Name: RanaSubodh


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:


    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.



    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.



    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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    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.



    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.


    Tracing The Genesis Of Nepalese Tea Industry

    October 4th, 2016

    By Subodh Rana.


    “Tea is better than wine for it leadeth not to intoxication, neither does it cause a man to say foolish things and repent thereof in his sober moments. It is better than water for it does not carry disease; neither does it act like poison as water does when it contains foul and rotten matter.”

    Clipper ships used by tea traders

    Like the ancient Chinese adage succinctly attested to its merit, tea was recognized for its health benefits and served in all aristocratic homes in England by the time Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana visited London in 1850 A.D. It was already the beverage of choice for welcoming guests. American clipper ships had started to bring Chinese tea to London by then. Although still a very expensive commodity the British aristocracy and nobility along with their Dutch peers had already started enjoying the ‘cuppa’, aromatic green and black tea from China. It would be a matter of time before the whole population would be able to afford the joy of tea drinking and steer clear of addiction to coffee and lager.

    The insular Nepal of Jung’s time did not have the expensive tea as one of the commodities purchased from China. Drinking this beverage was a privilege and Jung took to the taste. He drank it just the way the British did, adding to the black brew milk and sugar. Jung returned to Nepal with a plan to get the British to plant tea in his homeland. He knew that this beverage would be universally popular. 

    Victorian High Tea

    Cultivation of tea outside China was started by the British and the Dutch having taken a fancy for the brew they encountered during their trade missions to China. They preferred the black tea over green. Although both green and black tea actually come from the same plant Camellia sinensis, it is the method of preparation that is different. The tea leaves are harvested, withered and heated by pan frying in the case of green tea and harvested and allowed to oxidize before drying in case of black tea. The leaves darken and produce a more defined colour and aroma. The British started cultivation of tea in their colonies in India and Sri Lanka primarily whereas the Dutch started cultivation in Sumatra and Java. Throughout the eighteen fifties and sixties Jung Bahadur’s Nepal saw imported tea coming from Assam and Darjeeling and the general populace was increasingly consuming this beverage. Maharajah Jung Bahadur knew that cultivating tea in Nepal was going to be a great domestic industry and, who knew, perhaps he could also export Nepalese tea overseas.

    Maharajah Jung Bahadur’s great mentor was the old Englishman Brian Hodgson now residing in Darjeeling. Hodgson was extremely knowledgeable about Nepal and its politics having served at the British Residency in Kathmandu in various capacities initially and finally as Resident during the period 1833-44 A.D. He was Resident during the twilight years of Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa and knew Jung Bahadur even before his rise to power. Jung relied on Hodgson’s counsel whenever he faced issues with the British and Hodgson was ever ready to assist Jung. It was to Brian Hodgson that Maharajah Jung Bahadur would turn to in his quest of starting a tea industry in Nepal.

    His eldest daughter Maharajkumari Badan Kumari Devi had come of age and he was looking for a fitting groom. The eldest of his many children Badan Kumari was the elder sister of Jagat Jung and Jeet Jung, both of the brothers would play prominent role in the unfolding saga of Rana rule. Jung Bahadur had more ambitious matrimonial ties for them as he was looking at the prospect of marrying both of them to the royal princesses, daughters of King Surendra Bir Bikram Shah. But he had to give in marriage the elder sister first as was customary.

    Young Bhimsen Thapa

    The Thapa family was the old nobility of Nepal and the family’s chief patron was Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa. Having ruled Nepal for over 30 years Bhimsen and his Thapa clan members had taken hold of many an important position in Nepal’s military and civil bureaucracy. But his career had come to an ignominious end during the reign of King Rajendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev. The opponents of Bhimsen had poisoned the king’s ears, even going to the extent of claiming that the death of his infant son was a result of connivance of Bhimsen. Bhimsen got despondent and committed suicide while in prison. Following the downfall of Bhimsen the Thapa clan and their relatives lost all their perks and privileges and had to undergo untold of privation and hardship until the rise of Jung Bahadur Rana.  

    Jung Bahadur himself was the grandson of Bhimsen’s younger brother Nain Singh Thapa from his daughter Ganesh Kumari Devi, hence he astutely played his role in restoring the fortunes of the Thapa family once in power. Now he would give his eldest daughter in marriage to Gajraj Singh Thapa who came from a renowned lineage of the Thapa clan. Gajraj Singh’s father was Kazi Hemdal Singh Thapa and grandfather was Sardar Achal Singh Thapa. 

    Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana knew that Indian nation states were destined to come under a British dominion and there was no use fighting the inevitable. The might of the British Empire was too great even for European powers to challenge as he observed first hand during his visit to Britain and France in 1850 A.D. English was fast overtaking Persian as the lingua franca of officialdom. He needed people with the ability to read and write in English in his court so that nothing would be lost in translation between himself and Calcutta. Around 1855 A.D. Jung decided to send his future son-in-law Captain Gajraj Singh Thapa to learn English under the tutelage of Brian Hodgson now residing at Brianstone in Darjeeling. Hodgson was delighted to be of assistance and appointed his own son Henry as the tutor until Henry’s death in 1856 A.D.

    Jung had not forgotten his ambition of growing tea in Nepal. By the eighteen seventies branded tea from Darjeeling, Assam and Sri Lanka had gained worldwide appreciation and export was booming. British India companies Tetley, Brooke Bond and Grey were household names in many parts of the world. The best person to help realize his ambition was his son-in-law Colonel Gajraj Singh who was by 1873 A.D. Governor General of the eastern region of Nepal. Gajraj was asked once again to revisit Jung’s old mentor Brian Hodgson in Darjeeling and study the tea industry at close quarters. Hodgson once again obliged.

    Colonel Gajraj Singh and Maharajkumari Badan Kumari

    Gajraj Singh Thapa successfully started a tea plantation in the region of Soktim in Ilam in eastern Nepal as the terrain and the climate was similar to that of Darjeeling. He was confident that tea plants would thrive there. Gajraj Singh is known as the father of the tea industry in Nepal.  It is in no small measure to the foresight of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana. The son of Gajraj Colonel Harkha Jung Thapa, Jung’s favorite eldest grandchild, would carry the name of his grandfather “Jung” as his middle name and the family tradition carries on to this day. 

    Tea Garden in Ilam


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    May 11th, 2016

    The maharajah was having a nightmare. He often did since he left the hurly burly of Nepalese politics for a life of a raj-rishi with determination to devote the remaining few years of his life to spiritual pursuit. He dreamed of a calamity striking Nepal and taking him in its wake. Although not residing in Kathmandu any longer, he was still close enough to feel the ripples of a revolution should it come sooner or later, but come it would. The maharajah woke up sweating. He asked his attendant to light up his hookah. This would make him calm again.

    Ridi Bazaar on the banks of Kali Gandaki River

    Ridi is a very holy place in Nepal. Located at the confluence of the small Ridi stream and the larger Kali Gandaki River in Gulmi district, the site is acclaimed far and wide as a pilgrimage site as holy as Benaras. Throughout the ages pilgrims not able to reach faraway Benaras flocked to Ridi for salvation. The famous temple of Rishikesh founded by King Mukunda Sen graces the site. Nearby, only 5 km away on the spur of a hill overlooking the Kali Gandaki River and the famous temple, Juddha decided to build his retirement home at a place called Argali. This is the place the retired Maharajah Juddha had chosen to live the life of a raj-rishi embracing the virtues of abstinence and meditation. Still his mind was not at complete rest.

    Dilapidated Argali Durbar today

    How soon the bharadars, the courtiers, who were singing praise to the maharajah and extolling his virtues were no longer in sight although Argali was but a few miles to the west from Kathmandu. Power had now passed from the Raj-rishi Maharajah Juddha to the new prime minister Padma Shumsher, his nephew. Padma occupied Singha Durbar. Used to the trappings of absolute power with hordes of people swarming his palace to offer obeisance, it was rather lonely now at Argali admitted the Maharajah to himself. The Durbar was gone. Only his youngest wife Kanchi Maharani was there. Even the children from her had grown up and were living independently in their own bhawans in Kathmandu built for them by the Maharajah. This was his own doing of course reflected Juddha. He had voluntarily resigned from the powerful office of prime minister and the title of Maharajah of Kaski and Lumjung, the only Rana ruler ever to do so. He was the de facto ruler of Nepal for 13 long years like his Rana predecessors had been since 1846 A.D. as the Kings of Nepal were mere figureheads without any political power. And he had given it all up.

    He had his innings at the helm and he was proud that he did the nation a great service after the devastating earthquake of 1990 B.S. He had mobilized all resources at his disposal and rebuilt. He had denied foreign aid for reconstruction as this would invite intervention in the internal affairs of Nepal. He had continued the policy of his predecessors in assisting the British government and so during World War II he offered Nepalese troops to fight for them in Burma. He had sent his own sons to the front leading these armies. He started mills and industries in Nepal, banks to finance them and an insurance company to mitigate calamity. He made a zoo in Kathmandu to the delight of the populace. He made innumerable rest houses for pilgrims and renovated temples and monasteries. But there had been failures too he reflected sadly. He had taken out from the Roll of Succession his nephews, sons of his predecessors Maharajah Bir and Bhim from their junior wives. This had created a great friction in the ruling family and destabilized it. These nephews had now funded the nascent democracy movements from their safe havens in Calcutta. These movements for democracy had put him in a corner. He had to sanction the harsh measure of capital punishment meted out to some of the ringleaders of these movements following the clamor from inside his inner ruling circle.

