Co-author Prabhakar Rana, was the great-grandson of Judha Shumsher, and actually lived in Singha Darbar until the age of 11. Pashupati Rana, is the grandson of the last Rana prime minister, Mohan Shumsher, and was present as a boy of four at the first coronation of King Gyanendra in 1950. Both contributed chapters on history, architecture, and lifestyle.
Gautam also tracked down rare photos, paintings and artifacts from private collections, and wrote the chapter on Rana jewellery. The book’s lavish visuals with early sepia photographs, period portraits from private collections bring this history alive.
The book begins with the royal rivalries among the Rajput rulers of Udaipur that drove one particular family of courtiers to the Himalaya, fleeing all the way up to Jumla. From there they migrated eastward to Kaski and on to Gorkha. The Kunwars helped King Prithvi Narayan in his conquests, and Bal Narsingh Kunwar was made governor of Jumla.
But in the purges that followed the downfall of Bhimsen Thapa in 1840, Bal Narsingh’s son Jung Bahadur emerged as a master manipulator who, through sheer charisma, craftiness and courage, wormed his way upwards taking full advantage of the savage power struggles among the descendants of Prithvi Narayan Shah and their consorts.
Jung Bahadur is at the centre of this swirling tale of back-stabbing, intrigue, conspiracies, alliances, finding himself right in the middle of vicious infighting between a powerful queen and her paramour, the king, and the crown prince. At gunpoint, Jung is forced to shoot his own uncle, the prime minister, and is then caught up in two massacres at the Kot and at Bhandarkhal. He sends the queen and king into exile, installs the crown prince on the throne and makes himself prime minister.
Thus, at age 29, Jung Bahadur Kunwar launches the Rana century in 1847. Three years later, he became the first Subcontinental royal to visit Britain and France, driven by a desire to bypass the obstructive diktats of Calcutta by dealing directly with London. Once there, he received royal treatment.
One gets the feeling reading in these two books about massacres, assassinations and chronic infighting, that contemporary Nepali rulers are just following in the footsteps of their ancestors — maybe they are hardwired to be divisive and selfish. A paragraph from the The Ranas of Nepal, describing the conspiracies of the royal court could very well have been written about today’s Nepal: ‘He (Jung Bahadur) brought order to a Nepal on the brink of anarchy. Nobody can condone the means he used to achieve this end. However, it begs the question: could it have been achieved by any other means?’
It was inevitable that when Jung died during a hunting trip in Chitwan in 1877, his brothers immediately started squabbling for power. Jung’s brother, Dhir, installed Jung’s brother Rana Udip Singh as successor, while he manoeuvred to take over. Suspecting a plot, he beheaded two dozen courtiers and managed to carve out a place for himself and his 17 sons in the succession. The clan was thus effectively split between the Jung Ranas and the Shumsher Ranas. By 1885, matters reached a head again and Dhir had his six sons kill their uncle, Rana Udip Singh and remove all the descendants of Jung Bahadur’s other brothers from succession.