Nepal has been going through many cultural shifts in the social media age. The smartphone tapping youth of today carries a strong awareness of global trends while also appreciating the heritage left behind by their forefathers. After the great earthquake of 2015, which reduced many of the nation’s historical monuments to rubble, heritage conservation became a much-discussed topic of discussion. It brought the focus back to valuing and reviving the gems within our own cultural heritage and leaned the public sentiment towards taking pride in what was local, what was Nepali.
In Palpa, this epiphany happened by pure chance. Ashok Kumar Shahi, the Mayor of Tansen Municipality, had always encouraged revival of the Palpali dhaka sector as it was the very pride of the region. But the few remaining workshops were scattered and competing against each other, preoccupied with fighting their own battles.
The lightbulb moment happened when Baljeet Vohra of UKaid funded Skills for Employment Programme (SEEP) was visiting Tansen with his team. Sitting in the Nanglos restaurant in old-town Tansen, the workshop owners of Palpali dhaka and the SEEP team put together their heads and had a lengthy discussion on the multitude of problems the industry was facing. The competition between the workshop owners fostered some unhealthy practices. Each of them tried lowering the prices of their handwoven dhaka to win a bigger slice of the market pie. But this meant the weavers were paid less, discouraging an already diminishing population of weavers. Eventually, it was agreed that joining hands to tackle their issues would stand to benefit them all, and the idea of forming an association and starting a revival project was born.
The idea gained momentum with the collective enthusiasm and support of the Tansen Municipality and Palpa Chamber of Commerce. These parallel incidents took place in the right time and right place played a vital role in the establishment of Palpali Dhaka Association in 2019. This time, they wanted to do it right, prioritizing fair wages for their workers, passing down of generational skills, and innovation in design. With their values and priorities in place, the Palpali Dhaka Association had taken their first steps in setting an example for a revival project done right.