January 31, 2011

THE HISTORY OF THE MESSIANIC AND REBEL KING LAKHAN THAPA MAGAR : UTOPIA AND IDEOLOGY AMONG THE MAGARS

[ Nepal used to observe a week long ' Martyr's Memorial Week' from 10 - Magh 16 ( from January 25  - 31, this  year) before the country was declared  the people's republic. Only on February 23, 2000 Nepal Government  declared Lakhan Thapa Magar,  one of the martyrs of the country and approved a grant of 0.7 million rupees to construct his bust size statue and a memorial park in Gorkha Kahule Bhangar where he was hanged.  Posted below is an excerpt from an interesting  paper by a French scholar Marie Lecomte-Tilouine, who has crowned Lakhan Thapa a 'Rebel King' of Gorkha. Had  Martyr  Lakhan Thapa Magar declared a king himself ? What are the reasons for  the author's  crowning Martyr Lakhan Thapa a king ? She has some interesting arguments in her full paper posted here also.  - The Blogger]


 By Marie Lecomte-Tilouine
An artist's impression of 
Martyr Lakhan Thapa Magar of Nepal
* In this paper I shall discuss and analyse the case of a Magar rebel of the 19th century whose story shares many features with that of the Maoist guerrillas. Interestingly, this rebel is a major figure in Magar ethnic activism and is also recognized as a revolutionary by the Maoists. This rebellion may shed light on current events by placing them in a historical continuity of revolutionary movements; in return, the current situation will help to articulate the recent reinterpretation and instrumentalization of this old rebellion within the framework of ethnic and /or political Magar movements.

* Lakhan Thapa was probably born in 1834. He joined the Magar battalion originally established Prithivi Narayan Shah, but after he had attend the rank of captain he quit the army in 1869 and settled in the village of Bungkot in Gorkha district. There he organized a rebellion against the government of Jang Bahadur, creating a real utopian kingdom. He built a palace with and exercise ground for his soldiers and in 1871 he was consecrated as a local king by the population. He used to say:

* "Jagadamba Kalimata offered me this prediction, (bardan): "Jang Bahadur has sold Nepal to the barbarians (mleccha), the people call for help. Displace Jang, relieve Mother Nepal of the burden of sin, re-establish the satya yug in Nepal!‟ Let‟s go, my brothers, be ready! "(Ranamagar 1997)
_______________________________

In 1869 or 1870 Lakhan Thapa and his faithful friend, Jaya Simha Cumi Rana, received three months’ leave. They went together to Bungkot, where his friend’s family and maybe also his own lived. There they decided not to return to the army and started to build a utopian and rebel kingdom. It is said that they constructed a palace and an exercise ground to train their soldiers in Bungkot. His army amounted 1500 men (Rana 1974), described as Bhote (Regmi 1980). Shivalal Thapa presents it (2052 VS: 22-23) as a huge army led by two heroic generals : Supati Gurung and Sukadeva Gurung who were shot to death by Jang Bahadur’s soldiers after Lakhan Thapa’s arrest. A report on Lakhan Thapa’s arrest dated March 1876 provides a precise description of this palace (Regmi 1980). Written by soldiers sent to Bungkot by Jang Bahadur, it reads,

“The house in which Lakhan Thapa lives is surrounded on all sides by a wall 8 cubits wide and 16 cubits high, like that of a fort.”

The building boasted five floors, as is indicated in an extract from a chronicle published by Joshi and Rose (1966: 43-4). Lakhan went still further and was consecrated as king by the local population, according to some sources (Shivalal Thapa, B.K. Rana Magar). The biography of Jang Bahadur written by his son Pudma Jung Bahadur Rana reports this fact, but in a more ambiguous way:

“ … a rebellion of a somewhat curious nature disturbed the peace of the country. A certain Gorkha, formerly a soldier in the army, set himself up as a king…” (Rana 1974: 302).

This point seems to trouble some Magar scholars, such as Harsabahadur Buda Magar (1997: 23). Without providing any historical reason, but simply because it seemed unthinkable for him that such a „devotee of the king and the country‟ (rajabhakta, desabhakta) could proclaim himself king, this author denies the reality of this consecration. Bringing Lakhan Thapa to a more suitable position in his view, he states that he merely declared himself Prime Minister. B. K. Rana Magar (1997: 77) does not deny the reality of the royal consecration, but tries to find an excuse for Lakhan Thapa’s pretension, attributing it to the influence of the royal blood which flowed in the veins of the Magars of Gorkha:

“When he said, “Having killed Jang Bahadur, I must reign”, Lakhan Thapamagar was perhaps more motivated by his blue blood [भारदारी रगत] than by anything else. Indeed, there was a time when the Magars were the kings of Gorkha. They were kings and their descendants acted in this way from the effect (prabhava) of their blood. There is nothing ridiculous in this.”

