Name: RanaSubodh

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Bio: Subodh Rana is a long-time veteran of the tourism industry in Nepal, having run his own travel agency since 1990 and currently holding the position of CEO at Malla Travel an international joint venture company. His years of professional and societal engagement with the people and land of his birth, as well as his unique and historical perspective as member of the Rana family, a dynasty that ruled Nepal from 1846 to 1951, has endowed Rana with a love for storytelling. Having grown up listening to the experiences of his father, once Commander-in-Chief of the then Royal Nepal Army and tales of his ancestors including his grandfather, the seventh Rana Prime Minister of Nepal, Rana indeed possesses a treasure trove of historical anecdotes and accounts. Through his various published writings and blog, Rana endeavours to bestow these gifts to future generations.

Posts by RanaSubodh:

    TRACING OUR ANCESTRY

    June 9th, 2020
    Prologue

    Jung Bahadur was rebuffed by the court of King Surendra Bikram Shah over his proposal to establish matrimonial ties with the royal family of Nepal. Jung wanted to give in marriage his daughters to the Wali ‘Ahad (a Persian formulation of the time denoting Crown Prince) Trailokya Bikram Shah and his younger brother Narendra Bikram Shah. Similarly he wanted his two elder boys Jagat and Jeet to marry the royal princesses. The court, smarting over the Kot Massacre and the meteoric rise of Jung Bahadur to power, did not want these ties to yet boost his image and prestige even further. How could a lowly Chhetry cast of the Kunwars without any royal lineage behind them dare suggest this outrage? Jung Bahadur was not bemused by the court shenanigans and worked out a clever ploy to counter the courtiers’ obstruction. He would have court historians trace back his ancestry to the Rajputs!

    Jung Bahadur knew from his forebears the story of how the Kunwars along with other martial clans arrived in the hills of Nepal. Kunwar was a title given to princes from the Kingdom of Mewar comprising the much storied Udaipur, Chittorgarh and other princely states of Rajputana. The rulers enjoyed the title of ‘Rana’ and “Maharana” depending on the size of the state. They had given a tough fight to Islamic conquerors of India. However, during the period of the Delhi Sultanate in early 14th Century, the cruel ruler Alauddin Khilji marauded the Mewar Kingdom with wanton disregard to human suffering. He eventually conquered Chittorgarh in 1303 A.D. His court historian has written that 30,000 Hindus were slaughtered during this campaign. When the men went out to fight bravely and perished, the women committed a form of sati called Jauhar, the tradition of group self-immolation by fire, so they may not be abused by the conquering Islamic hordes. This is the historicity behind the Bollywood movie Padmavati.
    It was during this period that the ruling families of Mewar fled the kingdom and made it to the safety of the remote foothills of the Himalaya, far away from the reach of the Muslim conquerors of Northern India. The family of Kunwar Kumbhakarna Singh, younger brother of King Ratna Singh of the Sisodia clan of Mewar was one of the many that fled the carnage. Kumbhakarna stayed behind to fight but made arrangements for his family to leave Rajputana. With good fortune on their side they took refuge in today’s Kaski district of Nepal. Over a period of time they became known as Kunwars, their princely title and lineage all but forgotten and reduced to a mere surname. They were given high military posts and jagirs by the local Rajas. The descendants of these first refugees Ratan Singh Kunwar and his son Ahiram Singh Kunwar both served the Raja of Kaski.
    West and mid-west Nepal then had various clan fiefdoms of 22 feudatories in the West and 24 feudatories in the Mid-west constantly bickering and fighting among themselves. Some of them were ruled by indigenous tribes and others by the Chettry or “tagadhari” Hindus who wore the sacred thread in their bodies, whose forebears had themselves run away from the Hindu states of India from the early 14th Century onward. The Raja of Kaski asked for the hand of Ahiram’s beautiful daughter in a morganatic marriage but Ahiram repulsed this advance and said that he would agree only to a true Hindu wedding. Ahiram Singh Kunwar did not feel safe in Kaski anymore and left for the Kingdom of Gorkha to present himself to the court of King Prithivi Narayan Shah with his two sons Ram Krishna Kunwar and Jaya Krishna Kunwar. Recognizing their military and administrative prowess King Prithivi Narayan gave them land grant “birta” of the Kunwar Khola where they settled. Ram Krishna Kunwar rose in the military ranks and by the time of the unification of Nepal he was one of the important military generals of the Gorkha Kingdom.
    Ram Krishna Kunwar
    Sardar Ram Krishna Kunwar played a big role in the conquest of Kathmandu Valley. Firstly, King Prithivi Narayan Shah instructed Ram Krishna to set out to conquer Makwanpur to the south so that no relief could come to the Malla kings of Kathmandu Valley from the south. The Nawab of Bengal Mir Kasim sent his forces in the command of Gurgin Khan to rebuff the Gorkhalis but they were soundly beaten. The southern passes secured, secondly the king sent instructions to impose a strict blockade of the valley to essential goods such as salt, grain, and cotton. (Stiller, Rise of House of Gorkha, pages 122-123). During the final assault Ram Krishna Kunwar was stationed at Balaju fortress that he had built and along with commanders from various other garrisons stormed Kathmandu City on the day of Indra Jatra and entered the city from the Simha-Dhoka victorious. (Daniel Wright, History of Nepal page 287).
    Simha Dhoka sketch by Henry Ambrose Oldfied 1858 A.D.
    After 1769 A.D. following the victory over Kathmandu valley, he started expansion eastward crossing the Dudhkosi and establishing new boundary at River Mechi. He died on 21st March 1771 in Puthana where he was setting up an arsenal. There is a story that when King Prithivi Narayan Shah asked to name his reward for his achievements, he only requested for the road between Pashupatinath and Gujeshwori to be paved at his own cost! (Padma Jung, Life of Jung Bahadur)
    Kathmandu Valley now under Gorkha control, King Prithivi Narayan Shah made Nuwakot Durbar his abode. During the time of his grandson King Rana Bahadur Shah’s minority reign, Prithivi’s second son Regent Bahadur Shah continued the expansion of the Gorkha Kingdom both eastward and westward. Ram Krishna Kunwar was stationed in Jumla where he died. His son Ranjit Kunwar was made the Subbah of Jumla district at the age of 21. After successful campaigns in Kumaon and Garhwal he was made a Kazi, one of the four in the Gorkha Kingdom.
    Kazi Ranjit Kunwar
    Gorkha expansion westward was further initiated by Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa in 1805 A.D. during the minority reign of King Girvana Yuddha Bikram Shah under the regency of Queen Mother Tripura Sundari. Under the command of General Amar Singh Thapa decision was taken to cross the Sutlej River and take Kot Kangra in the domain of Sansar Chand, a Rajput of Katoch dynasty. The fort was taken with great difficulty. Both the grandfathers of Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana perished in this campaign: his paternal grandfather Kazi Ranjit Kunwar, at 58 years of age, was shot in the chest while scaling the wall of the fort and his maternal grandfather Kazi Nain Singh Thapa, the younger brother of Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa, was also mortally wounded by a bullet and died a few days later. Aided by the Punjabi Army of Maharajah Ranjit Singh, Sansar Chand regained the vital fort at Kangra and the Gorkhalis had to remove themselves from the territory west of the Sutlej River in 1806 A.D. The west-ward expansion of Nepal had come to a screeching halt!
    Death of Kazi Nain Singh Thapa
    Bal Narsingh Kunwar (1783 – 1842 A.D.) was the son of Ranjit Kunwar. With the advent of King Rana Bahadur Shah’s rule, dramatic events took place in the court. Smitten by a beautiful Maithili Brahmin widow Kantavati he went against religious norms and the court’s advice and married her and made her son Girvana Yuddha the Crown Prince of Nepal superseding his rightful heir Ranodyat Shah, son of his second Queen Subarna Prabha. After the death of Kantavati with smallpox, not convinced that his will would be carried out by the court, he abdicated the throne and crowned Girvana and decided to leave for Benaras as a mendicant in 1799 A.D. A relatively unknown Sardar Bhimsen Thapa and his family members including Bal Narsingh Kunwar accompanied the king in his retirement. Bhimsen was the head of the king’s bodyguard. During this period the war hero of the Tibetan campaigns and son of King Prithivi Narayan Shah’s military chief Kalu Pandey, Kazi Damodar Pandey became the mukhtiyar wielding power with the baby king Girvana Yuddha on the throne.
    Bal Narsingh spent five years with the king in Benaras until his return in 1804 A.D. at the head of a military force to take back the power in Nepal. He was successful in his mission and put to death Damodar Pandey who was leading the state’s opposition to his return. Bhimsen Thapa became the leading nobleman from this period. Ex-king Rana Bahadur made himself the mukhtiyar in 1806 A.D. much to the concern of the court that had not forgotten nor forgiven his erratic behavior earlier. His own half-brother Sher Bahadur Shah came to blows with him during an altercation and struck him dead. At this time the 23 year old soldier Bal Narsingh came into prominence; he acted with bravery and confronted Sher Bahadur and cut him down with his sword. Following this assassination Bhimsen became Mukhtiyar and rewarded Bal Narsingh Kunwar with the tile of Kazi.
    Kazi Bal Narsingh Kunwar
    Bal Narsingh was given important assignments in Nepal from Dhankuta to Dandeldhura and finally to Jumla as Governor, a post his father and grandfather had held before him. Bal Narsingh had married a second time and his eldest son from this marriage was born in 1817 A.D. in Thapathali in his wife’s home and was named Bir Narsingh Kunwar. It was an important time of learning for the boy moving from place to place with his father and getting to know the country well. He was commissioned in the army as a second lieutenant in 1835 A.D. Bir Narsingh Kunwar would one day become known famously in history as Jung Bahadur Rana of Nepal.
    Epilogue
     
    King Surendra Bikram Shah conferred on Jung Bahadur and his brothers and their progeny the tile of “Rana” harking back to their Rajput heritage in 1848 A.D. After the successful conclusion of the war with Tibet in 1856 A.D. and the great victory of the Gokhali forces in Lucknow during the Indian Mutiny of 1857 A.D. King Surendra Bikram Shah bestowed on Jung Bahadur the hereditary title of Maharajah of Kaski and Lamjung. The family of Jung Bahadur was now equal to the Shah kings of Nepal to foster matrimonial ties.   
     
    Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana with his six brothers

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    A TIT-FOR-TAT ASSASSINATION, END OF GAGAN SINGH

    June 6th, 2020

    We have learnt from our history lessons that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire by a Serb nationalist led to the First World War. What was a similar cataclysmic event in Nepal? It was the assassination of Commander-in-Chief Gagan Singh Bhandari, a favourite of Nepalese Queen Rajya Luxmi Devi, that led to the Kot Massacre on the very night of this event. No historian delving in this infamous event has been able to convincingly prove ‘whodunit’.

    Gagan Singh was from the Khawas tribe, a Chettry from the mid-hills of Nepal. The tribe regularly joined the army as soldiers and graduated up the ranks. The Tharu community also have Khawas tribes but Gagan Singh was a Chettry. He was taken on royal palace duty and seems to have subsequently taken responsibility of the treasury upon which his surname changed to Bhandari, the person who is the custodian of the “Bhandar”, treasury. It was during this period that he must have pleased the Junior Queen Rajya Luxmi Devi very much. He must have been the man standing fast behind her during her many struggles against the Senior Queen Samrajya Luxmi Devi and her son the Crown Prince Surendra, by all accounts a wayward child.

    General Gagan Singh Bhandari

    Senior Queen Samrajya looked on with alarm at how the Junior Queen was gaining favours with King Rajendra Bikram Shah and undermining her writ and relegating her sons Surendra and Upendra to positions that were below their standing. Surendra was after all the Crown Prince though he was a wayward prince, and Samrajya was not going to stand idly by and allow the Junior Queen to try and have her own sons Ranendra and Birendra supercede them in the roll call. This was the time she publicly accused Rajya Luxmi of having an illicit affair with Gagan Singh. Gagan Singh was a married man with a grown-up son so whether this was true or just court rumours one could not tell. What is sure is that there was no love lost between the two queens. She was successful in getting the king to banish Rajya Luxmi and her sons from the Royal Palace at Hanuman Dhoka.

    A period of calm followed before the storm. Senior Queen Samrajya Luxmi Devi died of smallpox at Pashupatinath in the year 1841 at a relatively young age of 27. Since then the pendulum would swing and favour the Junior Queen in her quest for power. The King would step down and make her Regent in 1843.This was the time when three power centres, the ineffectual King Rajendra, Junior Queen and Crown Prince Surendra tried to outmanoeuvre one another with the suppport of thier own coterie of Bharadars (nobility) and Army Commanders. I have recounted in my preceding blog the recall of General Mathabar Singh Thapa from Lahore to lead the government and his assassination in 1845 that paved the way for Gagan Singh to become the Commander-in-Chief of Nepalese Army under the Regency of Queen Rajya Luxmi Devi.

    Gagan Singh Bhandari was now the supremo, outranking the Chautaria royal collaterals, Thapas, Basnets and Kunwars. He had risen in the ranks from a lowly position swiftly and the rest were unhappy with the Queen Regent for having Gagan lead her charge. She was furious with the about-turn of Prime Minister Mathabar Singh Thapa in securing her wishes and he was taken care of and now she was confident Gagan would do her bidding. There was no stopping her. King Rajendra the weak man he was, even he was planning to censure the queen. It is said that he had called his sons and told them about the dalliance of the queen with the despised Gagan. Crown Prince Surendra was also seething with anger. In the midst of all the disquiet sudden news came that Gagan Singh had been shot and killed and the furious Queen sounded the Nagara drums alarm that night and summoned all nobility to congregate at the Royal Palace. She wanted vengeance for the death of her favourite courtier. This led to the infamous Kot Massacre that very night culminating in General Jung Bahadur Kunwar’s rise to power!

    The account of the time has it that Gagan Singh was at his evening prayer at his residence when a shot rang out and he dropped dead. The unknown perpetrator of this crime had shot him from the roof of his building overlooking the prayer room. The date was 14 September 1846 A.D. It is anyone’s guess who was the power behind this dastardly act as everyone, to varying degrees, wanted him gone. They arrested a professional assassin by the name of Lal Jha and quickly executed him. Was the King behind it, or the Crown Prince, or the various factions of the nobility and the military? There was no Hercule Poirot present to work out his denouement! This assassination remains a mystery till today.

