Struggle for Survival: The History of Nepalbhasa Literature

When and Where

Friday, June 16, 2023 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm


Bal Gopal Shrestha


Toronto Newar Summer School 2023

A lecture by Bal Gopal Shrestha
170 St. George St., DSR, JHB 317 • → Zoom link (Passcode 479947)

Nepalbhasa, the language of the Newars, is a rich and highly developed language with a vast literature which flourished both in ancient and modern times. The Newars have one of the longest histories of written literature in their mother tongue in Nepal. This tradition of writing in Nepalbhasa began in the early Malla Era (1200-1482 CE). The earliest book thus far found written in Nepalbhasa is the Haramekhalā, a Tantric medical instruction manual dated to 1374 CE. Only during the 200-year long latter Malla Era the royal courts recognised Nepalbhasa as to administrative purposes. However, after the 1769 Gurkha conquest of Nepal, Nepalbhasa was forced to experience repression. Gradually the mother tongue of the new rulers, the Parvatiya or the Gorkhali or the Khas language, had to prevail in Nepal thereby displacing Nepalbhasa. The Newars continued the tradition of writing in their language even during very adverse times. All in all, they have survived the autocratic Shah rule, the ruthless Rana regime, the dictatorial Panchyat System, multi-party democracy, and lately, the republican state. In the course hereof their language has continuously been suppressed. In this presentation we will examine the history of Nepalbhasa, and the struggles it faced during all those adverse days and survived, and the contemporary language movement and practices.

Bal Gopal Shrestha, a researcher affiliated with the University of Oxford, UK, obtained his PhD in anthropology from Leiden University, the Netherlands. He taught Government and Politics of South and Southeast Asia at Leiden University. He has been Lecturer at CNAS, TU, Research Fellow at IIAS, Leiden and at the Centro Incontri Umani, Ascona, Switzerland. He has conducted fieldwork in Belgium, India, the Netherlands, Nepal, and the UK, and published widely on Nepalese religious rituals, Hinduism, Buddhism, ethnic nationalism, the Maoist movement, political developments in Nepal, and on the Nepalese diaspora. He is the author of the monographs The Sacred Town of Sankhu: The Anthropology of Newar Rituals, Religion and Society in Nepal, and The Newars of Sikkim: Reinventing Language, Culture, and Identity in the Diaspora. He is also a compiler of A Dictionary of Classical Newari Compiled from Manuscript Sources. In Nepalbhasa, he has written and translated a dozen of literary and research books that include culture, history, critics, essays, poetry, short stories, and folk stories.


Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation, Centre for South Asian Studies, Asian Institute, Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy