Posts by RanaSubodh:


    April 27th, 2023

    Bishnu Shumsher was born with the proverbial golden spoon in his mouth. The eldest son of Maharani Bal Kumari Devi, the second wife of Maharajah Chandra Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana of Nepal, Vishnu was the first son born after Chandra inherited the post of Prime Minister of Nepal and Maharajah of Kaski and Lamjung in 1901 A.D. Chandra already had five sons from his first Rani but they had been born when Chandra was emerging as the pre-eminent force in Nepali Rana politics. Unfortunately, Rani Loke Bhakta Devi died in 1905 A.D. only 4 years after he ascended to the highest post in the land. It is said that the Rani had beseeched Chandra to re-marry as she had young children to be taken care of. Her youngest, Krishna, was only 5 years old. 

    Major General Bishnu Shumsher J. B. Rana

    Bishnu was born on 13th November 1906, an apple of his father’s eye. Early childhood was spent in the opulence of Singha Durbar, the palace his father built after coming to power, a veritable Versailles in Asia of the time. He had a strong personality and did not take “no” for an answer easily. He had a tendency of rebelling against the strict discipline that was instilled on the children by his austere father and mother and many times got into trouble for it. After his younger siblings Shanker and Madan were born, he was the leader of the pack.

    Maharajah Chandra Shumsher Maharani Bal Kumari Devi with their sons Bishnu and Shanker

    Chandra Shumsher had a long rule of 29 years, the longest serving prime minister of Nepal after his uncle Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana, the founder of the dynasty. He was an able administrator and brought Nepal recognition by the British Empire as an independent country when the rest of South Asia was firmly under British colonial rule. He participated in the First World War on the side of the British by sending almost 200,000 troops to fight as part of the British Indian Army. In 1917, the Mahindra Dal Battalion and the 1st Rifle Battalion were involved in the Waziristan War when the area was a New World Frontier of British India. Nepalese troops under his second son General Baber Shumsher also went to the aid of British troops in 1919 during the Afghanistan War. He invested in Indian companies and amassed a fortune which he liberally distributed to his sons and daughters. It is said that towards the end of his long tenure he bestowed on his 8 sons in cash and in kind an astronomical sum of 9 Crore Nepali Rupees each to insure them against the vagaries of time and fortune. Chandra had clearly observed how the descendants of Jung Bahadur had suffered an unimaginable fate that left them destitute. His own elder brothers Khadga and Dev had lost out on the race to power. 

    Bishnu married Rani Urmilla Rajya Luxmi Devi in the early 1920’s. He was commissioned in the Nepal Army as Major General in 1924 A.D. He served in the Nepal Army and Administration in various capacities until the death of his father Maharajah Chandra. Chandra built for the 3 sons their opulent palaces in the Patan side of Kathmandu Valley, in Pulchowk area, Shri Mahal, Shri Durbar and Shankar Mahal. Things were rosy for the favorite son until his uncle Bhim Shumsher became prime minister following his father’s passing. 

    Bishnu Shumsher and Rani Urmilla

    Nepal’s elite hit the high note whenever they visited Calcutta, today’s Kolkata, as the city that had been the capital of the British Raj in India, was still a vibrant cosmopolitan city. That’s where they traveled for fun, for the movies, for the restaurants and bars, the photo studios, the race course, and medical treatment. It was during one of his forays there it is rumored that Bishnu, the bon vivant, ate beef at Firpo’s, a trendy Italian restaurant started by Angelo Firpo in 1917 A.D. This was totally unacceptable in the puritanical upper ruling classes of Ksatriyas and Brahmins of the time as it would besmirch the good family reputation. Somebody brought it to the notice of his uncle the prime minister. Maharajah Bhim was beside himself with fury at Bishnu’s transgression and promptly removed him from the Rana Roll of Succession and stripped him of his Army rank. Bishnu was a proud man and, not given to sycophancy, did not plead his case and decided to leave Nepal for good. The year was 1931 A.D.

    Firpo’s Restaurant in Chowringhee, Calcutta circa 1950

    Thus began a peripatetic journey for the young ‘maharajkumar’ or prince as his military title was snatched away. The journey would take him first to India, then to England and would end in the Bahamas when he was just 40 years old. It is a fascinating story that would read like a fairy tale if it was not true. The story began in a steamer that headed out from Calcutta to England via Aden and the Suez Canal. The steamer rocked and rolled across the turbulent seas presaging a roller coaster ride for passenger Bishnu’s life in exile. Bishnu took his wife with him and settled in the prestigious Berkeley Square in London. His only child Pitamber was born in Marylebone, London in August 1931.

    King George V was reigning over the British Empire that still had its ‘Jewel in the Crown’ Indian colony and far-flung dominions so that the sun never set in the empire. England had recovered from the ravages of the First World War but the Great Depression had set in. Unemployment and poverty blighted the landscape. Enter Bishnu with his treasure chest believed to be in the vicinity of 3 million Pound Sterling! With his high flying social life he became a darling of the glitterati and the sensation-seeking media. Free-spending Bishnu started appearing in many a newspaper headline cavorting with starlets in clubs frequented by high society and even royalty of the time. It is said that many a time Bishnu was in circles the Prince of Wales frequented in the company of his lady love the American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

    Enters Sandra Rambeau into this high society milieu! An American Hollywood starlet from Springfield, Missouri, she was a chorus girl in many a nightclub act from London to Monte Carlo. She was seen in the company of Duke of Kent frequently and even received some expensive piece of jewelry from him. Bishnu started dating this starlet in earnest to the extent that her family confidently announced that she was getting married to a ‘prince from Nepal’. She was madly in love with Bishnu! The news was picked up by the press on both sides of the Atlantic. Bishnu was very much with Rani Urmilla and their son Pitamber. Exasperated, Bishnu went public and denied this report which seems to have brought an end to this romance. Sandra Rambeau was rumored to be marrying the Marquis of Milford Haven, a cousin of King George V. Rebuffed again, finally she settled for someone much older in the 72-year old General Franz Xavier Ritter von Epp a military leader of Bavaria and Adolf Hitler’s longtime military mentor and president of Reich Colonial League. They were quietly married in Paris.

    Sandra Rambeau

    Bishnu was leading a princely life in expensive London. His cousin General Bahadur Shumsher was the first ambassador of Nepal to the Court of St. James’s. The ambassador’s wife died while he was in office and Bishnu had attended the funeral rites of his sister-in-law there in England. His elder half-brother General Krishna Shumsher Rana, the youngest son of Maharajah Chandra from his first wife went to London as the second Ambassador of Nepal. Then another half-brother General Singha Shumsher  became the ambassador there. It is interesting to note that he had cordial relationships with all of them. Unfortunately, I have not come across any photograph of the time showing Bishnu with his ambassadorial cousins in England. Another setback befell Bishnu as the local press reported that Sterling Pound ten thousand was stolen from his hotel room. Media scrutiny was intense and this must have made him seek quieter pasture. He decided to settle down in the Bahamas!

    He left alone for the Bahamas in 1941. I am just surmising but was this decision taken in tandem with the British Government’s decision to make the Duke of Windsor, the ex-King Edward VIII, the Governor of the Bahamas in 1940? During the war years the Duke was the Governor there until 1945 ostensibly to diplomatically remove him from Continental Europe as his sympathies for Nazi Germany was said to be suspected by the British ruling classes. If Bishnu was in the company of the Prince of Wales earlier, would not this event drive his decision to reunite with the prince in the Bahamas once again? 

    Bishnu Shumsher with Rani Urmilla clubbing

    From this time on Bishnu started drinking heavily and needed constant medical attention. Dr. Hugh Quakenbush was his doctor at beck and call. Professional nurses were hired to take care of his needs. He put on a lot of weight and looked bloated. Unfortunately, media scrutiny seems to have followed him to the Bahamas too!  A young American woman named Fern Violet Kunz, a house guest in Nassau, died there due to trauma suffered after a boating accident and it became quite a scandal with the police probing the incident and media once again focusing on Bishnu and his activities.

    Bishnu passed away in 1946 A.D. at a young age of just 40. His body was flown back in a coffin to Varanasi and cremated on the banks of the River Ganges as willed by his mother Maharani Bal Kumari who had left Nepal for good and resided in Varanasi. Bishnu’s son, now styled as R. K. Pitamber, returned to India and became an industrialist and rose to the rank of managing director of Mahindra & Mahindra India’s pre-eminent automotive manufacturing company. He was an avid golfer and became President of Indian Golfing Union 1974-76 and President of Bombay Chamber of Commerce 1997-98. 

    Coffin that brought back body to Varanasi

    Bishnu Shumsher was a rebel in the tradition-bound Rana rule but his rebellion was for no particular purpose. He neither started a social movement nor a political one to change the circumstances of the many Nepalese who were victims of an archaic system nobody dared to break. With his fortune and societal influence he could have made a difference. He did not care to. He was a rebel without a cause.


    Silent Tribute

    January 26th, 2023

    As a kid it was always difficult for me to ascertain whether they were heroes or villains, some minor players in a Shakespearean tragedy or the main act itself. But one thing is for sure which is that I was always uncomfortable whenever this topic came up. Even before school I knew about those four as Nimbu Didi would tell me in hushed tones how they were executed. She lived near Shova Bhagabati so she was present thereabouts when Ganga Lal was shot. She would dramatically rip at her bosoms and say that Ganga Lal yelled while tearing his shirt apart baring his chest, “Shoot, shoot your own father, shoot” before the bullets made his body go limp. There is an apocryphal story circulating that one top Rana general himself snatched the rifle from the hands of a wavering soldier and shot Ganga Lal.

    Coming from a line of Rana rulers of Nepal I, like many fellow Ranas of my generation in similar position, carry the burden of historic guilt for the martyrdom of those four. The Panchayat System of governance for Nepal concocted by King Mahendra from the socio-political ethos of ancient rural India, heaped blame on the 104 years of dictatorial Rana regime for all prevailing ill while conveniently arresting the growth of nascent democracy. We were taught at school that the Ranas had made the four youthful proponents of revolutionary change martyrs. The fact that it happened when my own grandfather was Prime Minister of the country did not help. I used to cringe at class whenever the subject came up at history lessons. The four heroes had lost their lives trying to help Nepal emerge from darkness. They had been murdered so that an exploitative political and social order would perpetuate. There was at least one redeeming factor that stood out in favour of Maharajah Juddha my grandfather I reasoned: he had spared the life of the fifth because he was a Brahmin. At least he had a good heart I consoled myself; he was God fearing so he must have been a good man I reassured myself.

    Ganga Lal Shrestha

    Ganga Lal Shrestha was the youngest of the martyrs. Born in 1918 he was one of the three founding members of Praja Parishad, the underground movement launched in 1939 to press for political space for common Nepalese. He was caught by the authorities distributing pamphlets in Asan Tole advocating human rights and tried and found guilty of sedition.

    Dasrath Chand

    Praja Parishad had been the brainchild of Dashrath Chand Thakur of the Kshetriya clan of Nepalgunj who had the opportunity of studying in nearby Indian districts of Almora, Kumaon and Nainital and closely monitoring the burgeoning Indian democracy movement there. He was convinced that he had to start a similar movement in Nepal and found Tanka Prashad Acharya, a Brahmin, as the perfect complement of brain to his brawn.

    Dharma Bhakta Mathema was another founding member. He was a body builder himself and was given the task of instructing King Tribhuvan in physical fitness. He also became the conduit between the unhappy and politically powerless king and the underground movement, the reason for his eventual arrest. Shukra Raj Joshi was the oldest of the martyrs. More famous as Shukra Raj “Shastri” having received a degree in Sanskrit, he taught at Allahabad University in India and was the most learned of the martyrs. He came in contact with the leading political figures of the time who were agitating for Indian independence including Mahatma Gandhi.

    Dasrath Chand

    Dharma Bhakta Mathema and family

    In the turbulent times of the forties when the world was at war and who was right and who was wrong hanged in balance for the victor to pronounce, retribution came quickly. In October 1941 Ganga Lal and Dashrath Chand were shot dead at Shova Bhagabati. A few months later Dharma Bhakta Mathema was hanged at Sifal and Shukra Raj Shastri was hanged at Pachali Bhairab. Tanka Prashad Acharya got a life sentence. I am now beginning to wonder if future generations will even remember them: there have been so many martyrs since. Martyrs are raining thick and fast in this land. Even victims of traffic accidents get this elevated status as the state pays monetary compensation to their families. We are besmirching our collective memory of the sacrifice of the first four.

    Sukra Raj Shastri

    On a personal note my father is much more associated with the democratic changes of 1951 which brought political power to the people rather than the ancien régime. He was elevated to the post of Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Nepalese army following that epochal event. Lalit Chand, the younger brother of the martyr Dashrath Chand, gave his daughter in marriage to my eldest brother. Lalit Chand served as the Chairman of the Rashtriya Panchayat and he was a great friend of my father. I like to think that the Shakespearean tragedy ended in a reconciliatory note for us and animus buried forever.

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    July 10th, 2022

    The Soviets had a penchant for declaring their cities “Hero Cities” in tribute to their resilience in the face of the mighty German Wehrmacht bearing down on them with all its might. Stalingrad, Leningrad and Kiev come to mind as cities that determined not to surrender. If there is one “Hero City” in Nepal, then it must be the legendary town of Kirtipur.

    The town has been famous in Nepalese history as the citadel that fought the invading Gorkha army of King Prithivi Narayan Shah bravely – three heroic times. Kirtipur surrendered only after exacting a heavy price on the forces of the king, including the death of his favorite general Kalu Pandey in the first assault. In the second assault the king’s brother Surpratap was struck by an arrow in his eyes thus blinding him. It was only at the third attempt did the king conquer Kirtipur in 1767 A.D. opening up the route into the valley. Some historical accounts including the accounts of the Italian Capuchin priests proselytizing in the Kathmandu valley since 1714 A.D. under the tutelage of the ruling Malla kings say that the furious king ordered the mutilation of lips and noses of all adult male inhabitants in demonic revenge. As the Capuchins were packed off to India under suspicion of their collaboration with the British Raj to help the Malla kingdoms counter the Gorkhali invasion, these accounts need to be further scrutinized by historians as not just fabrication of the Christian order to paint the Gorkhalis as barbarians.

