FEB 19 -
What is the relevance of reading history? Some of my students in Liberal Arts and Sciences raised their eyebrows the first day when I appeared in the class to kick start the discussion on the dynamics of Nepali history. They made it clear that they had no desire to read history with a monotonous story of kings and nobles since a history of a nation should be the history of entire people. The concern of the students about the form and contents of Nepali history holds greater significance at a time when the subject itself has come to the verge of extinction in the university department.
History as a scientific discipline has been considered as an effective force of human society that inspires the community and a nation. But
the history in the form of dynastic biography or like a birgatha of certain leaders of the society is incapable of inspiring. History should be based on the critical analysis of the events and entwined in changes in economic structure and social relationships.
From the very beginning, there are some problems on the approach and methods on history writing in Nepal. Those who were most directly concerned with Nepal in the late eighteenth century were the European monks and British administrators. The initial historical writing on Nepal, therefore, was concerned with topography, economic resources, military strength and biography of kings and nobles, information that could be used for strategic purposes. Equally, works based on the vamsavalis and hearsays were not history of Nepal in the real sense of the term.
During Rana period, Nepalis were not allowed to study and write the history of the country as the Rana rulers distrusted the desire for knowledge. But it was on this period that some British officials who came to Nepal as Residents and Resident Doctors who brought out some significant books on Nepal and its history. As close friends of the Ranas, most of them entertained an ample opportunity to collect the hidden documents and observe the situation of that period minutely. These groups of writers were not free from the influence of the Rana rulers and they tried to have given the impression that the emergence of Ranas was quite essential because of the weak, whimsical and incapable Shah Kings.
Nepali authors who appeared in the field in the twentieth century largely followed the same legacy of foreign writers in their history writing. The spotlight continued to be the kings and nobles and narration of events evolved around them. Majority of the Nepali historian inked more on glorifying ruling dynasties even when they were autocratic and unconcerned with the welfare of the people. For generations this orientation became the basis of countless textbooks, giving distorted and irrational impressions to both students and academics.
Nepali historiography requires a new direction and framework to make it a history of entire country focused more on people as they are the driving force behind historical trends and events. The need of the time is to rewrite history on the basis of the modern perspectives and scientific methodology. The periodisation of Nepali history should be based on the changes in the political pattern and socio-economic structure, not simply on the changes in the dynasties. Dynastic studies or the chronology may have some importance in tracing the evolution of certain aspects of Nepali life but these must be viewed in the context of changing social and economic relationships.
With the lacking of an objective view and scientific interpretation, there are many flaws in evaluating the role of certain kings and
nobles in Nepal’s history. The secret of individual success or failure depends on the participation and support of the people and the overall circumstances of the period. An attempt to glorify someone and romanticise his works as a miracle does not hold any historical significance. New thoughts, new approach and fresh interpretation have come out on the crucial and controversial issues of Nepali history; these should be properly integrated into new historical works.
Many new ways and new techniques have been introduced in approaching the past of a country. Comparative analysis and multi-disciplinary approach are now considered as scientific framework. There are some other ways of linguistic and ethno-archaeological studies that can enrich our knowledge of social history in a scientific way. Time has now come for the independent and unbiased Nepali historians to write a new history of Nepal that is based on modern perspectives and realistic approach to history writing.
Shrestha is an associate professor of archaeology at Tribhuvan University
Posted on: 2012-02-19 09:04