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JUNG BAHADUR: THE MAKING OF A LEGEND

It was during those hunts when Jung Bahadur would reminisce about his life and times and how it had all unfolded in those days of his struggle. It was in those very jungles he had caught wild elephants and tamed them and sold them and earned his keep after his family fortunes had taken the slide with the eclipse of his maternal grand uncle Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa, much before Jung re-entered the Nepalese court again. Those were difficult times. In his frustration he had severely beaten his only son for not applying himself diligently to the study of Sanskrit and Persian, the only route to the top of the pyramid in Kathmandu, he knew. Unfortunately the blow had caught the lad at the back of his head from which he would never recover. The tragedy had also killed his first wife from grief. He never raised his hands against his children again, Jung brooded.

Mukhtiyar Mathbar Singh Thapa
Jung Bahadur was in his element there in the jungles. He would match his wits with leopards and tigers and get the better of them. The jungle was a perfect training ground for his ascendancy in the political jungle of Kathmandu. Providence had smiled once again on the Thapa clan and on Jung Bahadur in particular after his exiled maternal uncle Mathbar Singh Thapa had been recalled from the court of Maharajah Ranjit Singh of the Punjab to head the government in Nepal as the prime minister. Jung Bahadur found himself in the retinue of the Crown Prince Surendra Bikram Shah. He knew he had to bide his time there and tolerate every whim and fancy of the wayward prince until the right moment presented itself.

Jung reflected upon the many tests he had to undergo to keep his post. His aging and aching body bore testament to the wild fancies of the prince. He had a limp, his joints hurt and his bowel movement was erratic. He had to wear his right shoe bigger than the left due to a swelling ankle, specially now during winter. He remembered how he had jumped into a deep well at the command of the prince; only the night before his aids had thrown enough bales of cotton into the well to make his landing soft. The prince was fooled. This was only just one of the smaller travails the prince had put him through, a mere appetizer before the main course!

The year was 1877 A.D. and peace had prevailed in Nepal since the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. For twenty years Jung had consolidated his position and made Nepal strong: the only sovereign country remaining in the entire Indian subcontinent and Burma too! The British considered him a strong ally. He had organized many shoots in the Nepal Terai for dignitaries including the Prince of Wales, the very prince who had entertained Jung Bahadur during his visit to Britain back in 1850 A.D. Jung had built the civil service, the justice system and an excellent military. Jung had also gone on a drive to transform Kathmandu into a nineteenth century city boasting of splendid palaces, public parks, paved roads, well-endowed Hindu temples and Buddhist monasteries. Jung had forsaken the old Malla period architecture for more grandiose European ones. Old Thapathali Durbar was renovated and Narayan Hiti Palace was constructed for his family members. He had seen first hand how the European renaissance transformed those countries from medieval darkness into modernity based on science and technology and Jung was intent on building his own version of it for Nepal.

He was now in one of his periodic hunts with a retinue of five of his wives including the Maharani, his military and civilian aides-de-camp and a herd of two hundred elephants beating the jungle to bring out the wild animals for his shooting pleasure. The soporific gait of his magnificent male tusker Jung Prasad he was mounting made him daydream. One day Crown Prince Surendra asked him to jump from the suspension bridge into the ferocious torrent that was the Trishuli River. He could not deny the prince his sadistic pleasure but Jung quickly requested that he be allowed to jump with his horse, a request that was granted. Jung knew his horse to be a better swimmer than himself! Jung smiled and reflected on how those dare devil acts were quickly making him a legend. He had to cook up one for the ages to remember.

Jung Bahadur and his maharani in hunting camp
Old Dharahara (before 1934 A.D.)
This opportunity was not long in coming. Crown Prince Surendra one morning dared Jung Bahadur to jump off the 250 feet tall Dharahara, the so-called Bhimsen Tower, the one of two built after the Anglo-Nepal War to mark Nepal's Pyrrhic victory over the British Raj. The other named after the Regent Queen Lalit Tripura Sundari had broken in pieces during the earthquake of 1833 A.D. Jung asked the prince's permission to fabricate himself two umbrellas to act as parachute for his jump. Permission granted the dare was quickly forgotten by the prince but not by Jung Bahadur. Rumors of his death defying stunt started circulating far and wide and there was nobody in the kingdom who would not believe that Jung had jumped from the top of Dharahara and had survived unscathed. Eye witnesses suddenly appeared who swore by this feat. Grandmothers told the story to their grand children. Jung's courage came to the notice of the Junior Queen Rajya Luxmi. Jung Bahadur had scored big.