    Spot where General Kalu Pandey fell

    Located on the way to the famous temple of Dakshinkali in the southern corner of Kathmandu Valley, Kirtipur is perched on a hill strategically overlooking Kathmandu and Patan. The town has not been getting the recognition as a major tourist site it firmly deserves. During my recent visit to Kirtipur I was looking for a modest German bakery started by a Non-governmental Organization called Nepalhilfe (Nepal Relief) to teach the locals a new trade. Kirtipur Bakery has now grown to become an ambitious bakery-cum-cafe in another more strategic location. The “Heritage Walk” started by the local community is enchanting as it traverses through the ancient town along cobbled streets lined by quaint old houses built in Newari style a century ago. The temple dedicated to Bhairab, the avatar Lord Shiva manifests to annihilate evil, is another big attraction. Known as Bagh Bhairab, or Tiger Bhairab to further enchance his ferocity, the deity must have intermingled with the local population to battle the Gorkhalis. The temple was consecrated by Jagatpal Barma in B.S. 1572 (1516 A.D.). Another interesting temple is the Uma-Maheshwor Temple. Local lore has it that until very recently coinciding with the end of monarchy in Nepal, the priests were always baffled by the fact that someone had beaten them in offering milk to the stone statue no matter how early they opened the door for their morning prayers.

    I was especially enamoured by the local school known as Kirtipur Middle School. My family’s association with the school dates back to 1952 A.D. when my father became the patron and the school was inaugurated as the Kiran Madhyamik Vidyalaya. Its earlier location was right behind the Bagh Bahirab Temple where a converted shed (sattal in Nepali), built by Kathmandu’s traders by the name of Munshi for religious ceremonies, stood. Says Tikaraj Maharjan, the school’s first head master now retired,”I took over the school in 1961 A.D. when it needed serious renovation and invited General Kiran to help him with the task as the school was named after him.” Help came in the shape of a personal donation of Rs. 400.00 from my father and soon after a huge contribution of Rs. 22,000.00 from the Indian Ambassador. The school was rebuilt and its name was changed to Kirtipur Madhyamik Vidhyalaya in 2025 B.S. (1969 A.D.). The school remained in its original location behind the temple until 2047 B.S. (1991 A.D.) when the locals decided that it impeded the views of the valley and so it was moved to its present location.

    Earlier location of school
    School at its present location

    I found another connection with my family there. After the great earthquake of 1934 A.D. Maharajah Juddha Shumsher had imported fire engines and installed them in Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. Three large iron faucets located in Kirtipur acted both as taps and as hire hydrants to supply water to the fire engines in case of fire. He named them after his mother Juhar Kumari, the name in brass plates is still extant on the faucets after all these many years. I look at the Hero City with a different pair of eyes now.

    Iron faucet with name of Maharajah Juddha’s mother Juhar Kumari Devi



    July 3rd, 2022

    I have always marveled at the ability some people have to draw faces. At school we had our classmate Narendra Basnyat who could take a pencil or crayons or water colour and draw our faces whose likeness were striking. I have got a crayon portrait of my father posing with his tiger he killed with a Colt .45 painted by a Swiss lady artist in 1960. It still looks as good as new! I used to watch her draw in wonderment and could not help but notice how, in her concentration, she would cross and un-cross her leg ad infinitum. What started out as a charcoal outline of faces on canvas – my father’s and the tiger’s – transformed into their mirror images by the time she was finished. I have forgotten her name. She was a visiting artist, perhaps freelancing and making money on the side to subsidize her travel. The faces that have impressed me the most though are the self portraits by Vincent Van Gogh and, of course, “Mona Lisa” by Leonardo da Vinci. But I am digressing…

    Crayon painting of General Kiran with tiger

    The art form that I want to narrate here is not painting, but taxidermy. Taxidermy, the art of preserving animal pelt for posterity was started by pre-historic humans who needed the animal skins and fur for protection against inclement weather. In modern times vanity took over. Animal furs were worn for effect, the more expensive the better. Wearing expensive mink coats with very little under became de rigueur in the sixties. Rich widows thought of preserving their much loved pets for posterity.

    Taxidermy evolved to an exact art form as serious as portrait painting when big game hunters mounted the trophies they bagged, sometimes full body, but many times heads alone or heads attached to the skin. Hunters wanted their animal heads to be as life-like as possible – the snarling tiger caught in its ferocious beauty or the roaring lion caught in its awesome majesty – and they were willing to pay a king’s ransom for them! In this art form the Dutch brothers Van Ingen & Van Ingen were the masters nonpareil.

    Van Ingen family in Mysore

    I cannot say for sure why a Dutch family started this business based in Mysore in South India and whether the family had a similar business in Holland prior to their arrival in India. Eugene van Ingen started the business in the 1890s and ever since until the firm decided to close shop in 1999 it has been a family affair. Among a handful of competing taxidermists Van Ingen was the first choice of the leading Indian royal families keen on showing off their prized hunting trophies, a status the family gained by innovation in the building of “moulds” for the heads of the animals. They imported glass eyes from Germany. Badly mounted animal heads just like bad painting render the subject into a caricature; a tiger could very well look like a domestic cat. I have seen such poor examples.

    When my father was professionally arranging for big game shoot for his clients in the sixties, I had the opportunity of watching at close-hand how the local sarki cobbler, dispatched from Kathmandu, skinned the animals and tanned the skins. He meticulously cleaned the underside of the skin of all muscles and fatty tissues and hung them to dry. By the time the skin came to Kathmandu it was taut, shrunk and wrinkled beyond recognition. The head was as flat as rest of the skin with two holes where the eyes had been and a bigger opening lower down where the mouth had been. Looking at the skin one could not ever imagine that a beautiful mounted head would ever come back from the taxidermist. But they did, time and again.

    During the heydays of Van Ingen & Van Ingen between the years 1930 and 1960 factory records show that 400 animal skins were processed and mounted every year. The skins were of tigers, lions, leopards, buffaloes and even African games sent by European and American hunters to Mysore – such was their fame! During the Rana period the ruling families sent their trophies for stuffing to India, mainly to Van Ingen. Most of my father’s own collection from the 1950s also was mounted by Van Ingen. Records gleaned from an extensive study of the ledgers of Van Ingen made by British author Dr. Pat Morris showed that as late as 1961 the King of Nepal had dispatched for stuffing 6 tiger and 22 leopard skins.

    The last surviving son of the founder Joubert van Ingen is now reported to be 98 years old. No big game hunting is allowed anymore in most parts of the world. We are looking at the end of an era and an art form.

    Collection of Van Ingen mounts



    June 28th, 2022

    There was a loud drone of an aircraft as it flew high above our campsite close to midnight. “Where is this plane coming from?” asked my father rhetorically. Of course, no one knew the answer in the Nepali night sky of 1971. It was not a commercial flight. Night flying then was not allowed as the airport in Kathmandu was not fitted with radar. We were in a hunting camp near Butwal. Actually, I remember that we were in between two camps, an earlier client had finished his hunting and we were waiting for the next client of the season.

    After retiring from the military as Commander-in-chief of the Nepalese army back in 1956 my father General Kiran Shumsher J. B. Rana secured royal permission and started a hunting company named Nepal Shikar Pvt. Ltd. It was licensed to conduct hunts in selected hunting reserves for the big game hunters coming from America and Europe. It was both a business as well as a pastime for my father who was an avid hunter.

    In the capacity of the military chief of Nepal my father had on many occasions organized royal hunts for both King Tribhuvan and his son King Mahendra. He had himself hosted foreign dignitaries for the tiger shoot. It was this experience and passion for hunting which had prompted him to start this company. Tiger hunting in Nepal had always been one of the great games of diplomacy the Rana rulers were adept at playing and even after 1951 this sport was a reserve of the royals.

    Which of the British Royals hunted in Nepal?

    In February 1876 A.D. Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, (later King Edward VII), son of Queen Victoria came to hunt in Banbassa in west Nepal hosted by Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana and bagged 23 tigers in a 2 week shooting spree. He had presided over the Delhi Durbar in celebration of his mother Queen Victoria having been proclaimed the Empress of India on 1st January 1876 A.D. It is written that he was so bored with the formalities of state that coming to shoot in the Terai was the highlight of his India sojourn. Jung Bahadur considered himself fortunate to be able to return the regal hospitality showered on him by the British royal family 25 years earlier.

    Jung Bahadur Rana hosting Prince of Wales (later to become King Edward VII) during a hunt in 1876

    Subsequently there were many members of the British royal family who hunted tigers in Nepal. The Duke of Portland came to shoot tigers during the time of Maharajah Ranauddip Singh in 1884 A.D.

    Duke of Portland hunting in Nepal during the time of Maharajah Ranauddip Singh

    The eldest son of the Prince of Wales (later to become King Edward VII), Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, the second person in line to the British throne after his father, came to shoot tigers here during the winter of 1889-90 A.D. hosted by Prime Minister Bir Shumsher J. B. Rana. Public furore over Jack the Ripper’s serial murders in London had created many suspects including this particular prince, although the mystery was never solved. He died early as a crown prince and his younger brother later ascended the throne as King George V.

    Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale (eldest grandson of Queen Victoria)
    in a hunting camp in Nepal with Maharajah Bir Shumsher

    After the second Delhi Durbar of 1911 A.D. King George V came to shoot tigers in Sukhibar and Kasra jungles of Nepal Terai at the invitation of Prime Minister Chandra Shumsher J. B. Rana. During a period of 10 days from 18 to 28 December he bagged 21 tigers, 8 rhinos and a bear. Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII, also came to shoot here in 1921 A.D. during Chandra Shumsher’s rule. He was fated to abdicate the throne of England for Mrs. Wallis Simpson’s company! A big hunting camp was prepared for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip as regal entertainment by King Mahendra during her state visit to Nepal in 1961 A.D. Although neither of them actually shot a tiger, there were others in the royal retinue who did.

    King George V with Maharajah Chandra and tiger he bagged
    King George V hunting tigers in Nepal hosted by Maharajah Chandra Shumsher

    One important historical royalty, non British, to have hunted in the western Terai region of Nepal was Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination in 1914 triggered World War I. He arrived from India at the invitation of Maharajah Bir Shumsher in March 1893 to shoot in various camps. He was welcomed by Kesar Singh Thapa, the uncle of Maharajah Bir, and his son Prem Shumsher Thapa and the British Resident in Nepal Colonel H. Wylie. The hunt has been well documented by the Archduke.

    Archduke Franz Ferdinand (3rd from left) with tiger he bagged in Nepal Terai 1889 A.D. Colonel Keshar Singh Thapa, brother-in-law of Dhir Shumsher, and his son Prem Shumsher Thapa are the organizers of the shoot. 

    Viceroy Lord Curzon had requested Maharajah Bir Shumsher for a tiger shoot in Nepal. However, due to the ill health of Bir, this hunt could materialize only after Maharajah Dev Shumsher came to power. He designated Colonel Harkha Jung Thapa the grandson of Jung Bahadur Rana from his daughter Badan Kumari to organize the shoot for the viceroy.

    Viceroy Lord Curzon with rhino he bagged. Seen is Colonel Harkha Jung Thapa

    Nepal Shikar Pvt. Ltd. hosted many latter-day Nawabs of business dynasties from America during its existence. Hunting tigers in the jungles of Nepal came to an end after the 1972 season when tiger hunting was banned to protect these magnificent beasts. As to that mysterious aircraft flying in the night skies we later found out that it was bringing in a wounded Queen Ratna from Suklaphanta back to Kathmandu for treatment after a freak hunting accident. A bullet had missed the intended target, a swamp deer, from King Mahendra’s rifle, ricocheted off a rock boulder and hit the queen sitting atop another elephant in the arm. King Mahendra himself would soon succumb to a fatal heart attack after shooting a tiger. The era of big game hunting in Nepal would soon come to a close.

    Prince of Wales, later to become King Edward VIII,
    hunting tigers in Nepal Terai hosted by Maharajah Chandra Shumsher, 1921



    October 25th, 2021

    Two half-sisters were married to the Wali’Ahad – a Persian formulation for ‘heir to the throne’ – Crown Prince Trailokya Bikram Shah of Nepal. These marriages took place in short intervals, the elder sister Tara Rajya Luxmi Devi got married to Trailokya in 1857 A.D. when she was just seven years old and he just nine. A few years later her half-sister Lalit Rajya Luxmi Devi got married to the same prince in 1860 A.D. when she was but six years old. Both of them were daughters of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana, prime minister and de facto ruler of Nepal.

    From left, Princess Tara, Jung Bahadur, Hiranya Garva, Princess Lalit
    Photo by Clarence Comyn Taylor, 1863 A.D.
    Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana and Maharani Hiranya Garva Kumari Devi

    Jung Bahadur Rana, a talented army officer, was emerging in the ranks when he married his second wife Nanda Kumari Devi of a Tandon Khatry family from Gorakhpur. His first wedded wife Prasad Luxmi Basnet had passed away giving him his first born son Bhim Jung. After he got married a second time, his fortunes changed. The Court intrigues among the royal family and the courtiers had culminated in the epochal Kot Massacre of 1846 A.D. thrusting Jung Bahadur to the cusp of power. Regent Queen Rajya Luxmi Devi had bestowed upon him the position of prime minister soon after the Kot massacre. Soon after Nanda Kumari had given him four children, Badan Kumari his first girl, Jagat Jung and Jeet Jung, his sons, and lastly Tara Kumari, another daughter. These were tumultuous times in Nepalese politics and Jung was very busy in statecraft and paid scant attention to his family. 

    Shortly after the Kot incident Jung had to remove Queen Rajya Luxmi Devi from power as she turned against him for not entertaining her design to remove Crown Prince Surendra from the Roll of Succession and install her own son Prince Ranendra in his stead. The queen had finally given up on Jung and conspired to kill him in the Bhandarkhal episode. However, Jung had been forewarned and, after he escaped this assassination attempt, banished Queen Rajya Luxmi to Benaras to protect the Crown Prince. Soon after King Rajendra Bikram Shah abdicated and his son Surendra was crowned king of Nepal. In the meanwhile Nanda Kumari, Jung’s wife, had taken ill and she could not be saved. 