    My father Gen. Kiran with Maharajah Juddha and Pandit Nehru

    It was time now to leave Argali, leave Nepal altogether and seek solace in the Indian Himalayas. The year was 1948 A.D. Weighing his many options he finally decided on Dehra Dun capital of today’s Uttarakhand State of India. These areas belonged to Nepal before the 1816 A.D. Treaty of Sugauly when Nepal had to give up significant territories to British India following a brief war. Places such as Dehra Dun, Nainital, Almora and Garhwal were still home to the Nepalese diaspora. There Juddha would feel at home away from home. Where would he stay though? Prime Minister Pandit Nehru and Home Minister Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel of India invited Juddha and kindly offered him a temporary residence before he could complete his own abode. He decided to call his son General Kiran Shumsher J. B. Rana from Nepal to help him build one. My father took particular pride in constructing a last repose for my grandfather in retirement at the expansive grounds of 13 Young Road, Dehradun Cantonment. Juddha had entrusted him with the task from among all his seventeen sons, a singular honour for my father. Maharajah Juddha found peace in this new abode and passed away in 1952 A.D. in Dehra Dun. This building today is part of the campus of the Cambrian Hall School founded in 1954 A.D. by Colonel Shashi Shumsher Rana, Maharajah Juddha’s youngest son from his Kanchi Maharani.

    Cambrian Hall School today


    The glorious uncrowning

    February 9th, 2016


    By Subodh Rana.


    The 104 years of Rana Regime of Nepal reviled today as a monolithic juggernaut from without was anything but when viewed closely from within. The struggle for power within the family was as acute as those among the Roman emperors or Mughal rulers. Out of the nine Rana prime ministers only four died while in office, one was assassinated, two were prematurely ousted from office, the last one had to step down to give way to proto-democracy. Only one among the nine actually resigned voluntarily while in office. This is his story.

    Maharajah Juddha Shumsher

    So why did Maharajah Juddha Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana resign bucking the trend? Was it because he was afraid that he would be ousted like one of his predecessor Maharajah Dev Shumsher? Was he afraid that there was some nefarious plot to assassinate him like his uncle Maharajah Ranauddip Singh? When one makes a decision of such magnitude, there must have been multiple factors influencing him to come to such a decision. Had he not resigned Maharajah Juddha Shumsher J. B. Rana would have been the last Rana prime minister of Nepal if we maintain the trajectory of history as it is and end the Rana regime in 1951 A.D. Juddha passed away peacefully in Dehra Dun in India in 1952 A.D.

    One must start investigating by learning who he really was at birth. One of the youngest sons of Commander-in-Chief Dhir Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana from his morganatic wife Juhar Kumari reportedly from Kangra, Juddha was not born a Roll-wallah, but was added to the Rana nomenclature at the time of his eldest brother Maharajah Bir Shumsher reportedly by a death-bed wish of his father Dhir. It can be surmised that Bir was only too willing to fulfill his father’s wish as, at the same time, he also raised the status of his children from his second Newari wife to the Roll of Succession to the tile of Maharajah of Kaski and Lamjung and Prime Ministership of Nepal. Nearly of the same age Juddha grew up together with his nephews Rudra, Dharma and Pratap, Bir’s children from his second wife.

    Maharajah Bir with his second wife and children

    Juddha was brought up by his foster mother Maharani Karma Kumari the first wife of his elder brother Dev Shumsher who succeeded Bir as prime minister of Nepal. Juddha paid equal reverence to his foster mother as to his own as testified by the two statues he built for them and placed them at the Jawalakhel Zoo, Nepal’s first and only zoo which was inaugurated by Juddha amidst great fanfare. Juddha knew that karma was very important in guiding one’s destiny and he, like many of his contemporaries, had a fatalistic approach to life and regarded the quest for the hereafter to a greater degree.

    Although raised to the status of “A” Class Rana and listed in the Roll of Succession he was one of the youngest in line to the title of Maharajah of Kaski and Lamjung and the post of Prime Minister of Nepal. Perhaps in his younger days he never even thought once that one day he would inherit the title and the post. He could have never known that after Bir, Dev would be removed from his post by his own younger brother Chandra. Chandra Shumsher ruled for 31 years and died in office. His younger brother Bhim succeeded Chandra at an old age and he ruled for only 5 years until he died in office due to natural causes. Juddha succeeded Bhim at the age of 58 and became the next dictator of Nepal.

    An ascetic living in the Resunga hills of Gulmi district of western Nepal had once correctly – as it turned out – prophesied that Juddha would one day become the ruler of Nepal, perhaps to disbelief on the part of many, including himself. But his prophesy came true and since then Juddha started to consult Resunga Mahaprabhu frequently and even brought him to Kathmandu near the seat of power. As a young boy I recall the ascetic with white silken skin, piercing eyes and white thinning beard flowing down to his knees doing samadhi meditation in Pashupatinath and my father would occasionally visit him there. Was Juddha tricked into retirement by some treachery of his nephews in cahoots with the ascetic clairvoyant? They took stock aghast of some of the liberalization Juddha had brought to social life and the economy. There is a story that has the ascetic Resunga advising Juddha that he had just one more year to live and so it was better to retire from politics and gain spiritual wealth.

    Juddha, seated in centre, with Rudra seated on his right

    One of the first acts of Juddha upon assuming high office was to change the Roll of Succession earlier carried out by Bir and Bhim and take the children of his brothers born out of secondary wives out of the Roll.  Did he do this out of his own volition or was it due to intense pressure from his ambitious nephews, the wealthy and powerful sons of Chandra pining for the high office. Juddha removed his second in line Commander-in-Chief Rudra Shumsher, the eldest son of Bir from his second wife from the post and banished him to Palpa. So were the sons of Bhim Shumsher removed from the Roll and banished to various parts of the country, away from Kathmandu, by giving them governorship of far flung lands.

    This act is a mystery very hard to unravel. Why did Juddha betray Rudra his childhood friend? Why did he undo the decision taken by the Bhardari Sabha (Privy Council) of Bir his brother who had generously enlisted him Juddha as well in the Roll? Was it due to the pressure from the sons of Chandra Shumher? Did he genuinely think that what he was doing was just and good for the Rana dynasty? Did Juddha repent this decision later and did it play a role in his resignation?

    The third angle we need to closely look at is the geopolitics of the time. Since his rule began there was a tremendous movement in India started by Mahatma Gandhi to force the British to give self-rule (swaraj) to India. Many of the politically inclined from Nepal had also gone over to India to support Gandhi in this movement and eventually created political awareness too back home aimed against the dynastic Rana regime, closely linked in their eyes to the British Raj in India. It was during this period of political agitation that some of the ring leaders against Rana rule were charged with sedition and given the death penalty. Four of them have since been celebrated as martyrs after the Rana regime collapsed in Nepal.

    Retired Maharajah Juddha with Pandit Nehru in Dehradun,

    my father General Kiran at the left of picture

    Juddha must have known that soon the British would be forced out of India and give India its independence which would in turn spell doom upon the Rana regime. Although he maintained personal relationship with the Indian freedom movement and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and other leaders, the trajectory of history would not leave the Rana regime intact. Perhaps he thought that he would resign before the inevitable happened. He took destiny into his own hands and decided that it would be better to voluntarily leave power than to be ignominiously shunted out.

    29 November 1945 dawned bright and clear. Maharajah Juddha summoned all the civil and military high ranking officials of Nepal for a special ceremony at Singha Durbar, the official abode of the Rana prime minister of Nepal. This day he would voluntarily hand over the headgear or Sarpech of the Maharajah of Kaski and Lamjung and the post of prime mister to Commander-in-Chief Padma Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana. He would from then on be known as Rajarishi (Raj-rishi) Maharaj, one who in an act of ultimate glory uncrowned himself and decided to live the life of an ascetic in spiritual quest and penance just like his mentor Resunga Mahabrabhu. At the time he did not know that he would live until 1952 A.D., for another 7 years instead of the one prophesied.

    Maharajah Juddha bidding farewell to his posts and titles

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    An Englishman in the court of Nepal

    December 3rd, 2015


    By Rana Subodh.


    The old Englishman was very fond of Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana. He reminisced about how the brash youngster attached to the retinue of Crown Prince Surendra had performed impossible feats the feckless prince commanded of him. He had heard that Jung jumped from the Trishuli bridge on a horse into the raging river below. At another time the prince had demanded that Jung jump into a deep well. The most fabled feat was the daredevil jump from the Dharahara tower built by Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa to commemorate Nepal’s Pyrrhic victory over East India Company a decade earlier. Jung performed his jump harnessed to two huge umbrellas. Jung had escaped unscathed. Hodgson pondered whether these stories were factually true.

    British Residency in Nepal

    Unfortunately he, Hodgson, had played a hand in the downfall of Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa and the eclipse of his family including his grand-nephew Jung Bahadur, now Nepal’s strongman. Politics was dirty. Since the opening of the residency in 1816 A.D. a year after the Treaty of Sugauly ended the Anglo-Nepal war, it fell on the British Resident to make sure Nepal was pliable and another misfortune would not occur that could bring renewed clash as some segment of the Nepalese court was still smarting from the bitter defeat. There were those clamoring for revenge. As Assistant Resident to Gardner since 1924 and Resident in Nepal since 1833 A.D. Brian Hodgson had received strict orders from his superiors to make sure the “right” side won in Nepal’s fluid politics.

    Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa was an old man and had held sway over much of Nepalese politics through four decades of some of the most tumultuous period in its history: from the downfall of Damodar Pandey and incarceration of Queen Subarna Prabha to the Regency of Queen Lalit Tripura Sundari and coming of age of King Rajendra Bikram Shah. Smack in between was the disastrous war the expanding Gorkha state fought with the British East India Company. Bhimsen somehow survived this debacle and continued to rule. Hodgson and his masters in Calcutta including Governor-General Auckland were already getting weary of Bhimsen who was still the head of a very large standing army.

    Brian Houghton Hodgson was born in 1801, second of seven siblings, and lived in England 18 years of his life before arriving in India employed by the East India Company. He learned Persian to make himself useful to his employers as it was the lingua franca among the rulers of the indigenous Indian states then. After postings from Calcutta to Kumaon and Garhwal, erstwhile Nepalese provinces ceded after the Treaty of Sugauly to British India, Hodgson first arrived in Nepal to take up the post of post-master and then got promoted as assistant resident in Kathmandu. Under the treaty of Sugauly following the Anglo-Nepalese War Nepal was obliged to open a British Residency in Kathmandu. Hodgson felt like he was more of a prisoner than an emissary as he was confined to live in the residency and his every move carefully monitored by Bhimsen. He had to take a special permission to visit Kakani or Godavari in the valley foothills in pursuit of his hobby of documenting the many ethnic groups of Nepal and studying its flora and fauna. He decided to learn how to read and write Nepali and speak Newari too, the tongue of the indigenous people of Kathmandu valley.

