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INTO THE MAELSTROM - JUNG BAHADUR LEADS AN ARMY

Governor General Lord Canning's request to Jung Bahadur to assist the British militarily in Avadh sent a maelstrom through the court of Nepal. Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa's war was still fresh in peoples' mind and the wound of Sugauly had not yet healed. The pacifists wanted to stay neutral saying it was not our fight. The powerful conservative faction still smarting from the earlier defeat wanted to fight the British instead by reinforcing Begum Hazrat Mahal. Maharajah Jung Bahadur was a brave-heart but he had first-hand witnessed the might of Britain; he knew that it was not the time to fight them. Too, he disliked the duplicity of the Indian rajas and the decadence of the Avadhi court where, until recently, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was ruling the roost. He had also heard of savage killing of British civilians, women and children too, anathema to the chivalrous Jung. But decision to go to war is always a soul-searching affair. Jung held counsel with his brothers who one and all expressed solidarity.

Begum Hazrat Mahal, freedom fighter
 Six infantry regiments were sent towards Lucknow immediately leaving Kathmandu on 2nd July, 1857 A.D. and entered Indian territory, the first time since the Treaty of Sugauly of 1816 A.D. The troops quickly occupied Gorakhpur and Azamgarh and went on a pincher move towards Lucknow with General Havelock's British troops coming in from the direction of Allahabad. But the Avadhi army under the redoubtable Begum Hazrat Mahal regrouped and attacked Azamgarh once again. The battle ebbed and flowed on the route to Lucknow inconclusively with neither side able to hold territory for long. By September it became apparent that the Nepalese forces were too small and the British forces too overstretched to recover Avadh and the situation became critical.

We know from Greek mythology that the beautiful Helen of Troy was the 'face that launched a thousand ships' thus starting the Trojan War. Similarly another face launched three Nepalese divisions into the maelstrom of Avadh led by Prime Minister Jung Bahadur himself! The British Resident Lt. Colonel G. Ramsay had another missive for Jung Bahadur but this time it was not from the Governor General of India. It was from another time another place he cherished so. Jung Bahadur was transported back to his days in England and of the company he had kept, his paramour Laura Bell. She had written to Jung imploring him to come to the aid of the beleaguered British forces during the hour of its need. She had also returned the diamond ring, the parting gift of Jung Bahadur, as incontrovertible proof that it was indeed her coming back into Jung's life after seven long years. Jung turned away quickly so that his meer subba translating the letter for him would not see his moist eyes.

Jung Bahadur in Lucknow during the Mutiny

Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana started from Kathmandu on 10th December 1857 A.D. His forces consisted of three divisions, the first lead by himself, the second by General Kharag Bahadur and the third by General Bhakta Bahadur, both Jung's cousins. His younger brothers Ranoddip Singh and Dhir Shumsher were his aides-de-camp. The Gorkhali army is a fearsome war machinery when trained and disciplined. The British had first-hand experienced the ferocity of the hardy mountain fighters from Nepal during the Anglo-Nepal War. Had it not been for their superior weaponry, the Gorkhali troops would have prevailed. After the war the British had started recruiting the soldiers from the Nepalese hills forming their Gurkha Brigade in India, one of the concessions Nepal was forced to make by the Treaty of Sugauly. The Nepalese fighters under Jung Bahadur came from the same stock of hill tribes as the Gurkhas; fearless, loyal and obedient. They used their dagger, the khukri, at close combat with devastating effect. The Gorkhali juggernaut started on its long march to Lucknow.

