In late nineteenth-century Nepal, the advent of print and mass reproduction marked a critical and as yet understudied junction in Nepal’s literary history and attendant manuscript and print cultures. This article employs Nepal’s popular Svasthānīvratakathā to illuminate key shifts and intersections between language of composition, technologies of writing, places of composition or reproduction, and the agents of transmission that are emblematic of local manuscript practices and paradigmatic of the emergent print culture in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Nepal. The practices and actors involved in Svasthānī transmission shifted the text away from the private, domestic sphere to the public, translocal realm on multiple levels. Attending to these shifts as evidenced in one living devotional tradition indexes significant developments and intersections that deepen our knowledge of the changing linguistic, technological, geocultural, and socioeconomic aspects of the literary landscape in Nepal and South Asia more broadly.
This article examines Nepal’s Svasthānīvratakathā (SVK) text as a lens to explore the shift from the heterogeneity of Newar and Parbatiyā Hindu ideology and identity in premodern Nepal toward a singular, hegemonic form of Hinduism in modern Nepal. The SVK originated in the sixteenth century as a Newar folk legend and is today the most often read and heard Hindu devotional text in Nepal. Beginning in the eighteenth century, the text began to incorporate normative Sanskritic narratives and gradually transformed into an expansive Purāṇa text. These narratives expanded the SVK’s geographical, temporal, and ideological parameters in a manner that articulated, promulgated, and reinforced the emergence of a broader—but simultaneously narrower, Brahmanical—‘Hindu’ identity that became increasingly important in modern Nepal as its rulers cast Nepal as the ‘pure Hindu land.’ The SVK’s Puranicization demonstrates the ways in which the tradition privileged Nepali Hindu-ness over sectarian or ethnic affiliations to create a shared Nepali tradition among Newar and Parbatiyā Hindus and broadcast an emergent Nepali Hindu identity vis-à-vis Indian Hindu identity.