Mohan Joshi, an eminent Nepali folk culture expert. Dr. Lee Haring (USA), Dr. Manzharul Islam (Bangladesh), Dr. Sonja Servoma (Finland), Dr. Ranjeet Singh Bajwa (India), Dr. Barun K. Chakravorty (India) and Mr. Jagadish Shumsher Rana (Nepal) expressed their impressions on the grand success of the congress. The congress also passed a resolution on the opening of the Department of Folklore, establishing a SAARC level folklore studies centre, and on the priorities to be given to the study of dying traditions. Finally, delivering Vote of Thanks, Prof. Dr. Abhi Subedi expressed the Society’s gratefulness to the sponsors, supporters and promoters. He specially mentioned the contributions of Nepal Tourism Board for providing the venue and other facilities to make the event successful. The president of Nepali Folklore Society made an announcement of the Honorary Membership of NFS to the eminent folklorists Mr. Satya Mohan Joshi (Nepal), Dr. Lee Haring (USA), Dr. Mazharul Islam (Bangladesh) and Dr. Jawaharlal Handoo (India). The congress ended with the remark of the chairman, expressing heartfelt thanks to all who contributed to the grand success of the event and those who spared their valuable time participating in the congress.

Folksongs/Dance Performances and Visits

On this occasion, Royal Nepal Academy and Sanskritik Samsthan had made arrangements to perform some selected items of Nepali folk dances and songs. Visits of temples and important places were also arranged for the foreign guest participants.


The congress was not only unique in itself but also a highly successful event. The congress was able to invite some eminent scholars from India, Bangladesh, Finland, Netherlands, Germany, France and USA. Moreover, as Prof. Diwasa has said, it created awareness among Nepalese scholars by encouraging them to work in the field of folklore; and it was able to show and explain Nepal’s rich cultural heritage to the international participants. It provided opportunities for Nepalese scholars to have a direct discourse with eminent international scholars in the area of folklore. It also opened the possibilities of collaboration between the Nepalese and foreign scholars. It encouraged to enhance folklore studies at the national, regional and international levels.

Comments and Observations

Several observers have expressed the opinion that the congress was a remarkable event. As Mr. Shiva Rijal (“International Folklore Congress, Kathmandu 2001” Across 5:1; May 2001) has put it, the event was “the first of its kind to have been organized in Kathmandu”, in which “…the participation of people of the different backgrounds was very remarkable…” He has also noted that the proposal of some foreign participants to set up a SAARC folklore organization making Nepal the centre of it was a great enthusiasm at the congress.

For the foreign participants, the congress became a wonderful opportunity to be acquainted with the Nepali folklife and folk culture. Prof. Lee Haring, in his letter addressed to the President and General Secretary of Nepali Folklore Society (dated May 18, 2001), has thanked the Society for giving him a good opportunity to broaden his acquaintance with the folklorists working far away from him. He has congratulated the Society for its success in “attracting scholars from outside Nepal” and “making the event truly international”. Similarly, Dr. Makbul Islam, in his response after participating in the Congress (“Folklore for Identity and Understanding: International Folklore Congress Kathmandu – 2001, Nepal” Folklore Research Journal no. 6, Research Institute of Folk Culture, West Bengal, India), has admired the academic character of the event saying that “each and every session was remarkably stimulating” for academic interaction. Dr. Islam has called the congress a historical event, which has “paved the edifice of systematic and organized studies in folklore research”. Moreover, he has also appreciated Nepali Folklore Society for playing a very important role to show the openness that an academic institution deserves. He has said, “To deal with the issues of folklore of Nepal as well as of other South Asian countries, the Society could elevate itself above the narrowness of so-called notion of ‘Political Boundary’. Technically speaking, the society has rightly pointed out that, for the sake of academic interest ‘We’ all should learn to overcome the barrier of political delineation, like – India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka etc.”