Gurkha soldiers during Sepoy Mutiny
Little Gambhir was brought up in an honest farming village not far from Nuwakot. As a young lad of seven while helping his father and elder brothers graze cattle in the hills above Nuwakot, he used to be diverted from his chore by the sheer sight of the Nuwakot Fort, its view towers rising above the wintry mist emanating from the gurgling Trishuli River flowing through the valley bed below. The sight mesmerized him always and whenever he had the time to run away from home unnoticed, he used to come as close as possible to the battlements and see the Gorkhali soldiers marching in the Tundikhel parade ground just below the ridge. He used to hear the shrill command of the havaldar drilling the soldiers and it would send shivers down his spine, and he knew that it was not from the cold. His one ambition in life was to be a Gorkhali soldier and join the military created he knew from his grandfather by King Prithivi Narayan Shah. The king had captured this citadel on his way to conquer Kathmandu Valley. The legend lived in Gambhir's village.

As providence allowed Gambhir had become the soldier he always wanted to be, the bonus now was that he was going to war led by his illustrious prime minister, Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana one more time. He had served in the Tibet war to the best of his ability only a year back so he was fighting fit just like his regiment. The march was long and hard. He knew that he would see action as soon as they crossed over the border to India. Fame and fortune would shine on him if he gave a good account of himself.

Gambhir Singh saw his first action at the taking of Azamgarh and subsequently Jaunpur. Many of the brigands at the head of irregular forces fled from the Gorkhalis. However at a place called Chanda 36 miles from Jaunpur, the rebels regrouped with a strong force of 6,000 irregulars. Facing them were the Gorkhali regiment of just 1,100. The fighting was ferocious and by the end of the afternoon the Gorkhalis were poised to take Chanda but for the gun. Gambhir had held the head of his dying commander Lieutenant Colonel Madan Mansingh Basnyat in his laps just before the final assault to silence the enemy guns. Gambhir fought like a mad man. He dashed with his dripping khukri up the hill despite his cuts and bruises in a danse macabre, chopping enemy troops left and right and single handedly took control of the cannon that was hindering the Gorkhali advance. His singular valor was rewarded. He was given the honorific of "Bahadur", the Persian formulation for brave, as his middle name and he was promoted to the rank of captain. Captain Gambhir Bahadur Singh! Fame was his, and now the fortune...

Commander Colin Campbell
Jung Bahadur's army fought its way across the troubled territories of Avadh defeating one mutinous leader after another. He was successful in coaxing many others to drop their weapons without a fight. Gorakhpur, Amberpur, Faizabad and finally Jaunpur fell to the Gorkhalis. All the roads leading to Lucknow from the north were his and on the 10th of March 1958 A.D. he was in striking distance of Lucknow itself. The British Commander-in-Chief Sir Colin Campbell now wanted to meet Jung Bahadur to co-ordinate the attack on the city. The meeting took place at the British camp on the 11th of March and Jung was received with fitting pomp and splendour by the chief to express his gratitude. While they shook hands, a 19 gun salute boomed in the background in honor of Jung and no doubt to frighten the remnants of the army of Begum Hazrat Mahal still doggedly holding the city.

Fighting in Lucknow was from street to street, house to house. Begum Kothi fell but not without a savage fight. 93rd Highland Division of Scotland and Captain Gambhir's regiment were in the thick of the action. Subsequently all the landmarks where the rebels were holding out fell: Alambadh, Imambara, Chutter Manzil, Tara Kothi and Moti Mahal. The biggest prize was the Qaiserbagh Palace of the Nawabs. Lucknow Loot has entered the Nepali lexicon as a metaphor for wanton pillage and avarice. But for a conquering army it was payback time. This was payback time too for Captain Gambhir -for the days and nights of marching in treacherous conditions, for the flies by day and the mosquitoes by night, for the hunger and the constant fear of death and for the hurting cuts and gashes he took on his body. Ornaments of exquisite beauty studded with expensive jewels of every hue and colour imaginable, objects d'art of gold and silver, ivory, crystal mirrors, brocades, carpets and curtains, expensive chinaware, chests full of gold and silver coins were the war booty. All these treasures would be making their way to Nepal. Captain Gambhir took a generous helping too. Providence smiled; fame and fortune was his.