    Important family collateral of the Royals had perished during the Kot Massacre including the Mukhtiyar or Chief Minister Fateh Jung Shah, his brother and his son. During the shakeup following this event, many more lost their state awarded perks and privileges and were reduced to penury. Jung Bahadur had consolidated his power and he was confident enough to embark on his voyage to England by 1850 A.D.  Upon his return he wanted to restore good relationship with the estranged members of the royal collateral – the sahebjius and chautariyas – so he sent feelers to them for a possible family tie-up. He wanted to marry the younger sister of the chief minister who had lost his life at Kot. Hiranya Garva Kumari had lost her two elder brothers at Kot so she was not eager at first but after the rest of her family members wished for reconciliation with the powerful Jung, she finally relented. They got married in 1853 A.D. Since then, she became the main consort, the Bada Maharani or Senior Queen, until Jung’s death in 1877 A.D. and her own death by sati three days later. 

    The ambitious Jung Bahadur now wanted his children to get married into the royal family of Nepal. There is an apocryphal story of how King Surendra Bikram Shah reacted angrily to Jung’s proposal that his two sons be married to two of the princesses royal. “How can there be a marital tie with you Kunwars?” the king had exploded. But Jung, not known to back down easily, had subtly hinted at the king’s own ancestors coming from the Mithila Brahmin line, from the young widow Kantabati married by King Rana Bahadur Shah. Thus chastened the king had finally relented and gave his blessing. Both his sons Jagat and Jeet were married to the daughters of the king.

    King Surendra Bikram Shah with Bada Guruju (Royal Preceptor) Nagendra Raj Pandey and his son Lok Raj,
    Photo by Clarence Comyn Taylor, 1863 A.D.

    It was now Jung’s ambition to get his daughter married to the Crown Prince so that his progeny would one day become kings of Nepal. His daughter Tara Kumari was proposed as a bride for Crown Prince Trailokya. The marriage ceremony took place in June 1857 A.D. amidst pomp and splendour Nepal had not witnessed before. European manners and mores had entered Nepal after Jung’s return from Europe so the colourful pageantry reflected both the traditional and the new European influences. Margaret Oldfield, the wife of Dr. Oldfield the doctor in the British Residency in Kathmandu, writing to her husband in England, has described in astonishing detail the participation of the diplomats based at the British Residency as guests of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana at his residence and the historic wedding procession. Jung Bahadur decided to give his second daughter, the eldest from Bada Maharani Hiranya, in marriage to Crown Prince Trailokya in 1860 A.D. He hoped that soon a son would be born from one of the daughters who would be declared the heir apparent.

    Crown Prince Trailokya Bikram Shah
    Senior Queen Mother Tara Rajya Luxmi Devi Shah, photo by Johnston & Hoffman in early 1880’s

    Years passed. As fate would have it Princess Tara was blessed with a girl and Princess Lalit with a boy. Lalit’s son became the young heir to the Nepalese throne and was named Prithivi (Mother Earth). History moved in its own uneventful trajectory until the death of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana in 1877 A.D. Bada Maharani Hiranya Garva Kumari went sati along with two of his other wives showing single-minded resistance to petitions of family members and courtiers not to undertake such a heinous act. Both the princesses Tara and Lalit lost their father and mother together at the same time. Soon after an unexpected tragedy of an even greater magnitude befell them both: their husband Crown Prince Trailokya succumbed to an illness in the prime of his youth and died on 30 March 1878 A.D. never to ascend the throne of Nepal. Both the crown princesses were widowed at a very young age of 30 years for Tara and 24 years for Lalit. After these tragedies the house of Jung Bahadur became divided along partisan lines.

    Crown Princess Tara was allied with her blood brother General Jagat Jung Rana in his quest of regaining his lost place on the Rana Roll of Succession aided by the ambitious wife of the new prime minister, an unfortunate state of affairs brought about by his own over-reaching ambition. Maharajah Ranaudip Singh, the 5th surviving brother of Jung Bahadur Rana, was the prime minister and his wife Hari Priya was partial to Jagat Jung. Crown Princess Lalit and her blood sister Princess Deep, married to a royal prince Dhirendra Bikram Shah, however were dead against this happening and they were promoting the rise of the Shumsher branch of the family. A tussle within the ruling coterie would end in a family tragedy, the assassination of Prime Minister Ranauddip Singh on 22 November 1885 A.D. and the total ruination of the prospects of the descendants of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana. General Jagat Jung and his son Yuddha Pratap were both killed while the rest of the nomenclature took asylum at the British Residency. A family that was in power and privilege for nearly forty long years would be banished from Nepal!

    Following this upheaval Senior Queen Mother Tara decided to leave Nepal and stay in India along with her surviving brother Jeet Jung. She had taken asylum at the British Residency on the night of the assassination and negotiated for her exile. She was initially in Benaras like many of her unfortunate family members. From then on she would play an instrumental role in trying to oust the regime of the new prime minister. General Padma Jung Rana, son of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana, in exile in Allahabad and General Dhoj Narsingh Rana, the adopted son of the assassinated prime minister Maharajah Ranauddip Singh, now residing in Calcutta jointly wrote a petition to Senior Queen Mother Tara to take the cause of the unfortunate family members in exile and petition the ‘People and Parliament of Great Britain to help overthrow the illegal government in Nepal’. William Digby C.I.E. in his account of the coup d’etat that took place in Nepal and his conviction that the Viceroy and Governor General Lord Dufferin had failed to deliver justice to the wronged family of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana who had proven his friendship to the British during the Indian Mutiny, confirms that the Senior Queen Mother took up the cause of the family in earnest.

    Maharajah Ranauddip Singh with adopted son Dhoj Narsingh (boy with crown)

    In 1886 A.D., accompanied by her brother General Jeet Jung, Queen Mother Tara went to Calcutta in her quest for justice. She got an audience with Lady Dufferin the viceroy’s wife in person. Digby describes their meeting as anything but satisfactory. Lady Dufferin in her memoirs has expressed more awe with the elaborate dress, jewelry and royal accoutrements the queen mother displayed than any real sympathy on her plight. During this period Tara Rajya Luxmi stayed on in Calcutta to pressure the British Administration. The British did take up her issue with Maharajah Bir Shumsher and he seems to have offered her maintenance allowance of one half of what Nepal was giving to the ex-queen Rajya Luxmi Devi still alive then and residing in Benaras. Furious that Bir would give her only half of what Nepal was paying to the ‘murderous queen responsible for the infamous Kot episode’, she writes again to the Viceroy Lord Dufferin for help but to no avail. 

    Viceroy Lord Dufferin and Lady Dufferin

    She takes up another issue of her own daughter the Princess Royal Laalpati who was not allowed by Bir Shumsher to accompany her mother to India, seeking assistance for her repatriation. She was unable to get her to India. She yet again petitions the viceroy Lord Dufferin to stop her daughter’s wedding with Dambar Dhoj Shah son of Raja of a minor Thakuri family of Bajura who was ‘a scoundrel and beneath her rank to become a son-in-law’. The marriage went ahead regardless and within a year in October 1889 A.D. the queen mother received the tragic news of her daughter’s passing after giving birth to a healthy girl who survived. We do not hear of this granddaughter of the queen mentioned in any Nepalese account thereafter. 

    British statesman Henry Charles Keith Petty-FitzMaurice (1845 – 1927), the 5th Marquess of Lansdowne, circa 1900. During his career, he held the positions of Governor General of Canada, Viceroy of India, Secretary of State for War, and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

    Hearing that Bir Shumsher was planning to have his own two daughters marry the king, she writes another protest letter dated 10 October 1889 to the new Viceroy Lord Landsdowne arguing that the daughters were not worthy of the king as they were born from a mother of lowly caste. British India however, during this entire period, seems to have paid scant attention to her arguments countering that what was happening in Nepal was its internal affairs and the British would not interfere. In a reply on 23 October Lord Landsdowne reminds her that the king’s own mother Junior Queen Mother Lalit Rajya Luxmi Devi had agreed to the marriage proposal. Maharajah Bir Shumsher had consolidated his hold on power in Nepal for good! 

    King Prithivi Bir Bikram Shah with his 3rd and 4th Maharanis,
    Kirti Dibeshwori and Durga Dibeshwori, daughters of Maharajah Bir
    Maharana Fateh Singhji

    It was here that good fortune finally shone on the queen mother. The Maharana of Udaipur (Mewar) Fateh Singhji (born 1849, regnal years 1884-1930 A.D.) had heard of the tragedy that had befallen his Rajput clan members. During the attacks by the Delhi Sultanate of Allauddin Khilji the Rajputs of Mewar had been defeated and one branch of the family of Prince Kumbhakaran had migrated to the hills of Nepal. This tradition led the Maharana to invite the beleaguered clan members from Benaras. He sent Thakur Gamair Singhji Chauhan of Akiya and Thakur Inder Singhji Ranawat of Kapadiya Khedi to escort the royal personage from Benaras to Udaipur.  Tara Rajya Luxmi Devi was given due recognition of her high office of the Senior Queen Mother of Nepal and was offered the stately Govardhan Vilas Mahal in Udaipur for her residence. After Dhoj Narsingh Rana died in Calcutta, his family members were also invited to Udaipur to join the queen mother. Senior Queen Mother passed away in Udaipur and the Maharana accorded her and her family members a special privilege to be cremated at the holy grounds of Mahasatya in Ayad and a chhatri or cenotaph erected in her memory. 

    Shri Gyanendra Narsingh Rana at Mahasatya during cremation of his mother, Chattris at background
    Govardhan Vilas Mahal today, photos courtesy Gyanendra Narsingh Rana, descendant of General Dhoj Narsingh Rana

    Meanwhile let us look at the fortunes of the Junior Queen Mother of Nepal. Crown Princess Lalit Rajya Luxmi Devi upon the death of her father-in-law King Surendra Bikram Shah on 18th May 1881 became Regent for the child king Prithivi Bir Bikram until his coming of age on 8th August 1893 A.D. Following the assassination of Prime Minister Ranauddip Singh and exile of the family of Jung Bahadur she ameliorated the misfortune of her half-brother General Padma Jung Rana as she was very close to him. Padma Jung had been brought up by Lalit’s mother Bada Maharani Hiranya Garva Kumari from the time of his birth since his own unfortunate mother Bishnu Kumari, a niece of Hiranya, passed away shortly after giving him birth. She prevailed upon the new maharajah and prime minister Bir Shumsher to restore all of Padma’s confiscated movable and immovable properties. It was due to her timely intervention that General Padma Jung lived a life of plenty in Allahabad, India. 

    Crown Princess Lalit Rajya Luxmi Devi with 96 carat yellow diamond on her tiara,
    diamond was purchased by Bir Shumsher in Calcutta when he was posted as consul

    Queen Mother Lalit Rajya Luxmi (white gown) with her son King Prithivi Bir Bikram and his family on the occasion of the wedding of the king’s eldest daughter Luxmi Rajya Devi (sitting far right) with Kaiser Shumsher (boy with plumed crown), son of Maharajah Chandra Shumsher J. B. Rana

    Junior Queen Mother Lalit was no doubt a very influential figure in Durbar politics from the time of accession of Bir Shumsher as Maharajah of Kaski and Lamjung and prime minister of Nepal. She remained so during the short tenure of Maharajah Dev Shumsher and the advent of Maharajah Chandra Shumsher’s rule as prime minister in 1901 A.D. However, life had another cruel fate in store for her just like it had for her elder sister Tara. King Prithivi Bir Bikram Shah died at the prime of his life at the age of only 36 years. Dowager Queen Lalit Rajya Luxmi was a doting grandmother to the child king Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah Dev until her own passing at Pashupatinath in 1917 A.D. 

    Junior Queen Mother Lalit Rajya Luxmi Devi with son King Prithivi and grandson Tribhuvan

    Writing this blog has been a revelation in terms of how little is known or recorded of women in Nepalese history. It has been my privilege to research and connect with contacts who still retain some information on Tara and Lalit, the two daughters of Jung Bahadur, and bring their stories to light. Their quest for recognition and equality, as well as their personal joys and sorrows are, despite the passage of time and the change of epochs, reflective of the modern Nepalese woman and the challenges faced by them today.

    My special thanks to Shri Virendra Narsingh Rana and Shri Gyanendra Narsingh Rana, 4th and 5th generation descendants respectively of General Dhoj Narsingh Rana, in Udaipur and Dr. Kalpana Rana, 5th generation descendant of Prime Minister General Bam Bahadur Rana, younger brother of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana, in Kathmandu for the invaluable information they both provided to make this blog factual and interesting.



    August 21st, 2021

    An important biography of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana was written by his son General Padma Jung Rana during his exile in India and it was published after his death in Allahabad in 1909 A.D. by Pioneer Press titled “Life of Sir Jung Bahadur of Nepal”. It is the only book to my knowledge that is written by an “insider” eye witness, a member of the family of Jung Bahadur, and is full of interesting accounts and anecdotes that would not have come to light had it not been for this book. I have always wanted to learn more about the Rana family members who fled Nepal after the coup d’etat of 1885 A.D. and their life in India. Here is the first in the series: my findings on General Padma Jung Rana. 

    A tragedy in life came early, at the very instance of birth in fact. Writes General Padma Jung Rana in his biography of his famous father, he was born on the very day Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana left Kathmandu for the war effort to relieve the hard-pressed British forces in Avadh. This was on the 10th of December 1857 A.D. His unfortunate mother Bishnu Kumari, a niece of Bada Maharani Hiranya Garva Kumari, passed away soon after giving birth to him. Bishnu was the daughter of Ranasher Shah, a brother of Chief Minister Chautaria Fateh Jung Shah, elder brother of Hiranya Garva, slain at the infamous Kot Massacre. These matrimonial ties were made to re-establish good relationships with the extended family of Nepalese royals, the powerful Chautaria clan. Too young to feel this first tragedy, he would have reflected upon it many a time when he was older.

    General Padma Jung Rana

    Hiranya Garva Kumari adopted him and raised him as his own. She had four daughters of her own but no sons, hence providence had provided her with a son! Padma grew up in an exalted state as his adoptive mother was the only Bada Maharani or main consort Prime Minister Jung Bahadur had during his rule since his former wives had passed away. He led a life of privilege in Thapathali Durbar growing up together with his sisters who would one day become very influential. His elder sisters, Lalit Rajya Luxmi and Deep Rajya Luxmi, and younger sister Somgarva Rajya Luxmi would be married in the royal family: Lalit and Somgarva with Crown Prince Trailokya Bikram Shah and Deep with Dhirendra Bikram Shah, son of the younger brother of King Surendra, Mahila Sahebjiu (Duke) Upendra Bikram Shah. 