    King Rajendra Bikram Shah came of age in 1832 A.D. the same year his step grandmother Regent Queen Lalit Tripura Sundari passed away. He was seen as a friend of British India and always maintained a cordial relationship with Resident Brian Hodgson. By 1837 he had consolidated power and stripped Bhimsen Thapa and his nephew Mathabir Singh Thapa of their military command. This was what the East India Company wanted as threat to armed conflict was ever present under those leaders. Shortly thereafter the youngest baby of senior queen Samrajya Luxmi died and Bhimsen was falsely implicated in poisoning the prince. He was imprisoned and had to undergo untold of humiliation and privations. Mathabir exiled himself to the court of Maharajah Ranjit Singh of the Punjab. His entire family was in disarray now including the fortunes of those dependent on him such as his grand-nephew Jung Bahadur Rana. Bhimsen had finally committed suicide in prison.

    Lord Auckland

    Reflecting on those tumultuous years at the court in Kathmandu Hodgson now regretted that he had not stepped in to save Bhimsen Thapa. He had received smuggled letters from Bhimsen himself from prison to help him by proclaiming his innocence to King Rajendra but Hodgson had not acted upon them. One of the reasons was that by 1840 A.D. Lord Auckland had asked him to stay clear of the internal politics of Nepal as he believed that as long as the military forces of East India Company were superior, the British need not fear Nepal. Notwithstanding this edict Hodgson had sent his superiors request to intercede on behalf of Bhimsen but it was too late now. When the news of Bhimsen’s suicide was delivered to the residency, Hodgson’s eyes had welled up with tears of sympathy for the innocent, unfortunate man.

    All that was behind Hodgson now. He had been removed from his post in Kathmandu by the new Governor-General Lord Ellenborough over his unfortunate decision to delay delivery of a letter from Calcutta to the king as he felt it would weaken the British position. It had come at a most inappropriate time too when his Kashmiri wife Meharunnisha was giving birth to their third child. The Raki Bazaar in Asantole in Kathmandu sells bangles and other ornaments and Kashmiri Muslims were the vendors there from the time of the Malla kings. He had fallen in love with a young girl from this community and taken her as his bride. Piqued, he had resigned from Company employment and headed back home to England in 1844 A.D.

    Lord Ellenborough

    After a year of rest and family visits Hodgson returned to India. As the government did not allow him to set foot in Nepal even in a private capacity, he decided to retire in Darjeeling to pursue his interests in the Himalayas. It was here that news travelled to Hodgson on the Kot Massacre of 1846 A.D. and emergence of General Jung Bahadur Rana as the new strongman. When leaving Nepal Hodgson had sensed that something cataclysmic would happen there soon with a power struggle taking place among the ineffectual king, an ambitious junior queen Rajya Luxmi Devi, an excessively reckless Crown Prince Surendra and their scheming courtiers.

    Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana needed someone he could count on to advocate on his behalf with British India. He did not know the new Resident Henry Lawrence well enough. Hodgson was the person Jung could rely on due to his in-depth knowledge of Nepal. Hodgson was now living in Darjeeling and pursuing his study on Himalayan anthropology, ethnology and natural history as a serious scholar, far away from the vicissitudes of Kathmandu politics. Hodgson congratulated Jung and promised assistance. Jung was delighted. His first gesture of friendship was to include the son of Hodgson in his retinue during his epochal visit to England at the invitation of Queen Victoria in 1850 A.D. He personally presented Henry to the queen for which Hodgson was forever grateful.

    Hodgson’s bust in Asiatic Society,


    Thereafter the bond between the Englishman and Nepal’s ruler was firmly cemented. Hodgson looked after Jung’s daughter Badan Kumari and his son-in-law Gajraj Singh Thapa when they went to study tea gardening. They were the pioneers of the tea industry in Nepal. During the Indian Mutiny it was Hodgson who impressed upon the hard-pressed yet unsure Governor-General Lord Canning to accept Nepal’s aid in fighting the mutineers in Lucknow. Prime Minister Jung Bahadur wanted to show gratitude to Britain for its friendship and good behaviour shown towards Nepal. Jung Bahadur personally led a troop of 9,000 Gurkha soldiers to the door of Lucknow. Shortly thereafter Hodgson decided to return to England as his newly married English wife Anne Scott was of poor health and could not take to the Indian climate. Even from faraway England Hodgson kept in touch with Jung Bahadur and gave him advice when solicited. Brian Hodsgon outlived his protege and passed away in 1894 A.D. in London.


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    Symbol of Nepalese Nationhood

    October 17th, 2015

    By Subodh Ranah.


    Dhaka Topi

    It was at St. Xavier’s Godavari School that I first got acquainted with the Nepali state’s aspirations to nationalism. Ironically it was our mainly American Jesuit priests who mandated that on Sundays we could speak only Nepali and wear Daura Suruwal (also called Labeda Suruwal in more refined circles) our national dress. I really do not know where this idea originated but we all accepted it, at first with awkwardness bordering on trepidation, but in time it became de riguer. Imagine suddenly speaking to friends in Nepali when we had spent already a few years together in school speaking to one another only in English! Instead of the white trousers with light blue shirt and tie emblazoned with the school logo now we had to wear the funny looking dress, perhaps for the very first time for some of us! The school knew that giving a good education in various disciplines wasn’t nearly enough without a dose of nationalism to create responsible and enlightened future citizens. The daura suruwal was soon worn with great élan by us the students and often times by the faculty too! Eventually the ethnic diversity of the school body converged into Nepali nationhood in a proud display of our national dress capped by a Dhaka topi. Intrinsically we knew that we were all Nepalis whether we hailed from the east or west, north or south.

    Wedding Daura Suruwal

    Outside the school King Mahendra’s Panchayat polity propounded a system of guided democracy with sovereignty vested in a Hindu monarch who embodied the Nepali statehood of a diverse nation of four races and 36 ethnic groups. Multi-party democracy we were taught would force the nation asunder. From the time of the unification of Nepal by King Mahendra’s forebear King Prithivi Narayan Shah the language of the Khas people had developed into the lingua franca of Nepal called Nepali, just as their dress the daura suruwal and gunyo cholo for women evolved into the national dress of Nepal. From 1960 on it became mandatory for government civil servants to wear it during office hours.

    Ottoman Empire Bosnian

    One often wonders where the daura suruwal originated from. If one looks at the national dress of the Greeks, to those in the Caucasus and eventually to Persia we definitely see the proto-daura suruwal: the long gown worn over tight leggings. The Mughals of India too had similar dresses no doubt brought from their ancestral home in Central Asia if we were to glean from the many portraits of the Mughal emperors from Akbar to Aurangzeb. When the first wave of the displaced Hindu princelings and their cohorts made their way to the Himalayan mountains fleeing from the often draconian zeal of the Mughal rulers to convert them to Islam, these dresses made way into the mountains of Nepal too. Much like the tongues, rituals, manners and mores of the Hindu states of India these dresses slowly replaced the costumes of the native tribes of Mongoloid and Tibeto-Burmese descent in the Nepalese hills. During this period too the daura suruwal made its foray into Kathmandu Valley. One can see early pictures of the Newars of Kathmandu wearing the Jama gown.

    Maharajah Bhim Shumsher

    How did religion come into play to popularize this dress as divinely ordained for us Hindus? The daura or the gown has symbolic 8 strings to securely tie both ends of the gown after wrapping it around the body. The figure eight in Nepalese mythology is symbolic of the Asta-matrika or eight mother goddesses offering us protection and longevity. The closed neckline it is believed symbolizes the mythical serpent coiled around the neck of Lord Shiva.

    Jung Bahadur Rana

    The daura suruwal further evolved when Nepal started to interact with British India. It is said that when Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana made his official visit to England in 1850 A.D. he found it too cold to move about without wearing the European waist coat and jacket as fashionable then on top of the daura suruwal and covering his head with either his bejewelled coronet on state occasions or at regular times the Dhaka cap, a head cover made from the special cotton weave imported from Eastern Bengal during Jung’s time. He brought back with his retinue a new fashion to the court of Nepal that was to soon become a symbol of Nepalese nationhood and which stood distinctly apart from his contemporaries’ courts in India and China. Not until Nepal opened up to the outside world after the fall of the Rana oligarchy in 1951 A.D. would this tradition of our national costume change. 

    Nepalese youth started aping western dress codes after the exposure to early tourists of the sixties and the ubiquitous hippies of the early seventies. Nepal was no different to the rest of the world in this respect where traditional costumes have been replaced by the more comfortable and casual shirts and trousers. In cities and towns across Nepal Daura Suruwal is now mostly confined to festive occasions, for wedding receptions and the all-important Dashain Tika when families gather together for blessing from the elders. 

    Will the Daura Suruwal still retain its pride of place in the newly federated Nepal? I recall the first vice president of the new Republic Paramananda Jha taking his oath of office in Hindi wearing his Madhesi lungi and was promptly ridiculed and, amidst street protests, forced by Parliament to take a second valid oath in Nepali wearing a Daura Suruwal. If the present state of affairs in the Terai region of Nepal is any indication, in future only the hill people may own this cultural heritage. However, today the Daura Suruwal has taken a new meaning outside the borders of Nepal where Nepalese nationalists in Indian Darjeeling and Sikkim proudly wear their heritage and aspire to nationhood. Quid pro quo.

    Me and my Labeda Suruwal

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    A divine test

    July 5th, 2015


    By Subodh Rana.


