“Revolutionary Songs” of the Anti-Rana Movement

Translation of a report by Sweta Bhattarai from June 1, 2017, on BBC Nepali.

Although Nepali communists today refer to the 1950 overthrow of the Rana regime and establishment of democracy as “change” rather than “revolution,” members of the Nepali Congress refer to this change as revolution. At this juncture, as well as in the 1960s, the Nepali Congress, too, took up arms against the monarchy. This militancy is reflected in their songs.

The audio recording on the BBC article contains an interview with 81-year-old Ranu Devi Adhikari, and she sings the songs translated below, along with some lines of a bhajan at the end. The recorded interview is slightly different from the article that accompanies it; it’s the article’s text that I’ve translated below. 

The first female singer on the radio

The first woman to sing on the radio in Nepal, Ranu Devi Adhikari is still enjoying music at age 81.

Nepali, Nepali, Let’s march forward with the flag of revolution in our hands, with the flag of revolution in our hands, Nepali

Hey Nepali mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers young and old

Let’s all work together to raise up our Nepal

Let’s not move backward from now on even if we face hardships

Nepali, Nepali, Let’s march forward with the flag of revolution in our hands, with the flag of revolution in our hands, Nepali

This song, which included slogans promoting the Nepali Congress, was later banned. 

In 1950, Adhikari sang this song in Biratnagar, on the radio that was established to promote the Nepali Congress. She says she enjoyed singing on the radio for the first time. “I was a child, and that’s what I wanted to do, so that’s why I enjoyed it!” 

Live Broadcasting

She also recalled the form of the radio that existed before Radio Nepal was established. “There was a small room. There really weren’t any resources. The person who was singing or reading the news went in there and did their work alone.” At that time, the songs she sang were broadcast live, and the accompanying instruments also played live with the singers. 

Restrictions

Adhikari, who had been singing since she was young, joined the Koirala family through marriage. When Tarini Prasad Koirala established the radio in Biratnagar, it was he who told her to sing on the radio. It was only much later that she began to receive comments about her songs, she says. “Is anyone going to say anything to someone who is singing revolutionary songs during the period of Rana rule? Because of that fear, no one said anything. Only later did I hear that I sang well.”

Fearless

But she says she didn’t feel like the work she was doing was risky. “The song’s lyrics and music were also by Tarini Prasad Koirala. And he encouraged me so that I sang with pleasure.” But now, journalists ask her how she could sing songs like that at the age of 16. “I didn’t feel anything out of the ordinary; I was a child. I sang those songs on the radio every day and night. For the whole time that I was singing there were no incidents, and then democracy came!”

Recording

After democracy was established in 1950, Radio Nepal was established in Kathmandu. Ranu Devi came to Kathmandu and sang songs from Singha Darbar for some time. Then, she went to Calcutta and recorded six songs, out of which two songs were revolutionary. She still remembers a song that she sang every day on the radio:

Today, in our war of revolution, may this be our call

May our slogan be “If we die fighting, let us die!”

Our banner is people’s rule, come, Nepalis, and join our army

The motherland invites you with the call of freedom, Gorkhalis

Come running from wherever you are, may we have your support

May our slogan be “If we die fighting, let us die!”

Then, these revolutionary songs were banned under the Panchayat system. And music was becoming less prominent in Adhikari’s own life. 

Responsibilities

She went to Benaras with the desire to advance in music, and studied classical music in her Matric. and I.A. But she is sad that she didn’t get to graduate in music because of her responsibilities to her home and family. She also had to give up music because her living situation in Biratnagar left her without opportunities to learn or listen to classical music. “I did want to advance in music,” she says. “But there wasn’t even one tabla player in Biratnagar to help practice classical music.” To advance in any field, she advises youth not to get married. “My family was freethinking, and I had the support of my family in whatever I did. If I hadn’t had that, I probably wouldn’t have got this far. But after having children, I had that responsibility. Once I was bound by that, where could I go?”  Even now, she feels that in order to really advance in this field, it would have been better to have remained unmarried. 

Joy in Music

After that, she remained in Biratnagar, and was active in teaching and politics for many years. But now, in her later years, she again finds joy in music. “I feel restless. But a song will never leave you!” She says. “In old age, there’s actually nothing to do. Music is my support. Even if it’s just a bhajan, I sing. I hum to myself while I’m alone, and it makes me very happy.”