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JUNG BAHADUR: THE FINAL CURTAIN

The legend was still alive but he was a tired man at sixty. He had done things in his lifetime which even a most extraordinary human being would take several lifetimes to achieve. He remembered the epochal Kot Massacre of 1846 A.D. and reminisced how his brothers had come to his rescue. Now three of his younger brothers had left for the abode of the Gods before Jung: Bam Bahadur, Badri Narsingh and Krishna Bahadur! He had restored his third brother Badri Narsingh to filial love and affection but not to the roll call of the hereditary prime ministership. He could never do that after Badri mounted a failed coup attempt against Jung in 1851 A.D.; for the trust betrayed. Jung still felt bitter after all these years.

After Jung Bahadur now Ranoddip, his fifth brother, would take the prime ministership and Jung could not help but shudder at a nasty premonition of dire consequence to his family this might herald. Ranoddip was not made for statecraft; he was too deep into mysticism and religion to be an effective ruler. Jung could only take comfort from the fact that his youngest brother Dhir Shumsher, a most able soldier, would be the pillar of support behind Ranoddip.

Jung Bahadur with his six younger brothers
Perhaps this was going to be his last hunt. The elaborate preparations for the shikar was taxing both the state coffers and his own health. The entire administration, both civil and military, had to move camp with him to the Terai. Preparations had to made for his many wives to accompany him. Five wives including the Bada Maharani was with him on this trip. Two of the wives had small children in tow. Jung had a heavy heart as he embarked on this hunting expedition. His two youthful sons Nar Jung and Baber Jung had passed away recently in quick succession, first from opium addiction and the second from consumption as tuberculosis was known then.

After many days of search he finally saw a tiger, a magnificent beast; their eyes met and locked. There was something about this tiger Jung could not fathom, something more than majestic, something ethereal; or was it his failing eyesight Jung wondered. Jung realized that it was a white tiger. It was the king of the jungle. Jung Bahadur did not fire. The moment passed and the tiger stealthily went on its own way into the thick jungle. Jung remembered the many myths he had heard of the ban devi, the forest deity, roaming the jungles in animal form. He was now convinced that this tiger had materialized for a final benediction.

Jung Bahadur's health rapidly deteriorated thereafter. He started losing his vision. His bowel movement was erratic and his muscles ached and pained. Within days the end was nigh. Jung's brothers Ranoddip and Dhir Shumsher rushed to the Terai camp from Kathmandu post-haste. The politics of the times dictated that they not inform Jung Bahadur's sons Jagat Jung and Jeet Jung immediately about the tragedy unfolding. Both the brothers were afraid the sons of Jung would try their own mischief.

Considering the worsening situation of the prime minister, the Bada Maharani asked for preparations to be made to take Jung Bahadur to Pattharghat at the banks of the Bagmati River. Brahmins were summoned for the last rites. His sons finally arrived. Amidst the chanting of the Vedic hymns Jung breathed his last. This transpired at the stroke of midnight on 25th February, 1877 A.D. The entire camp was in shock, nobody in his wildest imagination had thought of this tragic end at the outset of the hunting expedition. There was nothing else remaining now but the funeral rites to be performed.

Jung Bahadur himself would not have condoned the practice of sati the ancient Hindu tradition of wives climbing to the funeral pyres of the dead husband in a last fiery  embrace. Jung was a liberated man. But he did not have time enough to will it. As it happens with customs and traditions too well entrenched in societies to contravene, all the maharanis prepared to commit sati immediately without any hesitation or fear, despite pleas from the assemblage to desist. Bada Maharani Hiranya Garva Kumari would not allow the two youngest wives of Jung to commit sati; both had young children to look after. Only the three elder wives prepared for the last rites.

Jung Bahadur with Bada Maharani
Hiranya Garva Kumari

In his biography on his father, Padma Jung writes of the last words of the Bada Maharani before she mounted the funeral pyre. "Gentlemen, you all know the love the Maharajah had for you and the zeal with which he devoted his life to the moral, social, intellectual and political welfare of our country." She continued, "If in the discharge of his duty he has ever by word, look or deed, wronged any one of you, I, on his behalf, ask you to forgive him, and to join me in praying for the everlasting peace of his soul."