    Elders in the family passed away one after another each time bringing the title of Maharajah of Kaski and Lamjung and the coveted post of prime minister of Nepal closer and closer to the youngest legitimate brother, a ‘roll wallah’, General Juddha Shumsher J. B. Rana. He had served his elder brothers in various military capacities: as Major General during the time of Bir Shumsher and Dev Shumsher, as Commanding General of the various regions of Nepal during the time of Chandra Shumsher and finally as the Commander-in-Chief of the Nepalese Army during the time of Bhim Shumsher. All the siblings elder to him besides those who got to be prime ministers – those in the roll of succession – Rana Shumsher, Fatteh Shumsher, Lalit Shumsher and Jit Shumsher were now dead. Providence smiled upon Juddha.


    Prime Minister Bhim Shumsher and Commander-in-Chief Juddha to his right

    Bhim Shumsher was an old man of 64 years of age when he succeeded his elder brother Chandra Shumsher to the title of Maharajah of Kaski and Lamjung and the post of prime minister of Nepal in November 1929 A.D. He was, in fact, the oldest Rana prime minister to take this hereditary post. He would rule for only 3 years and die on 1st September 1932 A.D. As per the law of succession Commander-in-Chief Juddha Shumsher was elevated to the post of Prime Minister and received the hereditary title of Maharajah of Kaski and Lamjung. At 57 years of age he was going to be more energetic than Bhim it was hoped against the backdrop of the changing dynamics of the British Raj in India.

    Mahatma Gandhi had started his Satyagraha or Civil Disobedience campaign already in 1930 A.D. with his march to the sea to make salt out of sea water in contravention of the British monopoly on salt trade. In 1931 the British had relented and Gandhi had embarked on the London Conference as the sole representative of Indian National Congress Party. For keen observers of the time the writing was already on the wall that the British Raj had to make way for some form of home rule sooner than later. As Juddha took the post of prime minister he realized that he would have to not only deal with the Viceroy and his agents but also with the Indian freedom fighters to save the dynastic rule of the Rana family in Nepal. Preoccupied with politics Juddha least expected the bomb-shell that would rattle his country and test his mettle to govern: the Great Earthquake of 1934 A.D.

    Winter in Kathmandu Valley is cold and the Maharajah and his immediate family, as was common practice among the rulers of Nepal, had gone on a hunting trip in the warmer climes of the Terai. Suklaphanta region of the Mahakali district of Nepal is famous for wildlife unique to the region and not found elsewhere, the prized black buck or krisnasar antelope. Juddha Shumsher was a hunting aficionado and regaled at every opportunity he could manage to take a few weeks off from the daily chores of administration of the country and relax in the countryside. His entourage had prepared for the Maghe Sankranti or the first day of the month of Magh (mid January) an important festival date in the Nepalese calendar the prerequisite diet for the occasion – ghiuchaku (unpurified butter and molasses) and sweet potato to ward off the winter cold. Juddha did not indulge in alcoholic beverages or smoking opiate as a pastime, however having a sumptuous feast for lunch was a habit he had acquired from his youth. His idea of la dolce vita consisted of a meal displaying the proverbial 84 assorted dishes or chaurasi byanjan of legend. He did not touch them all but it was considered auspicious for the rulers to partake, a divine blessing from the Gods.

    The second day of the new month was cold and wet and Juddha prepared for another meal after the daily religious rituals. He was soon returning to Kathmandu and there were many things in the state administration that was pending. He must set them right after the festival. He recollected how hard a time his predecessor and brother Bhim gave him to the point he had nearly resigned from the post of Commander-in-Chief of the Army. His honest suggestions would always fall on deaf ears and instead the elder brother had a habit of bullying him, poking fun at him. The time had now come to set things right. His thoughts were sent asunder by a deep rumbling emanating from the ground, it sounded like thunder peal but it was not from the sky. And then the grounds shook. Juddha realized that it was an earthquake, a massive one. He caught hold of the supporting pole of his tent to steady himself. He had heard stories of how a massive earthquake had hit Nepal in 1833 A.D. and how the 2 towers built by Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa in Kathmandu had crumbled like houses of cards. Only one was rebuilt since then and he wondered whether it would survive this one.

    Maharajah Juddha returned to the capital posthaste. He had decided to appoint the young Major General Brahma Shumsher Rana as his point man for all relief and reconstruction works. The second son of General Baber Shumsher one of the senior Ranas in the nomenclatura, Brahma was a very son-of-the-soil type of a person and best suited for this most challenging job. Brahma was an early proponent of Gharelu Ilam and Taleem and was convinced that cottage industry was the new equation that could change the dynamics of Nepal bringing a manufacturing base to a largely agrarian society. He had closely followed the Khadi Movement of Mahatma Gandhi promoting handwoven and hand-spun cloth for India’s use not relying on expensive imports. Brahma was one of the few Rana of the time who publicly wore indigenous clothes. He would command respect of the masses Juddha was confident.


    Maharajah Juddha addresses the nation from Khariko Bot

    Maharaja Juddha upon returning to the capital addressed the nation from the Khariko Bot ficus tree platform in Tundikhel, the vast open space in the city, that had already started to transform into a tent city. His address was a passionate testament to his personal involvement in the relief and reconstruction works that needed to be launched. He vowed to give low interest credit to the victims of the earthquake which was later converted to grants. He instructed his armed forces to assist in the rebuilding of the nation. He warned civil servants from misappropriating public funds putting the fear of capital punishment on those found guilty. Juddha vowed to go it all alone without seeking any foreign governmental and non-governmental assistance from the British Raj in India or elsewhere. Nepal, in four years time, had achieved his vision and Juddha once again gave his speech from the same Khariko Bot informing the nation that all was now well. Dharahara Tower the symbol of national independence Bhimsen Thapa built following the conflict with the British Raj was again standing tall. Nepal had passed a divine test with flying colours.

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    Nepal signature block print

    April 18th, 2015

    By Subodh Rana.


    We had almost exhausted the supply of typical gifts from Nepal. These are the souvenirs we take every year to tourism fairs to present to our overseas partners. Handicrafts and weaves, tea bags and coffee sachets were gifted. Miniature Khukri the Gurkha knife, the bottle shaped like a khukri with rum in it that came out as Coronation Rum to mark King Birendra’s Coronation in 1975 and Pashmina shawls and scarves have done the rounds from Singapore to Stockholm. So what else new could be taken as gifts?

    We hit upon the idea of Nepalese block printed cloth, the signature tradition that has carried on over a century and a half since it was first imported from Benaras. Even today Nepalese living from Melbourne to Montreal feel most comfortable wrapping themselves in the khasto, block printed cotton shawl hemmed in by muslin cloth on both sides. My daughter uses it inside the house in chilly London weather. The ubiquitous but humble khasto is Nepal’s preferred body warmer.


    Dambar Kumari prints with Nepalese motifs

    I am blogging on this as not many of us know that the cottage industry started by Dambar Kumari, one of the daughters of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana of Nepal, still carries her name to this day. What was its origin though? Kanchi Maiya Maharani 5th daughter of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana, lived in the holy city of Benaras after she was given in marriage to Lt. Colonel His Highness Maharaj Prabhu Narayan Singh Bahadur of Benaras in 1873 A.D. Benaras was a 15 gun salute protectorate of British India and the monarchical tradition was being carried on there under British suzerainty. For the Hindu rulers of Nepal it was an important cultural and political window into British India as Benaras provided both spiritual solace and a listening post to the rumblings in British India.


    Periodically the family of Jung Bahadur Rana visited Benaras and other Hindu power centers of India such as Badrinath and Kedarnath in the Himalayas. Dambar Kumari, one of the daughters of Maharajah Jung Bahadur went on such a pilgrimage at the invitation of her sister the Maharani of Benaras. After finishing her pilgrimage she decided to stay on in Benaras in her private capacity and she did not heed the call of her father the maharajah to return to Nepal. She was either passionately in love with someone she met or she was engrossed in a new hobby she had taken up. Rumour mills in Kathmandu went into overdrive. She had started living in a house of ill repute, she was a courtesan, she was shameless. Maharajah Jung started to get frantic, she asked his daughter the maharani to talk some sense into her sister. She could not continue living in Benaras all by herself! Finally Jung decided to send his youngest brother General Dhir Shumsher to Benaras to personally escort the stubborn girl back to Kathmandu. Would Dhir be able to talk some sense into her niece?

    Dhir took this arduous journey with dread as he knew how stubborn his niece could be. He was always called upon by his elder brother the maharajah to executive tasks others found well-nigh impossible. He was Jung’s favorite brother. From the Kot Massacre to the Indian Mutiny, from the fabled Velayat Yatra, the journey to England, to the war with Tibet, Dhir had most ably served his brother.

    Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana

    When Dhir arrived and started sending his spies to see what Dambar Kumari was up to, he was surprised by what had enraptured the young woman so to make her forget Nepal. It was the ancient Indian art of block printing on cotton cloth. From Buddha’s time trade in block printed cotton cloth was carried on from India to Babylon. Varanasi was one of the famous centers of block printing. They use the ‘Tree of Life’ motif. The printing is extremely fine due to the superbly carved wooden and metal blocks. Printing is done on a padded table. The ‘Tree of Life’ pattern uses more than a hundred blocks of various designs. Dhir reported to Kathmandu.


    Putali Maharani in old age

    Kathmandu gets cold during the winter months, it got much colder in the yesteryear of our forebears. Besides the makal charcoal heaters there was not much else to heat the houses. Rana palaces had the fireplace, an idea imported from cold Europe. Putali Maharani was arthritic and the cold did not suit her. She did not like the coarse woolen shawls imported from Tibet. She wanted something warm and soft. Something like what Ganga Maharani the daughter of the erstwhile king of Coorg and third married wife of her husband Maharajah Jung Bahadur had brought for her as a gift from Benaras while she was still a minor wife of Jung a long time ago. It was a cotton khasto or shawl with bold prints that was very attractive to behold and soft to the touch of her cheek. She hit upon an idea.

    She sent a personal letter to Dambar Kumari to return to Nepal and continue her hobby here as a cottage industry and she, Putali, would give her funds and full support. Dambar Kumari received this request, a request she could not afford to brush aside lightly. Her step-mother Putali Maharani was the favorite wife of Jung Bahadur today. She had to keep herself in Putali’s good books to curry favor from her father! Dambar Kumari resolved to come back and start an industry that would give empowerment to women of less fortunate background who had taken to the brothels of Benaras. The tradition of block printing in Nepal is alive and well and carries her name to this day.


