Democracy Day – Nepal

February 18

The Nepalese flag, the only non-rectangular national flag in the world, symbolizes the two religions of Nepal---Buddhism and Hinduism---and the peaks of the Himalayas.

For most of the half-century or so since Democracy Day was established in Nepal, the actual practice of democracy has been stifled or totally repressed.

Ironically, Democracy Day marks the return to power of a monarch, King Tribhuvan, in the early 1950s. The country had been run by a succession of despots known as the Rana dictatorship. For generations the Rana allowed the monarchy to remain but used the king as a puppet. In 1950 the pro-democratic King Tribhuvan fled the country with most of his family to India. The Rana declared the king’s 3 year-old great-nephew Gyanendra as the new king, as he was the most senior member of the family left in the country.

For whatever reason foreign powers refused to recognize the new king, and Tribhuvan, with support from India was able to topple the Rana rule.

Soon after, Tribhuvan’s son increased the monarch’s power, virtually taking over Parliament. The power of the monarch waxed and waned over the next half century.

In 2001 the Crown Prince Dipendra went on a shooting rampage, killing the entire royal family and then himself. Gyanendra, the former 3 year-old monarch, was once again the most senior member of the royal family left in the country. He reclaimed the throne, now at age 53.

On Democracy Day in 2004 King Gyanendra encouraged all Nepalese “to unite for making multiparty democracy meaningful through people-oriented politics.” (Democracy Day in Nepal)

The next year King Gyanendra celebrated Democracy Day by dissolving Parliament and seizing control of the entire country, ostensibly to curb Communist factions.  (BBC)

The Parliament regained control in 2007 and voted to abolish the monarchy once and for all. King Gyanendra’s reign, and the two and a half century old monarchy, is set to end in April this year [2008] after national elections are held.

[originally published Feb. 2008]

King Gyanendra’s Democracy Day Speech 2008

Proposal to change Nepal’s flag

Sri Lanka Independence

February 4

Sri Lanka has always been an island shrouded in mystery.

According to journalist William McGowan:

Even those living in Sri Lanka for many years felt its fundamental impenetrability; the longer you lived there, the more you realized you’d never really know it…

It was a country, after all, that Arab traders had once named Serendip, for its aura of accidental good fortune…If serendipity were to strike the island now, I’m afraid the dose would have to be massive.” (Only Man is Vile, 1992)

Actually, the word serendipity comes from the old name for Sri Lanka (Serendip), not the other way around. “Serendip” derived from the words Sinhala, “dwelling place of lions”, and dwipa, or “island”.

An ancient Persian fairy tale known as The Three Princes of Serendip told the story of three wise princes of the region whose collective intelligence led to good fortune, but only when they weren’t looking for it.

Bianca Capello
Bianca Capello

The English word was coined in 1754 by Horace Walpole, in a letter to a friend. His friend had sent him an unframed portrait of Bianca Capello that Walpole had admired. Walpole happened across the Capello coat-of-arms in a book of Venetian arms, which he used to help frame the portrait:

…This discovery indeed is almost of that kind which I call serendipity, a very expressive word…I once read a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of…

McGowen is right though. Sri Lanka is long overdue for some good karma. In addition to the devastation of the December 26, 2004 tsunami, the small island nation has been plagued with civil war ever since its independence, which it won from the British on this day in 1948.

Sri Lankans believe the Lord Buddha visited the islands three times:

“In Lanka, O Lord of Gods, shall my religion be established and flourish.”

Lord Buddha, The Mahavamsa, 6th century AD

Every summer, Sri Lankans display the Sacred Tooth — believed to be the Buddha’s left canine — in an elephant procession known as Perahera.

Sacred Tooth Temple, Kandy, Sri Lanka
Sacred Tooth Temple, Kandy, Sri Lanka

Martyrdom of Gandhi

January 30


Today Indians recall one of the darkest days in their country’s history, while schoolchildren in Spain learn about Dia Escolar de la No-violencia y la Paz, (School Day of Non-Violence and Peace). The holiday marks the tragic assassination of Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi, whose non-violent methods helped India gain independence from Great Britain, and inspired leaders from Martin Luther King Jr. to Nelson Mandela.

