Lonely Planet Writer

Nepal’s first animated feature film honours low-caste gold panner who freed the poor from debt

You may not have heard of the hero of Nepal’s first ever animated feature film, but every Nepali has known his name since childhood. Shankhadhar Ye Bakhaa (The Legend of Shankhadhar), tells the life story of Shankhadhar Sakhwa, the low-caste gold panner who freed Nepal’s poor from debt and founded the country’s unique national calendar.

Kathmandu Valley seen from the Swayambhunath temple complex, also called the Monkey Temple.
Kathmandu Valley seen from the Swayambhunath temple complex, also called the Monkey Temple. Image by Getty Images

The real-life Shankhadhar Sakhwa lived in the Maru area of Kathmandu in the 8th century and rose from his lowly social position to great wealth after noticing the unusual weight of the sand being dredged from the Bisnumati River. The extra weight was of course due to a high proportion of grains of gold, which the philanthropist gold panner used to buy out the debts of all the people in the Kathmandu Valley.

In thanks for this great act of philanthropy, Nepal announced the beginning of a new era – Nepal Sambat, and a new calendar, with each year counted from 879 AD – ‘the year after all debts were paid’. Although the calendar was briefly abandoned in the Rana period, it returned to use as the official calendar for religious and ceremonial events, with the lunar year running from November 2015 to November 2016 celebrated in Nepal as 1136.

Kathmandu Valley, Nepal.
Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. Image by Sharada Prasad CS / CC BY 2.0

As in neighbouring India, the music for a feature film is as important as events on screen, and the music launch for Shankhadhar Ye Bakhaa took place in Kathmandu on Tuesday. You’ll have to wait till 2018 to see the film in cinemas, with voices, animation and music all provided by Nepali artists.