Today I visited the shopkeepers of Pokhara, Nepal. Specifically, I concentrated on speaking with shopkeepers who sold Shaligram stones. For those of you who don’t know my work as well, it is important to understand that in Hindu Vaishnava theology, it is a karmic sin to place a monetary value on or exchange money for a Shaligram stone. Now, the bending of religious rules such as this one for the sake of making a living selling religious objects is not necessarily unheard of among merchants who are both faithful and business savvy, but in my past experiences, Hindu Vaishnavas who venerate these stones have always been particularly serious on this point. Therefore, one of my pressing questions in regards to the commonplace sale of stones in both India and Nepal had to do with who was selling them, who was buying them, and how the stones were making it from the high Himalayas where they are found into the tourist markets of Pokhara, Kathmandu, and beyond.
I won’t supply all the gritty details here (as such details constitute the raw data of my research and I do not have as clear an idea of what everything really means just yet) but suffice to say the stones are rather routinely sold (not by Hindus) and for roughly Rs 350 to upwards of Rs 1000 (about $3.50 to $10.00), are often bought (not by Hindus), and have a very concerning method of getting from point A to point B (involving intentional destruction of whole stones into smaller pieces). It is the last point that has me, currently, the most intrigued, as, for the moment, it would appear that shopkeepers who sell the stones are either unaware of (or claim to be unaware of) what these stones are in terms of religious significance or, are aware of their significance and are intentionally destroying them before placing them up for sale.
Needless to say, my notes runneth o’er.
Also, lastly, I leave for Jomsom/Muktinath with my Nepali guide early tomorrow morning. I don’t know what my internet accessibility situation is going to look like once I get there so….I’ll see you all when I see you, maybe sooner, maybe later.