The Nepalese Ruling Family

During the early part of the 19th Century there was deep unrest in Nepal, which resulted in the assassination of Gagan Singh who was a favourite minister of Queen Lakshmidevi, and culminated in the Kot Massacre (Kot = Courtyard of Palace armoury). Gagan Singh controlled seven regiments of the army, and was found murdered on 14th September 1846. This massacre caused both the military personnel and administrators to begin fighting. The next day (15th September 1846) Jung Bahadur, who was a strong Pro-British leader, came to the fore during this fighting and eventually seized control of Nepal and began the Rana line of rulers. Once in power he declared himself Prime Minister and took on the mantle to rule the country, the Nepalese Royal Family (headed by King Rajendra Bikram Shah) played a nominal role in this new government. This new power that Jung had bestowed upon himself, as ruler, permitted him to make the office of Prime Minister hereditary.

Everything was running smoothly during this new government until the year 1877, when Jung died. Because Jung was childless Ranoddip Singh, his eldest surviving brother, took the office of Prime Minister. Family feuds surfaced when Ranoddip took his seat of power. During his term in office there were many plots to oust him by whatever means could be used. Jung's sons and nephews, who were each expecting to become Prime Ministers in succession, instigated these plots. While these plots were ongoing complications set in when King Surendra Bikam Shah died in 1881. The new King, by royal accession, was Prithvi Bir Bikam Shah who reigned from 1881 until 1911. Eventually Ranoddip was assassinated in 1885 and the youngest son of Jung Bahadur's youngest and closest brother, Bir Shamsher, took the office of Prime Minister. As soon as Bir took office he launched a purge of his opponents.

Bir Shamsher arranged for a number of projects that would benefit the population. These projects included bringing piped water to the Kathmandu Valley; building a suspension bridge at Kulekhani; and set up a school in the palace where English was taught. In his short reign, from 1885 until 1901, he did what he could for the Nepalese population. Dev Shamsher, succeeded him for three months, who followed up the projects began by Bir. Not only that but he brought about further changes by emancipating all female slaves; set up a network of Bhasa Pathsalas (Nepalese language schools); and started the first Nepalese language newspaper - Gorkhapatra (Gorkha Newsletter). Because of his radical policies he was forced to resign, by a coalition of his brothers, and retired to India.

The new Prime Minister was Chandra Shamsher, and he took office in late 1901. Chandra's first thought was to resolve the family infighting caused over the rights of succession. To this end he amended the Rolls of Succession, which were set up by Jung Bahadur. Each Rana (ruling family name) would be divided into classes as scheduled below:

'A' class Ranas - were the direct and legitimate offspring of Ranas, and could only dine with any high-caste Chhetri family.
'B' class Ranas - usually born of second wives, could take part in all forms of social interaction with high-caste Chhetris, except the sharing of boiled rice.
'C' class Ranas - were the offspring of wives and concubines of lower status with whom inter-dining was forbidden.

Only the A class Ranas would be allowed to fill the highest positions in the army or civil administration. Any 'B' or 'C' class Ranas were permitted to reach the rank of Colonel in the army and could never become Prime Minister. This seemed to appease the family and stopped any of the in-fighting.

But during the reign of Juddha Shamsher (in power 1932-45), all 'C' class Ranas were removed from the Rolls of Succession and most of them were placed in administrative positions far away from Kathmandu. This removal resulted in opposition within its own ranks, and the eventual downfall of the Rana dynasty.

Under the previous Maharajah, Bhim Shamsher (1929-32), fifty people were arrested and fined for setting up a public library. During this period almost all the Nepalese people remained illiterate and uninformed about anything that happened outside their villages or valleys. The various Rana rulers wanted to repress their citizens using medieval restrictive practices.

Considering that the greater majority of the Nepalese citizens were illiterate, it follows that they were unable to read the Gorkhapatra (Gorkha Newsletter), and most probably knew absolutely nothing about the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5 until the Rana dynasty was deposed and the rightful monarchy reinstalled.

Nepal has always provided valuable assistance to the British and its allies during times of conflict, some of them are - Sepoy Rebellion (1857-1859), World War I (1914-18), and World War II (1939-45). A treaty, signed by the British Government, in 1923 reaffirmed the independence of Nepal. There was a British Colonial Officer (acting as adviser to the ruler of a protected state) who was stationed in Kathmandu and controlled Nepal's foreign relations. Nepal assisted the Allies in World War II by supplying a high proportion (per capita) of Gurkha soldiers into the British Army, who became world renown for their fighting prowess.

Nepal first established diplomatic relations with the United States in 1948.


Ken Lewis