    Maharajah Jung Bahadur with Maharani Hiranya Garva Kumariand two daughters given in marriage to Crown Prince TrailokyaIn the background (ringed) is daughter Damber Kumari Devi

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    The name game

    April 7th, 2015



    By Subodh Rana.


    1. The thing we call a rose would smell just as sweet if we called it by any other name. Romeo would be just as perfect even if he wasn’t called Romeo. Romeo, lose your name. Trade in your name—which really has nothing to do with you—and take all of me in exchange. Romeo and Juliet

    What’s in a name anyway? We hail our Gods by many names during worship. Lord Krishna, the dark one, is Mohan when he is flirting with his Gopinis; Nanda Lal, the prankster boy of Nanda; Gopal, a cowherd grazing his cattle; Govinda, the preserver of bountiful nature; Murlidhar, the magician with the flute; in fact he has been affectionately addressed by 108 names by his devotees through many millennia.

    Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar

    World rulers and conquerors throughout the ages have changed their birth names often denoting inconsequential, humble beginnings to glorified appellation befitting their elevated status. We learnt in history that mere mortals took mythical names that struck fear in their enemies. The nephew of Julius Caesar Octavian became the first emperor of Rome to be known for ever as Augustus Caesar, the Majestic king. Temujin was to be known to history as the all conquering Genghis Khan whose name struck terror from China to Europe. Rebels have also taken their nom de guerre to conduct war against the State. Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov took his pseudonym Lenin in hiding that was fashioned from the name of the river Lena in Siberia. Another Soviet Communist Joseph Djugashvilli, a Georgian, became Stalin, the Man of Steel.

    Who are their counterparts in Nepal? The name “Malla” meant wrestler or the strong one and post Licchavi Nepal saw dynastic rule of the Malla kings that lasted over 500 years until the King of Gorkha conquered the Kathmandu Valley in 1769 A.D. The “Shah” kings of Gorkha themselves lifted this royal title from Mughal India as no Hindu royalty in India is known as a “Shah”, a Persian honorific.

    Maharana Pratap Singh

    The valiant Rajput Rana clan of Chittor gave a tough fight to the conquering Mughals before being finally subjugated by Akbar the Great in 1568 A.D. Maharana Pratap the epitome of Rajput chivalry however evaded capture and continued to live as a free man, always threatening to take back his kingdom, until his death in 1597 A.D. Is the Rana clan of Nepal who claimed ancestry from Chittor actually of Rajput descent or was the title borrowed by them to herald a status upgrade from more humbler origins?

    The Kunwars of Nepal trace their lineage to the Karnali basin of western Nepal. The name “kunwar” itself is a title given to a Kshatriya high caste, twice-born prince. The tradition of Sacred Thread Ceremony performed on male members reaching puberty gives them a second life. Were these the progeny of princely states of Rajasthan seeking refuge from Mughal persecution in the Nepalese hills? Eminent anthropologists such as Dor Bahadur Bista seems to think not and link their tribe to the indigenous Magars. However he does not properly explain why Kunwars became high caste Hindus and the Magars did not.

    Bal Narsingh Kunwar and his wifeGanesh Kumari, mother of Jung Bahadur

    Ashiram Kunwar left Kaski and went to Gorkha in 1740 A.D. and enrolled in the service of Raja Nar Bhupal Shah, father of King Prithivi Nayan Shah the founder of modern Nepal. His son General Ram Krishna Kunwar was one of King Prithivi Narayan Shah’s military commanders during his war of unification of Nepal. He valiantly defeated a British force at Hahiharpur sent to assist the beleaguered Malla kings during the siege of Kathmandu Valley. General Ranjit Kunwar Rana, son of Ram Krishna, fought in the campaigns to bring the provinces of Kaski and Lamjung under the Gorkha kingdom and also led Regent Bahadur Shah’s campaign in Tibet. His son Bal Narsingh Kunwar was in the royal household and he comes into prominence in history by striking dead Sher Bahadur Shah the half-brother of ex-King Rana Bahadur Shah who took the ex-king’s life in full court following an argument. Bal Narsingh got the title of Kaji (minister) from Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa for his trouble. His son Bir Narsingh Kunwar would one day become famous as Jung Bahadur Rana.

    Jung Bahadur Rana and his brothers

    The hereditary surname of “Rana” was bestowed upon Jung Bahadur and all his brothers by the King of Nepal in 1848 A.D. From a princely “Kunwar” the family had now become a royal “Rana”, a throwback to the Rajput lineage the kunwars claimed. In the caste based pecking order of the time, the Rana family was now equal in marriage to the Thakuris from which the royal Shah family of Nepal hailed.

    Our own erstwhile Maoist rebel leader Pushpa Kamal, a benign Lotus Flower, transformed himself to the malignant Prachanda, the awesome one.

    “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun”, thundered Chairman Mao Zedong and a formidable nom de guerre consolidates it. That is the name of the game.

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    The legacy of Arkino

    December 13th, 2014



    By Subodh Rana.


    “Picasso The Picador”

    There have been many myths and legends on child prodigies in all cultures. Lord Krishna’s birth leads to a miraculous baby exchange where his foster parents Nanda and Yashoda sacrifice their own new born baby girl to save the incarnated Lord Vishnu from the clutches of the evil uncle King Kangsa. When Lord Buddha is born the wunderkind takes seven steps to pronounce to the world that he is the anointed one. Christ’s miraculous birth from a virgin mother fulfills earlier prophesies on ‘incarnation’ of God in human form. There have been more earthly prodigies galore in most disciplines whether it is in maths or sciences, music or art. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Pablo Picasso are just two of the more renowned wunderkind we have come to celebrate. Mozart played piano at age four and started composing from age five. Picasso completed his first painting “The Picador” at an early age of eight.

    Laxman ‘Sthapati’ came from a caste of artisans known for sculpture and designing as denoted by his Sanskrit surname. Devoutly Buddhist he and his wife Shumaketai were talented artists and respected in their community known particularly for fine wood and metal carving. Patan as the oldest city in Kathmandu Valley was then famous for its arts and crafts and was named Lalitapura, the beautiful city, by the Malla kings well-versed in literary Sanskrit. When Shumaketai’s womb started to swell the whole community rejoiced as the tradition of carving and molding would now continue in the Sthapati family. The Malla kings would bestow on this community the building contracts for future generations to come!

    A boy was born to the Sthapatis who was destined to be immortalized as Arniko, the master builder of the Yuan Dynasty of China. From early childhood the wunderkind was above average in learning his family’s craft. With a sharp intellect he probed and asked questions that would stun his teachers and bewilder the elders. There is a story about the family’s visit to a Buddhist holy place when the boy was only three years old. He looked up at the pagoda, its multi-tiered eaves and golden finial and inquired of his parents the names of the people who had built them. He learnt quickly the Buddhist sutras and could recite them with utmost ease. It was but a matter of time before he would be noticed and picked up for great building projects that would catapult him into immortality in three different countries linked by the trajectories of geography and history.


    Arniko’s departure for China, oil painting by Hari Parsad Sharma

    My earlier blog covered the story of Arniko and his artisans getting selected by Dragon Phagspa to build a stupa in the Sakya Monastery in Tibet as per the edict of Emperor Kublai Khan. The success of this enterprise led him to Dadu, the new imperial capital of Yuan Dynasty, known today as Beijing. Here Arniko was bestowed by the emperor a project to build a pagoda temple in order to protect his whole country. Having received the imperial edict, Arniko presented the drawings of the Tibetan stupa-style Dagoba that looked like a holy vessel and had a stylized gilt pagoda on its top.

    On July 25th 1279 A.D. the White Pagoda was completed. Occupying an area of 810 square meters the temple was 60 meters high and dwarfed the residential buildings of the new capital. The 5-meter high gilt copper top reflected light fanning the city with golden rays and dazzling the onlookers. The population gaped at this new structure in wonderment and awe and the temple became a locus of Buddhist veneration. It is chronicled that Kublai Khan, pleased, granted onto Arniko 15,000 mu of fertile land with 100 heads of cattle and 100 local hands to farm the land. Arniko’s fortune started shining brightly.


    Bodhisatva Manjushri

    Many projects followed after this and Arniko not only worked on the new Buddhist buildings but also on statues of 191 Taoist saints and schools of Confucianism. His next big project was in Mt. Wutai in Shanxi Province. This mountain enjoys pre-eminence among four holy Buddhist mountains as the abode of Bodhisatva Manjushri who is associated with the legend behind the founding of Kathmandu Valley. Manjushri drained the primordial Kathmandu Valley lake by cutting a deep gorge at Chobar, south of the valley, thus making the valley habitable. Arniko knew this story well and he yearned to go on a pilgrimage to this holy site. In 1295 A.D. a grand project befell upon him when the grandson of Kublai Khan, Emperor Chengzong orderd him to build a monastery on Mt. Wuhai for the dowager empress. In the monastery complex was erected the Cishou Pagoda towering 60 meters high. It is written that the dowager empress visited the monastery in person and handed a reward of 10,000 liang of silver to Arniko in appreciation of his genius.

    Arniko had 11 wives. Principal among them were his Newar wife Chaityaluxmi, a princess of Song Court and Mongol aristocratic women. His eldest son Asanger and his handpicked protege Liu Yuan carried forward the work of Arniko. Arniko passed away on 9th March 1306 A.D. at the ripe old age of 62 following a short illness. Emperor Chengzong grieved the death of Arniko and halted court proceedings as a mark of respect for the Nepalese artisan who helped achieve his grandfather Kublai Khan’s vision of transforming China into a Buddhist realm. Following Nepalese customs Arniko’s body was cremated and the ashes buried in Xiangshan, Wanping County. Emperor Wuzhong ordered a tombstone with inscriptions in 1311 A.D. Arniko left behind a rich legacy for the ages to marvel.

