THE DELHI DURBARS AND THE RANA REGIME

The Delhi Durbar 1877

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

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

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

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

Lord Curzon

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

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

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

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

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

King George V and Queen Mary at the Red Fort

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

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