The Forgotten idols

Features Issue 177 Nov, 2016
Text by Satyam Shrestha

Remembering the historical icons that contributed in making the Modern State of Nepal. 

Nepal has come a long way from being an assemblage of city-states and individually ruled provinces to the beautifully unified Mechi-Mahakali it is today. Across the journey, many monarchs, queens, ministers, wrong doers, freedom fighters, dictators have left marks on Nepali history for better or worse. However, certain iconic personalities and sites have managed to transcend the confines of memory and have been forever immortalized for all to see, remember, acknowledge and appreciate. 

King Mahendra

King Mahendra has been heralded by various different historians as a true patriot to his nation through and out. Most famously associated with the classical “Ma mare pani mero desh bachi rahos” quote, King Mahendra touched many hearts. Although there is major controversy surrounding the Panchayat system, with some praising its revolutionary stance of abolishing political party system altogether and handing over more power to the people and others severely criticizing its very premise itself, his lesser known acts of benevolence are ones that shine out the most. He implemented a land reform policy, which provided land to many landless people in dire need of it. Likewise, the Mahendra Highway (also called East-West Highway) that runs along the entire Terai belt in southern Nepal can also be credited to his highness as an effort to alleviate travel difficulties. King Mahendra’s biggest move was probably launching the Back to the Village National Campaign in 1967, one of the nation’s largest rural development efforts. Finally, if it were not for him, Nepal would not be a member of the United Nations in 1955.

King Prithvi Narayan shah

Prithvi Narayan Shah, King of Nepal (1723–1775) is most arguably the one prominent historical figure that every Nepali identifies with. He was the ninth generation descendant of Dravya Shah (1559–1570), the founder of the ruling house of Gorkha. Prithvi Narayan Shah succeeded his father, King Nara Bhupal Shah, to the throne of the Gorkha Kingdom in 1743, at the small age of 20.

The first King of a unified Nepal would not have it any other way. Before him, Nepal as we know it was divided and weakened under the Malla confederacy and regime which had reigned for centuries. He lies at the center of one of the most intriguing historical anecdotes of all time. Although many variations of the story exist, it tells the same tale. A godly being personified as a woman once came to visit a young King Prithvi. She beckoned him to put forward his hands and proceeded to put some curd on it, then had him eat it up. Next, she asked for his hand again. But this time she spat on it instead. The startled king dropped it on his feet. The woman announced to the taken aback king, that if he had eaten the regurgitated mess, he would have conquered any and everywhere he set his sight. But as he dropped it on his feet, he would be able to conquer all the places he set his foot on. Whether this story has any bearing of truth to it or not is of little consequence, it is what he was able to accomplish that deserves attention.

Shahid Gate

Sahid Gate or Shahid Gate (Martyr’s Gate) is a monument in Kathmandu, Nepal. It is a famous memorial and sightseeing hot spot where notable patriots and martyrs have been immortalized. As of 2016, four statues lie inside the gates. The statue of king Tribhuvan used to lie on top of the four, but a 2012 cabinet meeting decided to move the statue into the Narayanhiti museum where it lies to date. These four brave souls, Dharma Bhatka Mathema, Ganga Lal Shrestha, Dashrath Chand, and Shukraraj Shastri are considered crucial historical figures, as they once stood against the 104 year old Rana regime. Around the 1940’s, fate brought these brave individuals together into one political party, the Nepal Praja Parishad headed by Tanka Prasad Acharya.

Dasharath Chand actively participated as a writer spreading pamphlets against the regime alongside the support of the other three. Their party revolted for 4 months and it was starting to gain major momentum with more and more supporters too. But sadly, Ramji Joshi, another prominent member of the same party, decided to give in to the temptation of the 5000 rupee reward for information and sold out his brothers. As such, all the leaders were rounded up and these freedom fighters were tortured to no end in prison. Despite being continuously demanded to beg pardon and have their lives spared, the martyrs refused to bow in the face of oppression and were tragically murdered in the subsequent year through shots to the head and nooses around necks. Amidst the tragedy at the end of their rebellion, Ganga Lal was allowed one last meeting with his family before his execution in shackles. This emotional aftermath would inspire his youngest brother Pushpa Lal Shrestha to take up arms later on too. Needless to say, these selfless patriots have deserved a spot at the Shahid Gate and the hearts of Nepalis forever.

King Birendra

Birendra Bir Bikram Shah (29 December 1945 – 1 June 2001) was the 11th King of Nepal and is unanimously credited by many as the greatest monarch in Nepali history, who lived to serve the people and not the other way around. The eldest son of King Mahendra, whom he succeeded in 1972, he reigned till 2001 after which he was succeeded by king Dipendra Bir Bikram Shah. He is described as one of the royal ones who wanted the Nepalese people to experience actual democracy instead of a thickly veiled façade. This was seen in 1980 when we gave the people the freedom to choose between multiparty democracy and a reformed panchayat system. Then in People’s Movement 1, he decided to establish the constitutional monarchy in Nepal instead of fighting for dictatorship which he easily could have. However, not many know that he probably stands the most educated king in all of Nepal’s royal bloodlines. He studied at Eton College in United Kingdom for his graduate studies, the University of Tokyo for another and even Harvard University in pursuit of a political theory degree. Despite his many acts of kindness for the people and nation as a whole, he is most closely associated with the Nepalese royal massacre which occurred on June 1, 2001, at the grounds of Narayanhiti Royal Palace. Although concrete evidence lies in no land in sight, the generally accepted consensus is that a heavily intoxicated Prince Dipendra attempted to massacre everyone in sight after a slight altercation with his father then shot himself in a fatal murder suicide scenario. On the other side of the spectrum, some conspiracy theorists even believe that Prince Dipendra did not even bloody his hands once and it was all some big cover up. No matter how the events may have transpired, the fact remains that such a blow was a highly unbecoming end unfit for a king of such kindness.

Jung Bahadur Rana

Of all the many different Rana rulers who have graced the seats of royalty, Jung bahadur Rana most likely stands the most remembered and known. Maharaja Jung Bahadur (June 18, 1817, Kathmandu, Nepal – February 25, 1877, Borlang, Gorkha) was a ruler of Nepal and founder of the Rana Dynasty of Nepal. His real name was Bir Narsingh Kunwar but he became famous by the name of Jung Bahadur, given to him by his maternal uncle, Mathabarsingh Thapa in recognizance of his ferocious nature and courage. A man who wore his heart on his sleeve, he was able to successfully overthrow his rivals, and subsequently reinforce his command in the administrative, judicial and civil affairs of the country. During his reign as prime minister, he strived to maintain cordial relations with foreign nations in Europe and was known to have made trips to Britain and France with moderate frequency. He also strived to bring reforms by promoting modernization, revising judicial customs and working towards the abolishment of various social evils like ‘Sati’. Regardless of his good deeds, it was frequently overshadowed by his demeaning nature of “wifing” every girl he liked. And if she was already married like Siddhi Gajendra Laxmi, he would simply have his soldiers abduct the girl and bring her over to his place to serve as a mistress. Matter of fact, he is credited with over 13 wives and more than 2 dozens of sons and daughters. He married some for love, others for political alliances with various noble houses, including a sister of Fateh Jung Shah, one of the victims of the Kot Massacre. He even took in a spy who provided priceless information as a wife. And it did not stop within the border lines either as demonstrated when he married a Coorg (royal Indian state before British takeover) Indian princess in Varanasi on his return home from England. Nevertheless, taking well informed and active steps to abolish the Kamalari and the horrible sati system will always be a move to forever remember and appreciate equally.