Restrictions on the freedom of speech and press, along with the unavailability of competitive printing solutions in Nepal under the Rana regime, caused the centre of gravity of scholarly activities to shift to India. A number of Nepali intellectuals, who came from a variety of backgrounds and had various reasons for having migrated to India, were involved in writing and publishing starting by the end of the 19th century. In those days Benares had few if any peers among Indian cities as a centre of local traditions of education and Sanskrit learning, and as a spiritual, economic and literary destination for Nepalis. Benares, which occupies a special place in Nepali history for its immense contribution to the country’s cultural, social, literary and political evolution, was also the main hub of Nepali print entrepreneurs. This article will delve into early such entrepreneurs and an array of Nepali printing activities in Benares before 1950.
This article presents three recitation versions of two tales from the famous Vetālapañcaviṃśati (VP; the “Twenty-Five Tales of an Animated Corpse”, a medieval Sanskrit anthology of riddle-tales) that made their way orally from South Asia to Europe. The original work is one of the rare Sanskrit texts to have been disseminated widely and over a long period of time. It is a work that has thrived in oral, manuscript and printed versions. The stories in question, recorded in Germany as retold by three Nepali prisoners of war during World War I, show how this pre-modern Indian textual tradition was received into modern vernaculars and recounted in modern settings. It documents the fluidity of texts as dependent on the reciter’s, scribe’s or publisher’s own outlook, as well as on differing times and circumstances. In addition to the text’s long history of transmission, colonialism and print capitalism were further factors that influenced the retelling of the VP.