    A tragedy perhaps even greater than the death of his birth-mother would befall later, but let us not get ahead of ourselves. As the third son of Maharajah Jung Bahadur from his married wives, the first two being Jagat Jung and Jeet Jung from his Gorakhpur Tandon wife Nanda Kumari, now deceased, Padma led a life of privilege. From getting a good education at the Thapathali Durbar School with tutors from Calcutta to training in the military, from music lessons to poetry classes as was customary of the time, Padma excelled in all that was thrown at him. He accompanied his father many a time in his extravagant hunting expeditions. In the summer of 1871 A.D. Padma Jung was married to Bala Kumari Devi of a Kshetriya family of Gorakhpur amidst great rejoicing. The third Rani of King Surendra Bikram Shah, gave away the bride, a high honour for the couple. Nepal was at peace with Tibet since the Treaty of Thapathali was signed in 1856 A.D. during the time of Jung Bahadur. However, some disagreement appeared once more in 1873 A.D. and General Padma Jung led an expedition into Tibet that successfully resolved the issue without having to resort to another war. Padma had the singular opportunity of accompanying his uncle Commander-in-Chief Ranauddip Singh as a member of the Nepalese team attending the Delhi Durbar of 1877 A.D. that was organized to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of accession to the British throne by Queen Victoria. He was awarded with Kaiser-e-Hind Gold Medal on the occasion.

    Bala Kumari Devi, wife of General Padma Jung Rana

    Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana had willed the Roll of Succession in an agnate manner in recognition of the contribution of his younger brothers in shoring up his regime. He did not want the succession by primogeniture as he had witnessed how this had adversely impacted the Shah dynasty with many baby kings being crowned and the actual power lying in the hands of the Regent Queens and the strongmen behind them. Only after the succession by his six brothers would come the turn of his own sons and so the Roll of Succession in the next generation had Jagat Jung, Jeet Jung and then Padma Jung in third place.

    It was in 1882 A.D. that a calamity took place. Maharajah Jung Bahadur had passed away in 1877 A.D. and his younger surviving brother Ranauddip Singh became prime minister. During this period the eldest son of Jung Bahadur, General Jagat Jung started conspiring to get rid of his uncles, Ranauddip and Commander-in-Chief Dhir Shumsher and take power in his own hands. Jagat was seething with anger that even the title of Maharajah of Kaski and Lamjung had been ‘usurped’ in his eyes by his uncle, if not the post of prime minister. He started enlisting supporters. In this enterprise he was aided by Sahebjiu Narendra Bikram Shah, the younger brother of Crown Prince Trailokya and his own brother Padma Jung, Eastern Commanding General at the time, along with a coterie of ‘bhai bhardar’, cousins and courtiers. Someone ratted, the plot was discovered and the plotters arrested. Both Jagat and Padma were removed from the Roll of Succession of the Rana Regime. Sahebjiu Narendra Bikram and Jagat’s cousin Bombir Bikram were incarcerated in Chunar in British India, 1882-85 A.D. Padma Jung, most fortunately for him, escaped this fate at the intervention of his sister Lalit Rajya Luxmi, the powerful Regent Queen and mother of the child king Prithivi Bir Bikram Shah. He was eventually restored to the Roll of Succession.

    Tension was rife in the ruling family during the years 1882 to 1885 A.D. From India General Jagat Jung was applying pressure on Prime Minister Ranauddip Singh to pardon him and restore him his military rank and enlist him back in the Roll of Succession. Jagat found sympathetic ears of the Maharani Hari Priya, his aunt, but was strongly rebuffed by uncle Dhir Shumsher who was the strongman in his brother’s regime. Unexpectedly Dhir passed away in October 1884 A.D. The floodgate of conspiracies from both the Jung camp and Shumsher camp was opened to oust one another from power.

    It was after this the biggest tragedy of all struck General Padma Jung Rana and his siblings. The Shumsher camp succeeded in assassinating Prime Minister Ranauddip Singh in 1885 A.D. and stripped all the children of Jung Bahadur and rest of the family of his deceased brothers from power. General Jagat Jung and his son Juddha Pratap were killed and the rest took asylum in British India. At the time of the assassination of uncle Prime Minister Ranauddip Singh, Padma Jung was the Commander-in-Chief and the next in line since Jagat Jung had been stripped from the roll, and Jeet Jung, smelling trouble, had conveniently left for India on medical grounds and sent in his resignation from there. 

    Exiled from Nepal Padma Jung fortunately had a keen supporter back home in the person of his sister Lalit Rajya Luxmi Devi, the mother of King Prithivi Bir Bikram Shah. Her husband the crown prince Trailokya had died young and soon after King Surendra Bikram Shah too died. Hence Lalit’s son the 3 year old boy Prithivi was crowned king in 1881 A.D. and Lalit became a powerful Regent Queen of Nepal. It was Lalit who was looking after General Padma Jung Rana in his time of need. It is true that the new maharajah Prime Minister Bir Shumsher, with her insistence, restored Padma’s properties and jewellery confiscated earlier. It is possible that she paid for his residence, the historical Phaphamau Castle in Allahabad, purchased from a British officer. General Padma Jung fared a lot better than his siblings who were exiled. He in turn helped General Ranabir Jung his younger half-brother financially. 

    Padma Jung (sitting) and Ranabir Jung

    General Padma Jung got busy in exile renovating his residence complex at Phaphamau Castle, adding new buildings such as Nayee Kothi and Maiphil to the already existing structures. He was also busy marrying off his daughters to Indian royalty and securing them wealth and safety. He arranged his eldest daughter’s marriage in 1892 A.D. with Raja Sir Kirti Shah Bahadur, Raja of Tehri Garhwal, a 11-gun salute state, once part of Greater Nepal prior to 1815 A.D., now in Uttarakhand. She would be known as Nepaliya Rajya Luxmi Devi. He married off two more of his daughters Prabhabati Devi in 1900 A.D. and Arundhati Devi in 1906 A.D. to the ruler of 13-gun salute Tripura State, Maharajah Kirit Birendra Kishore Dev Burman of Manikya dynasty. Later a third daughter Churamoni Devi was also given in marriage to him.

    Rani Nepaliya Rajya Luxmi of Tehri Gahrwal

    Raja Sir Kirti Shah Bahadur of Tehri Gahrwal
    Photos courtesy of Rana Karan Prakash J.B. 

    These matrimonial ties of his daughters stood in good stead for his male progeny as they enlisted to serve in these states in various capacities in both civilian administration and the military. His second son from Rani Bala Kumari, Rana Bodh Jung entered the Civil Service in the state administration and later served as Chief Minister of Tripura. He established family ties with the royal family by marrying a niece of the maharajah and then a daughter of the maharajah. Similarly, some of Padma’s other sons from various junior wives entered state service in Tehri Garhwal. 

    HRH Raja Birendra Kishore Dev Burman

    Another son Rana Jodh Jung Bahadur was an Indian military hero, having commanded the Tehri Gahrwal State Sappers & Miners during World War I in Flanders, Egypt and Mesopotamia. At the Battle of Loos he fought bravely and received five bullet wounds in his neck and upper shoulders. The British Military London News reported, “Rana Jodha Jung Bahadur who, in spite of being wounded, continued to lead his men against the Germans, and did not desist until a second wound in the neck rendered him unconscious. The Rana displayed great tenacity, leadership and conspicuous gallantry by leading his company right up to the German defenses in the face of heavy fire“. He was a graduate of the Imperial Cadet Corps (ICC) and was the first Gurkha officer in the British Indian Army. He later took the post of Commander-in-Chief of the Tripura State Forces and was promoted to the rank of a Colonel in the British Indian Army. His two grand-daughters Sita Rani Devi was the Rajmata of Makrai Indian Princely State located in Madhya Pradesh having married Yuvaraj Devi Shah and Geeta Rani Rana was married to Prachanda Singh of Tulsipur state, formerly Tulsipur-Dang Chauhan kingdom, located now in Uttar Pradesh and parts of Dang and Deukhuri in Nepal.

    Colonel Rana Jodh Jung Commander of Tripura State Forces

    Two daughters of Sita Rani migrated to Australia. Both Uma Hamal and Archana Thapa got married to Nepalese spouses and live in Canberra. Gitanagar in Chitwan is named after Geeta Rani as her husband ran the Rapti Valley Development Project started in the mid-fifties by the Government of Nepal. 

    Sita Rani Rajmata of Makrai

    Sita Rani and Yuvaraj Devi Shah of Makrai

    Geeta Rani of Tulsipur-Dang 

    (Received information and pictures from Mrs. Uma Hamal and Mr. Prem Jung Thapa in Canberra, Australia)

    General Padma Jung Rana breathed his last in 1906 A.D. shortly after he completed the biography of his father. The manuscript was left in the custody of his eldest son Piush Jung but he too passed away in the following year thus delaying its publication. Finally it came to Abhay Charan Mukerji, Professor of English at Muir Central College in Allahabad who edited it and then it got published in Allahabad in 1909 A.D. We are much the wiser for it.  



    August 3rd, 2021

    Out of all the 20 or so daughters of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana perhaps the daughter with the most colorful personality was Jung’s second daughter from his Bada Maharani, the main consort, Hiranya Garva Kumari. Popularly known as Bagh ki Kanchi Maiya as she was the younger wife (kanchi) of Prince Dhirendra Bikram Shah of Bagh Durbar, first cousin of the crown prince, Princess Deep Kumari led a very eventful life. Her own elder half-sister Khadga Kumari, popularly known as Chirbiray Maiya, was the first wife of Dhirendra. They together brought about a regime change with their daredeviltry. Deep Kumari’s elder sister Lalita Rajya Luxmi Devi was married to Crown Prince Trailokya Bikram Shah and was the mother of the future king, Prithvi Bir Bikram Shah. Lalita Rajya Luxmi had to act regal whereas, as the younger sister with less responsibility, Deep Kumari could afford to act frivolously and still get protection from the powers that be for her wanton behaviour. 

    Bagh ki Kanchi Maiya, Princess Deep Kumari, a daughter of Maharajah Jung Bahadur

    Deep Kumari’s mother was herself from the Chautaria stock, or royal collateral, and she was married to Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana to help him atone for his transgressions against her family during the infamous Kot Massacre of 14 September, 1846 A.D. Hiranya’s two brothers the eldest Chautaria Fateh Jung Shah the chief minister at the time, and Bir Bahu Shah perished at the Kot Massacre. So too did Fateh’s son Khadga Bikram Shah. Now powerful, Jung wanted to make amends and regain the trust and friendship of the influential Chautaria clan. Letting bygones be bygones, Hiranya had reluctantly agreed to marry him at the prodding of her father Chautaria Pran Shah. This marriage went well contrary to expectation and Hiranya, as the Bada Maharani, was the main consort for the rest of the life of Jung Bahadur since their union in 1853 A.D. until his death in 1877 A.D. She performed a supreme sacrifice and went sati after his death. 

    Bada Maharani Hiranya Garva Kumari, mother of Deep

    Prince Dhirendra was the son of Mahila Sahebjiu Upendra Bikram Shah, the younger brother of King Surendra Bikram Shah of Nepal. He was an acclaimed tantric, a magical, mystic form of Hindu religion with emphasis put on occult rituals. Since Jung Bahadur Rana had taken over the post of prime minister the role of the monarch was sidelined. Upendra had already given an older daughter in marriage to a member of the Rana family, Bir Shumsher, who had been raised in the household of Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana at Thapathali Durbar. He was the eldest son of Jung’s youngest brother Dhir Shumsher. Following this matrimonial tie, Jung had proposed two daughters of his own as consort to Upendra’s son Dhirendra in quick succession and Upendra had accepted. Prince Upendra commissioned two temples at Pashupatinath in the name of his son and daughter-in-law, Dhirendreshwor Sibalaya and Deeprajluxmeshwor Sibalaya. 

    Prince Dhirendra Bikram Shah, Princess Deep Kumari and children

    Deep Kumari was firstly involved in the conspiracy to get rid of prime minister Ranauddip Singh as he was a henpecked husband who was prone to heeding to his interfering wife Maharani Hari Priya against his own better judgment. His younger brother Dhir, always such a resolute figure behind him, had died. The House of Rana, created by his brother Jung, was now fractured into two opposing camps. One camp was led by Jung’s eldest son General Jagat Jung Rana trying desperately to get reinstalled in the Roll of Succession with support from Maharani Hari Priya, his sister Tara Rajya Luxmi, Senior Queen Mother of Nepal, and his siblings. The other camp was led by the sons of General Dhir Shumsher and supported by the Junior Queen Mother and Regent Lalita Rajya Luxmi, the step-sister of Jagat, along with her sister Deep Kumari, widow of Prince Dhirendra. It was just a matter of time who would strike first to eliminate the other side from the scene.

    Maharani Hari Priya and nephew General Jagat Jung (These 2 photos illustrate the bonding in Camp#1)

    From left standing Khadga Kumari, P.M. Ranauddip,
    sitting Crown Princess Tara, Maharani Hari Priya

    General Bir Shumsher was the eldest son of Dhir. Brought up in the household of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana and raised by Jung’s favorite wife Putali Maharani, Bir knew both these opposing camps well. He knew that should Jagat Jung prevail, it would mean the end of himself and his younger brothers. His younger half-brothers Khadga, Rana, Dev, Chandra had already come of age to assist Bir during all contingencies. Khadga Shumsher was very friendly with the two princesses Khadga Kumari and Deep Kumari. In fact, a few historians have surmised that he was having a love affair with Deep Kumari, a widow after only 5 years of marriage and the mother of a baby girl and a boy, who was only 20 years old at the time of her husband’s death in 1876 A.D. The same year too Deep Kumari lost her father Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana and her mother who committed sati. These totally unexpected and heart-breaking bereavements must have played a significant role in bringing in periods of anxiety and depression resulting in bouts of reckless behaviour. 

    Deep Kumari was very much supportive of cousin Khadga in the conspiracy to assassinate prime minister Maharajah Ranauddip Singh. In fact, historians believe that without her active participation this assassination could not have been possible. When Khadga and his brothers had ventured to Narayan Hiti Durbar that fateful night of 22nd November, 1885 A.D., Bir was anxiously waiting at his residence in Bagh Durbar with Deep Kumari for the positive outcome of the sinister plan. No sooner than the news of success came, Bir swung into action to round up General Jagat Jung at Manahara Durbar and murder him. Rest of the sons and nephews of Jung Bahadur Rana along with the widowed Maharani Hari Priya and Senior Queen Mother Tara went to the British Residency at the dead of night to seek asylum. Deep Kumari had hurried to the Hanuman Dhoka Royal Palace and with Lalita Rajya Luxmi, brought out the five year old King Prithvi early next morning to Tundikhel parade ground for the investiture ceremony of Bir! The Shumsher faction of the Rana family had won the battle for supremacy!

