The year was 1816 AD and the Gorkha Empire was in an unimaginable mess. The war with the British resulted in a humiliating defeat, shrivelling the size of the kingdom following the signing of the Sugauli Treaty. While the nation blamed incumbent Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa, he blamed the lack of training to soldiers for modern warfare.
He wanted trained soldiers to win back the lost territories and, in this process, the fields of Tundikhel and Chhauni became the training grounds for the soldiers. Under French instructors, from early morning until the evening, the grounds rocked from the sounds of drilling soldiers, cannons and musket fires.
On the 20th of November, 1816, a few months after the signing of the Sugauli Treaty, King Girvan Yuddha Bikram died at the age of 19 and his senior queen Siddhi Laxmi was forced to go sati at the behest of Bhimsen Thapa. After 14 days, the second queen Goraksha Rajyalaxmi died under mysterious circumstances. While a lot of fingers were pointed at Bhimsen Thapa, nobody could go or speak against the Mukhtiyar.
In AD 1806 when King Rana Bahadur Shah died, his two wives were forced to go Sati and his youngest wife Queen Lalit Tripur Sundari was appointed as the regent of the child king, Girvan Yuddha Bikram Shah by Bhimsen Thapa. As a regent, she was in charge of the Royal seal and put her seal on every document that Bhimsen Thapa brought without any questions. The support of the Queen Regent gave Bhimsen Thapa unlimited power to rule the country with an iron hand.
Queen Lalit Tripur Sundari continued with her regency of King Rajendra Bir Bikram Shah, son of Girvan Yuddha Bikram, who was three when enthroned and her support for Bhimsen Thapa continued.
On 27 March 1832, Queen Lalit Tripur Sundari died of cholera that spread like a bushfire in Kathmandu. With her death, Bhimsen Thapa's power base deteriorated and palace politics took a new turn.
King Rajendra Bikram Shah, who was 19 then, was not well educated and leading an ultra-luxurious life, never realising that he was a bird in a golden cage with the key of the cage being under possession of Bhimsen Thapa.
However, his two wives, Samrajya Laxmi and Rajyalaxmi, proved to be smarter than the husband. They had foreseen the way Bhimsen Thapa manipulated the Queen Regent and this fueled their distrust for the Mukhtiyar. They encouraged the King to take a firm stand against Bhimsen Thapa, who had sealed off the Hanuman Dhoka Palace isolating the Royal family from outside the news, and he lived in a house next to the palace keeping a close vigil on the royal family. His brother Ranbir Singh Thapa was in charge of Palace affairs and anyone meeting royalty had to get his consent and meet royalty under his presence.
However, there was one Chanel of news which The Prime Minister overlooked. The female servants were not allowed to stay in the palace during their monthly periods and had to go to their respective homes for 4 days. When they returned they bought along with the news for which the Queens would eagerly wait. It seemed that Bhimsen Thapa was not very popular with the masses, which was partly true.
Once Rajendra Bir Bikram fell sick, the medicines prescribed and provided by Ekdev Upadhay were thrown away by the queen, citing the example of Queen Gorakh Laxmi, whose death 14 days after the king's was a mystery.
While the royal distrust continued, they were not in a position to take any action against the prime minister due to the 6000 soldiers under his command in the valley. King Rajendra had already surrendered his powers to his queens and they now held the Royal seal. They wanted Pushkar Shah to be the Mukhtiyar and drew a lots of plans but Bhimsen Thapa was still too powerful an opponent. By this time Ranajung Pandey, son of Damodar Pandey, joined the team.
On 24 July 1837, Samrajya Laxmi's 6-month old son Debendra Bikram Shah died. He was being treated by Bhajuman Vaidya and the Queen accused him of poisoning her infant son. A royal order was given and Bhimsen Thapa, his brother Ranbir Singh Thapa, nephew Mathbar Singh Thapa, and Royal physician Ekdev Upadhyay were all brought into the palace in chains. Under torture, Bhajuman confessed that he had given the medicine provided by Ekdev Upadhyay. Despite repeated torture, Ekdev refused to confess to poisoning. Mathbar Singh Thapa did not utter a single word despite hundred lashes. They were all jailed and Bhajuman Vaidya was sentenced to death.
Ranjung Pandey became the new Mukhtiyar but was forced to resign in three months as he was incapable of handling the British. Pandit Ranganath was appointed as the new Mukhtyar and he was much appreciated by the King for his idea of giving a cash salary to the soldiers instead of land. Pandit Ranganath obtained a Royal order freeing all Thapa clan from prison.
After freedom, Bhimsen Thapa retired to his house in Borlang village in Gorkha. Ranbir Singh Thapa became a saint and Mathbar Singh Thapa escaped to India. After a few months, Bhimsen Thapa was called back by the King to handle the border crisis between Nepal and Britain which he did and he was again offered the post of Mukhtiyar. The first thing that Bhimsen did was to take out the soldiers under Ranajung Pandey's command to weaken him.
Queen Samrajya Laxmi who was watching Bhimsen Thapa very closely now decided to get rid of him forever. The old case of the poisoning of her infant son was raised again supported by fake documents. Bhimsen Thapa defended himself stating that if the documents existed why weren't they presented earlier. All his appeals fell on deaf ears and he was locked up in his palace at Bagh Durbar.
Around this time, Bhimsen Thapa's wife blamed Samrajya Laxmi for mistreating her husband who was innocent and this news reached the palace. A rumour floated that his wife would be paraded naked on the streets of Kathmandu under royal order.
This news reached Bhimsen Thapa and he decided that it was pointless living in shame. He slashed his throat with his khukuri and while the wound was not deep enough, he was denied medical care. His body, bleeding but alive, was thrown on the banks of Teku Dovan, the same place where he had prominent courtiers beheaded 30 years ago.
Guards were posted to see that no one helped him. The man whose might challenged the British power at one time lived for 9 days in intense pain and finally succumbed to death on 30 July 1839. He was denied a proper Hindu cremation and his body was offered to the vultures and jackals to feed on.
After the death of Bhimsen Thapa, the Queens of Rajendra Bir Bikram became more ambitious and the turmoil of court politics continued. The nation would once again be stable after 1846 when a young and ambitious Jung Bahadur Kunwar would take over the reins of the government after the Kot massacre and the royal family would be kept out of direct involvement until 1950 AD.
(A travel trade entrepreneur, Banerjee is a history buff)