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    The Pagoda – Nepal’s export par excellence

    October 21st, 2014



    By Subodh Rana.


    His parents already knew of his proclivity to create wonderful images of Hindu and Buddhist deities in clay and wood from a small age. When he could get hold of charcoal from his mother’s kitchen, he would draw strange but striking images on the walls and floors. Wise elders nodded in approval and whispered to his grandparents Mitra and Kundalaxmi that the boy was a prodigy. He would do the Sakya clan proud one day by helping spread the glory of Sakya Muni to the furthest corners of the world.  

     The great Mongol looked at the vast plains stretching before him in eternity and decided that this would be the place where he would make his new capital city, Dadu, and move the court from his citadel in Inner Mongolia Shangdu or Xanadu as we have come to be familiar with in the English language. It was a decision based in realpolitik as after all he was the ruler of China now, not just a barbarian from the outer fringes of empire as his grandfather Genghis Khan and his ancestors had been. To be accepted as the ruler of China by a conquered and cowed populace he had to firstly transform himself into a local hero. He had to re-invent himself as a Chinese ruler. He had to do three things to achieve this end: bring his seat of government nearer to the Chinese heartland, start a new dynasty and change his religion. In one fell swoop Kublai Khan created the city of Beijing, founded the Yuan Dynasty, promoted Buddhism to eclipse the older Taoism and changed China forever.


    Portrait of Kublai Khan painted by Arniko

    The subject of this blog is how Nepal played a significant role on the transformation of China and how history has intertwined the cultures of the two neighboring countries. The person Emperor Kublai Khan depended upon to bring the sway of Buddhism back in his domain was the Tibetan spiritual master Drogon Chogyal Phags-pa of the Sakya sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It is said the the great khan was enamoured by the healing abilities of the Tibetan monks. Half a millennium earlier Buddhism arrived in Tibet through the teachings of the bodhisatvas such as Padmasambhaba, known locally as Guru Rinpoche, who at one time or another had made Nepal his spiritual abode. Through time the old Bon animist beliefs were incorporated into the Mahayana sect of Buddhism or the Great Vehicle that strove to absorb the old beliefs to make Buddhism more acceptable and accessible to the masses. The true conversion of Tibet came about when the Tibetan king Tsrong Tsen Gampo converted to Buddhism through the influences of his two consorts, Princess Wen Chen from China and Princess Bhrikuti Devi from Nepal.

    During the Licchavi period in Nepal the ruler Amsuvarman was leaning towards Buddhist beliefs and traditions as attested to by the Chinese chronicler Hueng Tsang who visited the important Buddhist pilgrimage spots including Kathmandu, Lumbini and Bodhgaya before settling down for studies in the Nalanda University. Emperor Ashoka of the Maurya Dynasty of North India converted to Buddhism in 250 B.C., the religion proclaiming ahimsa or non-violence, after beholding the brutality wrought by his victorious armies in the battlefield at Kalinga. Legend has it that his daughter Charulata came to Kathmandu Valley as a Buddhist nun and built a monastery at Chabahil. Emperor Ashoka followed soon after and built four stupas in the four cardinal points of the city still extant today in Patan.


    Portrait of Empress Chagui by Arniko

    As we have seen Buddhism had been introduced in Nepal from times immemorial. The religion sometimes competed against the older Hindu traditions but many times flourished together in symbiotic harmony as we can still witness today. It was only fitting that Buddhism would be exported to Tibet from Nepal during the time of Amsuvarman when Buddhism reached the zenith of its influence. Princess Bhrikuti made a long and arduous journey to Lhasa carrying with her a messianic zeal to convert. It was this tradition Emperor Kublai Khan would rely upon in the person of Chogyal Phags-pa to establish a new religion in his empire to counter the influence of home-grown religions such as Confucianism and Taoism. After having been appointed the Royal Preceptor, Phags-pa would soon ordain the great khan in 1270 A.D.

    The Chogyal was greatly humbled by the enormous task placed upon him by the emperor. He made ready a team of experts on religion and another team of artisans and craftsmen who possessed the skill to build Buddhist temples and monasteries in Tibet and faraway China. He would again look at the Kathmandu Valley for the craftsmen who could stand up to the great task he was undertaking. Kathmandu Valley boasted the greatest number of temples and stupas and a very large number of full time Newar artisans practicing their craft, richly endowed by the ruling dynasties of the valley. It was said that the valley had more temples than houses for people to live. It was during his search for a master craftsman that he would discover the 16 year old Arniko in Patan.


    Arniko statue in White Pagoda temple complex

    Arniko became the team leader of a group of 80 artisans entrusted by King Jaya Bhim Dev Malla to showcase the magnificent pagoda style of architecture adorning his city. The team arrived in Tibet in 1261 A.D. and built a magnificent golden pagoda in the Sakya Monastery near Shegar in the Tibetan plateau, the seat of the Chogyal’s sect. So pleased was the Chogyal by the outcome that he decided to take the group to Beijing to build another stupa in the new capital. At the end of 1262 A.D. Arniko arrived in Beijing and was received at the court by the great khan himself. Arniko was granted state resources to cast, mould and paint in various media and he excelled in all.

    In 1272 A.D. he was commissioned to build the White Pagoda. It was completed by 1279 A.D. and, as the tallest structure in the new capital, it became a showcase of the Yuan Dynasty. Kublai Khan himself presided over the huge Buddhist religious ceremony that was organized to consecrate the temple. In an investiture ceremony soon after Arniko was made a Duke and the emperor’s chief consort Chabui arranged for him a rich Chinese wife. Along with his first married Newari wife Chaityaluxmi Arniko lived and died in China, never to set foot again in his homeland. He is immortalized in China as the prodigy that came over the Himalayan passes to change China forever. Nepal would honor his memory by naming the highway to Tibet after him.


    White Pagoda towering over medieval Beijing


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    The sati wives of Jung Bahadur, Maharajah of Nepal

    July 24th, 2014



    By Subodh Rana.

    If only the Tudor King Henry VIII of England were as lucky as Jung Bahadur Rana, he would have had male heirs aplenty and he would not have had to behead a few of his queens in the hope of his next one presenting him with an heir. All the Maharanis would live together at Hampton Court Palace in seeming harmony at least until the death of the MaharajahIf England had the tradition of Sati, who among Henry’s wives would have had the singular honour of being buried alive with him? Would her be Catherine of Aragon his first queen? Or Anne Boleyn? Or the fair Jane Seymour, his favorite queen who gave him his only male heir, had she not died in her postnatal illness?

    Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana had many wives because he did not have the Catholic Church to worry about. He had at least a dozen sons and innumerable daughters from at least 13 recorded wives. He married some for love, others for political alliances with various noble houses, including a sister of Fateh Jung Shah, one of the victims of the Kot Massacre. He is known to take away a married woman from her husband wielding his prime ministerial power as she had ignored his overtures in his less fortunate days; Jung was still smitten by her. He took another maiden as his wife in gratitude as she was his secret mistress and a spy at the royal household and had passed to him royal secrets including a not so royal plan to get rid of him. He even married an Indian princess from Coorg – a royal state in South India until the British takeover – in Varanasi on his return home from England. He also took as his lover and mistress a teenage Brahmin wife of the refuge Maratha warrior Nana Sahib, a matrimony still not consummated by her husband.

    Women succumbed to a plethora of causes in the Nepal of the latter half of the nineteenth century. Tuberculosis, frequently referred to as consumption, was one of the likely killers. Then there were many infectious diseases without remedy. Postnatal care was just awful. Jung was a widower many times over. His first wife died hearbroken after the death of her first born son and his second wife died young too after giving him sons, namely Jagat Jung and Jeet Jung. His wife Maharani Bishnu Kumari, the mother of General Pudma Jung Bahadur, lost her life soon after giving birth. The princess from Coorg, Ganga Maharani was recorded to have been treated by a surgeon from the British Residency in 1854 A.D. for a life threatening abscess to which she apparently succumbed to as no mention from any source tells us what happened to her.

    Jung married his principle wife Bada Maharani Hiranya Garva (Sanskrit: Golden Womb) Kumari a.k.a. Maiya Maharani in 1853 A.D. after returning from the epochal Velayat Yatra, his visit to England at the invitation of Queen Victoria. She was a sister of Fateh Jung Shah who was the chief minister during the Kot Massacre and who lost his life from Jung Bahadur’s men. She gave birth to four daughters who would later all be married to the royal princesses, Crown Prince Trailokya Bikram and his cousin Dhirendra Bikram. She was with Jung until the very end. It was she who brought up the infant son Pudma Jung when his mother died giving birth in 1857 A.D., the very same day Maharajah Jung Bahadur set out for the Lucknow campaign during the Indian Mutiny.


    Maharjah Jung Bahadur with Bada Maharani and two daughters

    Siddhi Gajendra Luxmi came from a noble household that of a Basnyat. Her father Prasad Singh Basnyat was an army commander. They considered the Chhetry Kunwars beneath their ranking. Jung Bahadur Kunwar had fallen into rough times with the eclipse of his maternal granduncle the famous Bhimsen Thapa. Jung was smitten by the beautiful Basnyat girl and at every opportunity he would make overtures to her for her attention. Siddhi liked Jung too but marrying a man with a family already and against the wishes of her parents was too much to ask of her. She succumbed to an arranged marriage forgetting Jung. Jung did not forget her.

    After the Kot Massacre Jung Bahadur Rana became the new power behind the ambitious Queen Rajya Luxmi. As the prime minister to the Regent Queen, he became unassailable. He had his soldiers abduct the by now willing Siddhi Gajendra Luxmi from her husband and brought her to his household as his mistress. After Jung was bestowed the title of Maharajah of Kaski and Lamjung by King Surendra Bikram Shah in 1856 A.D., Siddhi was elevated to the rank of Antaree (Sanskrit: within the heart) Maharani. Jung Bahadur would beget a son Ranabir Jung from her.