    Bir Shumsher became Maharajah of Kaski and Lamjung and prime minister of Nepal following the assassination of Ranauddip Singh. Things got murky once again. His younger half-brother Khadga Shumsher was the brain and the brawn behind the daring assassination. Bir started to get jittery suspecting that Khadga had further ambition of his own and that Deep Kumari was firmly behind Khadga. With her closeness to her sister Lalita, the mother of the child king Prithvi, another coup attempt could be imminent to dislodge Bir from his prime ministerial berth just like their unfortunate uncle had been. It is also possible that Deep Kumari was unhappy that Bir had forsaken his first wife Munindra Dibeshwori, her husband’s elder sister, for his young wife Tope Kumari of dubious heritage in their eyes, now titled Bada Maharani, the main consort of Bir. The house of the Sahebjius at Bagh Durbar would look at Bir as a betrayer and an usurper. 

    Bir acted swiftly and decisively. Only after 15 months of the coup d’etat Commander-in-Chief Khadga was taken into custody and he and his progeny were removed from the Roll of Succession and banished to an obscure outpost of the kingdom, Thada in Arghakhanchi District. Princess Deep, Bagh ki Kanchi Maiya, was also taken into custody and banished to Ramechap and kept under house arrest there so that she could no longer play a role in future conspiracies. Lady luck had finally run out and even her influential sister Regent Queen Mother Lalita could not save her from the wrath of Bir Shumsher.

    Barna Bridge at Benaras, painting by Col. Robert Smith, 1810 A.D.

    Shortly after her house arrest she sought permission from Bir to relocate from Ramechap to Benaras (Varanasi) where she would spend time in prayers and charitable work. This request was granted and she stayed at Benaras from 1886 A.D. to 1903 A.D. In 1889 A.D. she bought a house from an Englishman near Barna Bridge over the Varun River. Many devalayas and temples built in Benaras are attributed to her largess. Her young son Bhupatindra and her daughter accompanied her to Benaras. Bhupatindra was raised there and he married, had children and eventually died there, never to return to Nepal. Prince Bhupatindra’s daughter Bijeshwori Rajya Luxmi Devi was given in marriage in 1922 A.D. from Nepal to Raja Ramanuj Saran Singh Deo of Surguja State (in today’s Chattisgarh) in India as his second wife. He was the last raja until Indian Independence. 

    Bhupatindra Bikram, son of Deep Kumari

    Raja Ramanuj Saran Singh Deo of Surguja State, Bhupatindra’s son-in-law

    As both Bagh ki Kanchi Maiya and her cousin Khadga Shumsher were in exile in India contemporaneously, it would be great to find out whether they actually corresponded or even met with each other. Perhaps such an act would be considered a folly by the government in Nepal and it would certainly not be encouraged. Deep Kumari’s younger grand-daughter Gujeshwori Rajya Luxmi, daughter of son Bhupatindra Bikram, was given in marriage to Lt. General Tunga Shumsher, a son of General Khadga Shumsher to cement a historic tie-up between these protagonists.

    There is an instance in history that brought together Deep Kumari and her estranged cousin Bir in later years. Maharajah Bir Shumsher travelled to Benaras to perform a ritual of atonement, the Gotra Hatya Chyama Yagna under supervision of Pandit Shiromani Acharya Dixit. Bir reconciled with his cousin and gifted Princess Deep Kumari 50 bighas of land as birta grant in Kalaiya, Bara District. She would later build Barewa Durbar there with the assistance of Maharajah Dev Shumsher who succeeded Bir. Dev would offer her 26,000 cubic feet of wood to build her palace. He also presented her with 2 elephants, one female Sagun Kalli and one male, Narayan Prasad.

    Deep Kumari had raised a few dola girls from Thakuri families in Nepal at her residence in Benaras as was customary of the time, for marriage with her son Bhupatindra Bikram. Only one of them could be selected for her son, of course. It is recorded that two of these girls were given in marriage to her family members. One was married to the maharajah of Nepal Chandra Shumsher as his second wife after the death of his first and the other to a son of Deep’s half-brother General Padma Jung Rana, now residing as an exile at Allahabad. 

    Bir Shumsher died in 1901 A.D. and Dev Shumsher was removed from office only after 3 months. In 1903 A.D. the new maharajah and prime minister Chandra Shumsher finally allowed Deep Kumari to return to Nepal and once again stay at her family residence at Bagh Durbar with all her perks and privileges restored. She was glad to be rejoined with her elder sister Lalita Rajya Luxmi Devi the Queen Mother. She had come full circle in the journey of her eventful life. She passed away peacefully in 1916 A.D. at the ripe old age of 60 years. 

    Family Tree of King Rajendra Bikram Shah

    I would like to gratefully acknowledge the invaluable contribution to my story made by the descendant of Bagh ki Kanchi Maiya, Shri Binaya Bikram Shah, President of the Steering Committee of Bagh Guthi established by Shree 5 Mahila Sahebjiu Upendra Bikram Shah; President, International Soft Tennis Federation (ISTF) that established him as the first Nepalese in the highest rank in Nepalese sports history; Former Vice President and Secretary General of ISTF; President, Nepal Soft Tennis Association.



    August 2nd, 2021

    I will always remember the saying, “Old Soldiers never die, they simply fade away”, made immortal by U.S. General Douglas MacArthur during his farewell address to the U.S. Congress on April 19, 1951. A very popular war hero he was asked to step down by President Harry S. Truman for what was considered his insubordination during the Korean War. There have been a couple of such personalities also in our midst who quietly disappeared from the scene after contributing immensely to the change brought about in Nepal after 1951 A.D. Major General Mahabir Shumsher J. B. Rana is one such towering personality.

    Major General Mahabir Shumsher Rana

    As children we used to hear the names of Subarna Shumsher and Mahabir Shumsher bandied about the house as the main people behind the revolution in Nepal that was successful in ousting the 104 years old Rana oligarchy. They were aristocrats bankrolling the nascent democratic movement that started in India after Indian Independence with the aim of bringing about political change in Nepal. Political leaders such as the Koirala brothers had the organizational skill but not the financial resource to achieve their goals. When the Nepali Congress Party was formed in Calcutta in 1950 A.D. the leaders approached Subarna Shumsher for financial assistance to the tune of 25-30 Lakh Rupees. How can one start a revolution with this paltry amount asked Subarna rhetorically and told them that both he and Mahabir had decided to invest One Crore (10 million) Rupees each in the enterprise as related by Shri Ganesh Man Singh (G.M.S Foundation Newsletter 15 May, 2020).
    Let us examine why these scions of the Rana family were in fact fomenting a revolution against their own kith and kin. During the era of Maharajah Chandra Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana, the second longest ruling Rana prime minister, a new Roll of Succession was drawn and the family was categorized into three classes – A, B, and C – a categorization the English writer and sycophantic biographer of Maharajah Chandra, Percival Landon, reportedly helped draw. The family was getting too large as the Maharajahs had many wives. “A” Class denoted those born of high caste married wives and were eligible for the roll of succession. “B” denoted children born of secondary high caste wives and those born from alliances with princesses from the royal household. “C” were children from junior wives, albeit in many cases these wives too were elevated to the rank of “Maharani”, they were not eligible to be enrolled for succession.

    Commander-in-Chief Rudra Shumsher Jung Bhadur Rana was the eldest son of Maharajah Bir Shumsher from his second wife Tope Kumari Devi. He and rest of his brothers had been elevated to the rank of “A” when Bir passed this move through with the concurrence of the Privy Council (Bharadari Sabha). Likewise Maharajah Bhim Shumsher had also elevated his sons, Hiranya Shumsher and Prakash Shumsher, from his second wife to “A” class. This move had created seismic waves in the prevalent Roll of Succession and the sons of Maharajah Chandra were displeased. Hiranya suddenly superseded Baber Shumsher!  When Juddha Shumsher succeeded Bhim as Maharajah and prime minister of Nepal there was considerable pressure applied on him to act and remove these late additions to the Roll of Succession. After Juddha his generation would pass and succession would then go to his nephews. It had made him uneasy and he had lost much sleep over it. Rudra was a close confidante and a childhood friend as they were of similar age, uncle-nephew relationship notwithstanding.

    Maharajah Bhim Shumsher Rana and his family

    Colonel Prakash Shumsher, son of Bhim Shumsher died young from spinal injury after suffering an accident leaving behind a very young son Mahabir. Rani Tek Kumari Devi brought up her son with loving care. Grandfather Bhim Shumsher built for him Mahabir Bhawan in Naxal (present-day Police Headquarters) even before Bhim moved to Singha Durbar as prime minister. Mahabir Shumsher was married to Rani Padma Kumari, a marriage that was arranged by Rani Tek Kumari and her foster brother Shri Lalit Chand, who would later become the Chairman of the Rashtriya Panchayat. She was initially kept as a “Dola” in Tangal Durbar by Prime Minister Bhim Shumsher as was the custom of the time. They were married in 1930 A.D. She gave birth to Gita, their only child.
    In March 1934 A.D. during a full ceremonial Durbar Maharajah Juddha unexpectedly announced the removal of his successor Commander-in-Chief Rudra from the Roll of Succession together with the sons of Maharajah Bhim Shumsher from his second wife by making the Rule of Succession retro-active. Armed guards quickly disarmed Rudra and stripped him of his stripes. He was to be exiled to Palpa and his assets in the valley nationalized. Padma Shumsher was then elevated to the post of Commander-in-Chief of the Nepalese Army. General Hiranya Shumsher was given the post of Governor of Dhankuta, his son Subarna, and son of Prakash Shumsher, Mahabir, chose to leave Nepal and start their new lives in Calcutta as entrepreneurs and high-flyers.  

    Mahabir Shumsher was in his element in Calcutta, far away from the restrictive life of home. He invested in Calcutta in real estate and many other business enterprises. He lived a flamboyant life from his base at Alipore House, a famous address for Nepalese visitors to Calcutta at the time. He had under his control some 45 companies in India, chief among these were Dalhousie Properties, Humayun Properties, Lighthouse Cinema and Tiger Cinema. He also started Himalayan Aviation – initially in partnership with Subarna Shumsher in 1948 and would take over as sole proprietor later – an airline company that would eventually merge with Indian Airlines. A DC-3 of Himalayan Aviation was the first aircraft to land in Gauchar airport in Kathmandu. He was a regular patron of the social scene of Calcutta as famously represented by Calcutta Club, 300 Club started by the legendary Boris Lissanovitch who would later run the Hotel Royal in Kathmandu, and a renowned restaurant with live music on Saturdays called Firpo’s started by an Italian. Mahabir Shumsher loved horses and horse racing. He was a highly respected member of the Calcutta horse racing scene and owned many prize winning horses competing in the local races such as Queen’s Cup, Invitation Cup and 2000 Guinea Stakes.

    Photo shows close relationship between Mahabir and King Tribhuvan

    Major General Mahabir was a close friend and confidante of the powerless King Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah who was seething under Rana rule. When the king got his opportunity to leave for Calcutta on medical grounds, it was Mahabir who he sought after to get briefed on the rumblings of the independence movement that was gathering storm. This had to be done surreptitiously not to arouse suspicion of the ruling clique back home. This reunion with a friend must have bolstered the confidence of the king to chart out his own agenda back home. In 1947 Nepali Democratic Congress Party was started by Subarna Shumsher and Mahabir Shumsher with a goal to end the Rana Regime in Nepal and help usher in a new era of democratic governance by peoples’ representation with a sovereign king as head of state. Mahendra Bikram Shah was its president. Regular party meetings would be held at Tiger Cinema. In 1950 Nepal National Congress Party led by the Koirala brothers Matrika and Bisheshwor, Ganesh Man Singh and others merged with the Nepali Democratic Congress Party to form the Nepali Congress Party. The merger talks were held in Mahabir Shumsher’s Tiger Cinema from 8 to 10 April, 1950. Matrika Prasad Koirala was nominated the president of the party. The manifesto of the party adopted a resolution to initiate People’s Revolution in Nepal to bring about democratic reform.

    It was during this period that an armed insurgency was initiated in various parts of Nepal. Himalayan Aviation of Mahabir Shumsher took central stage. A DC-3 piloted by a Polish air-force pilot Bujakovsky was used to ferry WWII vintage Sten guns and Bren guns from Burma and drop them at an unused airport at Bihta, 30 km west of Patna. Propaganda leaflets advocating democracy were also dropped from his aircraft at various points in Nepal across the border from India.

    King Tribhuvan with his Advisory Council, 1954 A.D.
    (L-R) Sharda Shumsher, Manik Lal, Maj. Gen. Surendra Bahadur Basnet, Mahabir Shumsher, King Tribhuvan, Kaiser Shumsher, Khadga Man Singh, C-in-C General Kiran (my father)

    Major General Mahabir with mother Rani Tek Kumari,
    wife Padma Kumari and daughter Gita

    Finally the ruling Rana clique embarked on a path of reconciliation brokered by New Delhi. In December 1950 India procured an agreement between the Nepali Congress, the King, and the Rana rulers. The Ranas accepted the Indian proposal on January 8, 1951 followed by a cease-fire order by the Nepali Congress on January 16, 1951.King Tribhuvan arrived in Kathmandu from Delhi on February 15, 1951 and made null and void the Royal Seal (Lal Mohar) his ancestor had bestowed on the hereditary Rana regime and abrogated the title of Maharajah of Kaski and Lambjung. He made a proclamation on February 17, 1951 committing that “the people be ruled by a democratic constitution framed by a constituent assembly elected by the people.” Rana rule in Nepal had come to an end. It couldn’t have happened without the active participation of and support to the cause of democracy provided by people like Field Marshall Rudra Shumsher, Major General Subarna Shumsher and Major General Mahabir Shumsher. That is how legends are made!

