The Rana Rebels

Gautam Banerjee

For a century-long Rana rule, the Rana prince and princess had been an unwavering subject of envy of the common people of Nepal. It was natural for the general public to feel envious of the Rana children who revelled in wealth, luxury, comfort, power and status, which a commoner could not have achieved even with their entire life’s work.
However, as per the famous Buddhist saying, ‘Wealth alone does not bring happiness’ could ring true for some of the Ranas who decided to forego everything in Nepal to lead a life of independence and freedom abroad.

I have made an effort to tell the story of three Ranas who preferred freedom to affluence and power. They might have done so because they might have found the then system oppressive, which each of them had protested in their own way.

Dambar Kumari: The Stubborn Princess

Daughter of Jung Bahadur and his unwed wife Meena Maharani aka Dakhchowke Maharani, Damabar Kumari was the sister of Dambar Jung.
The nation is indebted to her for her innovation of Dambar Kumari block print of textile which has left a mark in the handicraft industry of Nepal and to date can be stated as our very own national brand.
However, Dambar Kumari escaped from the confines of Thapathali Durbar and landed up in Varanasi, where she openly ran a brothel. When the news reached Jung Bahadur, he sent a delegation of Bhardars (courtiers) under the command of Dhir Sumshere, Jung’s youngest brother. Jung was confident that ‘Sannani’ as the Dhir was fondly called then, would fulfil the task of bringing his daughter, known as Maiya, back.

Dhir tried his best to convince Dambar Kumari to return to Kathmandu but confronted stern refusal from her. He returned empty-handed which was not taken lightly by Jung Bahadur.
He then sent another delegation under Bam Dev Pandit with strong instructions. They first tried to convince and cajole her to return to Kathmandu. When Maiya refused, they with the cooperation of the British Administration of Varanasi, boarded the doors and windows of her house from outside and nailed them. The stubborn princess still did not give in.
After seven days, a weak Dambar Kumari, unable to stand the torture of being devoid of food, water, light and air, surrendered. She had stepped into the Nepal border on 26 Feb 1877, just a day after Jung Bahadur’s death in Pattharghatta.
History thereafter is silent about her fate. It is generally thought that she was locked up in the Thapathali Durbar for the rest of her life.

In today’s world, Dambar Kumari would have been an interesting subject for psychological research. What made a Rana princess, literate with basic education of the time and intelligent, and creative given her innovation of textile print, to give up the luxury of the palace and willingly choose a life of ill repute?

Hatred to her father? Psychological trauma in childhood? Or, was she a fiercely independent person? We will never have a true answer. While she has been dismissed as ‘yestai ho,’ history will never be able to try to see through and understand the pain she suffered silently.

Rana Jung: The Working Prince

Rana Jung was the son of Jung Bahadur from his unwed wife Mane Ranisaheb. Another source claims his mother was Kali Nani. He was born in 1854. He was educated inside the Thapathali Palace and spoke good English.
Incidentally, most of Jung Bahadur’s sons spoke English as their father had employed a British teacher in the Thapathali School. Rana Jung was also educated in Calcutta. In 1874, he was promoted to the post of colonel but then he escaped to Calcutta. The fact regarding whether he ran away from Kathmandu or never returned from Calcutta is hazy.

Rana Jung had later converted to Christianity and married an Anglo-Indian girl in 1876. The marriage later resulted in divorce and he married another Anglo-Indian girl in 1884. His offspring, both sons and daughters, used the surname Jung Rana. His granddaughter Adele Smith, from his daughter Julia Jung Rana, worked for the Royal Air Force during the war in 1940 and was decorated with the Suprasidddha Prabal Gorkha Dakshin Bahu by the Nepal government for her work on the trusts relating to the British Gurkhas. She died in 2002.

Rana Jung himself worked as a Vakil (lawyer) and as a buying agent for Maharaja of Darbhanga in Calcutta. He died in 1895. It is said that he had gone to Allahabad to meet his brother Ran Bir Jung and after an exchange of pleasantries, both brothers sat for a marathon drinking session. Ran Bir Jung survived but Rana Jung passed away owing to an alcoholic stupor caused by binge drinking.

