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Photo by Celia Mitchell (2015/16 Semester Photo Contest Entry), Indonesia Semester.

Tradition and Modernity

It is said that culture never dies. It only evolves; molds to whatever patterns life weaves. It is constantly being reshaped, re-spun, and recreated. Culture is as plastic as the people who compose it. It can be a thriving garden of heritage in the morning and smoldering ashes by sundown. We see this process all around us – historical conquests, ideological domination, colonization. Things grow, flower, and die, then nurture the growth of something new.

It is this process that I have been witnessing unfold throughout my stay in Nepal. Cultural transformation. Tradition is rapidly being displaced by modernity, but not uprooted entirely. Young boys walk down the street in skinny jeans and OBEY hats, sporting fresh tikahs specially made for the festival of Tihar. And they’re a little sleepy because they were up all night caroling in the traditional Tihar fashion. Dogs walk past crowded malls with flower mallas dangling from their furry necks.

The “modern” life has its obvious distractions, but nothing can make you forget where you come from. Tradition is an intrinsic part of every person, either directly or indirectly. Whether you live a very traditional life, have a traditional parent, or have a parent who has a tradition parent, the effects are still felt. It makes its way into the subtle fibers of our being. Hence, on the outside, it seems like modernity is waging war against tradition, and on many levels it is, but it’s something more, something utterly unique. An organic process of cultural fusion.

Conversations with my host brother range from the latest Call of Duty to Wiz Khalifa, and yet, when I tell him that some yogis can hold their breath for three hours, he doesn’t even blink. He is a prime example of a new generation. One that is rooted in tradition and blossoms in modernity. It is sad to see a culture with such an archaic beauty melt into memory, but it is that memory that nurtures the development of something new. Modernity is a force to be reckoned with. It is an unwavering global tide that drowns out those who refuse to swim. Life goes on, but the past is not forgotten, only transformed.