    Queen Kanti Rajya Luxmi Devi cutting a cake with C-in-C General Kiran (my father), Mahabir Shumsher in white sherwani, and Prince Himalaya Bikram Shah (behind my father) attending



    August 2nd, 2021

    History is replete with cases of some would-be kings losing their natural inheritance and of some other accidental kings being crowned. In Nepal we have two very good examples of a legitimate heir to the Shah throne who was shunned aside thus changing the course of dynastic progression and a pretender who would have been crowned if his ambitious mother’s well laid out gambit had succeeded! So who are these two men who would be king?

    Nepal in the 18th Century

    Family of King Rana Bahadur Shah

    It was during the reign of King Rana Bahadur Shah that the royal lineage of the Shah dynasty was changed. His first son Crown Prince Ranodyat, born 1794 A.D., and his younger brother Samarsher Shah were children of Junior Queen Suvarna Prabha Devi, his senior queen having given birth to a daughter. Popular legend has it that during the annual pilgrimage to Pashupatinath Temple on the occasion of Maha Shivratri, King Rana Bahadur Shah was smitten by the staggeringly beautiful Kantabati, a Maithili Brahmin child widow from the Terai who had then come of age. A courtship followed much to the chagrin of the girl and her family but the king held her destiny in his sway. 

    King Rana Bahadur Shah

    King Rana Bahadur Shah prevailed upon his unwilling court through threats and coercion to sanction a matrimonial alliance. Perhaps those were the only blissful days he would see. A son was born in 1797 A.D. and soon the country would be engulfed in political and social conflagration. Kantabati prevailed upon the king to make her son the heir apparent, a resolve the king had professed during their courtship. Not trusting the court to carry out his order after his death he abdicated in favour of his minor son Girvanayuddha in 1799 A.D. Senior Queen Raj Rajeshwori Devi, a princess from Gulmi, became the Regent for her 2 year old stepson King Girvanayuddha Bir Bikram Shah. 

    King Girvana Yuddha Bikram Shah

    Prince Ranodhyat the crown prince who was stepped aside never got his rightful inheritance to the throne of Nepal. He was made a Sahebjiu or Duke and he and his progeny did not play any significant role in ruling the land. One can only imagine the tsunami that must have convulsed the royal household and the Nepalese court by the wanton act of the king. How did Queen Suvarna Prabha overcome this travesty of natural justice? Ultimately overcome she did as for a period from April 1800 till February 1803 A.D. she did become the  Queen Regent of Nepal ruling on behalf of her stepson King Girvanyuddha Bikram Shah during his minority.

    The unfortunate Kantabati was to die of smallpox after a period of ailment. The king’s fury knew no bounds; he espied conspiracies in every nook and cranny and exacted terrible retribution on the courtiers. He had no use anymore for the mute stone gods and fired cannon balls at Pashupatinath Temple. The court soon prevailed in opposing the ex-king and, in the name of the new king, Rana Bahadur was forced to leave home, which he did as a mendicant Swami Nirgunananda for a life of penance in Benaras. The Regent Queen Raj Rajeshwori left Nepal with her husband and the junior queen Suvarna Prabha, mother of the erstwhile crown prince Ranodyat, became the new Regent Queen of Nepal in 1800 A.D. This period saw the emergence of the strongman Damodar Pande, a war hero himself and son of General Kalu Pande the commander of Nepalese forces during the unification of Nepal, as the power behind the new regent. 

    During this period I have not come across any mention of the ex-crown prince Ranodyat who would still be in his childhood. Even when King Girvanayuddha died an untimely death in his youth on 20th November 1816 A.D. and the throne went to his son Rajendra Bikram Shah who was only 3 years old, there does not seem to be a claim on the throne made by Prince Ranodyat. Mukhtiyar Bhimsen Thapa had complete control over state affairs then with his own niece Lalit Tripura Sundari, the teen wife of King Rana Bahadur Shah, being made Queen Regent to the new child king. Ranodyat seems to have accepted his fate with resignation and lived a quiet but privileged life as the Mukhiya Sahebjiu (Grand Duke) in the shadow of his nephew in Nepal and sometime in Benaras. His son Bir Bind Bikram Shah and grandson Shamsher Jung Shah were listed as sahebjius in the state honours list thereon.

    Regent Queen Lalit Tripura Sundari

    Nepal in the 19th century

    King Rajendra Bikram Shah married his two queens on the same day, 5th February 1824 A.D., as per royal custom; it was imperative to produce an heir to the throne as quickly as possible. Senior Queen Samrajya Luxmi Devi and Junior Queen Rajya Luxmi Devi became the queens of Nepal. Both the queens, probably cousins, came from a Rajput family in Gorakhpur then under British India. They were married at the ages of 8 and 6 respectively to a boy king of 11 years of age. The ensuing power struggles and court intrigues that followed would again bring about as tumultuous a period in Nepalese history as the period of King Rana Bahadur Shah.

    Crown Prince and heir to the throne Surendra Bikram Shah was born in 1829 A.D. His mother was the Senior Queen Samrajya Luxmi Devi. She gave birth to a second son Sahebjiu Upendra Bikram Shah in 1832 A.D. The junior queen Rajya Luxmi gave birth to a son, Prince Ranendra Bikram Shah in 1834 A.D. The fall of Bhimsen Thapa and the recriminations that followed the Anglo-Nepal War was compounded by the unusual and erratic behaviour of Surendra and the failure of his father and mother to control him. The Treaty of Sugauly weighed heavily in the minds of the Nepalese rulers and inevitably two camps emerged, one led by Regent Queen Samrajya Luxmi Devi spoiling for a fight with the British in order to recover lost territories and another led by Junior Queen Rajya Luxmi alarmed by what such a reckless path would bring. The former group was encouraged by Naunihal Singh the ruler of Punjab and the Nawab of Oudh pledging to join hands with Nepal to drive the British out of North India; the ruler of Punjab even promising that “the border of Nepal would stretch south to the River Ganges”.

    King Surendra Bikram Shah

    The third power base was Crown Prince Surendra, who was aided and abetted by sycophantic courtiers at his beck and call and was constantly at loggerhead with his father, to the extent that he physically assaulted his father in court on several occasions. Perhaps the unluckiest courtier in his court was Jung Bahadur Rana. He was forced to perform a number of reckless life-threatening activities at the whim of the prince. In the famous biography of Jung Bahadur written by his son Padma Jung Bahadur Rana he confirms the jump into a deep well as factual but says that the jump from the Dharahara Tower and the plunge into the raging water of Trishuli River were myths, super-heroic embellishment to the personality cult of Jung Bahadur after he seized power.

    A large section of the Nepalese court could not digest the whimsical behaviour of the Crown Prince and some of them got around Junior Queen Rajya Luxmi Devi to press the king to name Prince Ranendra the heir apparent. King Rajendra, an ineffective and indecisive king at best, was caught in between two opposing centrifugal forces. He decided to stay out of all decision-making and Senior Queen Samrajya Luxmi became the de-facto ruler of Nepal during the years 1839-41 A.D. ruling in the name of her husband. Her death in 1841 A.D. again fueled the ambition of Queen Rajya Luxmi. She became de-facto ruler during the period 1841-43 A.D. until King Rajendra was deposed and then on she became the Regent Queen of Nepal for the period 1843-46. The rise of Jung Bahadur Rana had begun.

    Queen Rajya Luxmi had one ambition in life: crown her own son Ranendra instead of the unpopular Surendra. In this goal she was confident of getting the support of Jung Bahadur Rana. As King Rajendra had abdicated in 1843 A.D. the regent ruled with an iron fist slowly ridding the court of all the supporters of the former regent Samrajya Luxmi including Prime Minister Mathabar Singh Thapa by murder most foul. However her goal of making her son Ranendra the heir apparent could still not be realized. Furthermore when her paramour Gagan Singh was assassinated, her frustrations turned into fury. Perhaps her final gambit was the Kot Parba or Armoury Episode, the apocalyptic call to her trusted lieutenant Jung Bahadur to rid the court of all her enemies. However, even the trusted General Jung Bahadur Rana was unwilling to change the natural law of succession. Frustrated once more, Queen Rajya Luxmi made an attempt on the life of Jung Bahadur taking into confidence some old enemies of Jung in the episode known as the Bhandarkhal Parba. Possibly warned in advance by Jung’s paramour Putali Nani, a maid in the royal palace, Jung thwarted this conspiracy and shortly after forced Queen Rajya Luxmi into exile in Benaras.

    So what happened to her two sons Prince Ranendra and Prince Birendra? Both the brothers were exiled with their mother to Benaras on 22nd November, 1846 A.D. They were only 12 and 10 years of age respectively but even at that early age the older prince was already married. Prince Ranendra Bikram Shah’s wife was a Rana girl of unknown origin. They were provided sanctuary at Ishwari Ganga Mahal with allowances from Nepal government. It would be interesting to find out where they were educated, how they spent their teens in Benaras, and how they settled down but information is scarce. It has been recorded that Prince Ranendra entered into litigation against his mother for assets she was holding. After she lost the court case she left for Mahmoorganj in Varanasi with her younger son Birendra and lived the rest of her long life there until her death sometime before 1900 A.D.

    Prince Ranendra Bikram Shah had a son called Yog Pratap but he seems to have lived a life of an ascetic. Ranendra had two daughters and they were both married in the royal house of Tripura, a 13-gun salute state adjoining Bengal. His eldest daughter Jibaneshwori Devi was married as the fourth wife of Maharajah Birendra Kishore Deb Manikya Burman (regnal years 1909-23 A.D.). Incidentally, Birendra Kishore married more wives of Nepalese origin, namely three daughters of General Padma Jung Bahadur Rana (son of Maharajah Jung Bahadur) and one daughter of Prince Narendra Bikram Shah (second son of King Surendra Bikram Shah). 

    Prince Birendra Bikram Shah was born in 1836 A.D. He was married to Princess Bodh Kumari Devi, daughter of Maharajah Prahlad Sen Bahadur of Ramnagar, a Zamindari in Champaran District of Bihar and his Nepalese princess wife, a daughter of King Girvanayuddha Bikram Shah. Ramnagar was recognized as a princely state by British India in 1858 A.D. A son was born in 1865 A.D. and he was named Mohan Bikram Shah and succeeded his maternal grandfather as the Maharajah of Ramnagar. He is known in history as Ram Raja I. So this branch of the family seems to have certainly done well for themselves even after their exile from Nepal. 

    How would Nepalese history be narrated today if either of these men had actually become kings? 

    No. 3 in picture Kesher Jung Parakram Shah is a descendant of Mukhiya Sahebjiu Ranodyat Bikram Shah, No. 12 Ram Raja II was adopted by his uncle Ram Raja I as his successor to Ramnagar. He was the grandson of Sahebjiu Dhirendra Bikram Shah and his wife Baghki Kanchi Maiya Deep Kumari, a daughter of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana and Bada Maharani Hiranya Garva Kumari.
    This picture was taken at the coronation of H.M. King Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah Dev in 1913 A.D.

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    September 26th, 2020

    Plato the Greek philosopher formulated the universal truism, “Necessity is the mother of invention”. It complements the most basic human instinct – that of survival. People who recognize opportunity in adversity will oftentimes achieve the pinnacle of success. The story of the Narsingh brothers manifests itself as a good example of the Phoenix rising.

    The Kot Massacre had become history by the time Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana consolidated his power and was confident enough to leave Nepal in the hands of his brothers and make an epochal visit to England in 1850 A.D., the first visit any ruler of the Indian subcontinent had made until then. He had been honoured with an invitation from  Queen Victoria at the behest of the East India Company. He gave the prime minister’s job to Bam Bahadur Rana and the acting Commander-in-Chief of the Army post to Badri Narsingh Rana before leaving for England. All had gone seemingly well in Nepal by the time Jung returned from his successful visit to England and France. Alas, a plot had been brewing, unbeknownst to Jung. Only 10 days later a remorseful Bam, visibly shaken by the burden of a secret he was carrying close to his chest, spilled the beans of a plot to assassinate Jung. A sobbing Bam confided to Jung that the plotters had even inducted Bam to be a part of it and he had tacitly agreed to it not to make them suspicious. Bam had not come forward earlier he confessed because he was afraid of what Jung would think of him. Jung listened to this outpouring with shock and disappointment. He trusted these people so! He knew that he had to act quickly as the very next day the plan was afoot to assassinate him on his way to Basantapur!

    Narsingh family - Copy

    General Badri Narsingh Rana

    The ringleaders were quickly apprehended and brought in chains to Kot Armoury in Hanuman Dhoka. Punishments were meted out swiftly by Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana and the main conspirators, Sahebjiu Upendra Bikram Shah, brother Badri Narsingh Rana and cousin Jaya Bahadur Rana were sent to India for incarceration at the Allahabad Fort for a period of 5 years. Remarkably, they were forgiven by Jung, reportedly at the persuasion of his grieving mother Ganesh Kumari, and both Upendra Bikram and Badri Narsingh returned to Nepal while Jaya Bahadur had passed away in confinement. Badri Narsingh Rana was removed from the Roll of Succession to the premiership and sent to live at Palpa. His sons Kedar and Dhoj from his first marriage were mere young boys and so they were not removed from the Roll. Bhairab, Kumar, Kishore and Amir were born from junior wives in Palpa. Badri Narsingh had married Moha Kumari, a daughter of General Gagan Singh Bhandari, the same person whose assassination had precipitated the Kot Massacre and the rise of Jung Bahadur. Kumar Narsingh was the elder of the sons and  Kishore Narsingh the younger. General Badri Narsingh Rana no longer played a role in governing the country and so he saw no future for his young sons in the military. He decided to instill in them the need to gain an education.


    Thomason College of Civil Engineering in Roorkee

    Thomason College of Civil Engineering in Roorkee now located in the Indian state of Uttarakhand was started in 1847 A.D. by Sir James Thomason, Lieutenant Governor of the North-Eastern Provinces of British India. India needed modern infrastructure such as ports, railways, power-plants, warehouses and commercial complexes to keep pace with rising trade and local expertise had to be developed to keep pace with the growing demand in engineering. Jung Bahadur Rana was keen on modernizing the country after he was enlightened by what he saw in England and France during his epochal visit of 1850 A.D. Both the brothers Kumar and Kishore decided to get enlisted in the engineering college after taking compulsory military training. It was their moment of truth as they knew they would never make it to the upper echelon of Rana rule.