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    WHODUNIT? THE MYSTERY BEHIND THE ASSASSINATION OF MATHABAR SINGH THAPA

    February 18th, 2020

    Mathabar Singh Thapa was the first person in Nepalese history to be designated prime minister. He was a resplendently dressed dandy, cocky too and walked with a swagger after he was recalled by the court of Nepal following a six year long exile in the Punjab. He was the nephew of the paramount leader Bhimsen Thapa, sister of the Queen Regent of Nepal Lalit Tripura Sundari, both deceased. He was going to exact revenge on the sons of Damodar Pandey for conspiring to annihilate Bhimsen. He probably introduced the Bird of Paradise feathers in the Nepalese crowns in his vanity. He was going to restore the beleaguered Nepalese Army, following the humbling at Sugauly, to former glory! The Governor General in faraway Calcutta was keeping watch and he even complained to King Rajendra Bikram Shah that his prime minister was breaking the spirit of the Treaty of Sugauly by raising the army to Bhimsen Thapa’s levels.

    P. M. Mathabar Singh Thapa

    Following the death of the senior Queen Samrajya Luxmi Devi, the junior Queen Rajya Luxmi had developed an ambition only he, Mathabir, could fulfill she was convinced. A strong man at her side would be the catalyst needed to unseat the rogue crown prince of the country her stepson Surendra and install her own son Ranendra as the next in line to the throne. Surendra was increasingly unpopular due to his atrocious behavior. The court and the military would follow her reasoning with Mathabar at her side. She would be able to neutralize her husband the king if he dared to oppose her plan. She had invited Mathabar from the Punjab to lead her government. Things were working as per her plan.

    She had also taken a lover people whispered. Gagan Singh Bhandari was a lowly army officer once but his rise to power within the royal household via the military was nothing but phenomenal! In time he commanded more troops than the prime minister Fateh Jung Shah but that would come later. Jung Bahadur Kunwar the nephew of Mathabar Singh Thapa, son of his elder sister Ganesh Kumari, was rehabilitated following the arrival of Mathabar to power. Jung was Mathabar’s favorite nephew, it was he who had given Bir Narsingh Kunwar the grander sounding martial name of Jung Bahadur, a name he was destined to carry to glory!

    These were the main players of the time. Sir Henry Lawrence the British Resident nicknamed the King, Mr. Nepaul, the queen, Mrs. Nepaul and the crown prince, Master Nepaul. It was only a matter of time who among them would hold sway! Queen Rajya Luxmi started to get disappointed with the untrustworthy Mathabar as he, instead of supporting the queen on her quest to make her son the successor, was inclined to favor the crown prince. He was playing a safe hand by not upsetting the king and his court. The queen started scheming again. It was imperative that she got rid of Mathabar before he consolidated his hold on Nepalese army and politics just like his uncle Bhimsen Thapa had done. Then surely it would be too late! She wanted to promote Gagan Singh to the post of prime minister.

    What happened next cannot be refuted. On the night of 17 May, 1845 Prime Minster Mathabar Singh was summoned to the royal place under the pretext that the queen had met with an accident. He was warned against visiting by his mother it is said. But cocky that he was and sure of himself he walked into a trap. He met the king and while conversing with him, he was shot from behind and fell dead. Some have reported that the king kicked his dead body, such was his rage possibly fueled by the pillow talk of the queen poisoning his ears. There was no reason whatsoever why the king would want him dead as he was subservient to the king and the crown prince. But King Rajendra was a weak person.

    Who had carried out this dastardly act has been the subject of much debate in Nepal ever since. Historians have come up with different stories pointing fingers at King Rajendra himself, paid assassins, Gagan Singh and of course, Jung Bahadur Kunwar. Queen Rajya Luxmi wanted Mathabar Singh Thapa removed to realize her ambition; that is a fact. Would she rely on a relatively unknown Jung, a favorite nephew of the man himself to carry out this assassination? Wouldn’t he divulge this plot? Jung had everything to gain by having his uncle in the seat of power. He would not have known the turn of events after his assassination and where his, Jung’s, own destiny would reside.

    Young Jung Bahadur

    Laurence Oliphant, the South-African born British writer of A Journey to Nepal with the Camp of Jung Bahadur, a book he wrote after he accompanied the retinue of Jung Bahadur upon his return from England to Nepal, cites Jung showing a portrait of Mathabar to him in his residence in 1851 and telling him that it was his poor uncle and he had to shoot him. The all powerful Jung Bahadur in 1851 had no reason for a mea culpa. Was it remorse or more likely were his words lost in translation? Jung Bahadur had learnt only a few phrases in English and he was not conversant with any degree of fluidity. The wife of the doctor at the British Residence Elizabeth Oldfield describes a wedding of the daughter of Jung Bahadur Rana, as he was known by then, to the Crown Prince Trailokya Bikram Shah in 1857, some six years later, greeting the English party with, “How do you do?” and Elizabeth writes that besides this phrase Jung knew a few more like – “Shake hands”, “Sit down”, “Come here” – but did not speak much English.

    Who stood to gain the most from this assassination? As history unfolds, it was Gagan Singh Bhandari, of course. Soon after, Gagan Singh was in command of six regiments and he was the de facto military chief and more influential than the prime minister Fateh Jung Shah. He had the most to gain and the queen trusted him to do her bidding. If he didn’t pull the trigger himself, he must have assassinated Mathabar with the help of paid assassins. This is one of history’s mysteries.

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    REDISCOVERING BHIMPHEDI

    October 29th, 2019

    Travelers destined for the much storied Kathmandu Valley, a veritable El Dorado lodged in the fertile valley of the Mahabharat range, reached the mid-point oasis of Bhimphedi amidst great relief. Crossing the dense jungles of the Terai with leopards, tigers and other wildlife ready to prey on humans the weary travelers could now rest for a couple of days at Bhimphedi before embarking upon the final heart-thumping climb along rickety old tracks via Chandragiri passes to Thankot and thence down onto the valley floor. From time immemorial Kathmandu was thus protected from marauders from the South. Only in Maharajah Chandra Shumsher’s time during the 1920’s a motorable road was built from Hetauda to Bhimphedi and a ropeway line was drawn for transportation of goods from Kathmandu to Dhursing near Bhimphedi.

    Bhimphedi Bazaar in 1894 A.D.

    Bhimphedi witnessed kings and maharajahs passing through amidst great fanfare. Traders and artisans, scholars and saints rested here before the final push north. King Rana Bahadur Shah abdicated and made his way to Benaras along this trail. One can but surmise what arrangements had been made for him and his entourage in Bhimphedi before reaching the Terai. King Rajendra Bikram Shah with his junior queen Rajya Luxmi Devi had also made their way to Benaras after failing to censure the ambitious Jung Bahadur Rana in the failed attempt at Bhandarkhal to oust him. Hunting parties of kings and maharajahs took the same route to camp in Chitwan. During Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana’s time notable refugees from the failed Indian Mutiny made their way onto the Kathmandu valley after he bravely allowed these outlaws most wanted by the Raj to take asylum in Nepal. One can only conjecture what the reception was like in Bhimphedi and where they camped.

    Porters carrying car to Kathmandu Valley from Bhimphedi to Thankot via Chandragiri Pass

    These were the stories playing in my mind when I decided to visit Bhimphedi to see this historic town long since neglected and abandoned after the Tribhuvan Rajpath (1956) and later the Prithivi Highway (1974) connected Kathmandu Valley to the Terai by modern means of transport making the journey less arduous. By the time I started to travel inside Nepal I did not need to take the Bhimphedi route so I had never been on this trail.

    What awaited me was a big surprise. Although many of the historic buildings have not been preserved and now fulfill wholly unintended functions, what is remaining is still noteworthy. One can only hope more attention can now be given to repairing and conserving these heritage sites to once again make Bhimphedi hark back to its glory days and provide an alternative route to tourists and travelers. Locals say that a building now occupied by an orphanage was actually built for King Surendra Bikram Shah for his travels. Only a part of the palace remains. Across the road from it is the palace built by Maharajah Juddha Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana which incongruously now is part of the regional jail.

    At the orphanage run by Awasuka, part of the palace of King Surendra
    Prithivi-Chandra Hospital at Bhimphedi

    A Prithivi-Chandra Hospital once the second largest in Nepal as per local knowledge still functions as a center for healing. Members of the Patan Newar Community migrated to these parts mostly inhabited by Tamangs for reasons forgotten and many transplanted their arts and crafts, deities and rituals that is visible today. A Bhimsen Temple blesses the passersby. A Newar building complex damaged by the earthquake awaits restorers as Bhimphedi badly needs guesthouses.

    Bhimsen Temple

    Newar housing complex affected by the earthquake of 2015

    A noteworthy collection of elephant howdahs and saddles is housed in a large building from the time of Maharajah Juddha Shumsher the local caretaker says. We counted over 40 howdahs and 20 saddles of various designs and vintage. Elephants took the hunters from here to the jungles. A howdah used by Queen Elizabeth II still displaying the Coat-of-Arms of British Monarchy is found. Another one designed for himself by Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana as per the caretaker is carelessly strewn about. What a great museum these collections would make with a little bit of ingenuity and scholarship!

     

    Haatisar area with a building housing many elephant Howdahs and saddles
    Howdah with British monarchy coat-of-arms
    Single-seater howdah designed by Jung Bahadur Rana for himself

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    MARSHAL AND MAHARAJAH, SHORT HISTORY OF NEPALESE TOURISM

    July 27th, 2019

    Perhaps the first Finnish tourist in the Himalayan Kingdom was Marshal Mannerheim. Nepal was better known then as a kingdom in the clouds, almost inaccessible, and a paradise for big game hunters from Europe, guests of the British Empire visiting their Indian dominion. The Royal Bengal Tigers, the Great Indian One-horned Rhinoceros and the Wild Indian Bisons roamed free in the dense jungles of Southern Nepal. Emperors and kings, dukes and princes all have made their way to the Nepal Terai to shoot the tiger.

    Just who was this famous personality? Carl Gustav Mannerheim was the hero of of the Finnish Civil War fighting for the Whites against the Red Bolsheviks. He was the Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish Defense Forces during World War II, Marshal of Finland and later became the sixth President of Finland towards the end of the war (1944-46).

    Marshal Mannerheim in 1940
    Marshal Mannerheim at his tiger shoot

    This lure of Nepal for adventure and romanticism brought Marshal Mannerheim for his first Nepal visit at the invitation of the British Resident in Nepal. But bigger things were still to come. After bagging his first Nepalese tiger Marshal Mannerheim made his way back to Southern India and visited Madras and Hyderabad. When he returned in February 1937 he was to visit Nepal as the personal guest of His Highness Maharaja Juddha Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana, Prime Minister of Nepal.

    The ruling Rana family had wrested state powers from weak dynastic rule of the Shah kings in the famous coup d’état of 1847. Jung Bahadur Rana was the first Prime Minister to visit England at the invitation of Queen Victoria’s court thus making a name for himself as a wily old fox who had outsmarted many bigger and more powerful Indian Maharajahs into getting this invitation. But he also firmly placed Nepal on the map as the supplier of British armies with Gurkha soldiers from the Nepalese hills and the host of many a diplomatic tiger shoot. Never again were the British to attack Nepal after the ill-fated war of 1814.

    Mannerheim’s note to Maharajah Juddha

    Against this backdrop Marshal Mannerheim was feted at the camp in south Nepal by Maharajah Juddha, the hunting only part of the great game of statesmanship by which the Ranas preserved Nepalese sovereignty. Maharajah Juddha himself was a formidable hunter with over 200 tigers to his name. Marshal Mannerheim writes in his memoirs, “The day after my arrival, accompanied by Colonel Bailey (British Resident), I paid a visit to the Maharajah in his camp, to which a specially constructed road led. During the drive I saw an unforgettable sight – one hundred and eighty elephants advancing with their soft, silent gait on their way to surround more tigers. The Maharajah was accompanied by a thousand retainers and two hundred elephants, and his camp was like a city of tents and surrounded by a strong palisade.” Marshal Mannerheim accomplished his goal of shooting his male tiger, 10 feet and seven inches in length, the biggest that was shot that year in Nepal. He also visited Kathmandu Valley at the invitation of the Maharajah.

    Maharajah Juddha and Marshal Mannerheim

    In the Mannerheim Museum in Helsinki housed in a white villa that used to be the residence of the marshal until his death in 1951 A.D. is displayed the tiger skin with a mounted head he bagged in Nepal along with a photograph of him with Maharajah Juddha. History will always remember him as the first visitor to Nepal from Finland!

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    FIRST IMAGES FROM SHANGRI-LA

    May 8th, 2019

    Colonel George Ramsay faced a dilemma. He had been reminded a second time by Calcutta that the Viceroy Lord Canning had instructed a compilation of photographs of native peoples and distinctive landscapes and monuments to be documented across the vast Indian empire for his private collection. He wanted them from Nepal too. Photography was a new medium and it had not come to Nepal yet. Colonel Ramsay could not commission local artists to work with this new medium as there were none. Another restriction he faced was that even if a professional photographer was to come from India, he would not be allowed to visit outside Kathmandu Valley. As the British Resident in Kathmandu, Colonel Ramsay himself could not visit outside as per the restraining terms of the Treaty of Sugauly.

    He decided to write to Calcutta certain to face the ire of the government for not succeeding to fulfill as trivial a wish of Lord and Lady Canning as having photographs from Nepal for their collection. What kind of resident was he whiling his time away in splendid isolation as he had very little to perform there; Nepal was not a colony? Uncomfortable questions would be asked. Another impediment was that the prime minister of Nepal had consolidated power and he was the de facto ruler and Ramsay did not know how Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana would react to his request of granting permission to photograph his peoples and places.

    Help came to him soon enough in the shape of the replacement of his Assistant Captain Hills who had recently resigned. The new assistant was a man who had learnt the new art of photography and had some experience already photographing Udaipur in distant Rajputana. Captain Clarence Comyn Taylor arrived in Kathmandu on 19 March, 1863 A.D. with photographic equipment and a growing passion for photography. Maharajah Jung Bahadur was an iconoclast of his times, he had crossed the black waters and ventured to Britain and France. He had formulated his Muluki Ain, the new law of the land, and he would fight to ban the twin evil practice of Sati and slavery. He embraced progress. Jung surprised Ramsay by taking the project of Lord Canning to heart and giving his full cooperation for Taylor to photograph Nepal. The Resident was happy and now he had to find a budget to commission Taylor. He would write to Calcutta again.