    Jung was busy making further alliances with the old noble houses. In 1855 A.D. he took as his wife another Shah girl, a daughter of Rana Shere Shah and a niece of his principle wife, Bada Maharani Hiranya Garva Kumari. History would know her as the Ramri Maharani, the beautiful one. His next wife was Misri Maharani, the sweet one. And still another was Mina Rani, a Magar girl, also known in history as the Dakhchoke Rani as she dwelled in that part of the Thapathali Durbar where the imported grapes were grown in the courtyard. She would later bear one son to Jung by the name of Dambar Jung.


    Mina Maharani also known as Dakhchoke Rani

    After his return from England Jung Bahadur wanted to instill in his people the spirit of renaissance that had taken Europe from the Middle Ages to one of science and enlightenment. He was against the old superstitions. He was against slavery and the ghastly tradition of sati, the burning of widows in the funeral pyres of the dead husbands. But even a powerful dictator in his own lifetime could not prevail upon the rigid society of Chettry-Brahmin dominated Nepal to change its course. It would take another 50 years for Maharajah Chandra Shumsher to outlaw slavery and sati.

    The year was 1877 A.D. and Maharajah Jung Bahadur was in the twilight of his illustrious career. One last time he wanted to go shooting, to indulge in his favorite pastime. He took his court to the Terai. He took along with him five wives, three senior maharanis for company and two junior wives for the needs of the night. Little did people know that he would not return to Kathmandu. He had a vision of a white tiger, was it real or imaginary? His eye sight failed him. Was it dengue fever? Just like Alexander the Great a mysterious ailment had struck Jung and the end came quickly. He breathed his last on the banks of Bagmati in Pattharghatta at the stroke of midnight on 25th February 1877 A.D. The five maharanis present prepared for sati but the senior maharani forbade the two junior wives from committing it because they had young children to look after. Writes his son and biographer General Pudma Jung, “the three maharanis who had determined to immolate themselves as suttee were repeatedly entreated to desist, but they would not go back from their decision.” Bada Maharani Hiranya Garva Kumari, Antaree Maharani and Ramri Maharani were the three brave wives. History will remember them as the sati wives of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana of Nepal.

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    The Rising

    May 23rd, 2014


    By Subodh Rana.

    The grainy black and white film runs incessantly like a recurring nightmare: there are half-starving Varsovians fighting with all means at their disposal, children running the gauntlet to supply the soldiers, women frenetically tending to the wounded and the dying.

    The faces look gaunt yet determined, hunger has not quelled the human spirit’s thirst for freedom; fathers fight for their sons, mothers for their daughters. They know that their own life has come to naught, trampled under the jackboots of Nazi Germany, ripped asunder by fire bombs raining down from the skies; their homes and neighbourhoods are a heap of ruins.

    But they need to fight one last time before they die, before the Red Army parked across the Vistula River to the east cross over to liberate them from the Nazis only to tie them up in the bondage of Soviet Communism.

    The Museum dedicated to the Warsaw Uprising is a poignant reminder of human cruelty; the various -isms that have brought such devastation to the “civilized” world of the 20th Century. It is also a monument to the irrepressible human spirit that rises from hopelessness to hope, from fear to courage and from bondage to liberation! The museum tells the story of the Warsaw Uprising that started on 1st August 1944 in sights and sounds that thunderstruck me.

    Amidst the screeching fury of Stukas dive bombing on their targets, there is the martial music of the Third Reich drowning out the cries of anguish and the incessant, almost hypnotic, synchronized thuds of the Wehrmacht jackboots on Warsaw’s cobbled streets. There are pictures of the dead and dying, makeshift anonymous graves, firing squads firing without respite.

    I peek and crawl into a manhole the insurgents were using as the mode of transport and communication albeit without the darkness, the stink and the grime floating. I view the city skyline from the roof of the museum to find a few war time buildings standing here and there to remind and to warn future generations. Earlier I have seen a 3D documentary of the devastated Warsaw shot from a low flying aircraft immediately after the war. I can see one church spire standing tall like a beacon of hope amongst the debris. This was the Warsaw Ghetto area where we live today, I am told.

    I see a kaleidoscope of personalities, heroes and villains. The Hall of Infamy showcases Hans Frank the Nazi Governor General of Poland posing with his happy family. There is Eichmann here and Himmler there. There is Hitler taking the first salute from his conquering troops in Warsaw.

    Names and faces etched in my mind from reading countless books on the subject, watching countless movies too. My first introduction to the Uprising and the Warsaw Ghetto was the book Mila 18 by Leon Uris I read at school. Then there are the Allies – Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt – sealing the fate of the erstwhile independent Poland at Yalta. The West had enough of fighting to fight Stalin. It would take a Polish Pope, Solidarity and Gorbachev to undo this terrible injustice nearly 50 years later.

    The Uprising ends in capitulation two devastating months later. General Bor, the Commander of the Home Army signs the treaty suspending warfare in Warsaw. Under its terms both the insurgents and the civilian population is mandated to leave the city. More than 18 thousand insurgents and 180 thousand civilians die. Only 64 out of 987 historical buildings remain standing. Just a handful of Poles and Jews remain when the Red Army enters the city on January 17, 1945. These are the so-called “Robinsons”.

    I mentally note that just like rebuilt Warsaw’s skyline reaching for the skies, the hopes and aspirations of a nation is soaring high too. The museum reminds Poles how easy it is to lose one’s nationhood lest the new generation forgets. Somewhere there is a lesson for an -ism afflicted Nepal. Will there be a rising there too?

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    The beauty and the booty, the winner takes them all

    May 19th, 2014




    By Subodh Rana.

    Kashi Bai led a double life for a time of her asylum in the court of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana of Nepal. She was a widow to the world but she never ceased wearing her tika of red vermilion powder on her forehead, clinking glass bangles on her wrists or the kajol decoration around her eyes. Was her husband the Maratha leader Nana Sahib the fugitive from the British Raj really dead as reported by Jung Bahadur to Governor General Lord Canning or did the young wife know better? Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana had started to make surreptitious sorties to the residence of Kashi Bai adjoining his Thapathali Durbar. Was the widow secretly married to him and was that the reason why she would not wear the traditional white of a Hindu widow? Tongues started to wag.

    Nana Sahib

    A few years after the Indian Mutiny of 1857 was quelled by the British the fugitive Maratha rebel leader Nana Sahib sought refuge in Nepal with a retinue of followers including his adoptive mother, the widow of the last Maratha Peshwa Baji Rao, and his two wives. Young Kashi Bai the junior wife had barely reached puberty and reportedly her marriage had not been consummated by the embattled rebel. Nana Sahib sought refuge with a rich treasure trove of the crown jewels of the Maratha kingdom including the famed Naulakha haar necklace studded with the most flawless pearls, diamonds and emeralds the world had ever seen – reportedly valued at nine lakh Rupees at the time.

    Dhondu Pant, a Brahmin boy at birth, was adopted by Baji Rao and styled him as Nana Sahib a great historical figure revered by the Marathas. When the Doctrine of Lapse concocted by Lord Dalhousie, the Governor General of India, took away from Nana Sahib the inheritance to the Maratha state as he was not born a biological son of the Peshwa, Nana Sahib started issuing vitriolic diatribes against the British and later became a key figure in the Indian Mutiny of 1857.

    Jung Bahadur Rana was in a quandary, should he give asylum to Nana Sahib which would then not defeat the purpose of his assistance to the British during the mutiny, as he had personally lead a large army into Lucknow? Or should he arrest him and meekly deliver him into the hands of the vengeful British? What would happen of the helpless women? Had he, Jung Bahadur, not given refuge to the widow of Maharajah Ranjit Singh of the Punjab in similar circumstances a decade earlier after the Second Anglo-Sikh War and the annexation of the Punjab, bravely facing the wrath of British India?

    Jung Bahadur sent his younger brother General Krishna Bahadur Rana to meet with the asylum seekers with instruction to refuge asylum to Nana Sahib but to receive his family members with open arms. Nana Sahib agreed that under the circumstances this was the best deal he could get and donned the garb of a wandering mendicant to disguise himself as agents of the Raj were everywhere eager to claim a bounty on his head and left for the western Himal. The women and their servants were allowed to come to Kathmandu Valley and Jung Bahadur generously gave a house near his Thapathali Durbar rent free for them to stay and also made a provision of four hundred Rupees monthly allowance. The elderly widow of Maharajah Ranjit Singh also had her house nearby.

    Years passed and Kashi Bai became a pious Hindu wife receiving holy men and engaging in an assortment of religious activities. Did Nana Sahib come to her in the garb of a mendicant during such occasions and secretly meet with her and his mother? Did Jung Bahadur Rana know this as well and was his reporting of the death of Nana Sahib in Deukhuri to the British authorities just a red herring to prevent agents of the Raj snooping around his country and finding another pretext to start a second war? Rumours have since surfaced that Nana Sahib and his brother Bala Rao sought refuge in the court of the Scindias of Gwalior in 1874 but they were most probably imposters. Some claim that Nana Sahib lived the life of an ascetic Yogindra Dayanand Maharaj in a cave near Sihor in coastal Gujarat and died only in 1903! This is one of history’s mysteries that will not be solved.

    Jewel in the crown of Maharajah Jung Bahadur

    Nana Sahib sold his fabulous jewels to Maharajah Jung Bahadur. Historian Perceval Landon writes that the Naulakha haar was sold for Rs. 93,000.00 a princely sum then that would sufficiently pay for the upkeep of Nana Sahib and his retinue in the Nepalese hills but an amount that was only a fraction of its real worth. Another very valuable piece was a 3-inch long emerald atop a bunch of emerald grapes that went to adorn the Crown of the prime minister of Nepal and stayed there until the ouster of Maharajah Dev Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana. There was another necklace of forty-eight pearls and twenty-four emeralds also sold to Jung Bahadur at the time. Both the Naulakha necklace and the emerald in the crown was sold by Dev Shumsher to the Maharajah of Darbhanga in a great hurry following his ouster lest the succeeding Maharajah Chandra Shumsher confiscate them as state treasury.

    Kashi Bai died in Nepal and she took all her secrets to her funeral pyre.

