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BREAKING TABOO

The high and the mighty have closer proximity to the Almighty than ordinary folks. They can jump the queues to temples, mosques, churches. As a small boy I used to watch in wonderment how a hundred Rupees note proffered between the fingers quickly caught the attention of the bhattas, the priests, at the inner sanctum of Pashupatinath - fragrant frangipani garland suddenly appeared around the neck of the benefactor, a big chandan (sandalwood) tika was pressed on the forehead. Then suddenly business got back to usual with people shoving and pushing for a glimpse of the shiva lingam. Just as suddenly the bhattas got too busy to pay any attention to the devotees. Perhaps the hundred Rupee note has been replaced by a thousand, nay several thousand by now to account for the inflation and the burgeoning wealth of the neighbours from the south.

I too wonder how the Sai Baba manages miracle gifts for the important people coming for a darshan, a diamond ring appears out of nowhere for the minister's wife, an expensive watch for the wealthy industrialist, a gold chain for the government bureaucrat. The common folks thronging at his gates barely get a glimpse of the Baba, far less his miraculous gifts. Don't miracles happen for the poor, those who are actually more deserving?

This brings me to the present story about the "Kul Devta" the main family deity of us Ranas. During the 104 years of Rana rule lesser Ranas, children from junior wives and concubines, were not allowed to offer prayers at the family shrine. Such an act would besmirch the purity of the God rendering him impotent. Only the "role wallahs", a chosen line for the prime ministerial post, could enter the holy site. The Rana regime needed the blessing of the family deity Mahakali consecrated by the first Rana prime minister Jung Bahadur Rana in 1850 A.D., 3 years after he took over state powers in a bloody coup d'etat. The deity was housed at an easy proximity to his Thapathali Durbar at the Panchayan Temple on the bank of the holy Bagmati River. Although the palace no longer exists, the temple is as before.

Not too long back I went to the temple for a prayer and to receive prashad for my daughter. She gets these premonitions once in a while. Monica had dreamt of a family deity she had never seen or visited, which perhaps she did not even know existed. Yet she asked me to visit it. I had not been there myself for ages since the old custom of animal sacrifices during the festive season of Dashera had been discontinued by me after my father's passing away. Only to the goddess in the south, Dakshinkali, did I send a sacrifice more as a ritual than belief.

I parked my car near the temple premises and entered hesitantly, unsure of the proper entrance. Presently I came to the temple courtyard and to my delight the place was well kept, clean and holy, like a temple for the deity of the once all-powerful but still influential Ranas. "Hello, Bhai, what brings you here?" said a voice behind me. "It is surprising to see you here". Yes, this was true indeed as I had not been there for a long time. I turned around. It was my old cousin, an army general who had retired quite a while back. "Darshan," I replied," it is nice to be back in this temple." We started chatting about things in general before the general confided, "You know, bhai, people like us could not enter this temple before your father changed all that!" I suddenly remembered what he was alluding to.

My father was a "C" Rana, son from a junior wife of Maharajah Juddha Shumsher J. B. Rana, prime minister of Nepal for 13 years between 1934 and 1947. All the "C" Ranas were resigned to the fact that entering the family temple was taboo and there was nothing they could do about it. Perhaps the stigma attached was so overwhelming they never even thought about ever going there. After all they could go to one of the many other temples Kathmandu valley is justly famous for.

All this changed in the year 1951. The revolution brought about by an alliance of the King, political parties with the Nepali Congress playing the major role and the "C" Ranas ended the 104 years of the family oligarchy. A truce was brokered in New Delhi. After a brief exile King Tribhuvan returned in triumph to Nepal as a sovereign and the last Rana prime minister would hand over power to the new order after a 6 month transition period. All the ranking Rana generals in the military were retired and my father was elevated to the post of Deputy Commander-in-chief of the Nepalese army. Duly in six months time Maharajah Mohun Shumsher stepped down and the Commander-in-chief General Kaiser Shumsher retired. My father General Kiran became the new chief at the young age of 35.

King Tribhuvan with his first Cabinet, C-in-C General Kiran at far right
It was a long standing tradition that the army chief performs the main puja and offers animal sacrifice during Dashera to the family deity. But now the chief was a "C" Rana. It was obviously a vexing issue. But my father was not deterred. In the spirit of the revolution he decided to break the taboo and performed his puja to the deity. This opened up the temple to all the Ranas regardless of rank. There was wide-spread jubilation in the extended family. The family God has blessed us all from then on.

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