The first time I visited Pyangaun I fell in love with it. In the two years since first arriving in the town – wherever I go, whomever I meet, one word always comes up in conversation: Pyang. I love talking about Pyang. I love showing pictures of it and making people aware of its history, heritage, and of course the urgent need to save the tradition from extinction.  

From my academic thesis to the various projects I have undertaken in the last two years, I have played an advocate to the Pyang, a traditional receptacle made from bamboo in Pyangaun, Lalitpur. Pyangaun lies only fourteen kilometres south of Patan, a desolate traditional Newar settlement today is nestled between housing complexes and rapid urbanisation. I had not heard about Pyangaon before arriving there. A sense of familiarity enveloped my senses as I walked through the paths occupied by generations of Newar history. I was taking pictures when a Pyang caught my eye. It looked sturdy, earthy and pleasing to the sense, perhaps more so than any other utensil one may find in a modern household. This particular pyang was purposed to offer rice during daily puja for its owner.

Further exploring this artisanal tradition, I discovered that out of the 500-member community, and some 120 households, only two elderly artisans were the last remaining bastion preventing a total loss of the skills that were developed over the course of several centuries. From the artisan I engaged, I heard how the Pyang fell out of favour in the domestic market with the arrival of modern and ‘cheaper’ materials like plastic. But the larger shift was in values. Pyang was so common to Nepali households that the trading of rice was intrinsically linked with the receptacle. In fact, a commonly used measurement for rice, mana, concerned a specific size of the pyang.

While the threat to tradition was very urgent, I also felt that with entrepreneurship the community could revive its traditions pervasively and create something for a modern market with value addition coming in the form of environmental protection, livelihood, and cultural preservation. I was also confident that the remaining artisans and the entire community could easily revisit their ethnic practice and capitalise on the geographic indicator for the product, perhaps linking with the existing cultural tourism potential offered by Kathmandu Valley’s many ancient settlements.

People often ask me why the Pyang and no other traditions are also at risk. To them, I answer that I am motivated by the community I encountered and their resilience. That it is this connection that serves as a stepping stone to nurturing a business model that is purpose-led , one which can encompass an entire community and showcase how nature-based practices, culture, and development can go hand in hand to uplift the many people who have the ability but not the infrastructure to earn the best possible living.

For my project Pyang, I am collaborating with designer Alina Manandhar who shares my passion for the artisanal tradition. Together we hope to work with the community to build a new market for Pyang that will undoubtedly lead to many eco-social benefits besides shedding light on the immense potential for crafts to support a greener economy in Nepal.

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