    Captain Taylor was an accidental photographer. He had never  trained to be one. Son of General Sir Henry George Andrew Taylor of the Madras Army, he had been commissioned to serve in the Bengal Army. During the Indian Mutiny he was at the siege of Lucknow and he had seen active duty and had been severely wounded. Unable to continue with military service he had joined the Political Service and was subsequently posted in Udaipur. He took up photography as a hobby there. Now he was in exotic Nepal and he was as excited as a child to begin his new tour of duty. The photographs that he took during his years in Nepal from 1863 to 1865 were the first photos to come out of Nepal. He took photographs of ethnic groups such as the Magars and Gurungs, Sunuwars, Newars, Tibetans. He took landscape pictures of the royal cities of Kathmandu Valley, temple scape of Pashupatinath, Swoyambhunath, Taleju and innumerable other monuments. All these pictures would one day be published in London as part of a tome entitled, “The People of India: The Races and Tribes of Hindustan”.

    Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana seems to have been caught up in the new art of photography. Taylor took pictures of King Surendra Bikram Shah, most likely the first time ever the king was photographed. Jung Bahadur might have been photographed in Europe during his visit but we do not have any that we can see today. We have got only portrait paintings and engravings from his visit. He allowed himself and his family to be photographed with alacrity by Taylor and these were to be the first photos taken in Nepal of the royal court. The world outside saw Nepal for the very first time; it was largely thanks to Viceroy Lord Canning’s wish to take home images of India as memorabilia for retirement and Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana’s acquiescence. Colonel Ramsay had earned his stripes as an able Resident.

    Photographs taken by Clarence Comyn Taylor

    King Surendra Bikram Shah with palace officials

    King Surendra Bikram Shah with Colonel George Ramsay, the British Resident, Raj Guru (Royal Preceptor), General Jagat Shumsher, brother of Jung Bahadur, and other high ranking officials
    Maharajah Jung Bahadur with Jagat Jung and Jeet Jung his sons
    Maharajah Jung Bahadur with his two daughters married to Crown Prince Trailokya
    Jung Bahadur with Maharani Hiranya Garva Kumari

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    DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

    April 19th, 2019

    The Declaration of Independence world is familiar with is that of a nascent United States of America freeing itself from the colonial masters and taking the destiny of its new nation in its own firm hands. We in Nepal always take it for granted that we were never colonized by the British which left us poorer perhaps due to isolation but prouder as a sovereign nation. It was not always so and had the twists and turns of late 19th Century diplomacy not gone our way; we might have been a part of Independent India today. So, when and how did we actually declare ourselves independent from the Raj, the British rule in the Indian Subcontinent?

    Map showing Nepal before the Treaty of Sugauly

    The prelude to this important moment in our nation’s history started with the Rana prime minister Jung Bahadur Rana cleverly positioning himself as a friend and ally of the British. History had already taught him how his foolish grand-uncle Bhimsen Thapa the prime minister of an ever expanding Gurkhali nation had locked horns with the East India Company. The Anglo-Nepal War of 1814-16 had ended in a humiliating defeat where not only egos were bruised but large chunks of Nepalese territory had to be ceded to the Raj under the Treaty of Sugauly. Jung Bhadaur Rana was not going to repeat this sad state of affairs. He would befriend the British and prove his loyalty.

    The grand prize he received from the British was the trail-blazing invitation to visit England as ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Nepal in 1850 A.D., decades before any of the rulers of the Indian States were to be thus invited. Jung capitalized on this opportunity and further enhanced his relationship with both the British royalty as well as the directors of the East India Company. In 1857 A.D. he cleverly allied himself with the hard-pressed British forces against the rebellion in India and went personally to defeat the armies of the rebellious nation of Oudh (Awadh) in Lucknow. The British rewarded him with the return of some of the lost territories. He was also awarded the tile of Maharajah of Kaski and Lamjung by the Nepalese king. His rule was now secure.

    Jung Bahadur Rana with Colin Campbell, Commander-in- Chief of British forces, in Lucknow during Mutiny

    Big Game Hunting was an important domain in the wooing of British Royalty and Viceroys of India. Plentiful games in the Nepal Terai meant that the rulers enamoured with the sport of hunting made a bee-line to visit Nepal. Unrolling the proverbial red carpet, the Rana rulers regaled the hunters in the Terai, but strictly made sure they would not visit Kathmandu Valley. They never handed over to the British the keys to the kingdom. After the death of Jung Bahadur Rana his successors took to heart the lessons taught by Jung and continued the tradition of organizing for the British royals lavish hunting expeditions in the Nepal Terai.

    King George V in hunting expedition in Nepal Terai with Maharajah Chandra

    Maharajah Sir Chandra Shumsher J. B. Rana was the shrewdest of the Rana prime ministers and it is to his credit that we have got an independent Nepal today. Viceroy Lord Curzon had expressed his desire to hunt tigers in Nepal Terai during the tenure of Maharajah Bir Shumsher but due to his failing health the actual hunt was organized by Maharajah Dev Shumsher soon after the death of Bir and delegated his second in command Major General Chandra Shumsher to actually host the viceroy. The bond established between Curzon and Chandra led to Chandra’s getting an invitation to attend the Coronation Durbar held in Delhi organized by the viceroy to mark the accession of King Edward VII to the British throne in 1903 A.D. Chandra had positioned himself brilliantly once again as a friend of the British just like his uncle Jung Bahadur had done. He received a personal 19-gun salute there as the prime minister of Nepal.

    Delhi Durbar of 1903 A.D. Maharajah Chandra (second from right) with rulers of Princely States

    In 1908 A.D. Maharajah Chandra Shumsher became the second prime minister of Nepal to be invited to visit Britain after Jung Bahadur Rana. Although his visit has not been as storied as that of his illustrious uncle, the diplomatic exchanges made Nepal ever more an indispensable ally of the British in Asia. King Edward VII gave him a private audience and awarded him the Order of the Knight Grand Cross of the Bath. Chandra would henceforth be addressed as “Sir”. He had meetings with Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith. He was awarded an honorary degree by Oxford University at its Ancaenia, a ceremonial high-point of its academic year, an approbation that even alluded King Mahendra later during his state visit, much to his chagrin.

    Maharajah Chandra at Mortimer House, London, flanked by Juddha his brother (R) and Rudra his nephew (L)

    Chandra had another opportunity to attend the Delhi Durbar organized by Viceroy Charles Hardinge to commemorate the accession of King George V. This time the new king and his queen Mary would be attending the celebrations at Delhi in December of 1911. Following the celebrations Chandra hosted a hunting expedition for King George V in the Nepal Terai.

    Chandra with King George V

    The year was 1923 A.D. Chandra was basking in his laurels now. The British were going to sign a Treaty of Friendship with Nepal. The draft treaty came from Calcutta. Chandra was the first Rana ruler to matriculate and he did read and speak English. However, in matters of such gravity he needed a few courtiers to consult. Ram Mani Acharya Dixit, son of Shiromani Dixit, was the mandarin wielding power and commanding respect due to his proximity to Chandra. His father Shiromani had served the Shumsher clan with distinction as he was the tutor to the children of Commander-in-Chief Dhir Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana, father of Chandra. During the premiership of Maharajah Bir Shumsher, Shiromani had performed many religious rites including the momentous yagya called Agnistone Hom at Kashi, today’s Varanasi.

    Bust of Maharajah Chandra by Tonelli

    Chandra was now frowning at the draft document, stroking his salt and pepper beard that cascaded down to his chest, his piercing eyes burning into the parchment in concentration since he knew he could not afford to make any mistake on this treaty. His adviser Ram Mani had urged him to not concede on certain demands, to delete certain paragraphs and send the draft back to Calcutta. He smiled. Chandra remembered how his uncle Jung Bahadur liked to toy with the British and have his way at the end. Chandra was only 13 years old when Jung passed away but he did remember the resoluteness of the wily old ruler. Chandra nodded at Ram Mani in agreement and ordered him to send back the draft with the necessary changes made. The British concurred. Nepal had acquired its independence. Ages later people would remember that Treaty as the reason why Nepal was not absorbed into Independent India by the likes of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the bane of the Indian princely states!

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    THE CROWNING GLORY

    November 2nd, 2018
    Sindoor Jatra of Maharajah Dev Shumsher in 1901 A.D.

    Queen Elizabeth I is credited with the lines,”to be a king and wear a crown is a thing more glorious to them that see it than it is pleasant to them that bear it.” Indeed power and pelf as symbolized by a crown have taken a terrible toll on those who were seemingly blessed with these attributes. The crowning glory is of course the coronation, the state’s official celebration of enthronement by means of both secular and religious rites. The last spectacular world event was the Coronation of Shah Reza Pavlavi of Iran who officially celebrated the event in 1967 after 26 years of taking the throne as he had vowed not to have a coronation until Iran was lifted out of poverty and modernized. Sixty royal and non-royal heads of state congregated in the specially created tent city at the ancient capital of Persepolis of Cyrus the Great near modern day Shiraz. The pomp and splendour of the event while breathtaking to behold was also heavily criticized as wasteful aggrandizement by the Shah’s regime that perhaps sowed the first seeds of the revolution that was not long in coming.

    In Nepal too we had Coronation celebrations of King Mahendra in 1956 A.D. and of King Birendra in 1975 A.D. Representatives of 15 nations Nepal had established diplomatic relations with attended the coronation ceremony of King Mahendra. The international media came to Shangri-La in a frenzy to cover the virtually unknown country. By the time of King Birendra’s Coronation Nepal was a truly established nation introduced to the world as a haven for the Hippy culture and backpackers exploring the high Himalaya. Nepal had established diplomatic relations with 60 nations and many of their representatives came to attend the ceremony including Britain’s Prince Charles and Earl Mountbatten and the notorious First Lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos.

    What is less known today is the Coronation ceremonies for the Rana prime ministers of Nepal who inherited together with the high post the title of Maharajah of Kaski and Lamjung. Thus they orchestrated grand “Sindoor Jatra” or Vermilion Festival and went around Kathmandu city in triumphal procession on elaborately caparisoned tusker elephants and accepted tribute from cheering crowds. Denizens of Kathmandu like a “ramita” or a show and irrespective of political leanings everybody has fun whether cheering a Shah king or a Rana maharajah, an elected politician or a recalcitrant Maoist. Why not indeed as a Jatra is a Jatra and merrymaking is in our genes!

    First Rana prime minister Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana and his 6 brothers

    The following collection of photographs show the Rana Maharajahs participating in elaborate coronation ceremonies. I wanted to collect these old photographs and save it in one place for the history buffs. As Shakespeare wrote in King Henry IV, “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”. The Rana regime is history.

    The first Maharajah of the Shumsher clan Bir Shumsher during investiture ceremony
    Maharajah Juddha Shumsher sitting on his coronation throne
    Statue of Maharajah Chandra
    Maharajah Dev Shumsher in coronation robe with King Prithivi Bir Bikram Shah in white military uniform

    Maharajah Padma Shumsher with King Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah and his sons
    Last Rana prime minister Maharajah Mohan Shumsher

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    COURT INTRIGUES OF THE THREE SISTERS

    October 5th, 2018

    Recently Bagh Durbar located near the erstwhile Bhimsen Tower Dharahara at the heart of Kathmandu city was in the news as the Municipality had more or less decided to demolish a historical building adversely affected by the earthquake of 2015 instead of renovating and retrofitting it. Many have raised their voices against such a historical place being leveled to give rise to yet another shopping mall without the valley’s soul. It would be another example of a potpourri of architectural styles prevalent in the unimpressive designs adorning Kathmandu’s march to modernity. Mrs. Chanda Rana is one of the advocates of preservation of this historic building and kudos to her.

    Historic Bagh Durbar built by Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa

    What is the genesis of this historic building? What cries and whispers pervaded its corridors when the powerful were residing there? What were the historical epoch its bricks and mortars witnessed that would shape the destiny of the movers and shakers of the nation? Will all this be lost forever in the drive to demolish it and for the politicians and contractors to reap a rich reward in commissions and bribes?

    Bhimsen Thapa Chapter: Bhimsen Thapa, Prime Minister of Nepal, 1806-1837 A.D.

    Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa

    Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa is credited to have built the Bagh Durbar along the Mughal-style architecture prevalent in palaces of India before the British inevitably brought their own neo-classical designs of Europe. He inherited the grounds from his father Amar Singh Thapa and moved in there in 1805 A.D. from Thapathali Durbar, the ancestral abode of the Thapa clan. Bagh Durbar or the Garden Palace was the abode of the prime minister for a very long time as he ruled Nepal for 32 eventful years. The urban legend of the building being named after real tigers being kept at its gate – as ‘bagh’ in Nepali language is tiger – made it a forbidden location for the general populace to venture without sufficient good reason. We can clearly see Bhimsen strategizing his war against British India from this edifice. We can visualize him holding countless parleys with his many generals of an expanding Gorkha Empire. He also spent many sleepless nights there when the proud Gorkhali army had to accede to British military pressure and sign the Treaty of Sugauly that stymied Gorkha expansion once and for all. And then finally he was plucked from his palace and jailed when time and tide of Durbari politics went against him after the death of Regent Queen Tripura Sundari and the coming of age of young King Rajendra Bikram Shah.

    General Mathabar Singh Thapa Chapter: Prime Minister of Nepal, 1843 – 1845 A.D., nephew of Bhimsen Thapa

    Prime Minister Mathabar Singh Thapa

    With the fall of General Bhimsen Thapa the building went to the government until Junior Queen Rajya Luxmi Devi brought back Bhimsen’s nephew General Mathabar Singh Thapa from exile in the Punjab to lead her government. Mathabar claimed Bagh Durbar now through his Thapa lineage and resided there during his short tenure as prime minister of Nepal. After the assassination of Mathabar and the Kot Massacre the building once more went to the government.

    Mahila Shebjiu (Duke) Upendra Bikram Shah Chapter: younger brother of King Surendra Bikram Shah, renowned Tantric master, father of Prince Dhirendra

    However in 1854 A.D. Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana renovated it and made it the official residence of Prince Upendra Bikram Shah, the younger brother of King Surendra Bikram Shah, after the former was implicated in a plot to unseat both Surendra and Jung Bahadur. No doubt Jung thought it prudent for Upendra to live away from the Hanuman Dhoka Royal Palace under virtual house-arrest so that he did not create more mischief.

    Mahila Sahebjiu Upendra Bikram Shah

    After Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana’s passing Nepalese politics soon went into overdrive with the contending power centers of Jung’s sons and his younger brothers vying one against the other in consolidating state power. This is where once again Bagh Durbar comes into prominence in deciding who would win the game of thrones. This is when the three sisters, daughters of Jung Bahadur Rana, play their petticoat politics in ironically bringing down the house of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana itself. Nepalese historians have given them the names “Utpat”, “Bitpat” and “Mahapat” denoting ascending grades of disaster for their role in political conspiracies of the time.

    Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana willed the title of Maharajah of Kaski and Lumjung to his eldest son General Jagat Jung following the law of primogeniture while the prime-ministership of Nepal would go to his younger brothers in succession of seniority. General Ranauddip Singh became prime minister after Jung’s death but he was also given the title of Maharajah by King Surendra Bikram Shah in contravention to Jung’s will. A furious Jagat Jung was biding his time to get even. Jagat Jung was married to a royal princess, eldest daughter of King Surendra. He was both rich and powerful. But Jung Bahadur had remarried after Jagat Jung’s mother passed away and his Maharani Hiranya Garva Kumari had given birth to four daughters. When they came of age they were given in marriage to the royal princes. Jung’s eldest daughter Tara Rajeshowri was the sister of Jagat and Jung’s eldest daughter from Maharani Hiranya Garva was Lalita Rajeshowri Devi. They were both married to Crown Prince Trailokya Bikram Shah, the Wali A’had an Arabic title or heir apparent. It was Lalita who produced the heir to Nepal’s throne, Prithivi Bir Bikram Shah. After the untimely death of Trailokya, the infant Prithivi became the Crown Prince of Nepal.

    Regent Queen Lalita Rajeshwori Devi, mother of King Prithivi Bir Bikram Shah

    The Three Sisters Chapter: Daughters of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana, eldest married to Crown Prince Trailokya, and the other two married to Prince Dhirendra

    Maharajah Jung Bahadur’s other daughters namely “Chirbiray Maiya” Khadga Rajeshowri Devi, daughter from the Basnet wife Antari Maharani and “Kanchi Maiya” Deep Rajeshowri, youngest daughter from Maharani Hiranya Garva were given in marriage to Prince Dhirendra Bikram Shah, the son of Mahila Sahebjiu Upendra and started living in Bagh Durbar. Bir, eldest son of Jung’s youngest brother Dhir Shumsher, was adopted by Jung and his Putali Maharani and hence Jung married him to the daughter of Sahebjiu Upendra, Princess Munindra Dibeshwori, sister of Dhirendra. Bir too started residing at Bagh because he simply had nowhere to go. This is where the plot thickens. Daughters of Maharani Hiranya Garva Kumari were dead against state power going into the hands of their half-brother Jagat. They would rather have the sons of Dhir Shumsher take power in a coup d’etat and banish their half-brothers.

    Prince Dhirendra Bikram Shah

    King Surendra Bikram Shah died on 17th May 1881 A.D. and the crown went to his grandson the infant Prithivi Bir Bikram and his mother Lalita Rajeshowri was declared the Queen Regent of Nepal. Lalita “Utpat”, Khadga “Bitpat” and Deep “Mahapat” would soon swing into action.

    On that fateful November night of 1885 A.D. Prime Minister Ranauddip Singh was assassinated at his Narayanhiti Palace and at the first light of the new day General Bir Shumsher had been sworn in as Maharajah of Kaski and Lamjung and Prime Minister of Nepal by the baby King Prithivi Bir Bikram carried on the arms of his mother Regent Queen Lalita Rajeshwori Devi amidst an investiture ceremony held at Tundikhel Parade Ground.

    At wedding of Princess Deep Rajeshwori youngest daughter of Maharajah Jung Bahadur to Prince Dhirendra Bikram

    Epilogue

    Would it not be a wonderful idea to have Bagh Durbar in its olden majesty made into a museum dedicated to the lives and times of General Bhimsen Thapa and Mahila Sehebjiu the tantric Upendra Bikram Shah? Last summer I visited Hampton Court Palace near London, the residence of King Henry VIII. Why don’t we turn Bagh Durbar into our own Hampton Court?

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    THE RANI FROM RUKUM

    July 14th, 2018

    Rukum is a scenic hill district of western Nepal where one of the Chaubisi Rajyas or 24 small fiefdoms held sway before unification. Ruled by the Thakuris or the heads of the local clans it was finally absorbed into unified Nepal sometime during the rule of Regent Bahadur Shah. Since then it has been a common practice in the Shah and Rana courts bringing the Thakuri girls from faraway places such as Rukum for an upbringing in the royal households, educating them in palace etiquette, teaching them the culinary arts and instilling in them the love of music and poetry for the purpose of eventually marrying them to the young princes of the house. The girls left their homes and their parents early and made a new life among their peers and minders in the Durbars of Kathmandu. This was the tradition of Dola Palne.

    Thapathai Durbar of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana circa 1852 A.D.

    This young girl of six or seven from Rukum who was brought to Kathmandu was taken to the Thapathali Durbar of Jung Bahadur Rana, prime minister and paramount ruler of Nepal then. It was a great privilege for the parents of the little girl to have their offspring selected as one of the Dola to be given in matrimony to her future prince charming. Her future would be bright now as her life in poor hilly Rukum would have meant lack of opportunity and eventual drudgery, even in the higher strata of local society. Her good karma or fate had been sealed and she was named Karma Kumari. 


    Jung Bahadur Kunwar Ranaji and his seven brothers were ruling the roost then. He as prime minister and his younger brothers headed in various capacities both the military and civil administration of the land. His youngest brother Dhir Shumsher Rana was Jung’s favorite and he used to call him sano nani with affection. Jung had taken state power in a coup de’tat under the blessing of the Junior Queen of Nepal, Rajya Luxmi Devi in 1846 A.D. in the now infamous Kot Parba. Jung and his brothers amassed a fortune subsequently in land revenues, Gurkha repatriation from the British Raj in India and his clever policy of ingratiating himself with the British rulers that reached its zenith in the Lucknow loot. However, Dhir Shumsher as the youngest brother did not have much wealth when he started raising his very large family. Dhir’s first wedded wife had died at childbirth leaving him a healthy baby boy and his eldest brother Jung had taken pity and Jung’s favorite mistress Putali Maharani had adopted him and raised him as her own. The baby was named Narbir Jung. The baby would grow up to become famous in Nepalese history as Bir Shumsher, Maharajah and Prime Minister of Nepal 1886 – 1901 A.D.

    Dhir remarried and started to raise a family. The girl from Rukum Karma was raised in Dhir’s household in the Thapathali Durbar Complex. Roll of the cosmic dice would make her a future spouse of Dhir’s second boy Dev Shumsher.  Born in 1862 A.D. Dev was adopted by his rich uncle General Krishna Bahadur Kunwar Ranaji. After he came of age Dev married Karma Kumari Devi the dola and childhood friend around 1875 A.D. Dev and Karma both led a very charmed and luxurious life far removed from the penury of his own siblings as his biological father Dhir was still struggling to make ends meet. Karma Kumari was kind-hearted and generous. He raised her own family in Thapathali Durbar and took care of them well as her husband was busy doing military duty in different parts of the country. A few years later Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana passed away and the prime minister’s post went to his 5th surviving brother Ranoddip Singh Ranaji.

    Dev Shumsher with Karma Kumari and family

    The fissures in the Rana family started to grow. On the one hand were the powerful scions of Maharajah Jung’s family, with untold wealth and Royal connections through marriage. On the other was the family of General Dhir Shumsher, Commander-in-Chief of the Nepalese army and the confident strongman fortressing the reticent nature of his brother the prime minister Ranoddip. Dev and Karma Kumari were caught in between the proverbial rock and hard place. Dev belonged to Dhir’s family but was closer to Jung’s due to his adoption. At this time Dhir Shumsher passed away leaving behind his vulnerable family to the scheming of the Jung family and, worse still, with a few of his sons at a very young age. His youngest wife was Rani Juhar Kumari and from her a son Juddha was born. Karma worried about his plight and what would happen to him in the absence of his father and in the care of a young widow without much means. She decided to look after Juddha and her mother. Karma knew how her husband had the good fortune of being cared for by the Rani of Krishna Bahadur Ranaji and Dev’s elder half-brother Bir Shumsher by Putali Maharani of Maharajah Jung Bahadur. This was her chance to pay back to the Gods for the benevolence shown to her dear husband.

    Rani Karma Kumari

    Karma Kumari was convinced that more political space needed to be given to the common people. In Japan the Meiji Restoration had stripped the ruling Shoguns of power and the Emperor was restored to rule. In India following political dissent the British were on the verge of allowing the registration of the Indian National Congress Party which was eventually founded in 1885 A.D. Serfdom had been abolished in Russia by Tsar Alexander II in 1861 A.D. Karma Kumari had her ears close to the ground as she dealt with people from many walks of life that her husband was not privy to. She used to openly discuss the issues of bonded labour and free education to the masses with her husband and try to convince him to help bring about political reforms by talking to his cousins, sons of Jung Bahadur Rana. From her own resources she provided shelter and drinking water to weary travellers on the Thangkot to Amlekhganj trail. Karma was compassionate and Dev a bon vivant and his motto was ‘Live and Let Live’. They were a good match.

    There is a universal truism about the good being the first to go. Nepal in the 1880’s was still a backward place in terms of medical care and there were any number of diseases that swiftly brought about the one inescapable fate – death. Karma Kumari passed away in her early twenties in 1886 A.D. leaving behind two young sons. Dev soon remarried and his second wife Krishna Kumari was the daughter of King Surendra Bir Bikram Shah, the king of Nepal from his youngest wife Maharani Punya Kumari Devi, the daughter of General Krishna Bahadur Ranaji, Dev’ adoptive father. Life has got a habit of coming full circle! Karma Kumari would not know the joy of being the Maharani after Dev was crowned the Maharajah of Kaski and Lamjung and Prime Minister in 1901 A.D. nor would she know the heartache of witnessing her husband removed from power after just three months of rule!

    Coronation Ceremony portrait of Maharajah Dev Shumsher with H.M. King Prithivi Bir Bikram Shah of Nepal (center) 

    Epilogue

    Ex-maharajah Dev Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana lived in exile in Jharipani, Mussoorie which was once part of Nepali Gahrwal in what is today the Indian state of Uttarakhand and died there. His children were not allowed to return to Nepal by his brothers Chandra Shumsher and Bhim Shumsher who had exiled him due to his bold moves to bring in a more liberal political dispensation. It was Maharajah Juddha Shumsher who rehabilitated the descendants of his brother Dev and restored their properties and military careers. He was eternally grateful to his foster mother Rani Karma Kumari Devi for looking after him in his hour of need!   

    Statue of Rani Karma Kumari commissioned by Maharajah Juddha and cast by Domenico Tonelli in London

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    DEATH OF A MONARCH

    June 23rd, 2018

    Nepalese of my generation associate the end of the 104 years old Rana oligarchy with a garlanded king in Nepalese mayelposh suruwal dress waving his right hand to acknowledge the multitude that thronged the Kathmandu airport to see him arrive from India after a short exile. He was a powerless, dethroned king returning now as a sovereign Head of State. For most of us the iconic imagery heralded the advent of a new open democratic Nepal and the king – Tribhuvan – instantly became the Shah king most revered and recognizable after the founder of the dynasty and his ancestor King Prithivi Narayan Shah. That day has been marked in the Nepalese calendar and imprinted in our consciousness as Democracy Day, the 7th day of the Nepalese month of Falgun, 2007 B.S. Although I was born 4 years later, I cannot yet erase the memory from my mind.

    A king at 5 Tribhuvan led a sequestered life in the Royal Palace of Narayanhiti in Kathmandu amidst the trappings of Hindu God-king monarchy far removed from the mundane life of his subjects. After he came of age the Rana rulers of Nepal paid him obeisance while denying him any political power. He was placed on the Serpent Throne to reign but not to rule. In time this situation became very frustrating for him to bear and he was looking for an opportunity to break free.

    Coronation at Five

    His first break if it can be called that came when for the very first time a reigning king was given permission to head for a foreign land by the ruling prime minister Maharajah Juddha Shumsher Rana. The trip was ostensibly for medical consultation for a weak heart but the king had far more important an agenda in mind than his heart. It was his opportunity to measure the rumblings of discontent in India over the yoke of colonialism and to secretly meet with Nepalese revolutionaries fighting for Indian Independence and, subsequently, bent on bringing down the Rana regime in Nepal. Too, there were the disgruntled “C” class Rana family members, scions of the Bir Shumsher and Bhim Shumsher families, who were unceremoniously removed from the Roll of Succession by Maharajah Juddha in 1933 A.D., a mere year after he assumed his office. They were hell bent on bankrolling the Nepali revolutionaries to bring down the house of the Rana in which they were no longer playing any part.

    It was during this visit that my father had the extraordinary opportunity of looking after the king, of getting to know him intimately and of empathizing with him. A major general then my father was serving in the Burma front where the Nepalese Army was fighting the Japanese together with the British. As Calcutta was where the king was visiting, Maharajah Juddha deputed his son Kiran, who was very familiar with the place, to look after King Tribhuvan and make his sojourn there comfortable. The rapport my young father struck with the king and the trust bestowed on my father by the king would culminate a decade later in my father being elevated to the rank of Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Nepalese Army when the king regained sovereignty following the ouster of the Rana regime. Thirty-four higher ranking Rana officers in the military were retired and my father was entrusted with the important post when the democratic nation building was about to begin and no solid base even existed. My father General Kiran was just 35 years old!

    Shakespeare’s Brutus in Julius Caesar reasons thus, “There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and miseries.” King Tribhuvan was the one who dared to break from his privileged yet frustrating circumstances and seek asylum at the Indian Embassy risking the throne of his Shah dynasty, no mean feat this. Although naysayers may always question his wisdom and even his motive, it did bring about a monumental change in Nepal for the better. Unfortunately, he would not live long enough to see any substantive development in the fortunes of his countrymen. He was ailing with a heart condition.

    An intimate account of what went through the mind of King Tribhuvan that led to his defiant act can be gleaned from the sympathetic writing of Erika Leuchtag, a German physiotherapist who was commissioned to provide healing therapy to the Senior Queen. Her family had fled Hitler’s Germany and with her mother landed in Simla the summer capital of the British in India. She had earlier been employed by the Maharajah of Patiala to heal his maharani. Erika’s growing love for the Nepalese royals and her disdain expressed at the Rana rulers during their twilight years is worth reading in her memoir, “Erika and the King”. The King and his family were lodging in the incongruously named bungalow “Happy Cottage” inside the compounds of the Narayanhiti Royal Palace where his life was anything but happy.