Ruins of Kaiser Bagh Palace
For Jung Bahadur the last task remaining was the capture of Musa Bagh, a palace surrounded by large gardens on the banks of the river Gomti, about 6 miles from Lucknow. This is where Begum Hazrat Mahal with her son King Brijis Qadr was making her last stand with about six thousand troops. The forces of General Outram and the Gorkhali regiments fell upon Musa Bagh and before the day was over, the victors had hoisted their flags on the palace. The queen mother and the king had fled. The last of the mutinous territories, Avadh, was restored under British rule.

Comments

  1. I think Bell's story is apocryphal one. Just one of those stories built around a legend.

    Also, Jung's brothers were all opposed to helping British. The story is something like this, after hearing everybody arguing that Nepal should support indian mutineers, Jung asks his brother Dhir. Dhir too supports fighting against British. That's when Jung, a bit despondent, says, sannani arule ta bhane bhane, ta ta ma sanga britain gaera aaeko, tiniharuko shakti dekheko....

    Dhir's transformation from a nice, Britain loving boy (see Oliphant's Journey To Kathmandu) to one of the fiercely anti-British prince at the end of his life is an amazing story in itself. The way resident Ramsay and others behaved must have disgusted him a lot.

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  2. The fall of Avadh blogged from Delhi - how ironically appropriate!

    I googled Gambhir Bahadur Singh without success. He was the character who fascinated me most in this post. I presume he is one of your fictitious characters to spice up dull history.

    I'm really into historical fiction these days. Reading a book titled "The Boleyn Inheritance". Fascinating account of Henry VIII's court and reign. Now that was a lasciviously cruel man!

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    1. If you google Captain Bahadur Gambhir Singh Rayamajhi you will get the details.He is not a fictitious character.This link may help you http://toraforum.com/uploads/4/Gurkhas_&_Kukri_Weapons_used_by_the_Goorkhali_Army_1A.pdf ...As i belong to the same family i would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

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    2. Would he be the same person as the Langada Karnel (Colonel) whose residence is located in Teenchuli Durbar in Bouddha? How may I contact you?
      I

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  3. I think at that time the British were very grateful to Nepal for the help and if Jang Bahadur had played his cards right he could have asked and got the Sugauli treaty to be abrogated and the Nepal from Teesta to Sutlej reinstated!He could have asked for this before committing his troops to battle.
    Does anyone know why this was not done and why Jung was satisfied with just a crumb of a territory to Nepal?

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  4. Good to receive all your comments. Gambhir was a real person mentioned in Padma Jung's biography on his father. I placed him in Nuwakot and I also made him rich at the end of the story, who would begrudge Capt. Gambhir that? As for JB asking the British to return all the lost territory, I think that was simply not on as Nepal would not have been able to establish control over much of the lost territory again. There would have been a thousand mutinies everywhere.

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  5. Gambhir's story is definitely a real one (except the details). He was called "Bahadur"--perhaps it was a real award-- for his valor there. The story includes him being shot, his intenstine coming out etc etc.

    As for the territories returning to Nepal, all nepali had that dream. Not only Jung, I think even Juddha who helped out in second world war, had that dream.

    Less documented are the humiliations Jung felt at the British hand later. When he was given a British medal after the war, the viceroy gave him usins 'left' hand. His gun salute were reduced by 2. Resident Ramsey pestered him a lot in Kathmandu and was a real piss of shit. From the distance, we enjoy calling him British stooge, but the reality was different. The British kept on making him feel small, and he resisted against that. In any case, once we helped Britain have control over India, even if we wanted all our territories under us, we were forced to take what they gave. Our bargaining power diminished once Indian mutineers vanquished.

    Whether he could control a part of India or not would have been the least of Jung's concern. I have not seen anywhere in any history book where Jung has expressed such concern. Jung has his own weakness, but he was a first class patriot and all patriots in Nepal felt the land lost to Britain during Sugauli was rightfully theirs. (hell, even now there are some weirdos )

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  6. I think Govind has a point. JB could possibly have bargained with the British and asked for the return of territory ceded in 1816 before leading his troops to battle in support of the sahibs. This was only about 40 years since Sugauli and I doubt that there would be unmanageable mutinies.

