People's Songs Nepal, Photo Essay

Experiences informing the Maoist Opera “Returning from the Battlefield”: Photos from Khusiram Pakhrin

“Returning from the Battlefield” is an opera written by the Nepali composer of progressive and revolutionary songs, Khusiram Pakhrin. It was written for a meeting of the leadership of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist during their People’s War (1996-2006); this meeting, in 2005, proved decisive in the conclusion of the war. The opera was meant to remind leaders about the sacrifices the rank and file fighters had made for the cause of liberation from oppression. This video, released by the party soon afterwards, became famous more for the shots of leaders Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai in tears, than for the content of the opera itself. I analyzed this opera in an article I wrote called “Tears for the Revolution” (full text here), published in the book Revolution in Nepal, edited by Marie Lecomte-Tilouine (Oxford University Press, 2013).

The above video of “Returning from the Battlefield” has English subtitles, the translation produced collaboratively by Hikmat Khadka, Anne de Sales, and myself (Anna Stirr). Music and lyrics are by Khusiram Pakhrin. The performance is by Samana Pariwar and Pratirodh Pariwar at the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)’s central committee meeting in Chunbang, Rolpa, October 9, 2005. Video by CPN(M) Central Broadcasting Committee. This is the live version of the first performance of this opera, which was written for this meeting. There is also a 2008 music video version available commercially, with choreography by Arjun BC.

This photo from Khusiram Pakhrin’s collection shows artists from Samana and Pratirodh rehearsing to perform “Returning from the Battlefield” at the Chunbang meeting.

Members of Samana and Pratirodh in Rolpa Kholagau, getting ready to perform the opera Returning from the Battlefield in 2005. Artists including Kopila, Elina, Bhim, Bandana.

In the article I wrote, I discuss conversations that Marie Lecomte-Tilouine and I had (separately) with several individuals about the effects of the battle of Khara on the Maoist fighters’ morale, and this battle’s role in the inspiration for this opera. My own further conversations with Khusiram Pakhrin suggest that, among others, the battle of Beni equally influenced his musical and lyrical expressions of the range of emotions felt in its aftermath. Some artists were present at this battle, including Khusiram Pakhrin. He took some pictures before leaving, and on the return trip.

In this photo from Khusiram Pakhrin’s collection, the PLA meets for a briefing in Rukum before the attack on Beni.

PLA meeting in Rukum before attack on Beni.

An account of this battle’s impact on the everyday lives of Beni residents can be found here.

The following photos from Khusiram Pakhrin’s collection were taken as the Maoist People’s Liberation Army returned from the battlefield of Beni.

Khusiram Pakhrin resting while hiding from the Royal Nepal Army in a rhododendron forest, returning from the Beni front.
Maoists hiding in Rukum forest while returning from the Beni front.

Khusiram Pakhrin’s comment on the photo above was that “the forest was full of Maoists – you can’t tell at all but this is just a few of us on the edge. This is how we lived, with our kitchens in the forest, eating in the forest, sleeping in the forest, taking care of the wounded in the forest.”

Maoists in Rukum, coming back from Beni. Khusiram Pakhrin in front.

One of the opera’s themes of camaraderie and the close, loving friendships developed among Maoist fighters and the cadres who supported them. These photos illustrate such ties and some of the environment in which they were established, and give us a window on Khusiram Pakhrin’s own experiences “returning from the battlefield.”

The full collection of Khusiram Pakhrin’s photos can be found here.