    Erika Leuchtag with King Tribhuvan and his two queens at wedding of Princess Bharati their daughter in Calcutta 1951

    While King Tribhuvan’s legacy is unquestioned his gregariousness and personal indulgences are often highlighted unkindly by some and disparagingly by others juxtaposed with that of his austere and aloof son and successor King Mahendra. Erika paints a different picture. She writes,”Travelers to Nepal, Westerners who came and who left to write books of what they had seen, wrote what they had been told about the king, what the Ranas told them. Thus it was believed beyond the Himalayas that Tribhuvan was dissolute, a man who passes his time with drunkenness, lechery and opium, a man with the physique and spirit of a weak girl. Such a picture fitted the tradition of the debauched oriental raja, just as the Ranas fitted the picture of the strong grand vizier, and this was how they wanted it. It was easy for the British and for the Indians to believe this, so long as the Ranas sent their baskets of fruit, held tennis parties, drank tea and ordered done what needed to be.”

    Erika continues,”The debauchee was in fact a muscular man who learned judo in his youth, who could ride two horses at the gallop with one foot on each, who could play most sports superlatively well. The drunkard was in fact a man who would do no more than touch his lips with spirits in courtesy, because by alcohol the Ranas had destroyed his father and grandfather. The lecher of the lies was in fact a man with respect and love for his wives. As for taking opium, his only drug was cigarettes. He was proud of his fine body and jealous of his strength, not in masculine vanity, but because this was one thing he had preserved from the Ranas. As the days passed I saw him as a man ready and waiting, a desperate man and a bitter man, yet keeping despair and bitterness in patient check.”

    King Tribhuvan and entourage aboard a ship near Naples during his first European visit

    King Tribhuvan suffered a heart attack and was advised by his doctors to undertake a foreign trip after his recovery to consult expert cardiologists. This trip he undertook in the summer of 1953 to go to Zurich for consultation. This was his first European visit. He recovered and came back to Nepal. However in the summer of 1954 he suffered a second heart attack and after recovering yet again he visited Zurich in November 1954 and was admitted to the Canton Hospital in Zurich. The doctors allowed him to visit Nice in January but he suffered from another heart attack on 31st January. He was treated there by Professor Luffler from Zurich Hospital as well as two other experts who were called, Professor Parkinson from London and Professor Lauder from Vienna. His recovery was slower as he unfortunately contracted influenza. Only on 9th March could he manage to return to Zurich by train. He was dying now.

    General Kiran reading the proclamation

    My father as Commander-in-Chief of the Nepalese Army visited the king in Zurich towards the end. King Tribhuvan was pleased to see him but knowing that his end was coming, he asked him to return to Nepal and send Crown Prince Mahendra to Zurich to be at his bedside. What was there left to do now but to offer puja to the Gods and Goddesses of Nepal to bless the king with speedy recovery and longevity? The end came on Sunday, 13th March 1955. He was just 49 years in age.

    There was one last act my father performed for the king, reading a royal proclamation on Radio Nepal informing the Nepalese the king had passed away in Zurich – the King is dead, Long Live the King!

    My father would see him next time inside a casket that was specially made and flown to Kathmandu in an Indian Air Force plane that landed at the Gauchar Airport on 17th March 1955. I remember my father telling me the story of how he went to pay condolence to King Mahendra and his brothers Prince Himalaya and Prince Basundhara and how they were mourning shell-shocked in a corner of the room, wearing white, with tonsured head and dark shades and how his own heart was about to burst with sorrow. He loved the king so.

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    THE GOLDEN WIDOW

    May 15th, 2018

    Lhasa ma soon chha, kaan mero buch-chai”, teased Putali Maharani whenever she had the chance. Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana had come out victorious against the Tibetans and abrogated the unfair Treaty of Betrawati signed under duress by the Nepalese under Regent Bahadur Shah as the Chinese army had come to aid the Tibetans and pushed the Gorkhalis all the way from Kerung down along the Trishuli River to Nuwakot. Now Nepal could pursue trade with the Tibetans unhindered and the Chinese monopoly on the lucrative gold trade was broken. Putali Maharani wanted a piece of action of the gold and silver trade for her own clan and was frequently goading her husband to send her sisters to Lhasa on a trade mission to establish a company. She was referring to an old adage made famous in Nepal that women folks often chimed with petulant discontent, “There is gold in Lhasa but my ears are unadorned”.

    Putali Maharani with family, Babar Jung her son. Picture by Samuel Bourne

    Putali was one of Jung’s favorite wives and Jung owed a lot to her. As a palace maid Putalibai in the service of the Junior Queen Rajya Luxmi Devi, she had reported to Jung the goings in the royal household, the competition of the two queens to gain an upper hand, the shenanigans of the feeble minded king, the plots and counter-plots. Jung knew that to survive and thrive under these circumstances, he needed to know which way the wind was blowing constantly so that he would himself not be blown off course. Putali was a clever plant in the royal household, a spy, and a lover. Putali was a Newar girl, a daughter of the Dangol gardener of Jung Bahadur’s Thapathali Durbar, a maternal inheritance from the Thapa clan. She was very loyal to Jung.

    “Muna Madan” book cover

    Putali was familiar with the Newa bhasa balad made famous later in Nepali by the great poet Laxmi Prasad Devkota titled “Muna Madan”. Madan the protagonist leaves for Lhasa to reap rich reward in trade and leaves behind a very young bride Muna in Kathmandu. Madan undergoes much hardship but returns with a potful of gold but gets sick en-route and his friends leave him for dead. The friends reach Kathmandu and report to the bride Muna that her husband died on the way back. Madan is saved however by a good-hearted low caste man and brought back to Kathmandu in good health only to find that his Muna has died of grief. Putali always teared up whenever the play was put on by artists at the Thapathali Durbar.

    Newar traders had established a history of trading with Tibet since times immemorial. In fact this history certainly goes at least as far back as to the 7th Century Licchavi period when Nepalese Princess Bhrikuti, daughter of King Amsuvarman, was given in marriage to Tibetan king Srong-Tsen-Gampo. Sadly all this was temporarily halted and China took over the gold trade after the disastrous war of Regent Bahadur Shah. Instead of exerting more authority the expanding Gorkha kingdom had come under an existential threat. Prime Minister Jung Bahadur had now overturned the terms of the unfair treaty and with the Treaty of Thapathali signed in 1856 A.D. gained for Nepal an annual tribute of ten thousand Rupees, customs free trade facility for Nepalese traders with the right to trade in jewellery, ornaments, grains and clothes, and with the Tibetans agreeing to receive a permanent Nepalese Residency in Lhasa to monitor the welfare of the Nepalese community there.

    Young beauty Putali

    Putali had the good fortune of being one of Jung Bahadur’s wives and she had already given birth to a son Babar Jung. She was comfortably ensconced in a wing of Thapathali Durbar overlooking the beautiful Putali Bagaincha, the Butterfly Garden. However her Dongol clan was still mired in poverty and she implored Jung Bahadur to send her sisters and their families on trade missions to Lhasa to reap the benefit of the new circumstances now prevailing there. The traditional Newar trading houses of the Dhakhwa, Sakya and Tuladhar families were again free to trade without legal impediment or security risk and Putali wanted her Dongol clan to join in this opportunity.

    As we can see this did happen and her family members including her two sisters took this opening and proceeded to Lhasa to set up trading houses and participate in the marts that was periodically organized. The family lived there and as history unfolded we can see one of Putali’s nephew Bhairab Bahadur acquiring a station of high rank as the China and Tibet expert in the Munsi Khana or Foreign Office. He was sent by Maharajah Chandra Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana on Nepal’s last quinquennial mission to China in 1908. The Shumsher clan was eternally grateful to Putali as she adopted the motherless Bir Shumsher and raised him together with her own son Babar Jung. As a Newar girl ‘married’ at pre-adolescence to the bel-fruit, a species of wild apple, in the traditional Bel-Bibaha, Putali was never going to be a widow and there was no need for her to commit Sati upon the sudden death of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana. She was not a part of Jung’s final hunting retinue as she was mourning the untimely death of her son Babar Jung from consumption only a few months earlier. She became the revered golden widow of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana until her death.

    Chir Kazi Bhairab Bahadur Dangol in China, 1908 A.D.

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    RANA COURT PHOTOGRAPHERS

    April 18th, 2018

    It is but ironical that it has now become fashionable for many Nepalese households and public places such as restaurants and bars to display photographs of the Rana rulers of Nepal and their families, the men with their military decorations covering their broad chests, with plumed crowns on their heads and women bedecked in beautiful diamond and emerald encrusted tiaras and other pieces of sparkling jewelry set on valuable metal. Ask the owners and many would not recognize who those Rana figures are; it is merely the proximity to power, fame and now what is considered to be a fascinating period of history that people vicariously yearn for. A mere couple of decades back the Rana rulers were reviled as autocrats but in the intervening years people have come to realize that whosoever comes to power in Nepal aspires to be a Rana anyway!

    Scrutinizing carefully the portraits and pictures of old Nepal one can sometimes discern the faint names of the photographers or photographic studio these pictures come from. If the pictures are from the period of Rana prime ministers Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana and Ranauddip Singh Rana, they would invariably come from the studio of Bourne and Shepherd. The period between 1860 and 1900 was covered by the lens of Samuel Bourne who visited Nepal with his assistants and a full studio in tow. Cameras were very rudimentary and clumsy equipment then and the pictures were produced on 10×12 inch photographic plate by cumbersome process called Wet Plate Collodian.

    Portrait of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana by Samuel Bourne

    If one looks closely at pictures from 1930 to 1945, one can see that these were developed by Studio Matzene. Time brought technological advances in the art of photography and photographic films were discovered. One sees the name Matzene embossed on portraits of Maharajah Bhim Shumsher and his family and also Maharajah Juddha Shumsher and family. Just who were these photographers who took these historical portraits and photographs in Nepal and how did they get here at a time when very few foreigners were allowed to set foot in the country? We need to closely look at the life and times of Samuel Bourne and Richard Gordon Matzene.

    Samuel Bourne

    Samuel Bourne came from England to India in 1863 A.D. as a young man of 29 where he did his most impressionable body of work photographing monuments, Himalayan vistas and aristocracy. He teamed up with another photographer Charles Shepherd and started Bourne and Shepherd Studio in Shimla, then the hill station frequented by the important people of the Raj. He traveled extensively in India including embarking on two successful trips to the Himalayan mountains in search of the source of River Ganges at Gangmukhi. As his renown grew the Nepalese rulers must have heard about him and his studio and Bourne was invited to Nepal to take photographs of the ruling family. We see pictures of prime minister Jung Bahadur Rana and his family in various poses and locations. He probably arrived in Nepal in 1868 A.D. as some pictures carry this date. By this time he had opened a second studio in Calcutta in 1866 and hence he must have come to Nepal from Calcutta.

    Jung Bahadur’s Wife with son and daughters in hunting camp by Samuel Bourne

    It is quite apparent that Samuel Bourne found Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana in his hunting camp and a few pictures existing today is from this era. There are also portraits of Jung Bahadur he shot most likely in his Thapathali Durbar. It could also be possible that some of these portraits of the period were actually shot in the Bourne and Shepherd Studio in Calcutta as it is documented that Jung visited Calcutta during the early sixties, a few years after the Indian Mutiny of 1857 A.D. when Jung supported the British and jointly with British forces the Gurkhas took Lucknow. Samuel Bourne eventually returned to England and he died there in 1912. Bourne and Shepherd Studio in Calcutta closed down just a few years back in 2016.

    Richard Gordon Matzene

    Richard Gordon Matzene was a well-known photographer and an art dealer. Born Jens Rudolph Matzene probably in Denmark he later changed his name when he started to reside in America. He claimed to be a Count but sources do not confirm this as many Europeans took dubious royal titles to impress the Americans who still had a fondness for anything royal albeit after having thrown out British Colonial rule. Matzene first opened his studio in Chicago in 1900 and later went to Hollywood during the formative years of cinema. He took very artistic pictures of lady artists of cinema, ballet and theater of the time. He is known to have traveled extensively and opened several studios overseas, one in Shanghai and the other in Shimla, by now the summer capital of the British Raj.

     Maharajah Bhim Shumsher and his youngest wife Sita Badamaharani with daughter by Matzene

    Matzene came to Nepal to take official portraits of the Rana rulers of the time. True or false a book on his life claims that he was the 27th foreigner to get a visa to visit Nepal. It is more likely that it was in the Shimla studio of Matzene that the Rana rulers of Nepal and their families took their official portraits. Prime ministers Bhim and Juddha went there for this purpose during their official visits to India. My father General Kiran Shumsher Rana definitely visited the Matzene Studio in Shimla for his family photographs. The author of a book on Matzene Marcela Sirhandi visited Nepal in search of material to write, “Royal Nepal: Through the Lens of Richard Gordon Matzene”. I had the opportunity to meet her but her collection of photographs was already complete from eclectic sources and it was too late for me to hand over to her our family portraits. Matzene’s photographic works and his oriental art collections are housed in University of Oklahoma and Ponca City Library in Oklahoma.

    Marcela Sirhandi’s book on Rana portraits by Matzene

    Many Nepalese photographers were subsequently trained. One of the first Rana family member to become fascinated with this new art form was Major General Dambar Shumsher, younger half-brother of Maharajah Bir Shumsher. He raised Nepalese photographic standard to new heights training local aspiring photographers with his active encouragement. This love of portraiture was further carried on by his son Samar Shumsher and his famous artist-poet-dramatist grandson Bala Krishna Sama. They must all have been highly influenced by the technique applied by Samuel Bourne and later by Richard Gordon Matzene, two of the best photographers of their respective time the British Raj was blessed with.

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    THE DELHI DURBARS AND THE RANA REGIME

    March 21st, 2018

    The Delhi Durbar 1877

    Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana was thrilled to get the confirmation of his long sought-after ambition: to host a British Royal in Nepal. Following his visit to England in 1850 A.D. at the invitation of the British government as an ambassador of the King of Nepal, he wanted very much to repay the gracious hospitality of the British Royal family he had enjoyed. Now the news came to Kathmandu with a kharita from Lord Robert Lytton, Viceroy of India, that the Prince of Wales had accepted the invitation to visit Nepal Terai for a shikar, a big game hunt, during his visit to India 1875-76. During the prince’s sojourn in Calcutta Jung had sent an embassy headed by his second in command Ranauddip Singh to invite the prince. The British had planned the hunting expedition to Nepal from the west crossing the Mahakali River to what is now Suklaphanta Reserve.

