Book Review: Non-fiction/ The Bloodstained Throne by Baburam Acharya, Penguin, 266p; Rs299 (Paperback)
Baburam Acharya sheds light on the inglorious power struggles within Nepal’s bloody royal history.
Nepal has an eventful past, but sadly its culture of historiography isn’t that strong. Few historians from the land, which has on occasions, seen both war and peace between the royalty and half-baked democracy, have documented the changing times. Baburam Acharya was an exception among the Nepalese scholars, who had shown great leaning for historical writing, without ever fearing the wrath of ruling kings of his time.
The Bloodstained Throne is the English translation of Baburam Acharya’s seminal work in Nepali—Aba Yasto Kahilyai Nahos. The translation has been done by his grandson, Madhav Acharya, a well-known journalist. Moreover, Baburam’s son Shreekrishna Acharya has done justice with the book, as its editor, preserving the facts, while moulding the book for new era readers.
The book covers a very disturbed timeframe of 1775-1914, when the ruling Shah dynasty confronted both the internal and external oppositions against its rule. A fragile kingship and corrupt feudal structure allowed the despotic Rana regime to come to fore, plunging the throne to a new low.
All 11 chapters of the book dwell with the gloomy time of Nepal’s royal rule, recalling major conspiracies, murders and court politics. The violent eras were preceded by Prithvi Narayan Shah’s effort to unite Nepal into a single entity, even though there was hardly any connect with that principled vision. The time to come was rather driven by the court conspiracies, massacre and assassinations — violence in tune with the disenchantment with royalty.
From Pratap Singh Shah to Dev Shamsher, there was not a trace of hope. Nepal has been living under the ‘factional challenges’— the royal massacre of 2001, the beginning of civil war to ongoing democratic blunders in the country, which have largely stemmed from the same complexes. Prithvi Narayan Shah died early, causing a young nation to fall from the track of consolidation and development.
As an articulate historian, Acharya had rightly chosen not to write a fictional history of the nation. The book gives rich details of Chinese incursion into Nepal’s territory during the rule of Bahadur Shah—and the decisive role played by the Malla kings and Gorkhali Empire. Bhimsen Thapa’s real character is revealed, contrary to his popular nationalistic image.
The death of Pratap Singh Shah and emergence of Rajendra Laxmi as the new power centre had allowed Thapa to pursue his wrongful ambitions. The shadowy nexus left a deep scar on nation’s prospects. From there, started the Rana’s adventurism with the throne—Rana Bahadur was made the Prime Minister and he met his end in court, while pronouncing the punishments targeted at courtiers.
Rule of Jung Bahadur was bloodier. The brutal Kot Massacre was the height of his cruelty. If the Shah had drawn the middle name ‘Vikram’ from India’s Parmar dynasty, the surname ‘Rana’ came as sign of newfound clout for the ‘Kunwars’. The nomenclature had wider symbolic values.
The Rana rule continued in Nepal for almost 100 years and they made the Shah dynasty a puppet during those painful decades. Nepal remained a hub of ignorant and greedy feudals. Between the senseless war between the Shahs and Ranas for power, Nepal remained sandwiched with all bad turnouts.
The book opens up many hidden facets from Nepal’s royal history, but there are no detailed narratives on the people or their suffering. Acharya had sensed the aristocratic pulse of those eras and streamlined his research towards the same. It was a better idea to focus on decisive factors, whose sources were available. The diversification would have made the project superfluous, especially because of the severe limitation of reliable information.
The Bloodstained Throne is a pathbreaking addition to Nepal’s politics and history. It would redefine the perception on the established institutions and symbols, bring in sharp clarity.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in Millennium Post on October06,2013)