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THE SATI WIVES OF JUNG BAHADUR, MAHARAJAH OF NEPAL

If only the Tudor King Henry VIII of England were as lucky as Jung Bahadur Rana, he would have had male heirs aplenty and he would not have had to behead a few of his queens in the hope of his next one presenting him with an heir. All the Maharanis would live together at Hampton Court Palace in seeming harmony at least until the death of the Maharajah. If England had the tradition of Sati, who among Henry's wives would have had the macabre honour of being buried alive with him? Would her be Catherine of Aragon his first queen? Or Anne Boleyn? Or the fair Jane Seymour, his favorite queen who gave him his only male heir, had she not died in her postnatal illness?

Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana had many wives because he did not have the Catholic Church to worry about. He had at least a dozen sons and innumerable daughters from at least 13 recorded wives. He married some for love, others for political alliances with various noble houses, including a sister of Fateh Jung Shah, one of the victims of the Kot Massacre. He is known to take away a married woman from her husband wielding his prime ministerial power as she had ignored his overtures in his less fortunate days; Jung was still smitten by her. He took another maiden as his wife in gratitude as she was his secret mistress and a spy at the royal household and had passed to him royal secrets including a not so royal plan to get rid of him. He even married an Indian princess from Coorg - a royal state in South India until the British takeover - in Varanasi on his return home from England. He also took as his lover and mistress a teenage Brahmin wife of the refuge Maratha warrior Nana Sahib, a matrimony still not consummated by her husband.

Women succumbed to a plethora of causes in the Nepal of the latter half of the nineteenth century. Tuberculosis, frequently referred to as consumption, was one of the likely killers. Then there were many infectious diseases without remedy. Postnatal care was just awful. Jung was a widower many times over. His first wife died hearbroken after the death of her first born son and his second wife died young too after giving him sons, namely Jagat Jung and Jeet Jung. His wife Maharani Bishnu Kumari, the mother of General Pudma Jung Bahadur, lost her life soon after giving birth. The princess from Coorg, Ganga Maharani was recorded to have been treated by a surgeon from the British Residency in 1854 A.D. for a life threatening abscess to which she apparently succumbed to as no mention from any source tells us what happened to her.

Jung married his principle wife Bada Maharani Hiranya Garva (Sanskrit: Golden Womb) Kumari a.k.a. Maiya Maharani in 1853 A.D. after returning from the epochal Velayat Yatra, his visit to England at the invitation of Queen Victoria. She was a sister of Fateh Jung Shah who was the chief minister during the Kot Massacre and who lost his life from Jung Bahadur's men. She gave birth to four daughters who would later all be married to the royal princesses, Crown Prince Trailokya Bikram and his cousin Dhirendra Bikram. She was with Jung until the very end. It was she who brought up the infant son Pudma Jung when his mother died giving birth in 1857 A.D., the very same day Maharajah Jung Bahadur set out for the Lucknow campaign during the Indian Mutiny.

Maharjah Jung Bahadur with Bada Maharani and two daughters
Siddhi Gajendra Luxmi came from a noble household that of a Basnyat. Her father Prasad Singh Basnyat was an army commander. They considered the Chhetry Kunwars beneath their ranking. Jung Bahadur Kunwar had fallen into rough times with the eclipse of his maternal granduncle the famous Bhimsen Thapa. Jung was smitten by the beautiful Basnyat girl and at every opportunity he would make overtures to her for her attention. Siddhi liked Jung too but marrying a man with a family already and against the wishes of her parents was too much to ask of her. She succumbed to an arranged marriage forgetting Jung. Jung did not forget her.

After the Kot Massacre Jung Bahadur Rana became the new power behind the ambitious Queen Rajya Luxmi. As the prime minister to the Regent Queen, he became unassailable. He had his soldiers abduct the by now willing Siddhi Gajendra Luxmi from her husband and brought her to his household as his mistress. After Jung was bestowed the title of Maharajah of Kaski and Lamjung by King Surendra Bikram Shah in 1856 A.D., Siddhi was elevated to the rank of Antaree (Sanskrit: within the heart) Maharani. Jung Bahadur would beget a son Ranabir Jung from her.

Mina Rani with her son Damber Jung behind her
Jung was busy making further alliances with the old noble houses. In 1855 A.D. he took as his wife another Shah girl, a daughter of Rana Shere Shah and a niece of his principle wife, Bada Maharani Hiranya Garva Kumari. History would know her as the Ramri Maharani, the beautiful one. His next wife was Misri Maharani, the sweet one. And still another was Mina Rani, a Magar girl, also known in history as the Dakhchoke Rani as she dwelled in that part of the Thapathali Durbar where the imported grapes were grown in the courtyard. She would later bear one son to Jung by the name of Dambar Jung.

After his return from England Jung Bahadur wanted to instill in his people the spirit of renaissance that had taken Europe from the Middle Ages to one of science and enlightenment. He was against the old superstitions. He was against slavery and the ghastly tradition of sati, the burning of widows in the funeral pyres of the dead husbands. But even a powerful dictator in his own lifetime could not prevail upon the rigid society of Chettry-Brahmin dominated Nepal to change its course. It would take another 50 years for Maharajah Chandra Shumsher to outlaw slavery and sati.

The year was 1877 A.D. and Maharajah Jung Bahadur was in the twilight of his illustrious career. One last time he wanted to go shooting, to indulge in his favorite pastime. He took his court to the Terai. He took along with him five wives, three senior maharanis for company and two junior wives for the needs of the night. Little did people know that he would not return to Kathmandu. He had a vision of a white tiger, was it real or imaginary? His eye sight failed him. Was it dengue fever? Just like Alexander the Great a mysterious ailment had struck Jung and the end came quickly. He breathed his last on the banks of Bagmati in Pattharghatta at the stroke of midnight on 25th February 1877 A.D. The five maharanis present prepared for sati but the senior maharani forbade the two junior wives from committing it because they had young children to look after. Writes his son and biographer General Pudma Jung, "the three maharanis who had determined to immolate themselves as suttee were repeatedly entreated to desist, but they would not go back from their decision." Bada Maharani Hiranya Garva Kumari, Antaree Maharani and Ramri Maharani were the three brave wives. History will remember them as the sati wives of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana of Nepal.

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