However, the royal consecration is not mentioned in all sources and remains unconfirmed. Whether it happened or not, it fits well in the political context of the time, when the seizure of power was usually marked by the accession to the title of Raja. Jang Bahadur himself felt the necessity to be consecrated as the king of two provinces of Nepal (Kaski and Lamjung) by the king of the country or the “king of kings”, in order to legitimate and make permanent his ambiguous and fragile position as omnipotent Prime Minister. In the same way, numerous rebel leaders of the Sepoy mutiny proclaimed themselves kings. These leaders are even said to have offered Jang Bahadur the kingship of Lucknow if he would join their side, as reported by a British resident in Nepal (Hasrat 1971: 336):

"From the moment he reached Gorakhpur, on his march towards Lucknow, Maharaja Jung Bahadur, by his own account, was in communication with the rebel leaders, who offered to make him the king of Lucknow if he would join their cause and turn upon the British army. This had an ill-effect upon the Gorkha soldiery, many of whom openly gave out that they would return to the plains during the next cold season to annex certain of our districts".

Lakhan Thapa was among those Nepalese troops who were in contact with these rebels and perhaps found in them a model for his own political programme.

Whatever the historical veracity of Lakhan Thapa’s consecration, he had built a fort or palace and gathered weapons and men, thus building a veritable utopian kingdom within the kingdom, and indeed at its most symbolic point, in the vicinity of Manakamana’s temple. Obviously, Lakhan Thapa did not merely provoke an unorganized and spontaneous revolt. He seems, on the contrary, to have worked methodically, following a well-established programme, to build an alternative government, as his fort, his army and his accumulated wealth attest. His proposition to the emissaries of Jang Bahadur is another clue showing further evidence of the institution of a government within his “kingdom”. In their report dated March 1876 (Regmi 1980), these emissaries noted:

"Lakhan Thapa has promised to appoint some of us as generals, and others as colonels and captains. He designated Jahare Chumi as a general, and Biraj Thapa Magar, Juthya Thapa and Jitman Gurung as colonels."

This short extract is particularly interesting. Taken from a report written by Major-Captain Shumshere Jung Thapa Chetri, who led the expedition, it shows Lakhan Thapa trying to engage these men in his own army, and offering them very prestigious positions. As a matter of fact the proposition was made to Magars and Gurungs. With regard to the reported attitude of Lakhan Thapa, one wonders under what circumstances this first expedition to arrest him was conducted. We may legitimately suppose that these soldiers were strategically chosen from among the Tibeto-Burmese populations and that they acted as spies, pretending to adhere to Lakhan Thapa‟s cause to show him up more easily.

The utopian kingdom of Lakhan Thapa was centred around his palace, which combined a royal aspect with a military aspect, as it was not only a palace but also a fort surrounded by a thick, high wall as well as an arms depot. In addition to these two aspects, and on the model of every Nepalese fortress, Lakhan Thapa’s palace also had a highly religious dimension. It is said repeatedly that Lakhan Thapa claimed to be the reincarnation of the saint Lakhan Thapa, the latter being called the first, and the former the second. We will never know for certain whether Lakhan Thapa the Second was a descendant of Lakhan Thapa the First, a fact which would have facilitated his pretensions. If his adoption of the name suggests that he was from the lineage of the priests attached to the Manakamana temple, as noted by H. Budha Magar, other facts suggest the opposite. First, he was recruited as “Lakshman Thapa” (Buda Magar 1997: 13), which shows that he adopted the name “Lakhan” later, in keeping with his new pretensions. A second and more revealing fact is his establishment of a temple dedicated to Manakamana inside his own fort. An extract from a chronicle (Nepal 1983) relates clearly how Lakhan established a new cult of Manakamana:

"Again under the reign of this king, in the area of Gorkha, a plotter (luca) of Magri caste declared: “I am the avatar of Lakhan Thapa, it is not necessary to go to Srimanakamana to offer the puja, I will do it here; I worship her by making the sandhya puja, having myself built a house with several floors and having placed a sacrificial post in it.” In this way he gained the confidence of people, who flocked from many villages to offer pañcabali and other sacrificial ceremonies. By doing this, the villagers ceased going to worship in Srimanakamanas temple, causing the anger of the goddess."