I believe that Gandhi’s views were the most enlightened of all the political men in our time…We should strive to do things in his spirit: not to use violence in fighting for our cause, but by non-participation in anything you believe is evil.

Albert Einstein

If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought, and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward a world of peace and harmony…Gandhi resisted evil with as much vigor and power as the violent resister, but he resisted with love instead of hate. True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to evil power. It is rather a courageous confirmation of evil by the power of love.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

His life has inspired me ever since I was a small boy. Ahimsa or nonviolence is the powerful idea that Mahatma Gandhi made familiar throughout the world. But nonviolence does not mean the absence of violence. It is something more positive, more meaningful than that, for it depends wholly on the power of truth.

The Dalai Lama

Mahatma Gandhi came and stood at the door of India’s destitute millions, clad as one of themselves, speaking to them in their own language…who else has so unreservedly accepted the vast masses of the Indian people as his flesh and blood…Truth awakened Truth.

Rabindranath Tagore

Mahatma Gandhi will always be remembered as long as free men and those who love freedom and justice live.

Haile Selassie I

There is no religion higher than Truth and Right-eousness.

If all men realized the obligation of service (as an eternal moral law), they would regard it as a sin to amass wealth; and then, there would be no inequalities of wealth and consequently no famine or starvation.

There is an indefinable mysterious power that pervades everything. I feel it though I do not see it. It is this unseen power which makes itself felt and yet defies all proof because it is so unlike all that I perceive through my senses. But it is possible to reason of the existence of god to a limited extent. Even in ordinary affairs we know that people who do not know who rules or why and how He rules and yet they know that there is a power that certainly rules. In my tour last year in Mysore I met many poor villagers and I found upon inquiry that they did not know who ruled Mysore. They simply said some God ruled it. If the knowledge of these poor people was so limited about their ruler I who am infinitely lesser in respect to God than they to their ruler need not be surprised if I do not realize the presence of God – the King of Kings. Nevertheless I do feel as the poor villagers felt about Mysore that there is orderliness in the universe, there is an unalterable law governing everything and every being that exists or lives.

Mahatma Gandhi

The Spanish observance of the Indian civil rights leader’s death was established by Spain’s Education Secretary Lorenzo Vidal in 1964.

Nepal Martyrs Day

January 29

The small kingdom of Nepal, nestled between two giants, India and China, has miraculously managed to maintain its sovereignty through internal struggles and bloody power plays lasting over 200 years. The latest of which, in 2001, resulted in the violent deaths of the entire Nepalese Royal Family.

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Today the Nepalese remember four martyrs who protested the rule of the Rana dictatorship in 1951: Dharma Bhakta Mathema, Dashrath Chand, Gangalal Shrestha, and Shukraraj Shastri.

The Rana came to power in 1846, when the Queen attempted to assert control over a powerful military leader named Jung Bahadur and his six brothers. Bahadur won the battle against the Queen’s forces and forced the King to hand the throne over to the Crown Prince.

Badahur placed the royal family under house arrest and ensured his progeny’s place by marrying off his daughter to the king’s son. Badahur was known as the first of the “Rana.”

Jung Bahadur, 1877
Jung Bahadur, 1877

Bahadur traveled to England to strengthen British-Nepalese relations and commissioned the codification of Nepal’s civil and criminal law, limiting corporal punishment and banning torture.

But he also killed many aristocratic opponents, and filled the Assembly of Lords with his own family and followers, effectively making himself dictator.

The power system that Bahadur established would haunt Nepal for a century as leadership passed between Bahadur’s feuding brothers and nephews. (After his death, Bahadur’s own sons were all killed or forced into exile by his nephew.)

Rani Royal Family, ca. 1920

The Rana dictatorship maintained the puppet monarchy. Tensions reached a peak in 1950 when the pro-democratic King Tribhuvan sneaked out of Nepal with his family to India. In his absence the Rana replaced the King with Tribhuvan’s three year-old grandson Gyranendra, the only male heir left in the kingdom.

