1802 - Francis Buchanan-Hamilton
A Very Short Mission to Kathmandu
Rana Bahadur [the ruling prinve] having incurred a considerable debt to the British Government, which supplied his wants at Banaras, a treaty was entered into for a gradual repayment, and for the residence of a British officer at Kathmandu; and Captain Knox, with whom I went, entered their territory in February 1802. We had been there only a few days, when the officers, who came to meet us, and who were very friendly disposed, were thrown into great trouble by the arrival of the princess, Rana Bahadur's wife. The unprincipled chief had connected himself with one of these frail but pure beauties, (Gandharbin,) with which the holy city abounds, had stript his wife of her jewels to bestow them on this wanton companion, and finally had turned his wife out of doors. As the slave regent had the meanness to seize on the income of the town, assigned for the princess's dowry, the poor lady was reduced to the utmost distress, and conceived that we were her enemies, being on an embassy to the low woman, by whom she had been so shamefully used. She therefore stirred up to destroy us a certain Masan Raut, who had under him many thieves and robbers, with whom he plundered the borders. We received, however, timely notice, and our guard being all night under arms, no attempt was made, although the sentries saw hovering round parties of men, who, no doubt, had come in the expectation of finding some unguarded part.
As might have been expected, under such circumstances, the slave girl's regency had been from the first marked with weakness. The two most powerful chiefs then in Nepal were Brahma Sahi of the royal family, and Damodar of the house called Pangre, which, ever since the conquest, has been the most powerful family among the Gorkhalis. Damodar had strengthened his influence by the marriage of his sister into the distinguished family of the Viswanaths, and had procured the command of most of the fortresses, which he intrusted to the care of his own dependants. The eldest of his nephews, of the Viswanath family, was then a fine young man named Kritimohun. Him the regent appointed Kayi, and in his abilities reposed the highest confidence, which was supposed to have been increased by her regard for his person. Far from supporting his uncle, this rash young man removed all the adherents of the Pangre family from the command of the fortresses, and gave them in charge to dependants of his own, and of Rudravir his illegitimate brother. In the meanwhile, envy raised against him many enemies, and he was assassinated by persons of a rank too elevated to be publicly mentioned. Among these was Sri Krishna Sahi, one of the legitimate princes of the royal family, who was compelled to flee into the Company's territory; but the principal odium and suspicion fell on Damodar Pangre, the young minister's uncle. As the regent never liked this chief, the circumstance was made a pretence for attempting his ruin, and for die elevation of Brahma Sahi to the principal authority in the government. This personage having joined with two brothers of the Viswanath family, and with Sher Bahadur, illegitimate brother of Rana Bahadur, seized on the two sons of Damodar Pangre; but the old man could not be touched; he was too much versed in affairs, and was too strongly supported by his friends, and especially by two warlike brothers. With these he retired from court; and when Captain Knox approached the frontier, in the beginning of 1802, was living in sullen retirement. At this time an apparent reconciliation took place between Brahma Sahi and Damodar Pangre; both came to receive the English embassy; and the sons of Damodar were liberated. The probable cause of this reconciliation was the elevation of a low man to the principal confidence of the regent, while the charge of her conscience and heart was in possession of a young Sannyasi or religious mendicant, one of the finest formed men that I have ever seen. Both circumstances gave offence to the people.
On our arrival in the valley of Nepal, in April, we found a young illegitimate Raja, about six years of age, whose nominal chief minister, Chautariya, was an illegitimate brother, two years older than himself, and son of the regent slave girl, who had in fact given the whole power to a very low person, which occasioned universal disgust. Damodar Pangre, who had met us on the frontier, did not accompany us to the court, for what reason I do not exactly know; but it is probable that he scorned the low favourite, who had been raised to the chief authority in the kingdom. The only man of weight at the court was in fact Brahma Sahi, descended of the royal family; but whether or not legitimate, I cannot say. He was, however, highly respected by the people, and has fewer of the vices of his family than usual, with much good sense and moderation.
Soon after our arrival we learned, that the distressed princess, spouse of Rana Bahladur, terrified at the thought of remaining in the unhealthy forests during the rainy season, deprived of means to support her in the Company's territory, and probably encouraged by Damodar Pangre, intended to come up to Nepal without leave; for the regent could not bear the approach of her former mistress, and yet would not give her the stipulated dower. People were therefore sent, who brought up all the male attendants of the princess in irons; and it was hoped, I believe, that she would perish in the woods. Necessity, however, added boldness to her measures, and she advanced with ten or twelve female attendants to Chisapani, a fortress commanding the entrance into Nepal. It was evident, however, that the commiseration of the people was daily gaining strength, and the timidity of the regent gave daily an increase of power to the princess. An additional company of Seapoys was sent to Chisapani, as if soldiers were the proper persons to stop the progress of a few helpless women. The officer commanding had received positive orders to refuse the princess admittance; but he contented himself by executing merely the letter of his orders. He took in all his garrison, shut the gates, and allowed the lady and her attendants to walk quietly round the walls. Much anxiety was now evident at the capital, and another company of Seapoys was dispatched to Chitlang, with positive orders to prevent the princess from advancing farther; and, if the arrears of dower had accompanied the officer, I do not believe that she would have made any attempt; but the sordid dispositions of the regent and her favourite did not suffer them to part with money. The officer commanding the company met the poor princess and her attendants on the road, and, being a man of true honour, with a good deal of difficulty mustered courage to disclose his orders. When he had done so, the high-born lady, unmoved by fear, pulled out a dagger, and saying, will you presume to oppose the lawful wife of a Gorkhali Raja, while going to her own estate? she struck him on the arm; on which, although wounded, he irmmediately retired, quite ashamed of the service on which he had been employed; and his men required no orders to follow his example. The princess that morning entered the valley of Nepal, and halted about five miles from the capital. No sooner was this known than she was joined by Damodar Pangre, and all ranks flocked to pay their respects, and among them all the officers of government, except the low favourite, who immediately fled towards Thibet.
The regent, thus deserted, retired with the Raja and her son to the sanctuary of a temple, taking with her all the money in the treasury and the jewels of the crown. Next day the princess entered the capital, and, after a short negotiation, took upon herself the regency, and settled on her base-born rival an income, which, had she received, she would never have given any trouble. In the whole transaction, indeed, she showed great magnanimity; and the only stain on her character, so far as I know, during so difficult a scene, was her conduct to the wife of the low man, whom the late regent had elevated to the office of Serdar. This unfortunate woman was put to the torture, to make her disclose where her husband had concealed his treasure; but, I believe, the treasure was imaginary, and the report of his having accumulated wealth arose, I imagine, in base minds, envious of his sudden rise, and anxious to gratify their envy by misrepresentations to the princess regent. The man, indeed, bore on the whole a good character; and the meanness of his birth and education, with some Iow conduct, arising more from these misfortunes than from any inclination to evjl, are the only things for which l ever heard him blamed.
The new regent placed in her chief confidence Damodar Pangre, the officer in the country of by far the highest reputation; and although she consulted him chiefly, she expressed great anxiety for her husband's return. She also showed the utmost jealonsy of the British embassy as likely to interfere with that event; and in the end of March 1802 we left the capital.
An Account of the Kingdom of Nepal
Edinburgh 1819; Reprint 2014