KATHMANDU, Feb 5: Clad in traditional attire and ornaments, a group of Gurung girls exchanged simper with each other after stealing glances off the uncomfortably seated bride and groom.
Waiting for their turn to wish the couple, they seemed oblivious to numerous inquisitive eyes fixated on them.
In recent years, more and more city dwellers coming from different indigenous backgrounds have been increasingly favoring traditional attires.
"Gone are the days when indigenous peoples waited for a particular occasion to don traditional dresses. Be it a marriage ceremony or school function, wearing traditional dresses has become a regular practice," said Eliza Tamang, 21, who recently completed her +2 studies. Eliza originally hails from Kavre district.
With Lhosar festival just round the corner, Eliza seemed euphoric but she admitted that she no longer waits a whole year to wear her traditional Tamang dress and ornaments.
PHOTO: KESHAB THOKER
"My sisters and I wear traditional dress whenever we have to attend marriage ceremonies. It doesn´t have to be a Tamang marriage. Even when we go to the marriages of other castes, we put on our traditional attire and people have always admired us," said Eliza.
Eliza´s elder sister Kalpana Tamang traced how the tradition of wearing their cultural attire has shifted from her village to the city.
"When we were living in our village as kids, I never missed an opportunity to wear my traditional attire. Though we were required to do so, it never felt like an obligation," said Kalpana. "And we have continued the tradition even after decades of migrating to Kathmandu," added Kalpana.
Alluding to the historical and political thrust behind the change, President of Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN), Raj Kumar Lekhi Tharu attributed the change to the polished consciousness of indigenous peoples.
"There was a time, when people from communities shied away from wearing their traditional dresses because fearing the autonomous governing powers that ruled the country," said Raj Kumar.
"For the Dalits, showcasing their traditional attire was a matter of shame. But after the peoples´ movement, and because of the continuing revolt for the identity based rights, Indigenous people are openly embracing their cultures, traditions, languages and the practice of wearing their traditional attires," added Lekhi.
The practice of indigenous people accepting their traditions and cultures is a global phenomenon, informed Dr Om Gurung, a noted anthropologist and indigenous rights activist.
"The uprising of indigenous people in Nepal is not a singular activity. This indicates the spread of human consciousness over the rights of indigenous people across the globe," said Gurung.
Indicating these vivid changes, Gurung pictured the developed feeling of pride of donning traditional attire among Thakali and Sherpa community people.
"During the 80s, the culture and tradition of these indigenous peoples were in the verge of disappearing as a result of restrictions from the then government. But now they can display their culture identities without any hesitation," said Gurung.
Even the emerging fashion industry of Nepal has benefited from the growing popularity of traditional attires. According to Gopal KC, proprietor of Singapore Enterprises, over the past six years, sales of indigenous dresses has increased drastically. In the business for last seventeen years, Gopal said lots of people, from kids to elderly, visit his shop to buy indigenous ornaments and indigenous clothes for themselves as well as to gift others.
The younger generations is even showing penchant for dresses and ornaments from traditional cultures different from theirs.
"The youths try out different garments and ornaments. I have seen Rai girls buying Gurung lungi, and Gurung girls buying the coined necklace (Simala)," said Gopal.
Meanwhile, Pushpanjali Rai, a Master of Social Work student, shared that people from Brahman and Chhteri communities also don traditional indigenous dresses these days.
"My traditional dress has always appealed me. However, it´s not just the people of our communities but even my friends from Brahman and Chhetri community wear them on various occasion. This shows how people have embraced the diversity of our country´s tradition and culture,” said Rai.
´Indigenous movement for national unity´
National Indigenous Women´s Federation (NIWF)
How do you look at the emergence of indigenous culture in Nepal?
Undoubtedly, indigenous people are lately more inclined toward their traditional values and culture, particularly toward their traditional dresses. I personally think these sorts of change are absolutely normal as the societies move forward. But what matters the most is the elevated consciousness among the people to revive and own their traditions and cultures.
What was the scenario before?
Before the major political changes that started after the restoration of democracy in 1990, cultural activities used to be closely monitored by the hegemonic governing forces, dominated by the so called elite peoples. As a result, there used to be a lot of restrictions on cultural and religious activities of the indigenous peoples. But the situation has changed a lot after the emergence of democracy. Indigenous people are more aware now and have lately started fighting for their constitutional rights.
I think the major political changes that led Nepal to emerge as a newest republican country is driving these changes. As a result, adopting indigenous culture like wearing traditional dress has become a matter of pride and I feel that this is a huge achievement for us and for the nation as a whole.
What role youths have played to herald these changes?
The touch of modernity while respecting ones tradition has amplified this budding practice of wearing traditional dresses. It is particularly impressive that the youths have become the emissaries of this gradual but powerful change. Buying traditional dresses, not just for oneself but also to offer them as gifts to others is a novel practice in the indigenous communities.
These historic changes, which have become something impossible to disregard, is slowly becoming the driving force of rapidly changing fashion with a high degree of acceptance across the country. Most importantly, the growing popularity of indigenous food, cultures and dresses among dominant communities itself gives a strong signal that indigenous movement can play an important role for national unity.