The British refused to recognize the new king, and a successful public revolt forced the last Rana prime minister to resign in 1951. The four martyrs who are remembered today were killed during this time period. King Tribhuvan reassumed the throne as a constitutional monarch.

Fifty years later (June 1, 2001) Nepal’s King Birendra had an argument with his son, Crown Prince Dipendra, during a dinner event at the Nepalese Royal Palace. According to witnesses Dipendra was drunk and “misbehaving,” and was escorted to his room by his brothers.

Later that evening the 29 year-old Eton-educated Crown Prince reappeared, this time with an assault rifle. He went on a horrific shooting rampage, killing his father the King, his mother the Queen, his brother, sister, uncle, aunts, cousin, and brother-in-law, as well as wounding five other members of the royal family, before turning the gun on himself.

Crown Prince Dipendra
Crown Prince Dipendra

With the royal family gone, Birendra’s brother Gynendra, who had been crowned at age three, reassumed the throne after 50 years of absence. He was out of town during the dinner; his wife, sister, and cousin had all been shot at the massacre, but survived.

King Gyanendra dissolved parliament, dismissed Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, then proceeded to appoint and dismiss two more Prime Ministers before taking over the country as absolute monarch in 2005. According to one Nepalese citizen:

“When the king took over all the power, the situation got worse because there were three parties fighting against each other – the King, the political parties and the so-called Maoists.

“Maoists had already been declared as domestic terrorists, so they were killing people, looting them, and even attacking the police offices and the army barracks all over the country.

“Right now the situation is getting worse and worse everyday. People are dying everyday in demonstrations. Last week there was a news that some local people were demonstrating in front of a police officer residence, and the officer started firing randomly which killed like 5 people and injured about 100. In the rural parts of the country, the Maoists are killing people everywhere.”

originally at (link no longer valid)

After massive unrest and international protest, King Gyanendra reinstated the parliament, which wasted no time stripping him of power. The Maoist Party won the largest number of seats in the April 2008 election. The following month the Assembly abolished the monarchy.

Gyanendra was the last king of Nepal, a dynasty that dated back to 1769 when King Prithvi Narayan Shah united the Kingdom.

Though originally remembered for the deaths of the Four Martyrs of 1951, the flow of Martyrs in Nepal has never stopped. Over 13,000 Nepalese were killed in the fighting between 1996 and 2006.


Nepal Mourns Slain King

Massacre Witness Blames Crown Prince

Hundreds Pay Respect to Martyers

Martyrs Day Observed

Saraswati: Original Supermom

5th day of the month of Magh

January 28, 2012

“India was the motherland of our race, and Sanskrit the mother of Europe’s languages: she was the mother of our philosophy; mother, through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics; mother, through the Buddha, of the ideals embodied in Christianity; mother, through the village community, of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all”.

Will Durant, The Case For India

In many religions throughout history women have been associated with wisdom and knowledge, which doesn’t explain why men have generally run the place, but may explain the state into which they’re run it.

The Greek goddess of wisdom was Athena. In the Gnostic tradition that honor belonged to Sophia, Mother of Creation, who is the root of our word sophistication. In Judaism it was Eve, not Adam, who ate first from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. And in Christianity all the virtues, including Prudence are personified as women.

But in Hinduism, which influenced all of the above, the goddess of wisdom, arts, and learning is Saraswati. Saraswati is among other things the consort of Brahma, the god of creation.


In typical supermom style, Saraswati has four arms, all of which are full. Each arm symbolizes one of the four components of the human personality with regards to learning: mind, intellect, alertness and ego. She gracefully juggles a sacred manuscript in one hand, a rosary in another, and with the other two she plays music of life and love on a stringed instrument known as a veena. She is usually pictured sitting atop a lotus flower, with a peacock or a swan by her feet.

On the fifth day of the fortnight after the new moon of Magh, Hindus celebrate Vasant Panchami, to worship the Goddess Saraswati. It falls in late January or early February.

On this day young schoolchildren learn their first words, in honor of the goddess of learning, knowledge and speech.

