Saturday, 19 June, 2021
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Quaint Customs Of Ranas



quaint-customs-of-ranas
Standing Left to right: Rudra, Chakra, Gehendra, Dharma Seating Left to right: Bir Shumshere, Pratap, Tope Kumari, Tej

Gautam Banerjee

 

The 104-year Rana rule gave rise to a lot of quaint customs and strange traditions, which although may sound anachronistic, and at times, laughable in today’s perspective, were quite invaluable in those days.
Some of such customs and practices are given here for the readers' perusal:

Classification Of Ranas
After Bir Sumshere’s coup in 1885 AD, only the Dhir Sumshere’s descendants became the inheritors of the Prime Minister’s role. The descendants of other brothers including the Jung, Bikram and Narsingh clans were thrown out of the prime ministerial hierarchy. The Sumshere clan retained the most-coveted, powerful post.
Dhir Sumshere had 17 sons, out of which 10 were from married wives and the rest seven were from 'unmarried' women.
The eldest son of Dhir, Bir Shumsher, had put 10 brothers on the Prime Ministerial roll, while seven of them were left out. One of the seven brothers included Dambar Sumshere who was one of the key players in the 1885 coup.
The Ranas were divided into A, B and C class, which could be technically defined as:
Those Ranas who were grouped into the A-class were the offsprings born out of the formal wedding to a high-class Thakuri or Chhetri woman as per the Hindu tradition observing full Vedic rites.
If the parents were of A-class then the children had an automatic right to be part of the prime ministerial role, in which they would be formally included after reaching the age of 16 with a title of Lieutenant Colonel in the army.
The Rana belonging to the B class was the offspring born out of an informal marriage with the women of the caste lower than the Chhetris.
These women were sometimes given the status of 'Kanchi Bada Maharani' and their children were given roles by their prime minister father. For examples, Rudra Sumshere and Tej Sumshere were children of Bir Sumshere's junior queen, who was of Newar descent.
The Ranas that fell into the C class were the children born from the maidservants and working women, who never attained any high posts, however talented they were. For examples, Ran Jung Rana, the son of Jung Bahadur was born from an unwed mother and was denied the Prime Ministerial hierarchy. He later escaped to Calcutta and started his own independent life as he might have found his status as a C class Rana stifling in a time when conservatism was at its height.
The rivalry between the A and B Class Ranas was well known. At the time of Bhim Sumshere, a plot was hatched to throw out all A class Ranas from the role and the Prime Ministerial hierarchy to be taken over by the B Class Ranas under the active guidance of the Prime Minister himself.
The leader of the B group was Tej Sumshere. However, a sudden paralytic stroke of Tej and the early death of Bhim ended the plan forever. Two years later, Bhim's predecessor Juddha would throw out all B class Ranas in the coup of 1934, ending the rivalry for the prime minister's role forever.
In the Rana hierarchy, only the birth counted no matter how talented one was. The status between the married and unmarried children was distinct in every Rana household of that time even if the family head was the Rana from the B or C class.

Dhog And Salam
There were two forms of greeting to one's seniors in The Rana era. The dhog, of which the highest form was to touch the feet with your forehead, was reserved for one's parents and grandparents. The formal version was to touch the back of the palm of the outstretched arm of the senior with one's forehead or a deep bow with joined palms.
The salam, on the other hand, was less formal was to touch one's forehead with the palm displaying the back of palm to the person to whom the respect was due.
It should be noted that an A-class Rana would never offer dhog to a B class one however high his post might be. Rudra Sumshere, who was regarded as B class one was never offered the dhog by the A-class Ranas. One of the reasons why he was thrown out of the role was the refusal of the A-class Ranas to offer dhog to him after he would become prime minister. He was next in the line after Juddha Sumsher.
A funny incident was related to me by a Rana gentleman about the dhog and salam controversy. He had heard this from late Narayan Sumshere.
Nara Sumshere and Narayan Sumshere, Juddha’s grandson and son respectively were about 7 or 8 years old when Juddha decided to take them to Singha Durbar for Dashain Tika. He gave them a detailed briefing the night before as to which Buwa (father) was to be offered dhog and which buwa to be offered salam. The briefing ended with a verbal test and the kids answered correctly.
The next day, they were taken to Singha Durbar. The kids found it easy to reciprocate till Chandra Sumsher, who was then the Shree teen and an object of everyone's respect. The kids offered him the dhog. After Chandra left, it was the turn of the other high-ranking Ranas of the role to offer tika and they sat in order of precedence. Bhim Sumshere followed by Juddha, Rudra and so forth.
Now the kids got nervous and confused. They started offering the wrong salutation by offering dhog to those entitled for salam and vice versa, much to the amusement of the Ranas present and embarrassment of Juddha who was fuming mad.
After the tika ceremony was over, Juddha’s fierce temper was on display after they reached the Jawalakhel Durbar. A thorough thrashing was given to the kids. ‘Our ears were pulled so hard that we thought it would be uprooted,' Narayan Sumshere recalled.
So much for greetings and salutations.

