Nepal kings’ arch-enemy returns after 100 years

March 9th, 2009 - 3:21 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, March 9 (IANS) When he died in 1877, Bal Narsingh Kunwar had irretrievably changed the course of Nepal’s history, reducing the mighty Shah kings to figureheads while his clan wielded the real power.

Kunwar, better known as Jung Bahadur Rana, the astute nobleman who survived attempts by his uncle and the queen to sideline him to become the all-powerful prime minister in 1846, demolished the power of the Shah kings and began a reign of hereditary prime ministers that continued till a pro-democracy movement in 1950 reinstated the king.

Jung Bahadur died in 1877 in Nepal’s Terai region under mysterious circumstances. According to some accounts, he was poisoned, some say he died after witnessing strange omens.

The founder of Nepal’s mighty Rana dynasty left behind 40 wives and 14 sons, who came under immediate attack from his nephews, resulting in a series of murders that made the rest flee the capital.

While some fled to India, the rest were scattered all over Nepal.

On Sunday, 132 years after Jung Bahadur’s death and a year after the abolition of the monarchy, the nobleman’s descendants gathered in Kathmandu valley for the first time to hold traditional funeral rites for him, praying for his soul to rest in peace.

Five men, ranging from his fifth-generation to seventh-generation kin, gathered at the Kalmochan Temple in Tripureshwor, which was built by their ancestor and was part of his extensive property in the past.

A barber shaved their heads while two Brahmins chanted the holy mantras under the watchful eyes of Jung Bahadur whose portrait graced the ceremony, showing him wearing his regal court dress, right from the crown with the descending plume to a long, white cloak that trailed behind.

Currently, there are over 350,000 members of the Rana clan in Nepal. Once rich and powerful, they fell into bad days after the 1950 anti-Rana movement.

The kings who returned to power confiscated the property of many Ranas and the new histories of Nepal painted the clan as dictators responsible for the poverty, illiteracy and backwardness of Nepal.

The Ranas came under fresh censure in 2001 after then king Birendra and nine members of his family were killed, allegedly by the crown prince Dipendra who wanted to marry a Rana girl against his parents’ wishes.

Now the return of Jung Bahadur’s descendants marks a new stage in the feud between the Ranas and the Shahs.

Many Ranas have now toiled back to prosperity and prominence, owning leading business ventures. A Rana heads a political party.

The Shahs, on the other hand, have to start from scratch. The abolition of the monarchy last year has put the former royal family in disarray.

The deposed crown prince, unable to cope with the stress of the changed times, has left Nepal to take up residence in Singapore while the last king, Gyanendra, is currently in India, renewing his ties with influential relatives in the subcontinent and Indian politicians.

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