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EDUCATING THE MASSES, MAHARAJAH JUNG BAHADUR'S LEGACY

The long white two-storied stucco building perpetually casting its reflection on the Queen's Pond nearby has been standing like a beacon of hope for the multitude since I can remember. People told me that this is where my father had studied. I could only imagine him with a pride of young privileged Ranas trotting on horseback to school every morning and trotting back home every evening. I used to wonder whether the teachers then had the courage to reprimand my father and uncles just as they were already empowered by the new democratic dispensation to reprimand us less fortunate souls by the time we went to school.

Durbar High School in 1900 A.D.
Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana brought home from his England visit of 1850 A.D. European manners and mores soon to be reflected in the newly minted court dresses and etiquette, the opulent palaces and public places. He was also determined to give education to the Nepalese masses hitherto deprived by the Brahminical monopoly on higher level of Sanskrit studies. In the Nepal of the eighteen fifties he first started this mission by formally educating the children of privileged aristocratic families. Thus a school was started by Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana in 1854 A.D. in one wing of his own Thapathali Durbar which came to be known as Durbar School. English masters were brought in from Calcutta to educate the youngsters in English language, geography and mathematics. It is here that Jung's sons and nephews started their formal education. His nephews like the future Maharajahs Bir, Dev and Chandra were educated at Thapathali. Chandra was to be the first Rana in Nepal to pass matriculation.

After Maharajah Jung Bahadur's passing away in 1877 A.D. his younger brother Ranoddip Singh became the prime minister of Nepal. The durbar or court shifted from Thapathali to his residence Narayan Hiti Durbar. The school moved too. He housed the Durbar High School at the northern side of Rani Pokhari, the Newar era Queen's Pond, in a building originally conceived as a military barracks.

Maharajah Bir Shumsher finally custom-built a modern school building in 1892 A.D. in what we have come to identify today as the Durbar High School. His younger brother, the liberal minded Maharajah Dev Shumsher opened the school for the first time to the general public in 1902 A.D. In modern times the school has been renamed Bhanu Bhakta Madhyamik Vidhyalaya in tribute to Poet Laureate Bhanu Bhakta Acharya (b. 1814 A.D) who first translated the Hindu epic Ramayana from the original Sanskrit to the Nepali language making it accessible to ordinary folks. His bust is displayed in an alcove along the front school wall.

The school has recently been privatized and the children will have to bear the cost of the vagaries of capitalism, perhaps a situation not visualized by the founding father who had endowed sufficient funds for its upkeep. A recent "The Times of India" report says that for the first time the school has admitted a 13 year old transgender boy who was kicked out of his village school. Durbar High School keeps pace with the times and I imagine old Jung Bahadur chuckling to himself with satisfaction while reflecting on how he helped transform the rigid Nepalese society he encountered when he first became prime minister of Nepal.


Comments

  1. It seems now that even with all the vilification of the Ranas in the Panchayat and beyond - they were first to do a lot of things for this nation - things that had never been done for several hundred years before Jung Bahadur came on the scene - fisrt school, first industry, first bank, first hydro power project (apaprently India also had only one then). Amazing.

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  2. I really like your blog. It's very elegant. However reading through it, I can't help myself to see how you have covered the atrocities of Ranas and have only shown some showpieces which they built, which otherwise would have happened earlier. I hope you will keep a neutral stance.

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