Dibya Upadesh and the Making of a Nationalist Gospel
The Dibya Upadesh, purported to be Prithvi Narayan Shah’s final instructions to his successors before his death in 1775 CE, is perhaps the most popular, enduring, and contested political treatise in modern Nepali history. Even though the story behind the re/discovery of Dibya Upadesh remains disputed in some circles, it will be fair to say that the text has acquired the status of a nationalist gospel by the beginning of the 21st century. The injunctions from the texts are evoked time and again by politicians, political commentators and public intellectual alike to make sense of contemporary Nepali politics. The authenticity of this foundational text is still contested with some claiming that it is a later day invention used to legitimize the ascendance of Shah Monarchy (Maharjan 2071 v.s, Malla 2014.). The other set of authors have marshaled evidence to prove the authenticity of Dibya Upadesh as well as to assert its significance in modern Nepali history political as well as intellectual history (Pant 2070 v.s.).
Since its first publication in “Goraksha Granthamala” by Yogi Naraharinath, who incidentally is also credited for naming the text Dibya Upadesh, in 2009 v.s. as “Shree Paach Prithvinarayan Shahko Dibya Upadesh,” several editions of the text have been published by different editors. The revised second edition of the text was published in 2009 v.s. by Prithvi Jayanti Samaroha Samiti and was edited by Naraharinath and Baburam Acharya. The other notable edition is its Sanskrit translation and its rendering in metric Nepali by Nayaraj Pant published, in 2040 v.s. Dibya Upadesh was first translated into English by LS Baral in his doctoral dissertation titled “Life and Writings of Prithvinarayan Sah” in 1964. Four years later, Ludwig F Stiller published another translation of Dibya Upadesh in his book “Prithwinarayan Shah In The Light of Dibya Upadesh.” In this paper, I demonstrate how Dibya Upadesh has been published in various forms in different contexts, analyzing the content of the various introductions, translations, and commentaries to trace how interpretations of the document have evolved through time.
Furthermore, I will also show how a biography of a Nepali nationalist gospel helps us understand the making of Nepali nationalism, anxieties and power relations surrounding a particular kind of historical production and silences (Trouillot 1995). In this attempt, among others, I am following examples set by Richard H. Davis biography of Bhagvad Gita (2014) for Princeton Series on Lives of Great Religious Books, and Burton et al edited volume on ten influential books that shaped the British Empire (2014). As the paper will show, such exegetical approaches developed by other scholars are very useful in tracing the development of Nepal’s most important nationalist text and exploring truth claims made by historians and commentators of Dibya Upadesh.