    Jung Bahadur was a man of action; he hastened to make the preparation for the royal visit. Leaving his affinity to the jungle and fondness of hunting aside, he remembered too his hardship years herding wild elephants and training them and domesticating them for commercial purpose. After the fall of Bhimsen Thapa his maternal grand-uncle from the post of prime minister, Jung had to rely on this trade for sheer survival. He knew more than most how to tame the jungles and manage a hunt.

    After the hunt was concluded successfully, Jung Bahadur decided to send his second man in command Commander-in-Chief Ranauddip Singh to the Delhi Durbar of January 1877 as the representative of the King of Nepal. A large retinue was constituted to travel to Delhi together with some high ranking army officers and camp assistants. This was the formal occasion of handing over all the powers of the East India Company to the Crown. Nepal was at peace with the Raj following the Anglo-Nepal War of 1814-16 and Jung Bahadur meant to keep it this way, the only way he was convinced that Nepal would remain independent since one native state after another, including the powerful states of Oudh and the Punjab, were already gobbled up by the Empire. Without preventive diplomacy Nepal could be next.

    Commander-in-Chief Ranauddip Singh had the opportunity of rubbing shoulders with the glittering array of Indian maharajahs and nawabs gathered there for the occasion. Lytton the Viceroy left no stone unturned to make this Durbar as opulent as the ones held during the Mughal period, the last dynasty that ruled most of India before the British took over. He wanted all India to see the symbolism of crowning Queen Victoria at the seat of the Mughal emperors and not in the capital of the Raj that was Calcutta. Ranauddip was awarded the freshly minted Kaiser-I-Hind Gold Medal during the occasion. There was present a very young and ambitious nephew of Ranauddip Singh in his retinue who watched closely the goings-on mesmerized by the pomp and circumstance the occasion merited. He was awarded Kaiser-I-Hind Silver Medal on the occasion. Little did he know then that he would be representing Nepal as its prime minister at the next two Delhi Durbars!

    Lord Curzon

    George Curzon was the new viceroy of India. He would be remembered for the restoration of many historical and archaeological sites in India including the Taj Mahal. He would also be remembered for organizing the great Delhi Durbar of 1903 to mark the accession of King Edward VII to the British throne. An arch conservative he reveled in grandiose plans for the British Empire including stopping the perceived Russian threat to India via Persia, Afghanistan and Tibet. He enjoyed big game hunting. It is said that he had invited himself to Nepal Terai for a shoot during the final year of Maharajah Bir Shumsher but by the time it actually materialized Bir was dead and his brother Dev Shumsher was the prime minister. So soon after assuming office Dev was not in the right frame of mind to personally host Lord Curzon and sent his Commander-in-Chief Chandra Shumsher instead. This is viewed as a great mistake on the part of Dev as during the hunt Chandra forged a personal relationship with Curzon portending dire consequence for the tenure of Dev as prime minister. This is why the British Raj did not question why Dev Shumsher was within three months of taking office removed by Chandra who assumed the office himself. A quid pro quo was struck at the shikar camp.

    Lord Curzon wanted to organize a Durbar the ages would remember. He personally took charge of the project and made a vast tented city in the Delhi maidan. The invitation list was extensive as all the Rajas and Maharajas in the vast Indian sub-continent was to be included for the homage to the King emperor. The only dampener to this event was the news that King Edward VII would not be personally attending the Delhi Durbar. Hiding his disappointment Curzon set out to preside over the event himself, a singular honour for such a vainglorious person.The Indian royalty were seated during the occasion as per their hierarchy denoted by the number of gun salute their station was granted by the Raj. Each ruler was outdoing the other in showing off their finest uniforms, sparkling jewellery and the opulent sirpech or headgear.

    Indian Ruling Princes in attendance at Delhi Durbar of 1903, second from right is Chandra Shumsher of Nepal

    Maharajah Chandra Shumsher attended the Durbar representing the King of Nepal. It was a great opportunity for him to meet all the important personages of India and to cement ties with the British. He was keen to follow the course his uncle Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana had half a century earlier set for Nepal vis-a-vis the close cooperation and friendship with British India. Chandra’s earlier attendance of the Durbar of 1877 must have stood in good stead for the wily ruler as it is said a twenty minutes courtesy call on Lord Curzon the Viceroy actually lasted for over an hour and a half. Chandra had given his support, both logistical and military, for the British to organize an expeditionary force into Tibet to forestall the so-called Russian threat.

    After the passing of King Edward VII his son George was crowned as King George V on 6th May 1910. After the customary grieving period the Coronation took place on 11th June 1911. Viceroy Charles Hardinge had arrived in India in 1910. It fell on him now to organize the Delhi Durbar to proclaim King George V and Queen Mary the Emperor and Empress of India. Date was set for December 1911 and for the very first time the monarch would be personally visiting India and taking part in the celebrations. Excitement was growing by the day. This Durbar was going to be different than the two preceding ones. Whereas at the former two durbar attendance was confined to British high-ranking officials of India and the Indian ruling classes, this one was going to be more open to the general public. There would be grand military and civilian processions of every hue and color marching past the specially created Royal Pavilion in the grounds of Delhi where the royal couple would be seated. The royal couple would also give darshan to the general public numbering some 100,000 people from the ramparts of Red Fort like in the times of Mughal Emperors Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb. Times had changed and without public support, the British Raj would not be able to administer the vast size of India and its population of one hundred and fifty million people.

    King George V and Queen Mary at the Red Fort

     Maharajah Chandra was delighted that he would be personally attending the event and would get to meet King George V whom he had met as Prince of Wales during his visit to England in 1908. Earlier too during the prince’s visit to India his hunting trip to Nepal had been cancelled due to outbreak of cholera to the dismay of Chandra. Now he had the opportunity of inviting the King-Emperor for a grand hunt in Nepal Terai. He would have the opportunity of conducting a Royal shoot just like his uncle Maharajah Jung Bahadur did for the then Prince of Wales Edward Albert, the father of King George. Chandra’s stars were shining bright!

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    RANI MAHAL, STORY OF ITS MAKER

    February 2nd, 2018

    PROLOGUE

     The first time I ever saw this historical edifice thirty five years ago, she was in ruins and looked like an old hag during the winter of her life, simply waiting for her eventual demise. I was then on my way further west on a week-long trek from Tansen to Tamghas in Gulmi District.
    Thirty five years later, I found myself at the same spot once again, this time out there on purpose. I had seen pictures of the building with a coat of new paint before and I wanted to see how much change had been made by the Nepal Government’s Department of Archeology. Yes, the outer façade still looked brand new with fresh paints, which to me personally was a bit too gaudy. But when I walked through the inside of the building and saw nothing but empty rooms without even a single piece of furniture, my enthusiasm took a nose dive.
    And when I entered one room where there was a fireplace with the floor in front of the hearth still looking as black as charcoal, I assumed that, over the years before renovation began, the keeper of this mansion must have decided to warm himself during the cold winters by burning the original furniture that were placed in all the rooms by General Khadga Shumsher Rana.
    – Recently sent to me by Deep Lamichhane, my childhood friend at St. Xavier’s High School, Kathmandu, now back in Nepal from USA. 
    I mulled over Deep’s reminiscence and finally it catalyzed me to dig deeper (no pun intended) into our history and try to find out who was the maker of such a beautiful building the younger generation of us Nepalese have started to call the Taj Mahal of Nepal. 

    The Delhi Durbar of 1903 A.D. was a celebration of Empire to mark the Coronation of King Edward VII. Not since the Durbar of 1876 to celebrate the crowing of Queen Victoria as Empress of India did the Raj put on a show of this magnificence. Lord Curzon the Viceroy made sure that this Durbar would be even more of an extravaganza than the earlier one and all the Indian Royals would be there to celebrate such singular an occasion with pomp and circumstance it merited. A tent city was created in the vast maidan of New Delhi. Lord Curzon invited Maharajah Chandra Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana from Nepal for the occasion. It was an acknowledgement of the fact that British India had nothing negative to say on the matter of the ouster of Maharajah Dev Shumsher from power just a year back and that it was ready to do business with Chandra. Chandra would not miss such an occasion to show his gratitude and make friends with Lord Curzon.

    Maharajah Kashmir (turbaned, 2nd row), Scindia of Gwalior, Nizam of Hyderabad, Wodiyar of Mysore,
    Chandra Shumsher of Nepal, Gaekwad of Baroda (Front Row L to R) all 21-gun salute states

    Chandra regaled on the occasion rubbing shoulders with the pride of the Indian Princely States as the ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary representing the King of Nepal. This was his own launching on the “world” stage. However, to dampen his spirits, news had come from his spies in Nepal that, taking the opportunity of his absence from Nepal, his elder brothers were up to mischief. His eldest full brother General Khadga Shumsher had been taken off the Roll of Succession for plotting against the then Prime Minister and Maharajah Bir Shumsher. His own immediate full brother Dev Shumsher considered too weak to rule had been collectively removed by himself and his younger brothers. These were the two disgruntled elder brothers now exiled from Kathmandu but living in Palpa and Dhankuta respectively who were conspiring together to take back their rights and privileges. Chandra was a shrewd operator. He knew he had to deal immediately with this threat before it became insurmountable.

    General Dhir Shumsher and his seventeen sons, Bir, Khadga, Dev, Chandra, etc.

    How had these turn of events taken place and shaken up the Rana nomenclature in Nepal? How had two elder brothers of Maharajah Chandra been ousted from the seat of power? General Khadga Shumsher was the mastermind behind the assassination of Maharajah Ranaoddip Singh Kunwar Ranaji. As his elder half-brother Bir waited in the wings nervously awaiting the outcome of the assassination bid, it was Khadga who was the hot-headed young man of just 23 years who took destiny in his own hands and actually, with a few of his younger brothers, ventured to Narayanhiti Durbar that fateful November night. After the successful coup d’etat Bir had been crowned the Maharajah of Kaski and Lamjung and became the prime minister of Nepal. Khadga became the Commander-in-Chief of Nepal, the second most powerful post in the Rana regime. As the saying goes,”uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”, and no sooner had Bir been crowned than he started to look over his shoulder askance at his ambitious younger half-brother Khadga. Would not Khadga mount another coup d’etat and finish him off? Bir was petrified.

    General Khadga Shumsher J. B. Rana

    No one can really be sure what happened next but Bir was given irrefutable evidence of a plot Khadga had hatched to do away with Bir during a wedding ceremony. Khadga was arrested and struck off the roll of succession and even his descendants could no longer be in the Roll. Such was Bir’s ire. This was a departure from earlier practice of striking off only the culprit but not his whole family, as in the case of General Badri Narsingh Rana, found complicit in a bid to assassinate his elder brother Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana. His sons Kedar Narsingh and Dhoj Narshingh were not removed from the Roll. Khadga was imprisoned in Thada. Later he was pardoned and given the post of Governor of Palpa in 1889 and Dhankuta in 1891.

    The story of Rani Mahal starts here. It is often called the Taj Mahal of Nepal. It is indeed a beautiful mansion located on a high bank of the Kali Gandaki River with a garden undulating down to the water, a veritable Hanging Garden of Babylon. The nearby forest was renamed Rani Ban and the ghat below Rani Ghat. Grainy pictures of the original building can be found. However, the building and garden came to disuse after Khadga left for India. When he was banished from Nepal forever after 1903 A.D. the building started to crumble and disintegrate; a contest in the wills among his descendants leaving the building derelict and orphaned. Lately, due to many voices raised by the local populace and tourism entrepreneurs, the government finally decided to repair and renovate the building to find some useful purpose for it. One can only surmise how lavishly yet tastefully the mansion must have been furnished in its heyday with imported Italian marble and chandeliers from Murano, Edwardian furniture and Persian carpets. It is just a hollow shell of a building now, just the facade painted over for people to imagine what it might have been truly like when Khadga built it in memory of his beloved dead wife Tej Kumari Devi all those many years ago!
    Rani Mahal, Palpa

    After the death of Bir in 1901 A.D. the next in line was Dev Shumsher, younger brother of Khadga. Dev was a liberal to some, a playboy to others, a threat to the regime of his younger brothers nonetheless. Chandra the next brother in line was a more astute politician and he was afraid that Dev would succumb to the plots Khadga was bound to hatch to retrieve his lost position of the prime minister. In only three months after his coronation Dev was ousted and banished to Dhankuta. Now Chandra had two elder brothers to worry about instead of just one!

    Maharajah Chandra returned to Nepal from the Delhi Durbar and immediately acted on the perceived threat to his power. He now wanted both his brothers to leave Nepal and to this effect he petitioned the Viceroy to allow Khadga and Dev to reside in India. Khadga being the more dangerous one was offered a place at a lakeside villa in Sagar in the Central Provinces now Madhya Pradesh, very far away from Nepal. His personal request to live in the holy place of Haridwar was not granted. For Dev a residence in faraway Madras Presidency was suggested but he fortunately was given a mansion in Jharipani, Mussoorie, an area that was a part of Greater Nepal until the culmination of the Anglo-Nepal War of 1814-16.
    It must have been a lonely life for General Khadga so far away from Nepal, in a place where he did not have any friends, where language was a problem, finances too. His elder wife Maharani Dhana Kumari Devi and her children were with him. They say overcoming adversity is the first key to success. Khadga was resilient. He made friends in high places. He stayed connected. He was granted the title of His Highness the Raja by King Edward VII in 1909 A.D. most likely after his brother Maharajah Chandra Shumsher’s state visit to England at the invitation of the British monarch in 1908 A.D. His daughter came of age and was married off locally to a Maratha government administrator. A grand-daughter was born named Lekha Diveshwari Devi in 1919 A.D. in modest circumstances. One day she would grow up beautiful and well-educated and marry one of the richest and most powerful Royal personages in British India, Jivajirao Scindia, Maharajah of Gwalior, a 21-gun salute state. She would thenceforth become famous as Vijaya Raje Scindia.
    Lord Curzon the Viceroy with Maharajah Scindia of Gwalior

    General Khadga would have been so proud of her. Her later accomplishments as a consummate Indian politician must have come in part from the old General’s genes. He passed away in Sagar in December 1921 at the age of 60, a mere two years after Lekha’s birth. Never was he to see his Nepal or his Rani Mahal again. 