This account shows that Lakhan Thapa made a point of separating the worship of the goddess from her famous temple, and consequently from her traditional priests. This fact still reinforces the assumption that he was not the legitimate priest of the goddess, and that he was even opposed to the latter by diverting the devotees from the path leading to the Manakamana temple and inducing them to come to him instead.

As can be seen, this chronicle reproaches Lakhan Thapa most strongly for having founded a new cult to the goddess in an illegitimate place, thus usurping a significant aspect of power. The diversion of worship from an instituted temple to a private residence seems to have constituted a serious offence and an act of political bravado. A chronicle relating the history of the Newar kingdoms reports a similar case, which was severely punished (Wright 1970: 250-1). During the reign of Jaya Prakash Malla, a certain Sodhan, the head of the monastery of Bu Bahal in Patan, acquired a particular authority over his disciples through the tantric powers he deployed when he sat on the body of a man sacrificed by a yogi. He then settled with them in a house where he gathered the emblems of the gods and made each of his disciples the incarnation of a divinity. He diverted the devotees from the temples to make them come to his place, where, he said, all the gods were. It was sufficiently serious as an offence for him to be sacrificed on the command of the king of Patan, along with his disciples, who were each offered in sacrifice to the sanctuary of the divinity they were supposed to incarnate. The chronicle does not report any other crime apart from this diversion from the legitimate place of worship.

To understand the significance of the diversion operated by Lakhan Thapa (the second), it is necessary to emphasize the role of Manakamana and her priest Lakhan Thapa (the first) in the history of the kingdom of Gorkha, and by extension that of the country (Nepal) which was unified by the sovereigns of Gorkha. According to many legends, whether oral or contained in the chronicles of Gorkha (Gorkhavamsavali), Manakamana is the form taken by the wife of Ram Shah, who reigned over Gorkha during the first half of the 16th century. According to the chronicle of Gorkha, this queen was venerated during her lifetime. She exhorted the men of Gorkha to fight against the powerful army of Lamjung, telling them that they would be protected by their dharma. The Goddess and Gorakhnath are said to have marched in front of the men of Gorkha, who were not wounded by the enemy‟s weapons, even when they were hit. After the victorious outcome of the battle, the chronicle says, offerings were brought to the queen (Naraharinath 1964: 42).

The queen maintained close relations with Lakhan Thapa, a Magar ascetic who was her servant and advisor. The eminence of the political role he played in the kingdom may be measured by a brief mention of him in the Gorkha chronicle. The chronicle records that it was Lakhan Thapa who took over the reins of government during the prolonged absence of King Ram Shah, who went away for several months in order to practise austerities (Hasrat 1971: 109). Gorakhnath himself, in an audience he gave to the king and Lakhan Thapa at the top of a wooded slope, entrusted the protection of the royalty of Gorkha to Lakhan Thapa. Many episodes in this text refer to this ascetic, of whom numerous feats are reported, such as the ability to be in two places at the same time. One day the king asked him whether he could obtain for him the favour of reigning over the territory of Nepal, and Lakhan Thapa answered, “It is not for you, but for your descendants (santan); but why do you ask me this? Ask it of your wife who is an incarnation of Devi.” The text relates that one day the Magar ascetic saw the latter in the court of the palace, accompanied by her divine troop. He then followed the divine queen, who was mounted on a lion, up to Beni, where Gorakhnath and other gods were having a meeting. That day, the queen revealed to Lakhan that she was the goddess Mankamana and told him her wish that he and his descendants would offer her worship. One day Lakhan Thapa suggested that the king should touch his wife‟s body in the middle of the night on certain dates. He would then realize that she was cold. He also advised him to remain awake during the night of Bhaumastami, which is the day of the puja addressed to the goddess-queen. The king did as suggested and saw the queen in her divine form, accompanied by Lakhan Thapa and Gorakhnath. On this occasion he 16 0 obtained from her the promise that one of their descendants would rule Nepal (Naraharinath 1964: 33-9). Finally, when Ram Shah died, according to the chronicle, as soon as the queen threw herself onto her husband‟s burning pyre their two bodies disappeared, to the astonishment of the crowd. At the very same time, Lakhan Thapa also disappeared (Naraharinath 1964: 54). Lakhan Thapa‟s role and his relations with the queen are therefore exceptional and enigmatic.

