OPINION: Following a vision for Hanuman Dhoka Palace Museum

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OPINION: Following a vision for Hanuman Dhoka Palace Museum

January 12, Kathmandu.A recently prepared report ‘Strategic Planning for the Department of Archaeology’ addressed the need to align governance of cultural heritage to the provisions of the Constitution of Nepal, 2015. The report touches upon the lack of a Museum Policy in Nepal.“The Constitution of Nepal, 2015 has a provision for museums to be managed by provincial governments (Schedule 6, No. 8), and are considered under concurrent jurisdiction of all three levels of government. Private museums can also be registered with the District Government (Chief District Officer and District Courts)”. Under Section 7.3, the report states that “the ambiguous state of affairs with museums demands the formulation of a uniform Museum Policy”.The report suggests that the policy “must ensure that museums are managed in a manner that prioritizes safety, security, truthful representation, professional training, awareness building and education (of both staff and visitors), as well as conservation and preservation of artefacts”.

Museum. Photo Courtesy: Kei Weise

There is a further role that museums need to play — that of protection of important archaeological artefacts and cultural objects of significance. The responsibility of important documented ‘archaeological artefacts’ belong to the government and responsibility for its protection lies with the Department of Archaeology. However, there is a growing number of museums being managed by provincial and local levels of government and even private organizations.

Illicit trafficking of artefacts require strict regulations to be put in place, and a system of collaboration between all levels of government, law enforcement, related experts, and local communities, along with the collectors and dealers.

Museums in Nepal are still largely established based on the outdated approach of being a secure place to store historical and cultural artefacts, and various forms of art, with restricted access to visitors. These institutions still have a long way to go, to contribute to research and education, and to support communities to retain their local culture and identity.

How can the museums present the local history and culture, and tell the stories of local people? These were some of the questions raised while preparing the Master Plan for Hanuman Dhoka Palace Museum. Most parts of the palace complex were affected by the 2015 Gorkha Earthquake and once visitors were allowed in, they could only visit some of the courtyards and the temporary exhibition set up in the restored Dhukuti building.

The Hanuman Dhoka Palace Museum used to be a biographical museum focusing on the three Shah Kings — Tribhuvan, Mahendra and Birendra, while remaining the centre of ceremonial power, where the coronations were held. It became clear that the museum had to widen its narrative to embrace the city. Most festivals still had close links to the palace. With the required phase-wise restoration of the museum, it was a great opportunity to ensure that the museum was re-established in an improved manner.

The museum management, authorities and local experts came together with international specialists from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC and the Oriental Museum in Durham to create a new vision for Hanuman Dhoka Palace Museum. In 2018, the mutually agreed concept was documented in the ‘Hanuman Dhoka Palace Museum Conceptual Master Plan’. The vision statement reads: “The Hanuman Dhoka Palace Museum will become a high quality, multi-disciplinary, community-centred institution that is proactive and self-reliant, ensuring research and conservation of tangible and intangible cultural heritage”.

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