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    ON DIVINE REVELATIONS

    October 9th, 2017

    When the founder of modern Nepal King Prithivi Narayan Shah likened his new Nepali state to the “yam between two boulders” he was referring to the fragile state of his new kingdom lodged perilously between Mughal India and Qing China. Whether those were his actual words or words put later in his mouth by patriotic followers is really irrelevant. The sentiment is clear. During 104 years of the Rana regime such divine revelations from King Prithivi’s descendants were firmly muted. The royal revelations started to come thick and fast during the Panchayat Era. The leading newspapers headlined daily Shree Panch ko Mahaan Bani (His Majesty the King’s Words of Wisdom) and Radio Nepal did not start its newscast before reading one. King Mahendra was a poet so he probably did not have much difficulty formulating these revelations during his regime. The clarion call to Nepali nationhood “ma mare pani mero desh banchi rahos” struck a chord among many. During King Birendra’s time however one can imagine the palace press secretary scratching his head and working overtime! Churning out these pearls of wisdom for the masses on a daily basis, day after day, season after season and year after year must have been a painstaking task. A less patient person would have resigned in frustration!

    Mao Zedong actually did one better as his earthly proletarian utterances were compiled into the little Red Book for his masses to read. It was no doubt an instant bestseller in Communist China. People did not leave their houses without one tucked in their pockets to guide them through the onerous chore of state building. Teachers referred to it while teaching Dialectical Materialism to their pupil. Engineers referred to it while building dams. Doctors saw guidance in his utterances during crucial medical interventions to save human lives. China went mad!

    One of the oldest revelations I am familiar with from my schooldays is the voice from heaven to Abraham. Moses got his Ten Commandments directly from God and if you want to believe the Hollywood movie it was even inscribed by lightning in a stone tablet, and in English! Muhammad got his revelations directly from Allah. References to some aberrations that crept in the Koran later blamed on Satan for these errant verses got the unsuspecting author into mortal trouble after riots protesting this profanity ignited in Hindu majority India! Not to be outdone, the Iranian Ayatollah put a fatwa on him!

    Demonstration in Teheran over The Satanic Verses

    Ok, so what is the point of this blog? Of course, it is to explore what pearls of wisdom the Rana rulers of Nepal imparted to the masses during their 104 year long regime. Could they have ruled for so long without such revelations? Nobody can. Tsarina Alexandra relied on the psychic Rasputin to cure her hemophiliac son the Tsarevich Alexei. Indira Gandhi did not take a step in politics after the fiasco of the Emergency without the assistance of her soothsayers. Nancy Reagan dabbled in astrology. Even President Trump tweets his revelations to the dismay of his White House staff and to the chagrin of his bitter opponents who know that without Twitter Trump would not have been elected president in the first place. Is God working through social media in today’s world?

    Let us take a tongue-in-cheek look at what pearls of wisdom they left behind to the future generations? Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana gave us the Muluki Ain, the Civil Coda, for the first time in the history of Nepal and he got himself elevated to the title of Maharajah for his wisdom. “If you want to earn a good name, you must let go of greed and adopt compassion,” he advised his brothers. He continued, “If it will please the masses, don’t hesitate to kill even your own son. Forget about jealousy and anger, forget about wealth, and make moves that please the largest section of the population”. He had mastered the Machiavellian art of statecraft that was needed at the time to stay in power but his fortitude never wavered. He would often lecture, “If you have to lie in the course of politics, do it by deluding the masses so they remain happy”. Our current generation of leaders has at least followed Jung’s advice to the letter on this score. Jung was also astute enough to bestow the Roll of Succession to his younger brothers rather than to his sons. Was this the secret of the longevity of the Rana Regime? The brothers were tried and tested while his sons were raw and a wayward son would have destroyed the fruits of Jung’s labours! We can find resonance of his wisdom in what happened in the latter Shah period.

    His successor Prime Minister Maharajah Ranauddip Singh prayed all the while for the betterment of his people. He did nothing more. His younger brother Commander-in-Chief General Dhir Shumsher handled the affairs of state with strength and foresight. Ranauddip’s prayers were answered as long as Dhir lived. After Dhir’s passing even the Gods could not save him from his fate! His nephew Bir Shumsher took over the reins of power.

    Bir loved music and the arts. He loved beautiful paintings and sculptures. He constructed European neo-classical style buildings in the heart of Kathmandu that were designed by European architects taking after the storied palaces of Europe such as Versailles in Paris and Schonbrunn in Vienna. Bir patronized the theater and dancing. His harem constituted a plethora of dancing girls with theatrical nicknames like Zarina, Nur Jahan, Ishq Bahar, Nasim Pari, Rosa Pari and Sartaj Pari. Bir changed the musical landscape of Kathmandu! “If music be the food of love, let’s play on and on,” was his motto to paraphrase Shakespeare.

    His successor Dev Shumsher was supposed to be the liberal one – perhaps because he did not experience the deprivations suffered by his brothers since, from a young age, he was brought up in the rich household of his childless uncle General Krishna Bahadur Kunwar. It is easier to be a liberal without having to battle for your daily bread. This reminds me of the innocent question a Shah king was known to have asked when he went to behold how the masses fared. “Don’t they even get to eat milk and rice?” he exclaimed in wonder to the consternation of his minders.

    Dev was ousted within months for his liberal-mindedness. His successor Chandra was the austere one. Stricken with an incurable tuberculosis since an early age, the gaunt Chandra came to represent the implacable face of the Rana Rule of Nepal for some 28 years. People remarked with dread, “Should Chandra smile a dire calamity will befall on us!” With the inevitable trajectory of time, Chandra opened the first institute of higher learning in Nepal – Tri-Chandra College. He is known to have confided to his courtiers that he has hammered the first nail in the Rana Regime’s coffin!

    It was during Maharajah Juddha’s watch that Godly revelations came to the fore. God-men in India today hold vast influence over the hopeful and the hopeless in huge swathes of territory with their divinely ordained missives. Maharajah Juddha also needed them here as Nepal firstly succumbed to the devastating 8.0 magnitude earthquake of 1934 A.D. and secondly to a burgeoning popular movement towards democracy partly fueled by the Indian movement to oust the Raj. Juddha did try to get the support of the masses. There is an apocryphal story that the Maharajah periodically invited hundreds of the destitute and the deprived, mainly from the lower castes, for delectable feasts and asked them to open up their minds. With some imbibing of local spirit the brave among them did so freely and gave the absolute dictator an idea about what the people were thinking. What he heard and what his guru Resunga Mahaprabhu prophesied sealed his own fate. He was the only Rana prime minister to resign from office. After a quick succession of two more prime ministers – Padma and Mohan – the 104 years of Rana Regime of Nepal went into the history books!

    Today’s Nepal has taken a precarious step towards federalism as enshrined in the newly minted Constitution. There lie many challenges ahead. There will be ever more room for divine revelations to come to the fore to tackle these challenges. Some of our leaders will no doubt get their inspiration from more earthly figures of Marx, Lenin and Mao. There is a danger lurking somewhere that King Prithivi Narayan’s fragile “yam” might be crushed now among the seven federated boulders.

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    LOOKING BACK AT A BETRAYAL MOST FOUL

    October 9th, 2017

    Maharani Haripriya Devi was now a refugee in Benaras. She looked back in anger at what had transpired in Nepal. She trembled with fear and paled at the memory even now when she remembered that terrible event! Yes, she had delved in politics while she was the titled maharani to Maharajah Ranoddip Singh, the prime minister and de facto ruler of Nepal. But wasn’t it warranted? Her husband was a kind-hearted man but weak. He could never be as commanding and forceful as his elder brother Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana. He was constantly being over-shadowed by his younger brother Commander-in-Chief General Dhir Shumsher as her husband was content in having his brother rule but in name. She could not tolerate this affront for ever. Could she? But she had failed, she began to tear up….

    Maharajah Ranoddip and Maharani Haripriya

    Haripriya was the second wife of Ranoddip Singh, the 5th brother of Maharajah Jung Bahadur. By his good fortune he had inherited the mantle of Maharajah and post of prime minister after his eldest brother Jung Bahadur Rana’s sudden death during a hunting trip in February 1877 A.D. At Jung’s passing his older brothers Bam Bahadur and Krishna Bahadur had already died and Badri Narsingh had been removed from the Roll of Succession after an unsuccessful plot to unseat Maharajah Jung Bahadur had come to light. Ranoddip Singh was involved in many of the campaigns launched by Nepal to redress past wrongs. He was in the front when the Tibetans sued for peace. He was with his brother Jung knocking at the gates of Lucknow during the Indian Mutiny. He represented the King of Nepal in the Imperial Durbar in Delhi in January 1877 A.D. He did not have much family life until he remarried in the hope of having an heir.

    The Maharani could not forgive the British for so casually ditching their friend Ranoddip Singh and Maharajah Jung Bahadur’s family. The current prime minister Bir Shumsher could not have survived the crime he and his brothers perpetrated without the British turning the other way. They had forgotten the years of friendship fostered under her husband. She couldn’t understand how the British could support the children of General Dhir Shumsher who was staunchly anti-British during his years as Commander-in-Chief. In deference to his stance the Maharani believed Ranoddip would not do the bidding of the British. However soon after the death of Dhir, most of the demand of the British with regards to the induction of the soldiers from Nepal for their Gurkha regiments had been fulfilled. Ranoddip had acceded to the plans of the British to raise another 5,600 troops from Nepal. In return he was successful in importing breach-loading rifles and gunpowder and lead to make cartridges for them in the country. Ranoddip had plans to lift the self-imposed state of isolationism of Nepal favoured by his brother Jung Bahadur.

    Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana with his sons Jagat and Jeet

    Haripriya felt a lot of sympathy for the eldest son of Maharajah Jung Bahadur, General Jagat Jung Bahadur Rana. Although she witnessed from the sideline the tussle between her husband Ranoddip and Jagat Jung on who would inherit the title of Maharajah of Kaski and Lumjung, she believed that it was unfair to remove Jagat from the Roll of Succession on trumped up charges of planning a coup d’etat against his uncle the maharajah. She knew that more than her husband’s it was the determination of Dhir Shumsher that ultimately sealed the fate of Jagat. Haripriya started advocating on Jagat’s return and restoration of status quo ante soon after Dhir passed away. She felt it only just that after her husband’s death the post of prime minster and the hereditary title of Maharajah of Kaski and Lamjung granted by King Surendra Bir Bikram Shah should be Jagat’s. She was a humorless, firm lady who started to call the shots now in lieu of her hen-pecked husband. She demanded that she wear a crown with plumes just like her husband’s and got it!

    Two Daughters of Jung Bahadur from Maharani Hiranya Garva Kumari (1) Deep Kumari married to Prince Dhirendra famous as Bagh ki Kanchi Maiya, (2) H.M. Lalit Rajya Luxmi (mother of King Prithivi), Maharajah Ranoddip and his wife Haripriya Devi

    Haripriya felt bitter that fate would not give her children. She knew that her husband had married her in the hope of having a male heir as his first wife died without any. She felt guilty that she had let him down. He was a good and deeply pious man who spent his time writing devotional songs and singing hymns. She persuaded Ranoddip in adopting a son of his elder brother the hapless Badri Narsingh Rana as their own. Thenceforth he was to be known in Durbar circles as Crown Prince Dhoj Narsingh Rana. But all this had come to nought.

    General Dhoj Narsingh Rana

    Her forceful advocacy on behalf of General Jagat Jung the deposed and exiled heir of Maharajah Jung Bahadur had started to ring alarm bells in the Shumsher Rana camp. Jagat Jung’s half sisters, the four daughters of Jung Bahadur Rana’s principal wife Maharani Hiranya Garva Kumari were firmly in the Shumsher camp too. They were very influential as all of them were married to members of the Nepalese Royal family, two of them to Crown Prince Trailokya. General Jagat Jung’s return would create havoc in Nepalese politics with unforeseen consequences. They were not going to allow this to happen at any cost. But happen it did! They put the blame squarely on the shoulders of Ranoddip the prime minister. Now all they wanted was revenge.

    That November night in 1885 while Maharajah Ranoddip Singh was reading his hymns and getting an oil massage from the palace maids, Maharani Haripriya Devi was present too in the bed chamber, content in the knowledge that after Dhir Shumsher’s passing her will was being imposed on her husband, slowly but surely. General Jagat Jung was already back in Nepal from his exile and restored to the Rana family’s Roll of Succession in 1884 A.D. The British were happy now that their demand for more Gurkha recruits were being met. They had both adopted Dhoj Narsingh as their own son. Suddenly all this secure feeling for her future unraveled before her eyes in a matter of a minute! Maharani Haripriya now relived the nightmare once more; she saw again through her tear-filled eyes sons of General Dhir Shumsher bursting into their bed chamber and shooting her husband dead in front of her very eyes! Her husband died in her arms with the name of Ram in his lips. Why hadn’t they not shot her too? Her life in Benaras was one of misery. The petitions to Lord Dufferin the Viceroy of India from the ousted sons of Jung Bahadur and her own adopted son to not recognize the regime of Bir Shumsher fell on deaf ears. The British Raj and providence had abandoned them.

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    WHEN THE EAST MET THE WEST

    June 19th, 2017

    Rudyard Kipling famously opined that “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet”. He was obviously referring to the post-renaissance materialistic philosophy that started to take hold in the west while the spirituality of much of the east had not changed with time. He would have experienced it first-hand having been born and raised in India and then having spent his adulthood in Britain. What is surprising is that socio-politically though the west was as backward perhaps as many parts of the east through much of the nineteenth century. Criticism of the ways of the Rana rulers of Nepal and similar family oligarchies of the east, especially coming from erudite western commentators, sounds quite hollow when similar absolute monarchies and dictators were ruling the roost in their own backyard. “Empire” was evil in its own nefarious way, let us not forget it. Not to sound like an apologist for the excesses of the Rana period, I would like to submit here that this was the way of the world – east or west – period!

    Joseph, elder brother of Napoleon

    Napoleon Bonaparte not only crowned himself Emperor of post-revolutionary France but also succeeded in making his brother Joseph King of Naples and Sicily by decree in 1806 and got recognition from Prussia and Russia. Later he became the King of Spain. Napoleon’s son Francois was crowned King of Rome! Napoleon re-arranged the map of Europe like nobody had done before him. General Bhimsen Thapa was Napoleon’s contemporary in Nepal. Had he not clashed against the superior military might of British India, he would have carved up much of the Himalayan region into a Greater Nepal. Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana had himself crowned the Maharajah of Kaski and Lamjung albeit by decree of a powerless King Surendra Bir Bikram Shah. Both of them were very much our Bonaparte!

    Emancipation of serfs in Russia, 1861 A.D.