The Love Of English
Ranas loved everything that was English. The furnishings, the decoration and the language all reeked of Good Old England. It should be noted that Jung Bahadur had opened a school inside Thapathali Durbar with British tutors for his children and most of them spoke excellent English. This was followed ditto by Chandra Sumshere whose sons were no less. Their English, both spoken and written, never betrayed the fact that they had never attended any formal schooling.
While speaking in Nepali, the Ranas tended to throw in a few English words, difficult and rarely used, to add to their prestige. Shashi Tharoor would have loved every moment of being around in those days.
The commands given to the army during parades were in English and the language took a new variant when they reached the Sepoy via Havildar. 'Stand at Ease became Thande ich', 'Halt who comes there' became Hal hukumdar and drill became Dalel.

Application
When it was the turn of the new Prime Minister to take over, an application was written to the king describing his role in the administration. A rough translation of a portion of Bhim Sumshere's application to King Tribhuvan, read out by Subba Ram Mani to the King was as follows:
“ When my elder brother Chandra SJBR had gone to Thori to entertain Emperor George V and your Majesty's respected father Shree Panch Prithvi Bir Bikram Shah had passed away, this humble servant was looking after the administration of the country from Kathmandu. It was this humble servant who held your hands to help you sit on your throne during your crowning ceremony. As such like your great grandfather bestowing the post of prime minister to Jung Bahadur Rana, I would be grateful to you to appoint me as the prime minister after my deceased brother Chandra Sumshere Jung Bahadur Rana. Sarkar Jo Hukum".
The King then put both of his palm print dipped in a mixture of curd, abir and sindoor ratifying the application and the new prime minister was appointed.
This application went inside a box called Tama ko Petari, popularly known as, Lal Bakash as the copper box was wrapped in a piece of red cloth. The box also contained the original order of Surendra Bir Bikram to Jung Bahadur, appointing him as the de facto Prime Minister.
It was the second most important object after the crown or Teen Chand. Usually, the Bada Maharani or the favourite queen of the prime minister was in charge of this box for which she received an annual allowance and was handed over to the next Prime Minister in line along with the crown when his turn came.
When Mohun Sumshere became the Prime Minister he insisted that a gold plate be used for the curd mixture and he wanted the palm prints from a gold plate only. When the news of this demand reached King Tribhuvan, he gave a terse reply that there was no gold plate in the palace as he had sold them all to maintain his family.

Gold Plate
While it was unbelievable that the Royal Palace would not have a gold plate, this action on the part of the King displayed his annoyance towards the Rana rule. The problem, however, was solved as they got hold of a gold quarter plate from somewhere, and got his palm print on the application. Now, why Mohun Sumshere had insisted on a gold plate when the palm print was more important and was traditionally done from a silver plate, is debatable. But one fact that could not remain hidden was Mohun's ego that finally led to the termination of the Rana rule.
Out of all the Kings of Nepal, Tribhuvan was the only monarch who ratified the maximum amount of applications from the Prime Minister. Starting from Bhim Sumshere and ending with Mohun Sumshere with Juddha and Padma Sumsheres in between. His disillusionment with the Rana Rule started with the coup of 1934 and finally, the whole system ended in 1950 ending the quaint customs that have now become a thing of the past.

(A travel trade entrepreneur, Banerjee has a keen interest in Nepali history)