Comments

  1. "Gautam Buddha was born in India!!!" We would have been reading this today in our history books. This would annoy every nepalese citizen. The fact of the matter is: Lumbini and surrounding districts were all lost to British forces; and the ensuing 1815 Sugauli treaty mentioned the annexation of Lumbini to British India. Buddha's birthplace was gone then legimately to India. Luckily Jung Bahadur got Lumbini back from British Raj after 1857 help in Lucknow mutiny. Now we proudly announce "Buddha was borne in Nepal" but we should also pay tributes to Jung Bahadur, the legend, for this.

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  2. Ashok,
    What are you talking about? Jung returned Banke, Bardiya, Kailali and Kanchanpur. Current day Lumbini has been part of Nepal at least since Palpa was annexed, I believe.(Which was about the time Rana Bahadur Shah was assassinated.)

    Jung had his flaws and fortes. He was sincere at times about the development of Nepal, but he left a system that wouldn't have done it. He wanted his bhatij/sons to get the best schooling abroad, but his pious Hindu family members were averse to the idea. Just as we can't make a rocket just by seeing them fly to the space, Jung couldn't possibly have industrialized Nepal just by seeing such industries in England. At the end of the day, he left a system which had too much faults, even if one can't blame Jung for all that came later.

    Naresh .

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  3. Lumbini was not part of the territory returned by the British after the Mutiny. However, the importance of Lumbini came to light only during the time of Bir Shumsher, circa 1888 A.D. Please read my blog on this subject, "Owning the Buddha". http://historylessonsnepal.blogspot.com/2009/01/owning-buddha.html

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  4. We certainly can't blame foreigners, particularly Chinese, Japanese etc who have studied Buddhism more than a thousand years ago,for reading Buddha was born in India. For by India, they meant Indian subcontinent. There were more than a thousand kingdoms in India at the time, and they couldn't possibly remember the sovereign kingdoms of Patiala, Gwalior, Sitapur, Jumla, Palpa, etc. In any case, Kapilbastu was under Sen rulers of Palpa when Nepal was being built.

    In 1863BS, when Rana Bahadur Shah was assassinated, the king of Palpa (Pritvi Pal Sen) was in Lalitpur. He was promptly assassinated by Bhimsen Thapa and Bhimsen's father, Chhotakaji Amar Singh Thapa (not to be confused with hero of Anglo-Nepal war, Badakaji Amar Singh), was dispatched to take care of kingdom of Palpa.

    After Nepal--an independent nation--is built, it is our responsibility to tell the world that we exist, as an independent country, and we rather be called Nepalese. Buddha is Nepalese, not because he was born in "Nepal", but because the place where he was born is now called Nepal.

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  5. Am fascinated by your mention, in passing, that Mathbar Singh Thapa was recalled from the court of Ranjit Singh in Punjab to be PM in the Nepali court. Was not aware of this. He must have learnt a lot from his sojourn in Punjab which he utilised in Nepal as PM. Possible topic for another blog? (Perhaps enough has been said about Jung Bahadur?) What we really need is JB's reincarnation, with the same effectiveness minus the feudalism, to save present-day Nepal.

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  6. Horatio, to get JB's reincarnation I am afraid I have to do one more JB blog, The Final Curtain!!!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Sugauli Treaty of 1815: Please read Article III and its subsection 2. "Rajah of Nepal cedes to British East India Company the whole low lands lying between Rapti and Gandak (with the exception of Butwol Khass)". Obviously, Lumbini lying further south of Butwol and bordering very close to India was gone to East India Company. This was returned after sepoy mutiny of 1857 to Nepal.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Subodhji,
    Have been following your blog. You are an amazing writer.

    I am working on a book on Nepal and want to ask you few questions. Please can you send me your email add. at aavantikka@gmail.com

    Thanks
    Avantika

    ReplyDelete

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