    As for Anon's reference to "weirdos" who still believe that the territory lost through the Sugauli Treaty should be Nepal's, they are true patriots whose dream may not be possible currently; but they do not deserve to be called weirdos. Like JB, they too are "first class patriots".

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  7. Birat,
    You are missing the point.

    In JB's time, we were fresh off the war. In fact, there are stories about how Pandey factions used to stroke young Surendra's ego by reenacting Nepal-British war (one unfortunate offshoot of this was that the soldiers playing the role of British were beaten badly to please the sadist prince).

    There was also a military coup just a few years before Kot and the army wanted to burn Lainchaur residency and kill Hodgson to intentionally provoke British government into declaring the war. It was , if I am correct, the first mutiny in our army.

    So, I think it is reasonable to think that Jung had the confidence to control the whole India if he had been granted the Hindustan territory, let alone "our" lost territory. His own maternal grandfather, Nain Singh Thapa, a rash 29 years old kazi, had died in Kangra fort fighting against Sansar Chand, and his paternal grandfather, Ram Krishna Kunwar, was a highly regarded, more level headed fighter. Before losing the territory to British, we had controlled areas such as Kumao-Gadhwal for more than 2 decades, and any history book of Himachal Pradesh features Gorkha rule, their insistence on cow protection and their supposed harsh taxation there, prominently.

    But today, as we peer from the perspective of distant history, while we can be proud of those military manuevre, we also have to recognize that we ruled those territory only for '2 decades' or so, and so our claim to those territories is nothing but an expansionist idea. Jingoism is not same as patriotism. I don't want to call a fellow Nepali nonpatriotic, because unless I can prove otherwise I have sufficient reason to believe that whether rich or poor, puissant or weak, a Nepali always loves his country, but I surely have the right to call him weirdo.

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  8. Dear Mr. Rana as usual a brilliantly written piece.

    Just to add on Col Gambhir Singh Raymajhi aka `Bahadur karnel' lost an eye and single handedly captured the cannon of the mutineers despite being fatally wounded. He had taken a sword thrust in his belly as a result of which his intenstines had come out and he had covered it with his eating bowl and fought on and then feinted after the capture of the cannon.

    I cannot say if the story is true or just a legend. But if it was true then I must say that the British medical team and the surgeon must have been exceptionally good because he survived his ordeal getting promoted and later lived to a very ripe old age.

    Cheers and happy blogging
    Gautam

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  9. Regarding Gorkhali control of the new territories Regent Bahadur Shah and later Kazi Amar Singh Thapa acquired - Kumaon, Garhwal, going all the way to the River Sutlej in the Punjab - I have read that the local populace did not take to the Gorkhalis kindly. This may be another reason why the British could dislodge the Gorkhalis. So Jung Bahadur being able to hold those territories again for an extended period is open to question.
    Another historical note: The Gorkhalis crossed the River Beas onto Punjab, the same river (Hyphasis in Greek) that stopped Alexander's invasion into India as the troops revolted at its banks at the prospect of marching to the Indo-Gangetic plains. Alexander turned around.

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  10. Subodh,
    I definitely remember reading some British account where they mentioned that the putative stories of Gorkha atyachar in Kamau/gadhwal were propaganda. The local rajas were obviously pissed off --but some Himachal historians give Gurkhas credit for reviving Hinduism there.

    Amar Singh Thapa, the great general, had collected about 40K men when he was sieging Kangra fort. Nepal durbar was at the sway of Bhimsen and gangs, and they were not very helpful to Amar Singh. Reinforcements were hard to send so far away from capital. So, Amar had to rely on the local raja and their men to fight for him. Obviously, those fighters were not as good as Gurkha/Lamjung fighters and they also had local enemies against whom they wanted to be cruel. They were also given to looting local territories, as no salary came from KTM. These stories were blown out of proportion by the British too, who were savvy enough to fuel these stories to contain Gurkhas.