    Kumar Narsingh and Rani

    Kumar Narsingh and his wife

    Now the time had come for Nepal to improve its rudimentary infrastructure, make advances in the field of science and technology, in health and education. It was time to harness water resource of the country and generate electricity to light up the palaces and the public places he had built. This time the advantage was very much with Chandra as home-grown technocrats had been developed in the field of medicine, engineering, agriculture and education. Nepalese had graduated from Indian colleges eager to contribute in the development of the nation and a few had even studied in faraway Japan with its own advanced education system heralded by the Meiji Restoration. Chandra relied on his two talented cousins Kumar and Kishore to fulfill his dreams.

    Singha Durbar was a pet project of Chandra since he became Maharajah. There is an interesting anecdote on how the project got started. It is said that one day Chandra and his Rani Loke Bhakta Luxmi Devi were looking at Kathmandu’s parade ground Tundikhel from the balcony of his palatial but crumbling Jung Bahadur Rana era abode at Thapathali. Beyond it gleamed magnificent palaces built by his brother Maharajah Bir Shumsher. The Rani sighed and asked her husband when they would live amidst such splendour. Chandra there and then assured his Rani that she would soon have the best palace money could buy, more opulent than any of the palaces built by Bir! Chandra entrusted the Singha Durbar Project, modeled after the much-storied Versailles Palace, to his cousins the engineers Narsingh brothers. It was completed in June 1908 A.D. The building was the most opulent and largest of its type in Asia until the 1950’s. It had grand reception halls, 3,000 rooms, and 7 courtyards and well laid out gardens. Chandra bequeathed the building to the state to serve as office and residence of the Rana prime ministers of Nepal. Alas, Rani Loke Bhakta could not enjoy living in it as she passed away in an untimely manner in 1905 A.D.

    Singha Durbar

    Singha Durbar after completion in 1908 A.D.

    Chandra had planned his visit to England following in the footsteps of his famous uncle and finally he received the go-ahead in 1908 A.D. He included Colonel Kishore Narsingh in his entourage so that he would experience first-hand the magnificent palaces and public places of London to learn from and emulate. He would also be meeting some of the leading engineers in the field for consultation. Maharajah Chandra Shumsher returned from England his imagination fired up just like his uncle Jung Bahadur’s had been over half a century earlier. A palace building spree was soon initiated by Maharajah Chandra fully confident in their design and execution by the Narsingh brothers. Many of these are extant even today: Kaiser Mahal, Shree Durbar, Shital Niwas, Luxmi Niwas, Baber Mahal and Harihar Bhawan.

    Chandra Shumsher with his entourage, standing far right is Kishore Narsingh

    Patan did not have reliable water supply. The old system laid down under Bhimsen Thapa had all but crumbled. Chandra’s wife Maharani Loke Bhakta made it her heart’s desire to supply Patan with fresh running water. Maharajah Chandra entrusted the water supply project to the Narsingh brothers. Maharani Loke Bhakta’s bronze bust was installed inside a fountain in the town square in tribute by the grateful people of Patan after her untimely demise.

    Bust of Maharani Chandra in Patan

    Chandra started the first hydro-electric project in Nepal in 1911 under the general supervision and monitoring of General Padma Shumsher Rana. The Chandrajyoti Pharping Hydroelectric Power Station building was designed and constructed by the Narsingh brothers Kumar and Kishore and its A.C. generators were brought from The English Electric Co. Ltd., London, England and installed.  The first house to get lit up as a test-case was in Khokana and one can see it even today, the house displaying a plaque on its facade marking the occasion. King Prithivi Bir Bikram Shah heralded the advent of electricity in Nepal by turning on a switch at a gala event organized in Tundikhel on 22nd May 1911 A.D. at 6:30 PM. Henceforth Kathmandu would have electricity in its palaces and public areas, street lights would replace gas lamps and homes would be lit up by light bulbs replacing tuki wick lamps.

    Pharging Hydro Power Plant building

    Pharping Hydroelectric Powerplant building

    The Narsingh brothers had inherited property behind the palace built by General Badri Narsingh Rana, the proto-Kaiser Mahal. There they built for themselves a row of manor houses. New owners took over these buildings by the late 1950’s. Kumar Narsingh’s property became the Kathmandu Guest House in late 1960’s. Kishore Narsingh’s property now houses the popular restaurants Ying Yang and Third Eye.  Another property was bought by the mother of Ganesh Man Singh the Congress party supremo known as Chaksi Bari, recently converted to a hotel called Thamel Villa. These developments have in fact preserved the collective memory of the celebrated Narsingh brothers lest it be lost to posterity.

    Kumar Narsingh 1865-1932 A.D. Kishore Narsingh 1870-1941 A.D.



    August 8th, 2020

    In an earlier blog titled “Rana Court Photographers” I introduced two of the prolific photographers of their age plying their trade in the Indian Subcontinent based in their renowned studios in India. During the years 1868-71 A.D. Samuel Bourne was most active in Nepal. He was a partner with Charles Shepherd in the largest studio of its day Bourne & Shepherd Studios based at Calcutta. Then during the 1930’s there was Richard Gordon Matzene based in Simla who visited Nepal several times to take photographs.

    There are two more famous studios that have done extensive work in Nepal making portraits, photographing royal hunts, temples, monuments and ethnic tribes of the Himalaya. The very renowned studio of Johnston & Hoffmann was opened at 22 Chowringee Lane in Calcutta in 1882 A.D. by Theodore Julius Hoffmann and Peter Arthur Johnston. This was the second largest enterprise in India after Bourne & Shepherd Studios. Although Johnston died in 1891 Hoffman was active until 1921 when he passed away. They opened branches in Darjeeling, Simla and Rangoon. They took some iconic photographs of the times in Sikkim, Darjeeling and in Nepal.
    Limbu Woman with doko (wicker basket), Nepal, J&H
    Nepalese beauty from Sikkim, J&H
    Sons of C-in-C Dhir Shumsher, L to R, Dambar, Lalit, Bhim, Chandra, Fatteh & Rana, J&H 
    Boy King Prithivi Bir Bikram Shah, circa 1886 A.D. by J&H
    Sr. Queen Mother Tara of Nepal, a daughter of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana, by J&H

    Herzog & Higgins photographic studio was owned by two Englishmen P. A. Herzog and P. Higgins. Both worked in the Johnston & Hoffman Studio before embarking on their own enterprise in 1894 based in Mhow in Central Province (Madhya Pradesh) and were active until 1921. They were commissioned to cover important occasions such as the Indian Durbar organized in honour of the visit of King George V to India in 1911 and many royal hunts including the tiger hunts in Nepal organized for King George V during the time of Maharajah Chandra Shumsher and for Viceroy Lord Curzon a decade earlier shortly after Maharajah Dev Shumsher assumed office.

    Herzog and Higgins Studio office in Mhow, Central Province
    King George V and Maharajah Chandra Shumsher in Nepal shikar camp, 1911 A.D., H&H
    Viceroy Lord Curzon with Colonel Harkha Jung Thapa (hat under arms), grandson of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana from his daughter, organizer of the hunt at shikar camp in Nepal, 1901 A.D., H&H
    Rare photo of Maharajah Chandra Shumsher without a head dress, H&H
    These photographers helped introduce Nepal in the world stage at a time when very few people knew about us. This is my tribute to them!



    August 3rd, 2020

    The weight of responsibility sat heavily on his shoulders after his elder brother’s epochal visit to England was finalized. As the next brother in line and Commander-in-Chief of the Army he, Bam Bahadur, would be the officiating prime minister during his brother’s long sojourn. When the politics in Nepal got re-calibrated after the Kot Massacre, Jung Bahadur Rana had secured an edict from the new king Surendra Bikram Shah to rule Nepal in perpetuity with the post of prime minister going to the next brother in agnatic succession.

    General Bam Bahadur Rana portrait in French Military uniform fashionable at the time
    Prime Minister Jung Bahadur was extremely grateful that his younger brothers had given him both moral and physical support on that fateful night at the Kot where all their lives were in peril. The family had rushed to the armoury at the midnight summons of Queen Rajya Luxmi Devi. News came that the battalion under General Abhiman Singh Rana Magar was on its way to the court. Jung alerted the queen and told her that it was not safe for her. General Abhiman at this point wanted to leave the court but was prevented from doing so by a guard. An altercation followed and the general was bayoneted to death. Alarmed by the turn of events the son of Prime Minister Fatteh Jung, Khadga Bikram, accused Jung and his brothers of the assassination of Gagan Singh. Sword drawn he rushed at Bam Bahadur and struck him. Shielding himself Bam raised his arm and lost his thumb that cushioned the blow and so the blow cut a deep gash in his head or else he could have been dead. A chaotic melee followed. Bam glimpsed his younger brother Dhir cut the assailant down. At this point Jung’s soldiers burst into the courtyard and started shooting. It is recorded that 58 persons in total lost their lives that night including the prime minister Fatteh Jung Shah! Now Prime Minister Jung Bahadur was taking his trip to faraway England as the plenipotentiary of the King of Nepal leaving behind a still insecure Nepal, the visit coming only 4 years since the Kot Massacre and 3 years since the Bhandarkhal Conspiracy to assassinate Jung Bahadur.
    The pyramid showing Jung Bahadur Rana and his six brothers in command of army
    Bam Bahadur Rana was a simple-minded, straight-forward kind of a person, bereft of the bravado and ruthlessness of his elder brother or ambition and cunning of some of his younger brothers. Born in 1818 A.D. to Ganesh Kumari the second wife of Kazi Bal Narsingh Kunwar, he was 2 years younger than Jung Bahadur. He had several sons and one daughter from four wives. There are today many descendants of the three sons, namely Teg Bahadur Rana, Yakshya Bikram and Bambir Bikram living in Nepal. Bam Bahadur’s first married wife Lila Devi gave him a daughter Bhubhaneshwori who was married to Guman Singh Karki, a war hero from the Tibet expedition. His second wife Indra Kumari Devi was a member of Palpa royalty but this marriage was not a formal one but a Deo-Kalash temple wedding and Indra gave birth to Teg Bahadur Rana. His third wife was a Basnet girl Badan Kumari Devi and this marriage too was a Deo-Kalash temple wedding. Badan Kumari gave birth to Yakshya Bikram. Bam Bahadur then took Girvananda Kumari as his last wife. She was a Malla Thakuri girl from western Nepal. She gave birth to Bambir Bikram his youngest child.
    Stylized photo of Bam Bahadur probably taken of a painting
    There is an apocryphal story doing the rounds in family circles that Girvananda Kumari was brought to Kathmandu from western Nepal as a dola as was the custom then for the 2 princes Surendra and Upendra to choose and marry at puberty and so she was brought up in the Hanuman Dhoka Royal Palace. Young girls of pure-caste families were raised in the royal household and given instruction in palace etiquette and training in art, music and social science. However, in Girvananda’s case she was rejected by both the princes and ended up taking Bam Bahadur as his wife at the prodding of Crown Prince Surendra. There is another interesting story surrounding the third wife Badan Kumari the Basnet girl. She was raised in Hanuman Dhoka as a maid-of-honor to Junior Queen Rajya Luxmi Devi. During the Basnet conspiracy to do away with Jung Bahadur Rana known in history as the bloody Bhandarkhal episode she managed to run away from the palace and take shelter in Lagan the home of the Rana family. This was how she saved herself and eventually Bam Bahadur took her as his wife. These stories were shared with me by Jhasendra Bikram Rana one of the oldest surviving members of the family today and 4th generation descendant of Bambir Bikram Rana.
    Colonel Teg Bahadur Rana, photo shared by Jay Bikram Rana, a 5th generation descendant 
    Colorized picture of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana with his nephew Yakshya Bikram
    Photo courtesy Kalpana Rana
    Maharajah Jung Bahadur with Jagat Shumsher (brother), Baber Jung (son), Yakshya Bikram and Bambir Bikram
    (sons of Bam Bahadur Rana), circa 1871 in मेला at Harihar Chhetra, Sonpur, Bihar, photography by Bourne & Shepherd 

    Bam Bahadur knew that he would have to tread carefully in the minefield of probable conspiracies the vacuum left by the the absence of the prime minister was bound to create. Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana left Nepal on his visit to Britain on 15th January 1850 A.D. with his two youngest brothers Colonel Jagat Shumsher and Colonel Dhir Shumsher, a few leading courtiers, a court artist Bhajuman Chitrakar and a retinue of cooks and domestic servants. It was Bam Bahadur who would hold fort until his brother’s return. During the year-long absence of his brother Bam Bahadur Rana ruled over Nepal following the footsteps of his brother. Prime Minister Jung Bahadur wrote to him missives from Europe guiding him on the course of actions to be taken, ordering him to preside over the Pajani by promoting or demoting both civil and military ranks as reviewed. When any wrong decision taken by Bam became known to Jung Bahadur, he also got reprimanded in no uncertain language, such was the strict nature of Jung.
    Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana finally returned home on the 6th of February, 1851 A.D. to a hero’s welcome after a thirteen month long odyssey of England, France, Egypt and, on the way back, after politicking in the important power centers of British India. Entering Kathmandu Valley Jung was feted by Bam Bahadur Rana and his brothers, the court and the huge masses of the citizenry of the valley. Across the Black Bridge at Pachali, great welcome arches were constructed and decorated with colourful banners and buntings hailing the prime minister and proclaiming the glory of Nepal. Welcome committees of every hue and color waited with garlands of marigold and traditional vermilion powder to shower the hero in orange and red. A military guard of honor played martial tunes of the times. A 21-gun salute was fired from cannons placed at the military garrison at Tundikhel. Smartly uniformed troops of the Nepalese army lined the street three rows deep from Pachali along the banks of the Bagmati River all the way to Thapathali the residence of the prime minister, their bayonets glistening in the bright wintry sun. Multitudes of common people jostled for view along the route. To paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill’s memorable exhortation in the British Parliament a century later, this was Jung’s “finest hour”.

    A six-horse carriage slowly made its way to Thapathali Durbar with Jung and his brother Bam Bahadur the officiating prime minister sitting and waving to the jubilant crowds. Shouts of “Jung Bahadur ki jai” were heard reverberating from one temple pagoda roof to another Mughal-era influenced temple dome. Jung looked resplendent in a white silk robe draped over military breeches and the bird-of-paradise plumed coronet studded with expensive diamonds, emeralds  and pearls on his head, a striking sword gifted by Louis Napoleon the French president dangling by his side.

