Posts by RanaSubodh:


    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
    Queen 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



    April 19th, 2019

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

    Map showing Nepal before the Treaty of Sugauly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Chandra with King George V

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

    Bust of Maharajah Chandra by Tonelli

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    October 5th, 2018

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

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

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

    Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



    July 14th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

    Dev Shumsher with Karma Kumari and family

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

    Rani Karma Kumari

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

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

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


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

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

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    June 23rd, 2018

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

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

    Coronation at Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    General Kiran reading the proclamation

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

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

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

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    May 15th, 2018

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

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

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

    “Muna Madan” book cover

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

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

    Young beauty Putali

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

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

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

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