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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