Nepal’s oldest varsity in Buddha controversy now

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : Even as public anger continued to simmer in Nepal over the gaffe in Bollywood film “Chandni Chowk to China” that the Buddha was born in India, the oldest university in the Himalayan republic joined the controversy with a media report Sunday that it has been teaching from a book that has been making the same mistake for 10 years.

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“A History of Knowledge: Past, Present and Future” by American author Charles Van Doren is one of the prescribed text books at the English department of Nepal’s Tribhuvan University intended for postgraduate students, the Naya Patrika daily said.

“At a time Nepal’s government has banned the Hindi film ‘Chandni Chowk to China’ for saying that the Buddha was born in India, the same message has been found in our own text books,” the daily said.

In a front-page report – “Tribhuvan University is teaching the Buddha was born in India” – the daily also printed a page from the book with the wrong information.

“Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha (Enlightened One), had been born about 563 BC to a princely family of northern India,” said the excerpt from page 21.

The daily quoted a second-year postgraduate student at the university as saying that though he and others had pointed out the mistake to the teaching staff, they were ignored.

It also said that Nepal’s student organisations, whose growing protests on the streets last week made the Maoist government ban the kung fu comedy, professed ignorance about the text book blunder.

Even the head of the English department said he was unaware of the mistake, the daily said.

However, Krishna Chandra Sharma, the department head, added that if the allegation was found correct, the text book would be dropped.

The 83-year-old Van Doren, a doctorate in English from Columbia University, was involved in a scandal in the 1950s when he took part in a TV quiz show and was provided with the correct answers by the organisers to crank up the viewership.

The media report comes a day after IANS reported a similar error in American bestselling author Amy Tan’s “Saving Fish From Drowning”, a quirky novel about the misadventures of a group of American tourists who blunder through China and Myanmar.

IANS had also indicated the strong possibility of the Buddha error prevailing in other works of literature or films.

While the error in “Chandni Chowk to China” was easily spotted due to the close proximity between India and Nepal, other mistakes would be much harder to locate and rectify.

The Buddha was born in Lumbini in southern Nepal and his birth place draws thousands of pilgrims to Nepal every year.

Though the Indian producers of the Bollywood film have issued an apology, saying the error was inadvertent and not intended to hurt anyone’s sentiments, Nepal is not mollified.

Letters continue to pour in at the offices of leading newspapers.

In the letters carried by leading daily Kantipur Sunday, while four people urged the government to sue the director, Nikhil Advani, another, written by Pradip Raj Pandyay from Kanchanpur, darkly warned that such errors could create another Hrithik Roshan incident.

It was a reference to the violence that erupted in Nepal in 2000 after wrongly attributed anti-India sentiments to Bollywood star Hrithik Roshan.