Another version of the origin myth of Goddess Manakamana relates that the king was surprised one night when he found that the queen was not in her room. He then discovered her in the form of the Goddess, accompanied by Lakhan Thapa who had assumed the form of the lion upon which she was mounted.17 The prosaic reader of the chronicle will be astonished by the queen‟s nocturnal escapades with this Magar, and will perhaps suspect a more ordinary adventure, rendered strange by this deification. Was the infidelity of the queen unthinkable, was it a precaution against a possible rise of the Magar community, was the king weak, or must one quite simply believe in wonders? Whatever the case may be, other queens of the Shah line of Gorkha, such as the wife of Krishna Shah, Ram Shah‟s grandson, were thereafter regarded as incarnations of Manakamana. More generally, this goddess provided the kingdom with her protection throughout its history. These stories show how the relation of the Thakuri kings with the goddess was mediated by this Magar ascetic and his descendants. This configuration is not unique, but corresponds with a widespread model in the old confederation of the 24 kingdoms of central Nepal.

These oral myths are reported by Unbescheid (1985) and Shrestha (forthcoming).  A comparison with Lecomte-Tilouine (1997) shows that the same mythic motives are present both in the Lasargha shrine dedicated to Alam Devi and in the Manakamana temple. In both cases the goddess is most important for the royal Thakuris and is served by a Magar priest. In both places the Buddleia asiatica tree is venerated: as the tree on which the palanquin of the goddess was placed in the middle of the Lasargha shrine, and as the walking stick of Lakhan Thapa, which grew as a tree after his disappearance, in Manakamana. In both places, a hole is considered holy: this is a hole into which the goddess disappeared in Lasarga, and into which Lakhan Thapa disappeared in Manakamana. These two shrines appear as variations on the themes of the Goddess, the Thakuri king, the Magar priest, the Buddleia tree, and the hole. This suggests a common underlying structure which should be investigated in other similar places.

By presenting himself as an incarnation of this famous mediator, did Lakhan Thapa aim to restore the power of the Shah kings, which had been usurped by Jang Bahadur, or was this an act of self-promotion? Without doubt, he intended to get rid of Jang Bahadur. According to Pudma Jung Bahadur Rana,

“His graceful manners and persuasive tone soon procured him an armed following of 1,500 men, at the head of whom he threatened to march to the capital, and after assassinating Jung Bahadur, to seize the reins of government, and inaugurate the golden age of Nepalese history. On receiving news of this insurrection, the Maharaja at once despatched a few companies of the Devi Dutt Regiment to put down the fanatic, instructing them not to use force unless they were met with force. Happily the rebels surrendered their arms after a brief resistance, and were soon caught and sent over to Kathmandu in chains. The ringleader „Lakhan and twelve of his firmest supporters, whom he probably called his „apostles, were brought in bamboo cages, and the rest on foot. Subsequent investigation brought to light the details of the whole plot. They were then to march to the capital, where Lakhan was to be proclaimed king admits the shouts of the whole population.”

This is the same text as the one quoted by Rose and Joshi (1966: 44): “According to a semi-official account, the leaders of the agitation had planned to kill Jang Bahadur at Deorali on his return from a hunting expedition with the Prince of Wales in the Terai and to „march to the capital, where Lakhan was to be proclaimed king amidst the shouts of the whole population‟.”

“At this time, in the year 33, this cunning Magar having said, „I am going to take my revenge against Shri 3 Maharaj‟, held a counsel with bad men who were obeying him. They gathered swords, riffles, bows and arrows. The people of Gorkha learned about that and having spied them and verified the facts, went to Nepal to bring the news to Shri 3 Maharaja who sent soldiers and officers to bring him back.” (Nepal 1983 :45, n.9)."

The chronicle quoted by Gyanamani Nepal does not report any endeavour to launch an assault on the part of Lakhan Thapa and his troops, but only one arrest for an illegal gathering of weapons.20 However, the report of Major-Captain Shumshere Jung Thapa Chetri specifically devotes a passage to the action:

"On Falgun 26, 1932 (approx. March 9, 1876), Lakhan Thapa, accompanied by a large number of Bhotes armed with muskets and swords, proceeded toward the west pretending to join (Prime Minister Jung Bahadurs) entourage, but actually with the intention of making an attempt on his life. (Regmi 1980)"

This report then discloses Lakhan Thapa‟s project as follows:

"He has announced that Prime Minister Jung will be assassinated, that the Second Prince (Upendra Bikram) will become king, and that he himself will succeed (Prince Upendra Bikram). He said he would assassinate (Prime Minister Jung Bahadur) at an opportune moment either at Tarku or Manang-Besi (in Lamjung district). If this was not possible, he would go to Tibet, secure the help of the Tibetans, accomplish his mission, and then become king. (ibid)"

As reported here, Lakhan Thapa’s project fits perfectly within the context of the time, as it exploits the conflict between Nepal and Tibet and the eternal competition between the brothers for the throne. In this document, it looks more like a realistic political programme, using the various forces which were involved, than a simple utopia born of the imagination of an isolated villager. Interestingly, his plan consisted not only of killing Jang Bahadur, but also installing King Surendra’s younger brother Upendra on the throne, and in the longer term, of sitting on the royal throne himself. This ambition does not fit well with the status of a martyr, that is, with the supposedly disinterested sacrifice of oneself for one’s country, but we should emphasize that the report quoted here may have blackened Lakhan Thapa’s reputation intentionally.

