Jiva Lamsal – From Palace to People to the World: A ‘Rana playwright’ Fighting Against ‘Rana Oligarchy’


Jiva Lamsal

University of Sydney

From Palace to People to the World: A ‘Rana playwright’ Fighting Against ‘Rana Oligarchy’ 

Rana rulers of Nepal who ruled for one hundred and four years (from 1846 A.D. to 1951 A.D.) did not allow people to read and write. They feared that if people are literate, they will revolt against their totalitarian regime.  For their entertainment, they built “Greco-Roman’ styled palaces and magnificent exclusive theatre halls inside their palaces. They emulated Western theatrical traditions copying the royal courts in India. They brought Persian theatrical and musical traditions inside the palaces at a time when people were dying of hunger and diseases let alone going to the theatre. Inside the palaces they enjoyed the ‘imported’ performances sitting according to their ranks, with family members and officials watching actors, musicians, singers, dancers and a variety of other performers. However, the birth of Balakrishna Sama, grandson of Dambar Shambar Rana, an aid-de-camp of Rana Prime minister Bir Shamsher Rana sowed the seed of the end of Rana oligarchy. It is said that Sama, who grew up to be known as the doyen of Nepali theatre, was born during the performance of a play in his home theatre. He ultimately revolted against his family lineage, shunned ‘Rana’ title (Balkrishna Shamsher Jang Bahadur Rana) and preferred to be called Balakrishna Sama (equal), wrote plays and used theatre as a vehicle for social and political change. So, in this paper, I will talk about the Nepali theatre in time of Rana oligarchy by bringing Sama’s plays into discussion and evince how he contributed to bring theatre down to people from palace and finally to the world. In addition to drawing upon the story of Nepal’s theatre in brief, this paper will focus on how Nepali theatre was/is a powerful medium to convey the ‘political messages’ to the ‘illiterate people’. 

Jiva Nath Lamsal is PhD candidate and causal academic at the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Sydney. Before joining the University of Sydney to pursue his PhD study, he worked as a lecturer at the Central Department of English, Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, Nepal, where he completed his MA and M.Phil. degrees in Literary Studies.  He has published his research in Literary Studies, Cross-Currents: A Journal of Language, Literature and Literary Theory, The Journal of Ritual Studies and Indian Theatre Journal. His research articles “Ritual, Resistance and Social Transformation: Politics and Poetics of Gaijatra Festival” is forthcoming (in press-Journal of Ritual Studies published by the University of Pittsburgh Press, USA).   He is a member of the Literary Association of Nepal (LAN), Folklore Society of Nepal, Linguistic Society of Nepal, Nepal English Language Teachers Association (NELTA). His areas of scholarly interest are Anthropological approach to theatre and Performance, Asian Theatre, Intercultural theatre, Postcolonial theatre, Theatre history and Performance Theories, Performance and Rhetoric; Folklore, Globalization and Indigenous cultures, Socio-Political Implications of Rituals and Cultures; South Asian Studies, Law and Literature.