I must have rambled for about an hour from cage to cage within the high walls of the Central Zoo at Jawalakhel, Kathmandu. The tiger, wild buffaloes and water rhinos were kept apart. I was walking straight in a hypnotic trance and tolerating the cages. Apparently, the animals were tolerating my presence as well. I would be utterly bored if I were not to come across a view, amidst other birds and animals, of two human statues juxtaposed in that manmade animal kingdom. One is that of sister-in-law of Maharaja Juddha Shamser. Robed in a precious sari, in standing posture, this beautiful figure of the lady has been tested by time itself. Below her statue it is written in fine devanagari shreetin judhhashamserko bhauju (it is hard to know which bhauju she is for Juddha had nine elder brothers). About a hundred yards away to the left is another statue yet again of a lady. It is that of Juddha Shamser’s mother. It appeared to me that these statues offered windows to the life and times of Juddha Shamser.
Established in 1932, during the auspicious celebrations of the festival of Lord Machchhindranath, as a personal collection of wild animals and birds, the zoo is a telling indicator of Juddha’s animalistic bent of personality. Juddha became a maharaja in 1932 at the age of 57—had he been made one at a younger age, perhaps the nation would have seen more of his cruelty. It is easy to understand why he made the zoo. He was fond of hunting. He was a born shikari. He went to the forest like an ardent lover, his soul aflame with passion, to seize the object of his desire. He concentrated his full attention upon his prey, freely and fearlessly, and pursued it with undaunted vigor sometimes in complete defiance of death. He would go into territories raging with tigers, cool and calm, and ready for all eventualities. His knowledge of wild animals of the jungle was immense and his shikari skills most impressive. He killed a large number of beasts of blood. Perhaps in killing and caging wild beasts, he felt like an emperor even of the animal world. His love for killing animals can be further understood by the fact that when the whole of Kathmandu was devastated by the great earthquake of Jan 15, 1934, Juddha was hunting animals somewhere in the Tarai. He knew of the tragedy only three days later.
Juddha’s cruelty towards animals could be downplayed had he been a tolerant to the anti-Rana agitators of his time. However, he established himself as the biggest oppressor of the Rana maharajas. He sent to prison all the members of Arya Samaj and the Mahabir School (both organizations lobbied for freedom from Rana oligarchy). And when anti-Rana revolution escalated in 1941, he mercilessly put to death other members of the Prajaparishad including Shukra Raj, Gangalal, Dharma Bhakta and Dashrath Chand. They were suspected of plotting his assassination. These ghastly acts have always defamed his image and always will. Also, these cruelties have eclipsed the secret humane sides of his life.
I was moved to see statues of Juddha’s muma and bhauju among the animals. They are not likely to atone for Juddha’s sin. They deserve to be placed somewhere else.
It is not that he only had cannibalistic instincts and animalistic lusts. He was also capable of mercy and tears. Having heard of the earthquake tragedy, when he arrived in Kathmandu from Tarai, he apparently had been greatly grief-stricken. With tears in his eyes and his voice choked with grief, he addressed a large gathering of people in the parade ground. The speech he gave that day was laden with religious superstition. He announced that he was going to dedicate the merit he might have acquired by giving away 1,000 cows in charity on the bank of the Mahakali River to those who had died in the earthquake. He provided relief fund to the victims in million including loans. On a later date, through a public announcement, he canceled all debts and those who had partly repaid the loan also got a refund. After retiring voluntarily, he felt guilty for having put so many dissidents to death and for having killed many people belonging to the bahun caste. So, again, as a penance he donated 1000 cows. Cows seem to bear special importance in Juddha’s life. Every time some misfortune happened to him or to the nation, or some guilty feelings overpowered him he felt it necessary to dis/respect god by godan ie cow donation. This proves that he was unfair in his love for animals. While he respected cows and donated them in god’s name, he derived pleasure by caging and killing others.
Besides, he distributed gold worth his weight to the poor. Towards the end of his rule, he felt burdened by the sin and tried to offer expiation to god. In Nov 29, 1945 in his resignation speech, Juddha said “Oh, God! I now repent of all that I have done. I dedicate myself from today wholeheartedly to thy feet. Take me, who am ignorant, under thy shelter by showing up to me the right path.” By quoting a Vedic slok he appealed “From the nonexistent lead me unto the existent. From darkness lead me unto light, from death lead me into immortality.” (Rana Nepal Parmode Shumser Rana 151). Little do we know about his fear of god and anxiety for life hereafter. Juddha has been judged by history as an anti-people maharaja and will be so by generations to come despite the reform and development works he initiated.
As for my last visit to the zoo, which was also the first, I was not much impressed by the sight of those caged animals. I and other visitors, too, I believe, felt miserable. I was being watched by animals just as I watched them through the bars. Perhaps, they were enjoying viewing us miserable humans or deriding our ignorance. And while I saw myself as a critic of Juddha’s cruelty, I was also moved to see statues of Juddha’s muma and bhauju among the animals. They are not likely to atone for Juddha’s sin. They deserve to be placed somewhere else.