Staging memories at the Narayanhiti Palace Museum, Kathmandu

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Abstract

This article focuses on a particular time (the post-monarchy Nepali present) and site (the Narayanhiti Palace Museum) that I believe offers a compelling space for understanding the negotiation of Nepal’s recent past, thereby revealing as much about the Nepal of which it forms a part as the Nepal it institutionalizes – the on-going transition from royal to republican Nepal. Acknowledging that the social and historical location of the museum means that it bears the imprint of social relations beyond its walls I ask how is Nepal’s royal past now understood and who authorizes the understanding?

No king rules from Narayanhiti Palace and the state does not use the palace to conduct its affairs; the politics of the space therefore risk being concealed by its open gates. I explore the re-creation of a stable imagined past, in contrast both with the urban chaos of the contemporary city of Kathmandu and the political instability of the capital in Republican Nepal.

Based on ethnographic research ‘behind the scenes’ at the museum, I take Annis’ analogy of the museum as ‘staging ground’ (1986) and explore the museum as both a space where decisions are made about what stories are told, (sanctifying some forms of remembering and endorsing forgetting) and a space experienced by both ex-palace staff and visitors, who bring the past to mind, combining their imaginations and memories with the environment of the museum.

I suggest that official representations try to secure an image of a unified national identity that simultaneously remembers and forgets the king (Lakier 2009, Hutt 2006). As the city and the nation continues to reinvent itself, the unchanging carefully constructed non-place of the Palace Museum is being revealed.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2297
JournalHimalaya
Volume37
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jun 2017

Keywords

  • museum
  • palace
  • monarchy
  • Nepal
  • politics
  • memory

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