Does the question arise as to why would a prince leave the security and luxury of his home and country and venture out for leading an obscure life?
Probably his whole outlook changed while he was studying in Calcutta. After coming across the high life of the City of Joy, which he probably missed in Kathmandu.

As he was born from an unwed wife of Jung Bahadur, he had no right to claim a place in the Rana hierarchy to become the Prime Minister. There was also a great difference in the treatment of children born from mothers married legitimately and those born from mothers, who were not married legally (concubines). Though these children lived together under the same roof in the Rana palaces of those days, the discrimination in the treatment persisted.
Such a situation may have motivated Rana Jung and hardened his resolve to leave his birthplace forever and venture into an unknown world. The most surprising aspect is that Jung Bahadur never made an effort to bring back his son who had converted to Christianity. The religious conversion of his son was taken as an example of his son’s protest against his powerful father.

The Playboy Prince

Vishnu Sumshere was the highest-ranking Rana to rebel against his family. He decided to lead an independent life away from the comfort and power of his father’s palace. The sixth son of Maharaj Chandra Sumshere and the eldest of his second wife Bal Kumari, General Vishnu Sumshere, who was fondly addressed as Baba Hajur, was born in 1906. He was the eldest among the two brothers, Shanker Sumsher (Gyani Hajur) and Madan Shumshere (Hajur Hajur) and one sister Divyeswori Rajya Laxmi (Baba Raja).

In 1931, two years after his father Chandra Sumshere’s death, he went to Calcutta on the pretext of receiving medical treatment. From there he boarded a steamer and fled to England. This action caused him and his descendants to be removed from the role of princes and princesses forever.

In England, he led a high-flying social life throwing lavish parties at his house and visiting casinos. His assets of about 3 million sterling pound were the talk of the media then. He was dubbed as the Hindu Prince from Nepal. His affairs with Hollywood starlet Sandra Rambo created a storm in the European media.
Sandra was madly in love with Vishnu Sumshere and her family informed the press that Vishnu Sumshere was getting married to their daughter, a piece of news which he denied. That denial ended their affair. Sandra later married a 71-year old Nazi general, twice her age.

In 1936, about 10,000 sterling pounds worth of jewellery was stolen from his London residence, which again became the talk of the media. In 1941, he moved to the Bahamas and settled down in Nassau where he became a subject of another scandal. His guest, a young lady, called Kunz, died under mysterious circumstances in his house. This incident resulted in a lot of police questioning and media attention.

These incidents took a heavy toll on Vishnu Sumshere and he gradually became a victim of depression. He started drinking heavily. His dependency on alcohol had become a well-known piece of news. He died in 1946 in Nassau following a heart attack caused by excessive consumption of alcohol. He was only 40 when he breathed his last. His body was flown to Varanasi where he was cremated with full Hindu rituals.

Vishnu Sumshere’s only child, Pitamber Sumshere (Pits) from his wife Urmila Rajya Laxmi Rana, was born in 1931. Pitamber was first enrolled in the British Army as a second lieutenant and he later joined Mahindra & Mahindra and rose to be the Managing Director from which he retired in 1996. He was an avid golfer and died in Mumbai in 2005.

High-flying Life

Vishnu Sumshere was the highest-ranked Rana to leave behind his noted Rana family. He abhorred sycophancy and was an outspoken person. Another fact that no one should forget is- for 23 years of his life when Chandra Sumshere was alive, he was looked after as a ‘blue-eyed boy’ by his doting father. His father’s love and care might have caused superiority complexity in him.

After the death of Chandra, he might have been reprimanded by senior Ranas including his stepbrothers for his habit of speaking out his mind. Such censure from others might have hurt his ego spurring him to make up his mind to look for an independent life outside the country. He gave up a life of luxury and his wealth to lead a high-flying life in England and the Bahamas. Vishnu Shumshere was one among the long list of the Rana rebels who had gone against his family’s will to live abroad in his own term.

(A travel trade entrepreneur, Banerjee calls him a history buff)

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