    Russia still had serfs during this entire period leading up to the death of Czar Nicholas I in 1855 A.D. Only by 1861 did Russia legislate the emancipation of serfs under the liberalizing influence of their new Czar Alexander II. Jung Bahadur had himself tried to end the inhuman practice of slavery and suttee but he could not succeed during his lifetime. Had Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana managed to visit Russia as originally planned following the visit to Britain and France in 1850, he would have seen a country much like his own. Nicholas I was a martinet and Jung would have found common cause with him regaling in military parades and elaborate and lavishly prepared state occasions. Notwithstanding the setback Russia suffered during the Crimean War, under Czar Nicholas I Russia had gained a huge empire to the south and east bordering Persia, China and through Siberia to the Pacific Coast. Empire building was the norm and the European powers were outdoing one another trying to gain footholds in faraway lands and control their resources.

    The sun never set in the British Empire during much of 18th and 19th centuries. The largest land mass any empire had acquired in world history, the empire covered 6 Continents and similar time zones. At any given instance there was bound to be daylight in some corner of the empire! After having lost America to its independence India became the jewel in the crown. A trading company set up under a Royal charter in early 17th century had opened its first trade post in India in Surat in 1613 A.D. under a special concession granted by Mughal Emperor Jehangir. The Honorable East India Company had devoured much of India in a hundred years since. Similarly the House of Gorkha had conquered Kathmandu Valley and expanded their territories through much of the mountainous regions south of the Himalayan massifs. In an age when an European power thousands of miles away could take control of the multitude of nation states of South Asia – both Muslim and Hindu – and subjugate them in the name of civilizing them, then nobody should begrudge the Gorkhalis for unifying disparate and largely backward mountain tribes and forging a great nation state in the laps of the Himalaya!

    Expediency dictated that Nepal under the Rana regime forge close ties with the British rulers of India. It was but a natural reaction to self-preservation. After the Treaty of Sugauly truncated the territories of Nepal which were acquired decades earlier, the rulers saved Nepal as an independent state. It is an open question what Nepal would look like today had the British taken over and, like all other princely states of India, handed us over to an independent India notwithstanding the various treaties and agreements the British had signed earlier with those princely states. One thing is for sure, our Maoist insurgency would have been either nipped in the bud or would be festering like a gangrenous sore as in a few parts of India today.

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    UNEARTHING THE ARTIST BEHIND THE PERSONA

    February 10th, 2017

    In my European travels I marvel at famous works of art and praise the genius of portrait artists such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Vincent van Gogh, Rembrandt or Velasquez without a thought given to their subjects. Obviously these artists were commissioned by the aristocracy and nobility of their days to sculpt a bust or to paint a portrait of their benefactors. As time went by these artists, many after their death, started getting recognition and their works of art started fetching unbelievable sums for auction houses. The rich would buy a Velasquez without a thought for who the forgotten likeness in canvas actually is and proudly decorate his living room with it.

    Will such an eventuality come about in our local context? Will we see our often forgotten artists command a decent price for their works? We see olden statues of kings and prime ministers but we do not know who the artists actually are. Many artists behind the portraits of famous historical personalities may they be Shah kings or Rana maharajahs are relegated to anonymity. Would it not be possible to find out more on them?

    Gazing at some of the Rana portraits of the early 20th Century one can see a signature – samar-krit – or “work of Samar”. Just who is this gentleman? Major General Dambar Shumsher was the second oldest son of Commander-in-Chief Dhir Shumsher, the youngest brother of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana. His passion for photography is well known and as an early aficionado he inculcated in his son General Samar Shumsher Rana the love of photography and portraiture. In my collection I have got Samar’s portrait of my grandfather Maharajah Juddha and my grandmother Tika Rajya Luxmi, third titled wife of Maharajah Juddha. This rich tradition was carried on by his son the pre-eminent Nepalese litterateur and artist Bal Krishna Sama! We remember his son Janardan as a popular Nepalese singer and musician.

    Dambar Shumsher and family

    Another contribution of Dambar Shumsher and his family was to promote the talented Chitrakar family as court portrait artists and educate them in the art of photography and portraiture. Tej Bahadur Chitrakar was sent to Calcutta in the twenties during the time of Maharajah Chandra Shumsher to master the European style of portrait painting. Since then the Chitrakar family have been royal photographers and portrait artists. In my collection I have got a portrait of my great-grandmother Juhar Kumari Devi, mother of Maharajah Juddha Shumsher, painted by none other than Tej Bahadur Chitrakar in the thirties!

    Tej Bahadur Chitrakar, portrait artist trained in Calcutta
    Juhar Kumari Devi, mother of Maharajah Juddha by Tej Bahadur Chitrakar

    This brings us to the question of who were the sculptors of those magnificent equestrian statues of Shah kings and Rana prime ministers and their families. I did a blog on the Kathmandu statues some years ago but just who cast these magnificent statues and where was nagging me all the while. I was fortunate to be privy to a partial solving of these mysteries just recently. I got to meet Mrs. Chanda Rana, philanthropist and restorer, and learn that she had actually done some work on where these statues were cast and by whom. She kindly shared with me the records she had compiled and the article she had written for a local magazine.

    The Tonelli family originated in Italy. Domenico Antonio Tonelli I (1806 – 1871) migrated to England and became a British subject before 1861. He is described as a plaster figure maker and modeller. He successfully conducted his business and passed on his skills to his son Domenico Antonio Tonelli II (1834 – 1919). He and his sister Elizabeth as assistant continued the family vocation. Domenico Antonio Tonelli III (1865 – 1953) and his brother James inherited this mantle. Domenico was awarded the title of National Scholar and became a member of the Royal College of Art. Some of the Rana statues we see today in Kathmandu is the work of this master craftsman.

    Inauguration of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana’s statue in March 1885

    Domenico worked at Fulthorne Studios in Paddington, London. For a time he was an assistant to Sir Alfred Gilbert the renowned sculptor who cast the Eros statue in 1886 A.D. now seen at Piccadilly Circus in London. Domenico must have been a master sculptor when the Rana regime in Nepal was looking to commissioning more statues of prime ministers and their families. We do not yet know who cast the magnificent statue of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana commissioned by his brother Maharajah Rannodip Singh after his death and unveiled with a lot of pomp in Tundikhel in March 1885 A.D. However the statues of Maharajah Dev Shumsher commissioned by his brother Juddha and now in front of the Jawalakhel Zoo was definitely cast by Tonelli III. So too were the statues of Juddha’s mother Juhar Kumari and his foster mother and sister-in-law Karma Kumari, wife of Dev, both placed by Juddha inside the zoo.

    Statue of Juhar Kumari Devi with  creator Tonelli

    The statue of Maharajah Juddha placed at the newly constructed New Road built after the devastating earthquake of 1934 A.D. was also cast by Tonelli. There is a very interesting picture of the casting process by Tonelli.

    Juddha statue now in New Road

    Domenico Tonelli eventually migrated to Australia and died there. It was because of his grandson Peter Tonelli’s fortunate record keeping that we have got a wealth of information on our statues or else we would lose an important part of our history.

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    SPOILING FOR A FIGHT, THE INTERREGNUM BETWEEN THE FALL OF BHIMSEN THAPA AND RISE OF JUNG BAHADUR

    October 27th, 2016

    One cannot help but wonder what would have happened if the Punjab, Avadh and other princely Indian states had formed an alliance with Nepal during the Anglo-Nepalese War of 1814-16 A.D. Subsequently what would have happened had Jung Bahadur Rana not sided with the British but aided the mutinous Indian states in 1857 A.D.? South Asian history might have been different. 

    Not since the war with Tibet and subsequent Chinese reprisal during the time of Regent Bahadur Shah did Nepal see such a reversal of fortune culminating in the Treaty of Sugauli. Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa was compelled to sign the treaty with the British East India Company following the 1814-16 war. It was a colossal loss of face and fortune for the Gorkha kingdom since the conquest of Kathmandu Valley and the subsequent unification of Nepal. Almost one third of the country from the River Sutlej to River Mahakali in the west and from River Teesta to River Mechi in the east was now forfeited to the Company. A lesser person than Bhimsen Thapa would have seen the end of his days in power following such a cataclysmic turn of event but Bhimsen’s hold on power was such that he survived. Regent Queen Lalit Tripura Sundari still reigned in the name of her grandson the minor King Rajendra after his father King Girvan Yuddha died at the age of nineteen on 20 November, 1816 A.D. The Regent was Bhimsen’s own niece.

    Ever since the ink had not even dried on the Treaty of Sugauli the Nepalese Court had zealous proponents of a second war with the British to salvage Gorkhali pride and retrieve lost territories. Nepalese politics since then would play out along the lines of pro or anti Company sentiments as expediency dictated. Only with the rise of Jung Bahadur Rana and his personal intervention on behalf of the British during the Indian Mutiny of 1857 A.D. did Nepal firmly establish itself as a friend of British India.

    Regent Queen Lalit Tripura Sundari died of cholera in 1832 A.D. at a relatively young age of 38 years. The beginning of the end of Bhimsen Thapa’s long reign had begun. The martial clans that gave rise to the House of Gorkha under the Shah monarchs were the Pande, Basnyat, Thapa, Chautariya (royal collateral) and Kunwar chettry casts of the hill peoples. One or the other of their forebears had shone in the War of Unification and King Prithivi Narayan Shah trusted them with his life. These were the people in command of the military and the civil administration. The unity among these clans had however frayed at the seams and all of them were fighting for supremacy.

    Shakespeare’s Macbeth makes a case brilliantly:

    I have no spur

    To prick the sides of my intent, but only

    Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself

    And falls on th’other….

    Senior Queen Samrajya Luxmi Devi was the real person in power after the king came of age and started to pull the reins of state. King Rajendra Bikram Shah was a weak person and he was under the sway of both his Ranis who pulled him in diametrically opposite directions leaving him in the proverbial position of between a rock and a hard place. Both the queens were extremely ambitious and both wanted their first born to succeed King Rajendra on the throne. Reports here are sketchy but stories tell of a second baby son of Queen Samrajya dying of poisoning, the poison having been intended for her consumption in the first place! Somehow the old man Bhimsen Thapa was implicated. Queen wanted revenge and the man to carry out her orders was no other than Ranajang Pande, the youngest son of the war hero and Mukhtiyar General Damodar Pande who was killed on the orders of Bhimsen Thapa some three decades earlier.

    The family of Damodar Pande had their lands restored to them. They came back to positions of power and pelf. Ranajang became the Chief Minister and Commander-in-Chief in 1843 A.D. at the behest of the Senior Queen. The Pandes would now exact their revenge upon Bhimsen and his clan. Bhimsen himself committed suicide while in prison and his relatives including his nephew Mathabar Singh Thapa, the brother of Regent Queen Tripura Sundari, fled for their lives into the Punjab. Another interesting event had taken place in faraway Afghanistan that had the British preoccupied. The Afghan ruler Dost Mohammad had invaded the Punjab and the British were busy fighting the hardy Afghan tribes all the way to Kabul to install Shah Shuja as the new Afghan king. Ranajang Pande and the anti-Company factions in the court were waiting to strike at the British supported by a willing Senior Queen. Their ambition was further goaded by news that the British had started their first Opium War with China. An opportunity had presented itself to abrogate the Treaty of Sugauli!

    Brian Hodgson

    Nepal sent a small expeditionary force across the border into India and occupied Ramnagar in Bihar in April 1840 A.D. Resident Brian Hodgson in Kathmandu and British India were shown a general disdain by all the actors in the court including Senior Queen Samrajya Luxmi Devi. This was a test of British intentions towards Nepal. A flurry of diplomatic activities ensued with Brian Hodgson imploring Lord Auckland, the British Governor General, to act strongly against Nepalese aggression. Ranajang Pande sent diplomatic missives to the Punjab and Avadh to form an anti-British alliance. Governor General Auckland sent a strong warning to Nepal to withdraw or face military action. They stood eyeball to eyeball until November.

    Mathabir Singh Thapa

    King Rajendra Bikram Shah was spooked and he blinked first. He finally had the guts to take matters in his own hands and admonish his senior queen. He withdrew his troops. Her ambitions thwarted Samrajya Luxmi decided to leave for Benaras but she contracted malaria in the Terai and came back to Kathmandu to die at a young age of just twenty seven. With the demise of the senior queen the Pande clan once again lost all their perks and privileges and Ranajang Pande lost his mind. The door was now open to Junior Queen Rajya Luxmi’s long held ambition of having her own son Prince Ranendra succeed to the throne of Nepal. She would once again rely on the disgraced Thapa clan to realize her dream. Her first act was to recall Mathbar Singh Thapa from the Punjab to head the government.

    Resident Henry Lawrence

    Mathabar Singh Thapa styled himself Prime Minister for the first time in Nepalese history and Commander-in-Chief and exacted revenge against all the courtiers who had contributed to Bhimsen Thapa’s downfall. Many prominent courtiers were physically eliminated. He became more powerful than the King. During his time in office he refused to do the bidding of Queen Rajya Luxmi to replace Crown Prince Surendra by her own son Prince Ranendra as the heir apparent to King Rajendra Bikram Shah. British Resident Henry Lawrence even warned the Nepalese palace that Mathabar was getting out of hand enlarging the army to pre ‘Treaty of Sugauli’ levels and posing a threat once again to the British Raj. He was keeping the Governor General Lord Ellenborough informed on Nepalese irredentism.

    Mathabar Singh Thapa’s elder sister was the Regent Queen of Nepal Lalit Tripura Sundari, now deceased, and his younger sister Ganesh Kumari Devi was married to Kaji Bal Narsingh Kunwar. The Kunwars were closely associated with the Shah monarchy from the time of unification of Nepal. Bal Narsingh had risen in prominence after the assassination of ex-king Rana Bahadur Shah by his half-brother Sher Bahadur Shah. It was Bal who had killed the assailant. Their son Bir Narsingh Kunwar was a Captain in the army and attached to Crown Prince Surendra. Mathabar had changed his favourite nephew’s name to “Jung Bahadur” reflecting the time’s martial inclinations. In desperation King Rajendra and Queen Rajya Luxmi would turn to Jung to check the ambition of Mathabar by hatching a plot to assassinate him.

    Queen Rajya Luxmi feigned sickness and summoned Mathabar Singh to Hanuman Dhoka Royal Palace. Against the warnings of his son and mother, it is said; he decided to go the the palace fully confident of himself. As he entered the courtyard shots were fired and Mathabar fell dead. His nephew Jung Bahadur had pulled the trigger, he later claimed under duress. Queen Rajya Luxmi was relieved. Now she would choose another more reliable person to do her bidding and fulfill her ambitions. She set her sights on the young Jung Bahadur. The meteoric rise of Jung had begun.

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