Lakhan was arrested by the army, apparently while he was still in his fort. This detail either contradicts the claim that he was marching towards the west in order to lay an ambush, or else it should be presumed that this attempt failed before he was arrested. The chronicle published by Nepal states precisely:

Having encircled the house of this conspiring Magar, nearby Gorkha, they put under iron all his henchmen and seized all the weapons they had gathered, then led them to Thapathali. The examination of the facts took place during a lawsuit and [Lakhan Thapa ] was put in jail as well as his principal accomplices, while all the others were left free. Later, in the month of Paus of the year 33, this plotter Lakhan Thapa was hung in front of his house as well as alongside his principal accomplices. His Having encircled the house of this conspiring Magar, nearby Gorkha, they put under iron all his henchmen and seized all the weapons they had gathered, then led them to Thapathali. The examination of the facts took place during a lawsuit and [ Lakhan Thapa ] was put in jail as well as his principal accomplices, while all the others were left free. Later, in the month of Paus of the year 33, this plotter Lakhan Thapa was hung in front of his house as well as alongside his principal accomplices.( Read more)

Comment(s)
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Tilak Shrestha 
Date: Mon, Jan 31, 2011 at 7:38 PM
Subject: RE: शहीद लखन थापामगर 'क्रान्तिकारी राजा' थिए वा थिएनन् ?
To: 

I am not sure if Lakhan Thapa would qualify as a martyr. To be a martyr one has to fight for people, against tyranny and for democracy. If Lakhan Thapa was fighting just to carve out a kingdom for himself or just to replace Jung Bahadur, then how is he different from any other despot wanna be? Just because he happened to be a Magar does not mean he should be a Magar hero. Today, our view of a person need be as per democracy, nationalism, ethnic equality, multi-culture and multi-lingual nation. Evidently he was the part of the same Gorkhali army of Shah/Rana. If we discount his claim of divine empowerment, he may as well be misleading Magar people for a rebellion. There must be more research on his life and the causes of rebellion, to appropriately evaluate his contributions. 

Thanks, 

Tilak Shrestha, Ph.D
Alabama, USA

 ---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Dirgha Raj Prasai 
Date: Mon, Jan 31, 2011 at 8:41 PM
Subject: Re: A serious comment on Marie Lecomte-Tilouine's paper on Martyr Lakhan Thapa?
To: Rana 1616

Lakhan Thapa Magar was not a King. He had gone to attack the Muslim King Bajir Shaha in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India at  his young age, some 18-20 years, with Junga Bahadur Rana.
We can honour him as a brave nationalist but not as a King. It is my sincere request - please do not try to turn the course of the history around.

Thank you.

Dirgha Raj Prasai,
Cultural Analyst
Kathmandu, Nepal.



---------- Forwarded message ----------
From:Jyoti Thapa
Date: Tue, Feb 1, 2011 at 7:01 AM
Subject: Re: A serious comment on Marie Lecomte-Tilouine's paper on Martyr Lakhan Thapa /?
To: Rana 1616
             
There seems to be a comment on why Lakhan Thapa cannot be hailed as a martyr. Well, going by Jung Bahadur Rana's family claim of descending from Chittore, India, then Lakhan Thapa (indigenously of the region); rebelling against the tyrant for the greater cause of the country and people and subsquently getting hanged to death for which, does certainly qualify him to be a martyr.

Also if Dravya Shah can become king by winning a race why can’t anyone else become king by organizing people and gaining power thereby ? In any case there were scores of kingdoms and kings in those days in India and Nepal also for example: the twenty-two and twenty-four principalities ( बाईसी चौबिसी राज्यहरु). Can’t a rebel become a king, martyr and both ?

One more question: why would have Nepal government needed to keep King Tribhuvan’s statue sitting just over the heads of those much admired four martyrs of the country ? If being shot dead while peeping out from the window, during the recent people’s movement, can qualify hosts of people to martyrdom; then why not Lakhan Thapa’s revolt against the despot and death there after by hanging ?

Thank you,

Jyoti Thapa Mani,
Deharadun, Uttarakhand,
India.
Tel: 9810665883