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THE MAKING OF THE MAHARAJAH


The courtiers were huddled close together in anticipation of an audience with the king of Nepal. The body language collectively betrayed a sense of hopelessness, a state of paralysis. They knew that even the king would not be able to assuage their fear but at least they would try a trick or two to salvage the situation.

Bal Narsingh Kunwar and Ganesh Kumari Devi, parents of
Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana
The defeated courtiers came from the old aristocracy, a motley crew of descendants of the warriors who had been in the vanguard of King Prithivi Narayan Shah's many assaults into Kathmandu Valley. Some had died in the enterprise and their progeny ensconced in the hierarchy of the Gorkha king's administration and military as reward. Others had shone in the field of battle and had been made generals and governors of a far flung nation in the making.

Suddenly all that had ended on that day of infamy - 30 September 1846 A.D. - better known in Nepali history as  "Kot Parba" loosely translated into English as the Kot Massacre. The Nepali word carries a meaning beyond just a massacre, it was the defining moment that changed the trajectory of Nepali history and life as these courtiers knew it had come to an abrupt end. Things were going downhill ever since. The perpetrator had become prime minister and virtual dictator of Nepal. He had gone on an overseas trip to England and France that had boosted his cult of personality to the level of a demigod. He had helped the British suppress a revolt in India they the British called a mutiny and earned enormous goodwill of the Raj to ensure generations of his descendants in the seat of power in Nepal. The Lucknow loot had brought home enormous treasures that had enriched his family. And now suddenly 'this', the courtiers whispered to one another in fearful apprehension.

They were finally summoned by the king. King Surendra Bir Bikram Shah was the sixth king in the direct line of King Prithivi the founder of modern Nepal. Yes, there had been an anomaly in the line since King Surendra's own grandfather should never have been king but the powerful King Rana Bahadur, smitten by the beauty of a Tirhut Brahmin widow, had proclaimed their issue Girvana Yuddha king rather than crowning his own first born son Ranodyat from his junior queen Subarnaprabha. That was history already and lots of water had flown in the Bagmati since.

King Surendra stood in the center of the throne room tilting his head to the side, a trait of the Shah kings, and nodded to say I am ready, tell me. The courtiers broke the news to the king that in gratitude to Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana's contribution to defeating the Sepoy Mutiny the Raj had awarded vast tracks of land in the south of Nepal to Jung to do as he pleases with it. These lands had been lost earlier by Nepal during the Anglo-Nepal War of 1814-1816 A.D. The courtiers expressed their fear that having such large tracks of rich agricultural land interspersed with dense forests for lumber harvesting would make Jung Bahadur the richest and most powerful person in Nepal, even more so than his majesty himself. His ambition would be whetted by this rich dividend and who knew if he might not then covet all of Nepal?

King Surendra listened with growing interest. He never begrudged Jung Bahadur's lifestyle or ambition because without his loyal Jung, his stepmother Queen Rajya Luxmi Devi would have already ousted him and put his younger half-brother Prince Ranendra on the throne of Nepal. After the Kot Massacre Jung had firmly put an end to the junior queen's wayward ambition and remained loyal to Crown Price Surendra. The king recalled how Jung had performed acts of dare-devilry to suit his own spoilt whims and fancies and had never questioned or affronted him in earlier times. Ordinarily the king would have waived off such accusations as conspiracies of jealous little minds but the fact that Jung had been awarded huge swathes of territories comprising the districts of Banke, Bardia, Kailali and Kanchanpur, nearly one tenth the size of Nepal, was indeed sinister.

Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana came from a loyal chettry cast of the kunwars who had been in the employment of the Gorkha kings from time immemorial. Ram Krishna Kunwar entered the Gorkha army as a fourteen year old subaltern. As an adult he was entrusted by King Prithivi Narayan Shah to invade and capture the strategic fort of Nuwakot on the march into Kathmandu Valley. His son Ranjeet Singh Kunwar served in the Nepali army, fought various wars and finally succumbed to a fall from the fortress wall at the defense of Kot Kangra from the forces of Sansar Chand. Ranjeet's son Bal Narsingh Kunwar was the faithful soldier who struck dead Sher Bahadur Shah the half-brother and murderer of the former king Rana Bahadur Shah. He was promoted to the post of Kazi. Bal Narsingh was the father of prime minister Jung Bahadur Rana. After the Kot Massacre Jung had catapulted himself to the forefront of court hierarchy by receiving the title of 'Rana' denoting Rajput lineage from King Surendra and by marrying his sons to the princes of the royal house and taking royal princesses as bride for his sons and nephews.

Jung Bahadur Rana, Maharajah of Kaski & Lamjung
The courtiers had a plan, a ruse the prime minister just might fall for in his vanity. They proposed to King Surendra that Jung Bahadur be given a royal title in lieu of the territories granted by the British to him. They proposed to the king that they crown him the Maharajah of Kaski and Lamjung and give him a hereditary royal title Jung could bequeath to his progeny and stake his claim of a 19 gun salute from the British.

Could this be the story behind the making of the maharajah? There are a few history buffs who vouch for it!
     

Comments

  1. Reading this almost exactly 166 years after the Kot incident, today being 29 September 2012, brings an aura of timeliness.

    I wouldn't call "Kot Parba" a day of infamy.It was actually a day which put into order the unnecessary infighting among the courtier groups and minimised the reckless influence of Queen Rajya Laxmi Devi. In a way, Jung Bahadur and his family stepped into a power vacuum that existed but no one wanted to accept.

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  2. Day of infamy as the old courtiers would refer to that day......

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  3. The old courtiers should have had the foresight to come organized and armed to the Kot; and who knows what might have happened.

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