Saraswati is invoked as a muse by artists conducting creative endeavors. In olden times Saraswati was invoked prior to a play by theater managers who prayed for the quick and articulate tongues of their actors.

“India has two million gods, and worships them all. In religion all other countries are paupers; India is the only millionaire.”

Mark Twain

Republic Day – India

January 26

Today is Republic Day in India.

Although India gained independence from Britain in 1947, the Constitution was officially adopted on January 26, 1950, marking the Republic of India as a sovereign nation with complete autonomy.

The date January 26th was chosen in remembrance of “Poorna Swaraj Diwas,” when the Indian National Congress declared independence on January 26, 1930.

Guests of Honor at recent Republic Days have included King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Russian President Vladimire Putin, and Nicholas Sarkozy, President of France.

The Republic Day parade in New Dehli is a combination of cultural pride and military strength, symbolized by three fighter jets that fly over the ceremony each year.

Republic Day is for all Indians, regardless of religion or region. Still, sectarian tensions are high on Republic Day and security is heightened throughout the country.

Indian Army - Madras regiment - Republic Day

BBC: India’s Republic Day in Pictures
Kashmir view from 2007
India’s 59th Republic Day

Black January

January 20

Black January is the Azerbaijani term for the massacre of January 20, 1990. Every year since 1990, the people of Azerbaijan remember those who fell that day. They are called the January 20th Martyrs.

On that day Soviet troops stormed the capital city of Baku. Their supposed intent was to crack down on Azeri nationalist demonstrations, to protect the faltering Communist Party leadership, and to stem the violence in the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region between Azeris and Armenians.

The result of the attack was at least 133 Azerbaijanis killed; hundreds more were wounded. Most of the victims were civilians and peaceful demonstrators.

Azerbaijani citizens don’t appreciate the fact that the same year Soviet Premiere Mikhail Gorbachev ordered the attack on Baku, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Azerbaijan gained its independence in 1991, but the Nagorno-Karabakh War continued for years. Even today Armenia and Azerbaijan contest the ownership of the N-K Autonomous Region, and nearly 20 years later, emotions run high when remembering the Martyrs of Black January. – Black January

Pongal – Day 3 – Mattu Pongal

January 16

Mattu Pongal, the third day of the Pongal festival of southern India, is dedicated to the animals of the world, particularly cattle.

The legend goes, Shiva told his bull Basava, or Nandi, to inform the people of the world that they should eat once a month and bathe daily with an oil massage.

Evidently, Bull was not the best messenger. He told the people to eat daily and bathe once a month.

When Shiva heard this he was furious, so he forced Bull to return to earth and help the people plow, where he’s been ever since. That way they’d have food enough to eat each day.

There’s a belief in western society that Indians “worship” the cow. This is a misconception, perhaps propagated by the activities on Mattu Pongal. On this day cows do get the royal treatment: they’re bowed down to, painted, decorated with care, and they are offered Pongal, the rice dish for which the festival gets its name. The cows are symbolic of all animals on earth.

But they are not worshipped in the English sense of the word. Cows are considered special in the sense that they cannot be slaughtered. Part of the reason for this is that the cows already give so much back to the people through their milk. Another historical, practical reason may have been that the killing of the best cows for their meat reduced the genetic diversity of the herd.

A third, more controversial theory is that in the Sanskrit of the Vedas the word Go, meant “light” or “sense” as well as “cow.” Thus, the phrase “Protector of the Brahmanas and the Light” was interpreted as “Protector of the Cow.” [But this sounds to me like the story of the Catholic priest who, after a life of being celibate (no sex), goes to up heaven and gets to read Jesus’s original instructions on how to live the life a priest. He’s furious when he reads the original translation: “A priest should be pure and celebrate.”]

At any rate, Holy Cow is misleading. More like “Venerated Cow.” As Gandhi put it:

“One can measure the greatness of a nation and its moral progress by the way it treats its animals. Cow protection to me is not mere protection of the cow. It means protection of all that lives and is helpless and weak in the world.

Why is the cow sacred?