Singha Durbar – By Sagar S.J.B. Rana

Nepal, a former Hindu country, was declared a secular state in 2007 after a successful people’s movement of 2006 that brought a complete abolition of monarchy.  The Nepalese Royal Massacre, occurred on 1 June 2001, which led to the downfall of a royal clan and the Nepalese Monarchy in all in the years to follow, was my only knowledge of the history of Nepal. The book Singha Durbar – Rise and Fall of the Rana Regime of Nepal by Sagar S.J.B. Rana is my first ever encounter with the detailed history of Nepal.

According to newspapers of June 2001, the Crown Prince Dipendra became the king even after killing his father King Birendra and other family members. Later, King Birendra’s brother Gyanendra Shah became the king after the death of Dipendra who was in coma for 3days of his kinghood from self-inflicted fatal injuries. I was surprised and disturbed knowing such thing still could happen in our modern world. After reading this book I understood clearly how monarchy worked with all its past glories in Nepal and they just followed their tradition.

I must mention some of the Kings and Maharajas or Prime Ministers and their pioneering contributions in making of Nepal.

King Prithvi Narayan Shah, son of Dravya shah, the raja of Gorkha, was finally successful in founding the Kingdom of Nepal in 1768 with the support of The Gorkha army containing not more than 1,200 men at any time. The same Gorkha army joined British army during British rule as the Gorkha Regiments which merged with Indian army after India’s independence. King Gyanendra Shah was the last king of the Shah Dynasty.

Maharaja Jung Bahadur Rana was the founder of Rana dynasty. His influence reduced the Shah Kings to puppets. His legacy was the “Muluki Ain”, a comprehensive and uniform legal code that covered the entire country.

Maharaj Bir Shumsher introduced piped drinking water system in the valley and underground drainage and sewerage lines in the inner cities. A well-equipped modern hospital constructed by Bir is still serving the people of the valley.

Maharaj Chandra Shumsher minimized the isolation and reduced the hardship of the people by building bridges, ropeways, foot crossings etc. Bir and Chandra both sent a number of talented young professionals for training overseas who returned with superior skills and new technical knowledges. In addition to that, Chandra successfully emancipated slaves and arranged for their rehabilitation.

There are plenty more overwhelming facts and incidents of bravery and brutality alike to change my perception of Nepal entirely.  Even though it is such a small country, its history is nothing short of extraordinary. The role it played during British rule and World War I, the way it stopped Russia and China from entering through Tibet border is worth knowing. Nepal’s bittersweet relationship with India is also an eye-opener for me. Especially the fact that the old Indian city Banaras was so much important politically for Nepal was completely unknown to me.

It was one of my regrets that I haven’t been to Nepal yet but now I am glad about that. I am planning to visit Nepal soon and it is so thrilling that I am well-equipped with the detailed knowledge of its history.

The notes section at the end of the book is very useful to know and understand the sources and hard work behind the making this book. History lovers and travellers alike must grab their copies soon.

Sagar S.J.B. Rana, being a descendant of the Rana family and actively involved in politics, has created an unbiased and valuable document for us.

About the author: Sagar S.J.B. Rana was born in February 1938 in Baber Mahal palace, Kathmandu. He holds an MA in Jurisprudence from University of Oxford. A descendant of the Rana family, he and his brothers were also actively involved in the Nepali Congress party, the principal democratic force that opposed the politically active monarchy. Sagar became a full-time activist in the mid-1970s. He was a Member of the Central Working Committee and the Head of Department of International Affairs of the Nepali Congress in the critical years, 2003–2006. Founder chairman of the Federation of Handicraft Association of Nepal, the author is involved with different institutions related to art, culture and heritage conservation. He is currently the Vice President of Nepal Art Council.

Reviewed by: Swati Sengupta

Author(s): Sagar S J B Rana
Publisher: Rupa Publications
Release: May 2017
Genre: Non Fiction/History
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