    Jung Bahadur was grateful to his younger brother Bam Bahadur for making sure that every order of his was executed with precision. He could not have made a more suitable choice in the officiating prime minister. However, all was not as it seemed! Only 10 days later a remorseful Bam, visibly shaken by the burden of a secret he was carrying close to his chest, spilled the beans of a plot to assassinate Jung. A sobbing Bam confided to Jung that the plotters had even inducted Bam to be a part of it and he had tacitly agreed to it not to make them suspicious. Bam had not come forward earlier he confessed because he was afraid of what Jung would think of him. Jung listened to this outpouring with shock and disappointment. He trusted these people so! He knew that he had to act quickly as the very next day the plan was afoot to assassinate him on his way to Basantapur!
    The ringleaders were quickly caught and brought in chains to Kot Armoury in Hanuman Dhoka. Jung had assigned his old trusted friend Colonel Ran Mehar Adhikari to bring in Jung’s own third brother Badri Narsingh Rana, the ring leader of the conspiracy. He sent brother Jagat Shumsher to apprehend Jaya Bahadur their cousin and another brother Ranoddip Singh to arrest Mahila Shahebjiu Upendra Bikram Shah, royal prince and younger brother of King Surendra Bikram Shah. The plot was to kill Jung, make Bam Bahadur succeed his brother as prime minister, Badri Narsingh as the Commander-in-Chief, and Prince Upendra was to succeed Surendra the incompetent as the new king of Nepal. Kazi Karbir Khatry who was with the visit of Jung Bahadur to England would bear witness to all his misdeeds committed there such as fraternizing with mlechas (outside caste), not observing Hindu rituals and besmirching the proud Rana heritage. This would justify the assassination.
    Sahebjiu Upendra Bikram Shah, brother of King Surendra Bikram Shah
    Writes Jung Bahadur’s son General Padma Jung Rana in his biography of his father published in India in 1909 A.D. that a tribunal including King Surendra Bikram Shah and his father ex-king Rajendra Bikram Shah was quickly constituted to preside over the fate of the plotters. The court recommended to hand out capital punishment. It would be the first time that a royal prince would face such a fate in the history of Nepal, just like King Charles I did in England and King Louis XVI did in France! But Jung Bahadur would have none of it and instead decided to petition British India to hold all the miscreants as prisoners in Allahabad Fort for a period of 5 years. After 4 years of imprisonment they were forgiven, reportedly at the bidding of Jung Bahadur’s mother Ganesh Kumari, and allowed to return to Nepal; however, Jaya Bahadur had died of cholera in prison in 1853 A.D. General Badri Narsingh was removed from the Roll of Succession and given residency in Palpa far away from the power center of Kathmandu. This episode was now over and Jung Bahadur was ever grateful to his faithful brother General Bam Bahadur Rana for bringing this plot to his notice, or else history of Nepal might have looked very different!
    Insignia of Prime Minister Bam Bahadur Rana
    On 1st August 1856 A.D. Jung Bahadur Rana, inexplicably, decided to retire from the day-to-day administration of the country and hand over the office of prime minister to his brother C-in-C Bam Bahadur Rana. He probably wanted some peace and quiet and bask in his glory as on 6th August 1856 A.D. King Surendra Bikram Shah bestowed the title of Maharajah of Kaski and Lamjung to Jung Bahadur, with the title going down to his eldest son and grandson following the principle of primogeniture. Prime Minister Bam Bahadur possessed excellent attributes of a ruler and – foremost in the mind of his brother – was loyalty. Bam Bahadur had served as vakil Nepal’s envoy in Calcutta during the prime minister-ship of Mathabar Singh Thapa. Bam was also at one time in charge of the Treasury Department.
    During his tenure as officiating prime minister during Jung Bahadur’s Europe visit, Bam Bahadur had constructed a temple complex of Lord Ram and Hanuman at Teku near Pachali Bhairab Temple for absolution from the sins committed by the family at the bloody Kot and Bhandarkhal episodes. He had acquired by purchase 700 ropanies of land at Kathmandu, Patan, Bhaktapur and Kirtipur that was used to fund a family trust. Currently the temple complex is being meticulously renovated under the supervision of the Archaeological Department with a grant of 54 Crore Rupees (US$ 5 Million at current rate of exchange) from the Asian Development Bank. A fifth generation descendant of Teg Bahadur Rana, Raj Bikram Rana is looking after the Trust and he was kind to show me around. It is said that highly appreciative of the virtuous act of Bam, his elder brother then built the Kalmochan Temple Complex in Thapathali too as acts of penance and piety.
    Shiva Linga mounted on a massive block of stone at temple 
    Bambir Biketeshwor Shiva Temple built by Bam Bahadur Rana currently under renovation with ADB grant.
    Each of the three turrets are named after his three sons Teg Bahadur, Yakshya Bikram and Bambir Bikram 
    Commander-in-Chief Bam Bahadur was a war hero as he had led the 2nd Expeditionary forces of Nepal in its victorious war with Tibet 1855-56 culminating in the Treaty of Thapathali. Not keeping well he returned home early. On 20th June 1856 A.D. Jung presided over a huge victory parade organized in honour of the returning soldiers from the front and amidst the pageantry Bam Bahadur Rana read out the favorable terms of the new treaty cancelling the Treaty of Betrabati that was unfavourable to Nepal. However, due to an incurable form of consumption now known as tuberculosis, Bam Bahadur died in the post of prime minister at a youthful age of 39 years on 27th May 1857, on the eve of Nepal’s involvement in the Indian Mutiny. No sati was performed by his wives as Jung Bahadur expressly forbade it. His younger brother Ranauddip Singh Rana performed the formal 13-days mourning ritual. He left behind 3 minor sons, Teg 9, Yakshya 7 and Bambir 5 years of age and one married daughter Bhubaneshwori.  His younger brother Commander-in-Chief Krishna Bahadur Rana became acting prime minister for a short period until Maharajah Jung Bahadur was forced by circumstance to take back the post once again as Nepal was at war, this time in aid of the beleaguered British forces in Avadh.
    It is interesting to note what happened to the 3 young kids left behind by Bam Bahadur Rana.
    Teg Bahadur Rana was sent from an early age to Pokhara as Badahakim (Administrator of the Province) and he lived there, raised his family and died there. He does not appear in the annals of Nepal history anymore
    Yakshya Bikram Rana was in the Roll of Succession in 2oth place during the assassination of Maharajah Ranauddip Singh Ranaji on 22nd November 1885 A.D. This is attested by Percival Landon, the journalist of Daily Mail, who was given the task of writing on Nepal during the 1920’s by Maharajah Chandra Shumsher Rana. After the assassination of his uncle, Yakshya adjusted to the fait accompli and managed peace terms with the new Maharajah Bir Shumsher and so he and his family were allowed to live in peace in Nepal.
    What happened to Bambir Bikram Rana is of particular interest. After the death of Jung Bahadur during the premiership of Maharajah Ranauddip Singh, Jung Bahadur’s eldest son and heir General Jagat Jung Rana hatched a conspiracy to kill both his remaining uncles Ranauddip and Commander-in-Chief Dhir Shumsher and take power in his own hands. The year was 1882 A.D. He had his backing among the Rana clan and also the blessing of the Royal Palace as his wife was the eldest daughter of King Surendra Bikram Shah, now dead, and his own blood sister Tara Rajya Luxmi Devi wife of Crown Prince Trailokya Bikram Shah was Senior Queen Mother to baby king Prithivi Bikram Shah. However, the plot was discovered and the perpetrators were punished. Jagat Jung and his cousin Bambir Bikram among others were struck off the Roll of Succession and banished to India to be interred at Chunargarh Fort. They were pardoned in 1884 A.D. and allowed to live in Nepal but without any power.



    July 10th, 2020

    Representing his father as a vakil, an envoy, at Calcutta was a choicest job for Colonel Rana Jung Bahadur Rana. The British Raj was at peace with Nepal after Maharajah Jung Bahadur’s assistance during the Indian Mutiny. The grateful Raj had given back to Nepal some of the territories that it had lost during the Anglo-Nepal War of 1814-16 A.D. Jung had received further accolades from the Viceroy in person in Calcutta in 1873 A.D. when he was awarded the recently constituted order to decorate the chivalrous in the Indian Subcontinent – Knight Grand Commander of the Order of Star of India (GCSI). A number of Jung Bahadur’s children had accompanied the father including his son Rana Jung, born in 1854 A.D. Rana Jung was indeed fortunate to be left behind there for higher education. He had the perfect mettle for emerging as a new medium to conduct diplomacy at their own terms; fluent in English, a bon vivant for the ladies to marvel at and for the men to envy. A new type of man would emerge from the mountains of Nepal shedding the influencing Mughal and Persian manners and mores of the Nepalese court and Hindu religious zealotry of its rulers.

    Rana Jung, a son of Maharajah Jung Bahadur
    Things were going well for him at least until the death of his father Maharajah Jung Bahadur on 25th February, 1877 A.D. Even earlier he had met an English lady in Calcutta, fell in love, traveled to England and got married at Stepney, London in 1876 A.D. Her name was Ethel Grob Bennett. A side story on her mother Amelia Anne Horne is noteworthy. She was a survivor of the infamous massacre at Satichaura Ghat, Cawnpore (Kanpur) during the Indian Mutiny where many of her siblings lost their lives. During this period Rana Jung converted to Christianity. Perhaps it was a necessary precondition  to marry a Christian woman he loved or did he have his personal “Road to Damascus” experience? We do not know how his father and the rest of the family had taken this move. Was he ostracized? Did he still maintain his post of Vakil in Calcutta? However, this marriage did not last very long and ended in divorce after they had three sons together. Who are their descendants today?
    The assassination of Maharajah Ranauddip Singh on 22nd November, 1885 A.D. was a cruel blow to all the family members of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana. The eldest son General Jagat Jung and eldest grandson Juddha Pratap Jung were killed while rest of the family sought asylum at the British Residency in Kathmandu and subsequently exiled to India. Rana Jung at this time was already living in India. He must have had some means to keep himself solvent. Records point to his acquiring birta (tax-exempted) land in Chisa-Pani Gadhi. He had joined a Freemasons Club in Calcuta. Was he profitably doing some building works? It was 2 years after the upheaval in Nepal that he married for the second time. This time he fell for an Anglo-Indian girl by the name of Mary Julia Sutherland. The marriage took place in 1887 in Calcutta. Their daughter Julia Kumari Rana was born on 3rd December 1887.
    By all accounts Rana Jung seems to have thrived in exile. He had a good marriage and raised his daughter in the capital of British India in a manner befitting the descendant of a maharajah from Nepal. During this time did Rana meet with his Shumsher cousins in power back home when they visited Calcutta? Did he touch base with his own siblings now scattered across North India? Was he a backer of his half-brother Ranabir Jung’s attempt to raise forces in India and invade Nepal to oust the Shumsher Ranas? These are some of the questions we do not have answers for. Julia Kumari got married to Stanislaus Vincent in 1908 A.D. in Calcutta. She gave birth to their only daughter Adela Mary Vincent on 23rd August 1909. She is of interest to me and the second protagonist of this tale as she went by the name of Mayura Jung Kunwar in adulthood, not having taken her father’s surname. We do not know the reason why. I knew her in England when I was studying there.
    Looking back at the time I first met her at a reception at the Nepalese embassy in London and subsequently over half a dozen times in the various embassy functions during the early seventies, I regret that I did not strike up a conversation with her and ask about her interesting life. As a young man my interests were more mundane than Rana history that I seem to have unwittingly got into. She struck me as being aristocratic, the Asiatic genes further playing on her countenance to make it more remarkable than the stereotypical visages of Caucasian ladies. She must have had a convent education in Calcutta where she spent her young years. I was quite intrigued when I came across her account of visiting Kathmandu in 1933 A.D. She describes in detail how she came across from Raxaul, camped in Hetauda before embarking on the climb towards the Chandragiri Pass via Bhimphedi. She had her ayah (caretaker) Padmimaya with her. She mentions that cousin General Daman Shumsher the Governor of Birgunj welcomed her in Nepal. In Kathmandu she was guest of General Bahadur Shumsher the eldest son and Huzooria (aide-de-camp) of his father Maharajah Juddha Shumsher J. B. Rana. She calls him ‘Grand Uncle’.
    She describes the rope-way line that was constructed by Sir Daniel Keymer of Keymer Sons & Co. Ltd. London in 1923 A.D. stretching some 14 miles from Dhorsing near Bhimphedi to Matatirtha in the Kathmandu Valley and marvels at the engineering feat as it was then considered to be one of the best in the world! She was in the company of a Colonel Etherton, a member of an Everest Expedition, overflying the peak by air, that was successfully carried out that year. She lived in India until before the start of the 2nd World War and left for England.
    Mayura Jung Kunwar Brown
    Tommy Brown
    In England she seems to have done a number of things in quick succession: attended Chemsford Art College, worked at a RAF base at the start of the war, did acting and dancing and got married to RAF Reserve Pilot and Engineer ‘Tommy’ Theodore Brown, 10 years her junior, on 31st July 1941 A.D. in Kensington, London. She found her roots again when she became one of the founding members of Britain-Nepal Society 1960 and later its Vice President for a period. She was a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society 1960, Member of Gurkha Welfare Trust 1961, and Honorary Member of Yeti Society 1996. For her contributions to Nepal she was awarded the order of Gorkha Dakshin Bahu (2nd Class) on 28 December 1996. She outlived her husband by some 6 years and passed away on 6th October, 2002 in Harlow, Essex. She was childless. The remarkable journey undertaken by Rana Jung Bahadur Rana from Nepal had, over three generations, come to its conclusion in Britain.



    June 9th, 2020

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

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

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    June 6th, 2020

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

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

    General Gagan Singh Bhandari

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

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

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

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



    February 18th, 2020

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

    P. M. Mathabar Singh Thapa

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

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

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

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

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

    Young Jung Bahadur

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

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



    October 29th, 2019

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

    Bhimphedi Bazaar in 1894 A.D.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Bhimsen Temple

    Newar housing complex affected by the earthquake of 2015

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


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



    July 27th, 2019

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

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

    Marshal Mannerheim in 1940
    Marshal Mannerheim at his tiger shoot

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

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

    Mannerheim’s note to Maharajah Juddha

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

    Maharajah Juddha and Marshal Mannerheim

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



    May 8th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

    Photographs taken by Clarence Comyn Taylor

    King Surendra Bikram Shah with palace officials

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