    Naulakha haar worn by Maharaja of Darbhanga


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    Our man from China

    January 19th, 2014


    By Subodh Rana.


    I knew that there was a lot of merriment at His Holiness the Chiniyia Lama’s residence at Bouddha when my father and his friends, known to us then as the 3 Musketeers, visited him. In those days I wondered how going to an incarnate Lama could result in riotous merry-making with large amounts of chaang the Tibetan-style millet wine being imbibed until the wee ours of the morning. One of the musketeers Maharajkumar Mussorie Shumsher, son of Maharaj Dev Shumsher known to history as the liberal one, was the person who introduced my father to the Chiniya Lama and a steady bevy of western beauties circling the Lama for both the proximity to divinity and free booze. The other musketeer Honourable Lalit Chand the serving Chairman of the Rashtrya Panchayat, the unitary political system King Mahendra created to replace a chaotic democracy, was probably a reluctant member of the troika given the sensitivity his high post warranted.


    3rd Chiniya Lama Punya Bajra with western initiates

    Over a century and a half ago Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana concluded a Peace Treaty with the warring Tibetans at his Thapathali Durbar. It was a glorious moment when Nepal reversed its humiliating defeat at the hands of the Chinese half a century earlier when the defeated Tibetans were rescued by their Chinese overlords and drove the “barbarian” Gurkhalis all the way to Nuwakot! Today a large delegation of fearsome looking Tibetans had arrived to grant back Nepal her trading privileges and vouchsafe security to her traders on the long and arduous route to Lhasa. Jung needed a translator whose command of both languages would not leave any ambiguity on Nepal’s demands and possible future prevarication on the part of the Tibetans. He turned to His Holiness the Chiniya Lama.


    Empress Cixi

    The first Chiniya Lama, Taipo Shing, was a Szechuanese Nyingmapa Buddhist abbot who settled in Boudha after coming to Nepal on a pilgrimage. He was a relative of the powerful Empress Cixi of the Manchu Qing dynasty ruling China. He became the main Lama or Guru at the Boudhanath complex which had by his time acquired the status of an independent city inside a state, much like The Vatican. He was respected and revered by the believers and the non-believers alike. It was to him Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana turned to at the time of this dire need as his courtiers were not proficient enough in Tibetan and Chinese languages.

    Jung Bahadur Rana welcomed the Lama in his Thapathali Durbar before the arrival of the Tibetan delegation. He was struck by the wizened visage of this holy man perched on an athletic body and marvelled at how he commanded such devotional following among his flock. Jung Bahadur started ruminating about an alliance with him that went beyond just the translation of texts but to a deeper channel of diplomacy with the Chinese Empire. An idea struck Jung that made him smile to himself at the simplicity of its conception.


    Batuli Maharani of Jung Bahadur Rana

    Batuli Maharani was one of his concubines, a bhotini who hailed from Helambu in the foothills of the Himalayas. While on a horseback inspection of the district Jung was struck by her youthful good looks and her well endowed frame and had given her a nickname Batuli or “Rotund”. He had taken her as his wife and she had given him two girls in quick succession. Jung decided to give one of his girls in matrimony to the Chiniya Lama.

    The Treaty of Thapathali was signed amidst great fanfare in March, 1856 A.D. It was a singular achievement for Jung Bahadur Rana as it gave Nepal a great advantage in trading with Tibet erasing the unfair terms dictated by a victorious Chinese army during the time of Regent Bahadur Shah. The Chiniya Lama played a great role in mediating with the Tibetans. He was conferred with the Abbotship of Bouddha. The Lama wisely accepted the offer of Jung Bahadur’s daughter in marriage. He remembered the tradition of Nepalese monarchs offering their princesses in marriage to Tibetan kings and how these alliances had helped keep a tenuous peace between the neighbours.

    Now I have understood why the descendants of the 1st Chiniya Lama welcomed his Rana friends including my father with such gusto. He knew all along the marital relationship between his forebears and Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana of Nepal.

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    A tale of two cities in Jung Bahadur’s life and times

    January 1st, 2014


    By Subodh Rana.

    It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” Charles Dickens, from “A Tale of Two Cities”.


    I have always been curious to find out what Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana of Nepal might have seen and heard during his storied visit to London and Paris in 1850 A.D. The European powers, especially Great Britain, were at the zenith of their expansionist adventures overseas. The sun never set over the British Empire under Queen Victoria. France had overcome the debacle of Napoleon Bonaparte’s misadventures in Europe and was content in expanding its foreign holdings and sending their colonists to Algeria.

    P&O Ripon

    The paddle steamer Ripon chartered from Peninsular & Oriental (P&O) Steam Navigation Company at Alexandria carrying Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana of Nepal and his entourage docked at the port of Southampton on 25th of May 1850. News had already spread of the cholera epidemic that rocked the city killing 240 people the previous year and Jung had warned his Nepalese contingent to be very careful of what they ate and drank. He was safe in the thought that for himself he had brought with him huge barrels of Ganga Jal holy water from the Ganges for drinking and for his ablutions. For upper class Hindus taking water from overseas was anathema. The port was a transit point only as the railway that had come to Southampton just two decades earlier was going to take them to London their final destination.

    Almost immediately Jung Bahadur met his first challenge: British Customs wanted to check all the personal effects of Jung and his brothers. Jung was furious. On whose authority did the British dare to rifle through his personal effects, after all wasn’t he the ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the monarch of the independent Kingdom of Nepal invited by the British Queen? The authorities soon relented and gave his entourage a waiver in light of the diplomatic faux pas a stand-off might have generated: Jung had threatened to turn around and head for France!

    Richmond Terrace, London

    Arriving in London Jung was met at Victoria Terminus and he rode in a carriage to Richmond Terrace his abode during his sojourn. The mansion was befitting a royal guest with a beautiful garden overlooking the River Thames. Maharajah Jung was duly impressed by the imposing buildings central London already boasted in 1850: Buckingham Palace, Nelson’s Column, Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. It reminded him of his earlier visit to Calcutta, the city British rule had slowly transformed from Mughal heritage to the mirror image of the British capital. However he was appalled to see the grime and filth in the byways and alleyways and the desperation of beggars and urchins in abundance. Amidst all the splendour Jung brooded that the society he wanted to study at close hand and emulate for his mountain kingdom was neither free nor fair.

    On one of his horseback ride through Green Park he saw a group of people in animated discussion. He found out that they were members of a trade union agitating for better pay. This bemused Jung to the point of sadness. He empathized with the downtrodden as his own life had seen its depths of deprivation following the ouster of his maternal grand-uncle Prime Minister Bhimshen Thapa. He wanted to find out more as his curiosity always got the better of him whenever an intellectual challenge posed itself. He had read to him translation of the Manifesto of The Communist Party propounded by two Germans by the names of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in 1847 just 3 years earlier. Jung could not fully comprehend what this was all about but it gave him further determination to create the Muluki Ain Civil Code for Nepal as soon as he returned home. Without it he knew that these strange, nonsensical ideas would pervade his land too.

    Buckingham Palace had just been completed and Queen Victoria was the first monarch to live there. Jung was discomfited by the news that the queen had just delivered a son and she was going to spend a few more weeks resting before giving an audience to the Nepalese prime minister. Jung was impatient to meet the famous monarch who reigned over half the world.


    Queen Victoria gave her first audience to Jung Bahadur Rana on the 19th of June at St. James’ Palace at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Jung Bahadur’s joy knew no bounds as he was heralded into the parlour along with his two brothers Jagat Shumsher and Dhir Shumsher where the queen and the Prince Consort were waiting. Jung bowed and presented the credentials from the King of Nepal to the queen. “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 in miseries,” wrote Shakespeare in Julius Caesar. Only a few years back Jung’s career was going nowhere but he had taken fate in his own hands during the Kot Massacre and now he felt like he was in a dream.

    Napoleon Bonaparte was the man most admired by Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana. If the British back-stabbed him, he could always seek support of the French as he knew that there was no love lost between the two empire builders. That is the reason why from the inception of his grand voyage he had kept France in his itinerary. France had lost its hero, Jung reflected, just as Nepal had lost another – Bhimsen Thapa his maternal grand-uncle. Now he was being hosted by the hero’s own nephew Louis Bonaparte, the president of France. The proximity to Bonaparte thrilled Jung to the core of his being.

    Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte as President of France

    The revolution of 1848 A.D. had overthrown the rule of the Orleans monarchy and the Second Republic had been established under the presidency of Louis Napoleon. Jung reflected on the state of affairs back home, on how he had foiled the ambition of the Junior Queen and made sure King Surendra remained on the throne. He knew that the weak king needed his guidance and protection.  In France the conservative nephew of the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte had gained ascendancy within the revolutionary movement by marginalizing the working classes. After returning to Nepal Jung would get the news just a year later in 1851 that the president had dissolved the National Assembly and crowned himself Emperor Napoleon III of France. Jung was astonished to find the so called enlightened Europe embracing monarchy once again as the revolutionaries could not find a common ground to move politics ahead. He had sent his missives of hearty congratulations to Paris to the person who had presented him with the Sword of Napoleon, the jewel in the crown of his European souvenirs.

    Napoleon III of France

    Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana regaled in the military history of France. The Tuileries, Hotel des Invalides and the mausoleum of Napoleon, Champs-Elysees and Arc de Triomphe were the obligatory landmarks and Louis Napoleon himself guided Jung Bahadur in his visits. He visited the Cathedral of Notre-Dame where Napoleon was crowned in 1804. Jung Bahadur witnessed military parades the pomp and splendour of which he could not have ever imagined! The grand palace at Versailles was breathtaking to behold.

    Jung Bahadur was convinced that he would have to take the Raj as his ally as the European colonizers were simply too powerful to oppose. This was in the best interest of Nepal. He had to move the country forward by promulgating the much needed Civil Code. He was going to abolish the centuries old practices of slavery and Sati, the burning of widows. He was going to fight against the belief in superstitions and promote science and logic. He had to build a strong military to protect Nepal’s sovereignty. He had learnt these lessons from the tale of two cities.

    Coronation of Napoleon

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