    That's the reason why, when Britons demanded control of Butwal/Syuraj territory or face war, Amar Sing wrote to Nepal durbar asking them to cede Butwal and Syuraj. He said something along the line that while Nepal would eventually have to fight the British, rightnow his fighters, raised locally, didn't have the same fighting spirit that the fighters from Gorkha and Chaubise kingdoms showed. And he wanted to train them first, and control the territories under him better. "We have been hunting lambs and goats so far, "He apparently wrote, "fighting with British is like hunting lions. We need to be better prepared." The durbar didn't listen.

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  11. Anon 4:18, I have not missed the point.

    Put very simply, "weirdo" has come to be known in common usage as a derogatory term. Of course you can call anyone anything and exercise your freedom of speech. I happen to know some of the key people in the "Greater Nepal" movement. They can give you legal, political and nationalistic arguments which will NOT defy logic. The cause may not be currently realistic but these people are certainly not weirdos.

    This is my last comment on this subject. I do not carry on dialogues with anonymous persons.

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  12. It's a great intellectual debate we are having here.

    I want to add a few things here.
    In Pitamber Lal Yadav's book called "Nepal ko Rajnitik Itihash", he cites some sources (which I can't cite because I can't find the book now) he writes that it was Jang Bahadur himself proposed the Company for assistance. There were factions in the company, for instance in the biography of Hudgson, W.W. Hunter writes that Lady Canning is said to have remarked "Lady Hudgson, these Gurkhas, whom you praise more than your husband are as dangerous as the rebels" to Lady Hudgson. In fact, JB was so much willing to help that he even agreed to send his wife and son as wards to Calcutta to prove his loyal support. Regarding Ramsay, he was the reason why JB was not well received in Calcutta for the victory procession (his salute was reduced by two guns and Field Marshal Robert didn't shake hands with him, plus he was denied of a second trip to Britain). This Ramsay seems to be seriously despicable person.

    This might be apocryphal, but I have read somewhere that the British were given the losses Nepal had to suffer because of the territories lost in Anglo Nepalese war, and they were quite appalled because they couldn't compensate the amount either in land or in cash. So they decided to return only fertile tracts of "Naya Muluk" and continue some aid. Nepal should have pressured the British to give back the territories of Darjeeling and Sikkim because these parts remained (and still remain) vibrantly Nepali, but in Kumaon and Garhwal, we seemed to have taxed the people too much and there was very little support.The real missed opportunity was when Juddha Shumsher declined an offer to annex the lost territories, but history is not only about glorious triumphs but also about missed opportunities, the once great Austria that ruled a third of Europe is probably 1/50th of Europe or even less. If we develop what lands we have now, that would be all that is necessary.

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    1. I have got that covered.

      http://historylessonsnepal.blogspot.com/2010/12/alluring-tales-of-patriotism.html

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  13. Dear Sir,

    Your blog is very well written. Appreciating the work you have put on the blog. Bahadur Gambir Singh Rayamahji is not a fictonary legend. He was truly fighting on the side with the prime minister jung bahadur rana at the time.
    Legend has it that he moved the face of a blowing canon directed towards Nepalese army towards the enemy. It's also true that he was cut open from his stomach but despite that he wrapped a cloth to secure his inner organs from falling out and single handedly fought seven skilled swordsmen fighting from the Indian side.
    Some very few important facts that has been missed out is bahadur gambir singh rayamajhi's fifth wife was actually daughter of prime minister jung bahadur himself, may be from his third jethiya wife and from them descendant their son general khadga gambir Singh rayamajhi, his son colonel Buddha gambhir Singh rayamajhi, and his son General daan gambir Singh rayamajhi.
    They all served in the royal nepalese army from 4 generations. Mr Daan gambir Singh rayamajhi is no more but his sons still reside in their home in baluwatar.

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