Jung Bahadur Rana was that rare breed of men who forged destiny by his own sheer will power, come hail or high water. Had he got a larger canvas to paint he would be an equal match for Alexander, Caesar, Genghis Khan or Napoleon. But even in the context of the faraway kingdom in the clouds nestling on the laps of the Himalayan mountains the legacy he has left behind is profound. Whenever Nepal reels from vacuous leadership of one vacillating villain to another pusillanimous politician like today, the populace cry out, "We need Jung Bahadur now!" A more fitting tribute could not be paid to him by this nation.

Comments

  1. "Ever lasting peace for his soul" , so this is what Jung Bahadur's wife wished him at his funeral pyre. See, the twist. His soul would surely not rest in peace if JB came to know what happened to his own family and to the country after his death. So nothing is everlasting. Fame, fortune, war and peace are merely one short flash till it lasts. Nevertheless, history lasts far longer, and even from one civilisation through another. Fertile 12000 sq miles of Banke, Bardia, Kailali and Kanchanpur were easily returned back to Jung Bahadur of Nepal by the mighty British Raj. Lumbini too is now in Nepal. These lands have served the fellow citizens well beyond Jung Bahadur's final curtain. Who will excel this bit of history in Nepal? We all wait and see.

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  2. Besides learning exactly what "pusillanimous" means, I find the concluding paragraph a befitting eulogy to Jung Bahadur. Is individual greatness fostered by the times or does the individual forge the course of the times? The latter certainly, in JB's case.

    While the frustrated cries for another JB today may be anachronistic, this country does need a STATESMAN in lieu of these pusillanimous corrupt power-crazed politicians!

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  3. Congratulations for bringing JB to light.He was the right man at the right place in Nepal`s turbulent history.
    History would have been kinder to him if had shown a hint of democracy and given a vision or road-map for the country to follow.He must have heard of America and its president Abraham Lincoln,JB`s contemporary.If only JB was inspired by Abe!

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  4. Subodh,
    The story goes that Jung Bahadur was losing his eyesight and he heard of a Buddhist monk from Bhutan living and tending Boudhanath a place in ruins, far away from Kathmandu who had healing powers. Jung Bahadur sent for him but the monk asked the Prime Minister to journey to Boudhanath.
    Jung Bahadur disguised as an ordinary person, went to the monk who sat him down and said "Go back and your sight will be fine until you see a white tiger".
    As payment Jung Bahadur built a prayer wall with prayer wheels around the stupa. And a triumphant arch. Both are still there.
    As in your story Jung Bahadur saw the white tiger. The monk longing for Bhutan went there only to build a replica of his beloved Boudhanath which still stands.
    Can one ever run out of Jung Bahadur's stories? Dubby

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  5. Thanks Dubby, yes one cannot easily end the Jung saga. Govind, Able Abe would not let the southern states secede from the good ole US of A and see how many were killed in the civil war. He was quite like our own Jung, democratic credentials notwithstanding! Horatio, a democratic Statesman for Nepal seems to me a very good example of an oxymoron! Cheers!

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  6. Hello subodh sir, I want to contact you by mail because I have something to ask you. How can I contact you?

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  7. Greetings Dear Ranaji,

    With the demise of Jung Bahadur, I have finished reading every bit of your blog. I wish all the best wishes I can imagine upon you, and I hope you continue to make the internet richer with your fantastic articles on less known and less talked about subjects in Nepalese history.

    A suggestion, although I have seen plenty of people have already given it to you, why don't you start writing a novel, a historical novel about the Rana regime, about the past that is still unknown to most of the people? A novel that would echo the laughters and cries of the Ranas for ages to come.

    May gods bless you.

    With warmest regards,
    Uttam Paudel

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  8. History - i love it.

    ReplyDelete

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