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THE BEAUTY AND THE BOOTY, THE WINNER TAKES THEM ALL

Kashi Bai led a double life for a time of her asylum in the court of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana of Nepal. She was a widow to the world but she never ceased wearing her tika of red vermilion powder on her forehead, clinking glass bangles on her wrists or the kajol decoration around her eyes. Was her husband the Maratha leader Nana Sahib the fugitive from the British Raj really dead as reported by Jung Bahadur to Governor General Lord Canning or did the young wife know better? Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana had started to make surreptitious sorties to the residence of Kashi Bai adjoining his Thapathali Durbar. Was the widow secretly married to him and was that the reason why she would not wear the traditional white of a Hindu widow? Tongues started to wag.

Nana Sahib
A few years after the Indian Mutiny of 1857 was quelled by the British the fugitive Maratha rebel leader Nana Sahib sought refuge in Nepal with a retinue of followers including his adoptive mother, the widow of the last Maratha Peshwa Baji Rao II, and his two wives. Young Kashi Bai the junior wife had barely reached puberty and reportedly her marriage had not been consummated by the embattled rebel. Nana Sahib sought refuge with a rich treasure trove of the crown jewels of the Maratha kingdom including the famed Naulakha haar necklace studded with the most flawless pearls, diamonds and emeralds the world had ever seen - reportedly valued at nine lakh Rupees at the time.

Dhondu Pant, a Brahmin boy at birth, was adopted by Baji Rao and styled him as Nana Sahib a great historical figure revered by the Marathas. When the Doctrine of Lapse concocted by Lord Dalhousie, the Governor General of India, took away from Nana Sahib the inheritance to the Maratha state as he was not born a biological son of the Peshwa, Nana Sahib started issuing vitriolic diatribes against the British and later became a key figure in the Indian Mutiny of 1857.

Jung Bahadur Rana was in a quandary, should he give asylum to Nana Sahib which would then not defeat the purpose of his assistance to the British during the mutiny, as he had personally lead a large army into Lucknow? Or should he arrest him and meekly deliver him into the hands of the vengeful British? What would happen of the helpless women? Had he, Jung Bahadur, not given refuge to the widow of Maharajah Ranjit Singh of the Punjab in similar circumstances a decade earlier after the Second Anglo-Sikh War and the annexation of the Punjab, bravely facing the wrath of British India?

Jung Bahadur sent his younger brother General Krishna Bahadur Rana to meet with the asylum seekers with instruction to refuge asylum to Nana Sahib but to receive his family members with open arms. Nana Sahib agreed that under the circumstances this was the best deal he could get and donned the garb of a wandering mendicant to disguise himself as agents of the Raj were everywhere eager to claim a bounty on his head and left for the western Himal. The women and their servants were allowed to come to Kathmandu Valley and Jung Bahadur generously gave a house near his Thapathali Durbar rent free for them to stay and also made a provision of four hundred Rupees monthly allowance. The elderly widow of Maharajah Ranjit Singh also had her house nearby.

Years passed and Kashi Bai became a pious Hindu wife receiving holy men and engaging in an assortment of religious activities. Did Nana Sahib come to her in the garb of a mendicant during such occasions and secretly meet with her and his mother? Did Jung Bahadur Rana know this as well and was his reporting of the death of Nana Sahib in Deukhuri to the British authorities just a red herring to prevent agents of the Raj snooping around his country and finding another pretext to start a second war? Rumours have since surfaced that Nana Sahib and his brother Bala Rao sought refuge in the court of the Scindias of Gwalior in 1874 but they were most probably imposters. Some claim that Nana Sahib lived the life of an ascetic Yogindra Dayanand Maharaj in a cave near Sihor in coastal Gujarat and died only in 1903! This is one of history's mysteries that will not be solved.

Maharajah of Darbanga with Naulakha necklace
Nana Sahib sold his fabulous jewels to Maharajah Jung Bahadur. Historian Perceval Landon writes that the Naulakha haar was sold for Rs. 93,000.00 a princely sum then that would sufficiently pay for the upkeep of Nana Sahib and his retinue in the Nepalese hills but an amount that was only a fraction of its real worth. Another very valuable piece was a 3-inch long emerald atop a bunch of emerald grapes that went to adorn the Crown of the prime minister of Nepal and stayed there until the ouster of Maharajah Dev Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana. There was another necklace of forty-eight pearls and twenty-four emeralds also sold to Jung Bahadur at the time. Both the Naulakha necklace and the emerald in the crown was sold by Dev Shumsher to the Maharajah of Darbhanga in a great hurry following his ouster lest the succeeding Maharajah Chandra Shumsher confiscate them as state treasury.

Kashi Bai died in Nepal and she took all her secrets to her funeral pyre.





   

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  1. Mr. Rana, can you please provide information regarding Marathas in Nepal, both before and after 1857?

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