Nepal: defying convention

Musically, there are four main types of national anthem: the hymn, the march, the Middle Eastern fanfare and the South American epic. And what’s this below? Why, it’s a handy playlist with all of them for you!

Then there’s also Nepal’s.

Nepal’s might not be the best anthem written, but it’s easily the most distinctive – one of the few that actually sounds like the place it comes from, rather than like it was written by a vicar after a brisk walk in the English countryside. It’s also the only anthem you can picture being played on a radio station in a South Asian takeaway.

It was actually written by this man, Amber Gurung, after an awful lot of struggle (p51).

Myself with Amber Gurung on the roof of his house in Kathmandu. No, I shouldn't have worn a white shirt. Yes, I do look like his son!

Amber’s the one on the right

Amber was a legend of Nepali music until he really sadly died in June 2016. If you’d like to hear the song that made him, written in the ’50s and about the problems of Nepali’s abroad, banned by the Indian government for apparently being dangerous, it’s here.

The anthem’s words, meanwhile, were written by Byakul Maila, or Pradip Kumar Rai as his mother knows him.


Yes, he looks very cheery, which may strike you as strange if you’ve read the book and know what he went through after his poem was chosen to be the anthem, but re-read pages 43-44. He’s happy then!

Pradip’s lately been making other poems and songs, and so, for any Nepali or Indian music moguls reading, here’s my favourite, which has a great chorus and would go down very well with yoga instructors.

Nepal only gained Pradip and Amber’s anthem in 2007, following a Maoist uprising. The country’s first anthem was technically the music to God Save the Queen, but it was changed after complaints by the British envoy to Nepal. His office was near the military band’s practice ground and the staff had to stop work and stand to attention every time it was played. It happened so frequently they couldn’t do their jobs.

After that, it got this royal anthem, May Glory Crown You Courageous Sovereign, with lyrics about how the “illustrious, profound, awesome, glorious ruler” should “live for years to come” and “his subjects increase.”

Here is a picture of the last Nepalese king for you. Yes, this ‘look’ might explain why he was the victim of a revolution.


Unsurprisingly, the Maoists hated his anthem and that largely explains why we’ve ended up with the fun anthem of Nepal today.

There are some other anthems that sound like the places they come from, of course (p42), although none are as out there as Nepal’s. Take Puerto Rico’s for example, originally a dance tune called Gorgeous Brunette. The anthem still carries a little heat of the original in its trumpets. Both are below.

Some of Africa’s also try to incorporate folk melodies, often (it hates me to admit) thanks to having had European ethnomusicologists involved in writing them. Kenya’s O God of All Creation is one of those and is really beautiful when heard a cappella. Senegal’s is actually called Strum Your Koras, Strike Your Balafons after the instruments it’s meant to be played on, although I haven’t ever heard it done that way despite searching numerous archives. If anyone out there has a version, let me know!

Finally, here’s Mauritania’s, which makes the north African country sound like one of the most dangerous places on earth (given slavery’s still common there, there might be a hint of truth to that). It was written by a French-Russian musicologist, Tolia Nikiprowetzky, who based it on a traditional song. Its rhythm’s apparently so complicated, it’s nigh on impossible to sing. Every vocal version I’ve heard sounds so weird I’m really not confident putting any on here, sorry.

Go to chapter 3

5 thoughts on “Nepal: defying convention

      • Just finished the chapter on the Nepalese national anthem and I partly agree with you that people who still have royal ties seem to cling more towards the old anthem but I also believe that the old anthem was written in such perplexing language with words that are barely used in daily life, not many people (like the guy you met in Pokhara) know what exactly the anthem was about, that it was all about glorifying one person and never about the people of that very nation and yes, like you’ve stated, many still cling to the old song due to it’s bombastic nature. I do agree with you that the current anthem is probably the most beautiful anthem one could ever hear. It just brings a smile on your face. I’ve absolutely loved your work and the amount of research and travelling that you’ve done. I’m certain that the rest of the book will be equally interesting.

      • Hi Sandeep – that’s really kind of you to write and I’m so glad you’re enjoying it. Yes, it’s a complex situation in Nepal. I think somewhere in the book – maybe the acknowledgments – I say it’s a “snapshot in time”, a personal picture, and that was basically meant as my get-out for when people from the actual countries read it, so my apologies if it seemed off! The point you raise about language is a really interesting one. Maybe look at the chapter on Paraguay as there’s a similar situation there. No one understands their anthem at all, but they love it. I think sometimes songs just grasp people despite all reason saying they shouldn’t. Maybe that’s the case in Nepal too or maybe it’s about economics. I found a lot more loyalty to the old anthem and old monarchy as soon as I left Kathmandu, and talked to less well off people (which doesn’t make much sense given the Maoists were a poor people’s movement, but…). Anyway, I really hope you continue enjoying it, and if so, please tell anyone you can to read it too. Thanks so much for giving me a great start to the day!

  1. For personal interest, I look forward to the day when someone would do a full orchestration + Nepali musical instruments for this anthem. It would resonate a sense of grandeur at the same time, able to smell and feel the essence of the culture…

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