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GODAVARI SCHOOL REVISITED

St. Xavier's Godavari School



"Live for God, Lead for Nepal" was the mantra imparted to us by our Jesuit priests at St. Xavier's Godavari School, my alma mater. Life was simple and straight forward then as illustrated by the sound tagline for an English Medium School opened in 1951 A.D. by a special permission Fr. Marshall Moran, S.J. charmed out of the last Rana Prime Minister of Nepal, Maharajah Mohun Shumsher. Godavari is a pristine locality in the south east corner of the Kathmandu Valley, resting on the lap of the Phulchowki Mountain in the Mahabharat range, at over 9,200 ft. the tallest peak surrounding the valley. The Rana rulers of Nepal had built there for themselves summer palaces to escape the stifling heat of the city during the months of May and June. A road was cleared for horses and carriages and electrical lines stretched.


Starting this school was one of the epochal steps Nepal took to open itself to the outside world: hitherto Nepalese students going to school in India could now get proper education in the English medium in the Kathmandu valley itself. Fr. Moran, S.J. having started a similar Jesuit school in Patna in India, had the wherewithal to convert the Rana buildings and its expansive grounds into a school of high quality. Necessary permissions were granted in 1951 A.D. through the office of General Mrigendra Shumsher, the Director of Public Education, who was very influential as he was the son of Commander-in-Chief Baber Shumsher J. B. Rana. Promptly Fr. Moran chartered a plane and brought from Patna one Land Rover, two tons of supplies and Fr. Frank Murphy and Fr. Ed Saxton in tow. Soon the Rana Regime would end and Nepal would enter a new era of experimentation with democracy.

Faculty in the early sixties
In 1965, when I was first admitted to Godavari School in Class V, there were still buildings extant named after their Rana patrons - there was "Keshar Mahal", a bungalow separated from the main school manor house by a long, dark and cold walk in the wintry night as the building was our dormitory in Class VII. "Nara Mahal" was where some of the fathers lived and where Fr. Bertrand Saubolle experimented with his roses. The main building was the abode of the Rana Prime Minister and this is where we had our dormitory in Class V. I don't recall the original name but it had been re-christened "Xavier Hall". The decorative water fountain in the driveway had been turned into a swimming pool. Fr. Eugene Watrin, S.J. who was our principal then, would take his morning and evening swimming exercises and I remember with three strokes of his powerful arms he would swim across the pond and repeat the same innumerable times to keep fit.

My VIII Standard in 1968

"Keshar Mahal" was our dormitory in Class VII
Godavari is one of the important holy places in Kathmandu Valley with the local deity feted annually and which culminates every twelve years in a great month-long mela. The local spring is said to have a direct link with the River Godavari of South India as a sage swept by the River Godavari was found floating in the spring at Godavari in Kathmandu Valley. True or false history has forgotten. It can be safely said that the rulers of Nepal had their summer abodes there even earlier but the first confirmation from a reliable source comes from Daniel Wright, the surgeon at the British Residency in Kathmandu of the 1870's, who wrote that Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana and his brothers had built numerous country houses there for summer retreat and hunting. Wright also mentions that cardamom was profitably grown there.

Pencil sketch of Jung Bahadur Rana's Godavari Durbar (1872)
The main building which can be described as a manor house that we found back in 1965 was definitely built by Maharajah Chandra Shumsher on earlier foundations. He also built a few lodges scattering around the manor house for his entourage including his sons. "Keshar Mahal" was one of them named after his son. Whosoever became the maharajah took possession of these premises much like the other famous retreat at Gokarna; so it changed hands from one family to another. During the time of Maharajah Juddha, he further enlarged the buildings and built new lodges including one for his eldest grandson General Nara Shumsher, the building known to us as "Nara Mahal".

"Nara Mahal" is today Godavari Ashram, a chapel adjoins the original building.
A quarter of a mile away was "Bahadur Bhawan" named eponymously after the eldest son of Maharajah Juddha but very few people know that my father General Kiran Shumsher was the owner of this building which was handed over to Fr. Moran. The building further underwent several incarnations. Originally a residence of the lay school masters, the building was handed over by the Jesuits for some time to Dr. Edgar Miller and his wife Dr. Elizabeth Miller to run a clinic before the Shanta Bhawan Missionary Hospital was completed. Later during the early seventies the building went to the forest department after the Jesuits built new buildings to house the school masters and today the building is the Head Office of the neighbouring Botanical Gardens.

"Bahadur Bhawan" which belonged to my father General Kiran
is today the Head Office of the Botanical Gardens
These were the original buildings the school used during the first years of its opening. While the main building, Keshar Mahal, Bahadur Bhawan and the "dhobi" laundry shed next to it were offered to the Jesuits, "Nara Mahal" was actually purchased by them in 1952 A.D.

The last Rana ruler Maharajah Mohun Shumsher was wise to bestow Godavari's Rana era buildings and its expansive grounds to the Jesuits to run a school. He was leaving behind a generous legacy as an antidote to the new political order that would predictably start trashing the 104 years of Rana rule.

School bus to Godavari



Comments

  1. Enjoyed reading this post.Old memories of the school came flooding.I downloaded the class picture.Thanks.
    This is one area where the Ranas ,including your dad, must be given due credit for donating those impressive buildings and land to the school.Perhaps this is a better contribution to education by the Ranas than establishing the Durbar school which is in shambles now.

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  2. Great to be back to that era. Really enjoyed reading and rewiding my years in godavari, friends, swimming pool, Fr. Moran 9N1MM radio and many others and learning more the historical part.

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  3. Yes. Really brought back warm memories of those carefree years. But must admit I was quite ignorant about most of the historic details. Thanks Subodh for the enlightening piece.

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  4. Prakash Bhattarai, Class of 1975December 6, 2011 at 10:27 AM

    Great and does bring togetherness.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Enjoyed reading this blog. Brought back fond memories of those carefree,good old school days.Thank you Subodh for those enlightening historical facts of our school buildings.

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  6. Thanks Subodh, reading this sure brings back the nostalgia of our childhood days we spent at Godavari.

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  7. Thanks a lot. I am graduate of batch 2007 from Godavari School. A lot has changed. I knew these were built by Ranas but didn't really know a lot about this magnificent school that I got the opportunity to be part of. I'd definitely like to know more about our glorious histoy.

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  8. Major-General The Rt Hon. Mahabir Shumshere Jang Bahadur Rana of Calcutta.would u have any information on him????please let me know if u do.would be very grateful and highly obliged..

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hello there! Quick question that's entirely off topic.
    Do you know how to make your site mobile
    friendly? My weblog looks weird when viewing from my iphone 4.
    I'm trying to find a theme or plugin that might be able to resolve this issue.
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    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As I use Android operating system in my mobile device, I can read my blogs well.I do not know what to advise you for iPhone 4.

      Delete
  10. It's a great article, but I can't see the images of most of your older articles. Is it because you remove them after a certain time for copyright or piracy related reasons?

    I have read nearly every articles in your blog, within a day, because i can't resist reading it. It's a great blog.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Uttam ji,
      Thank you for your many comments in my blog. I have not been able to publish all of them and reply to you. I am happy to note your interest in Rana history. For some reason I do not know, my uploaded pictures would not show from some 3 weeks back. I will upload them again when I have got the time as it is a time consuming process. My new blogs show pictures.
      Best regards,
      Subodh

      Delete
    2. A good journey to the memory and lane and facts of past! I wish more memoirs by Xavierians......so that rest all can enjoy reading them.....

      Delete

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