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THE NAME GAME


  1. The thing we call a rose would smell just as sweet if we called it by any other name. Romeo would be just as perfect even if he wasn't called Romeo. Romeo, lose your name. Trade in your name—which really has nothing to do with you—and take all of me in exchange. Romeo and Juliet
What's in a name anyway? We hail our Gods by many names during worship. Lord Krishna, the dark one, is Mohan when he is flirting with his Gopinis; Nanda Lal, the prankster boy of Nanda; Gopal, a cowherd grazing his cattle; Govinda, the preserver of bountiful nature; Murlidhar, the magician with the flute; in fact he has been affectionately addressed by 108 names by his devotees through many millennia.

Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar
World rulers and conquerors throughout the ages have changed their birth names often denoting inconsequential, humble beginnings to glorified appellation befitting their elevated status. We learnt in history that mere mortals took mythical names that struck fear in their enemies. The nephew of Julius Caesar Octavian became the first emperor of Rome to be known for ever as Augustus Caesar, the Majestic king. Temujin was to be known to history as the all conquering Genghis Khan whose name struck terror from China to Europe. Rebels have also taken their nom de guerre to conduct war against the State. Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov took his pseudonym Lenin in hiding that was fashioned from the name of the river Lena in Siberia. Another Soviet Communist Joseph Djugashvilli, a Georgian, became Stalin, the Man of Steel.

Who are their counterparts in Nepal? The name "Malla" meant wrestler or the strong one and post Licchavi Nepal saw dynastic rule of the Malla kings that lasted over 500 years until the King of Gorkha conquered the Kathmandu Valley in 1769 A.D. The "Shah" kings of Gorkha themselves lifted this royal title from Mughal India as no Hindu royalty in India is known as a "Shah", a Persian honorific.

Maharana Pratap Singh
The valiant Rajput Rana clan of Chittor gave a tough fight to the conquering Mughals before being finally subjugated by Akbar the Great in 1568 A.D. Maharana Pratap the epitome of Rajput chivalry however evaded capture and continued to live as a free man, always threatening to take back his kingdom, until his death in 1597 A.D. Is the Rana clan of Nepal that claimed ancestry from Chittor actually of Rajput descent or was the title borrowed by them to herald a status upgrade from more humbler origins?

The Kunwars of Nepal trace their lineage to the Karnali basin of western Nepal. The name "kunwar" itself is a title given to a Kshatriya high caste, twice-born prince. The tradition of Sacred Thread Ceremony performed on male members reaching puberty gives them a second life. Were these the progeny of princely states of Rajasthan seeking refuge from Mughal persecution in the Nepalese hills? Eminent anthropologists such as Dor Bahadur Bista seems to think not and link their tribe to the indigenous Magars. However he does not properly explain why Kunwars became high caste Hindus and the Magars did not.

Bal Narsingh Kunwar and his wife
Ganesh Kumari, mother of Jung Bahadur
Ahiram Kunwar left Kaski and went to Gorkha in 1740 A.D. and enrolled in the service of Raja Nar Bhupal Shah, father of King Prithivi Nayan Shah the founder of modern Nepal. His son General Ram Krishna Kunwar was one of King Prithivi Narayan Shah's military commanders during his war of unification of Nepal. He valiantly defeated a British force at Hahiharpur sent to assist the beleaguered Malla kings during the siege of Kathmandu Valley. General Ranjit Kunwar, son of Ram Krishna, fought in the campaigns to bring the provinces of Kaski and Lamjung under the Gorkha kingdom and also led Regent Bahadur Shah's campaign in Tibet. His son Bal Narsingh Kunwar was in the royal household and he comes into prominence in history by striking dead Sher Bahadur Shah the half-brother of ex-King Rana Bahadur Shah who took the ex-king's life in full court following an argument. Bal Narsingh got the title of Kaji (minister) from Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa for his trouble. His son Bir Narsingh Kunwar would one day become famous as Jung Bahadur Rana.

Jung Bahadur Rana and his brothers
The hereditary surname of "Rana" was bestowed upon Jung Bahadur and all his brothers by the King of Nepal in 1848 A.D. From a princely "Kunwar" the family had now become a royal "Rana", a throwback to the Rajput lineage the kunwars claimed. In the caste based pecking order of the time, the Rana family was now equal in marriage to the Thakuris from which the royal Shah family of Nepal hailed.

Our own erstwhile Maoist rebel leader Pushpa Kamal, a benign Lotus Flower, transformed himself into the malignant Prachanda, the awesome one.

"Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun", thundered Chairman Mao Zedong and a formidable nom de guerre consolidates it. That is the name of the game.



Comments

  1. Wonderful and thought provoking as always. It's also wonderful to see you blogging again after a long hiatus. My kids will definitely thank you for this.

    Common Nepalis, who are increasingly becoming spineless against their so-called leadership, should think about taking some cool "nom de guerre"? Perhaps this will help bring back the old glory?

    Looking forward to read more from you.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ranaji, you deserve the states of Kaski and Lamjung. :)

    ReplyDelete

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