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An Introduction to Nepali Literature in 5 Books

Since its political liberation in the 1990s, Nepali literature has flourished with all of the diversity and vibrancy of the nation. Although many native tales remain oral legends, some of the most enduring and canonical texts have recently been translated into English. We now have access to vivid stories straight from the birthplace of Buddha.

 

Arresting God in Kathmandu by Samrat Upadhyay

Upadhyay, born and raised in Kathmandu, is the first Nepali author to write in English and be published in the West. His writing offers an unprecedented insight into the domesticity of Nepali life. This collection of nine short stories, published in 2001, is a triumph for its presentation of love and family in a city where there are more gods than people and more temples than homes. His writing presents the multi-faceted face of family lives where desire and spirituality, earthly and religious forces conflict and define identity. The opening story, The Good Shopkeeper, explores the strains of society on the male identity in an entertaining, heartfelt and thought-provoking tale. The Limping Bride is another equally beautiful piece, challenging social norms with an honesty that pierces prejudice. Arresting God in Kathmandu is a bold entry for Nepalese fiction in Western literary spheres, marking Upadhyay as a star in Asian literature.

Annapurna Poems by Yuyutsu Sharma

Yuyutsu Sharma’s work is anything but expected. Since being featured in the tribute anthology, Dance the Guns to Silence: 100 Poems for Ken Saro-Wiwa, in which his poem Content Metamorphosis addresses issues of commercialization, commodification, and consumerism in modern society, Sharma achieved something of an international status. His collection, Annapurna Poems, contains some of his greatest work. Unafraid to merge the glittering glory of Nepal with the gritty reality of its flecked political history, Sharma’s poetry is complex and engaging. Sharma eloquently transports the reader into the hubbub of Nepali life to manipulate the senses, and often to wrench at the heartstrings.

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Excerpts: Singha Durbar: Rise and Fall of the Rana Regime of Nepal by Sagar S.J.B. Rana

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Chapter Three

The Nepalese and the Holy City

‘Banaras is not only a city, but a culture in itself — those who can sense and be part of it can experience its revealing consciousness,’ said Kamal Gupt, a local scholar. Brahma, the Creator of the Universe in Hindu mythology, is said to have remarked, ‘You balance all the heavenly deities on one side and Kasi on the other, and the gods will be lighter.’ The celebrated poet-seer Vyasa established his hermitage here. Tulsidas wrote his Ramacharitamanas here. Gautama Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath nearby. Kabir, Ravidas, Ramanand, Munshi Premchand, Girija Devi, Sitara Devi, Bismillah Khan, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Laxmi Prasad Devkota and a host of other great philosophers, and men and women of the arts and letters found inspiration in this holy city.

The connection of Nepal with Kasi is as old as history itself. Some of the rarest texts of the Skanda Purana preserved in Nepalese palm-leaf manuscripts, dated AD 810, are available in Kathmandu. It is ordained by the scriptures that the practice of yoga and even merely spending one’s last days in Kasi, will lead to moksha. Even before the history of these cities were recorded with exactitude, and until the mid-twentieth century it was the ardent desire of most Nepalese to visit Kasi at least once in a lifetime or better still, to ‘attain deliverance from the body’ in Kasi.

Kasi has always been the centre for Nepalese pilgrims and priests, but it also sheltered those exiled from the country. ‘Some days after Jung Bahadur took control of governance, he asked King Rajendra to choose a destination for him and the queen to settle down, outside of Nepal. The king replied, ‘there are many places of worship and for meditation in Kasi. The holy River Ganga flows and the God of Gods, Lord Vishwanath is there. Many Nepalese people have lived in Varanasi for generations. That is where I wish to go’. This is how in 1846, King Rajendra and Queen Rajya Laxmi came to live in Varanasi with their large retinue. My great-grandfather, the Raj Purohit and his son, my grandfather were part of that retinue’. Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, fondly remembered as Kishunjee, was born at an outhouse of the palace the royals built. He followed the footsteps of the family helping his father in the performance of religious rites in Banaras and Ramnagar, a town located in north Bihar across the Chitwan district at the palace of Mahendra Bikram Shah, alias Ram Raja. But once his elder brother, Gopal and he joined the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) in the 1940s, they were absorbed by the revolutionary spirit that engulfed India and joined the movement against British rule in India and the Rana oligarchy in Nepal.

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