General Balbhadra Kunwar : The Hindu Lion of Nepal

Posted February 5, 2014 by admin in Historical Figures

While not much is known about the early life and exact year of birth, it is estimated that this brave Hindu warrior was born between 1775-90 in beautiful valley of Kathmandu home to the illustrious Pashupatinath temple. Balbhadra Kunwar was the first among three sons of Chandra Bir Kunwar who belonged to the Hindu Rajput clan. Historical records suggest that the family had arrived in the  Terrai region following the fall of Chittorgadh fort, in a siege by the Muhammadan Warlord Akbar, in the year 1568 CE.

The Kunwars had since set up an alliance with the Shah kings of Nepal from the dynasty of the Hindu monarch Prithvi Narayan Shah and held several important positions under the dynasty, helping to consolidate the Shah rule over Nepal.

While having many a great exploits fighting for the Hindu Gorkhali army of Nepal, Balbhadra Kunwar moment of glory lay in the part he played in the Gorkha-Anglo wars.

It was in the month of October 1814 that the soldiers of the British East India Army advanced towards the Hindu kingdom of Nepal. Being lead by Rollo Gillespie the major General, a horde of 3500 soldiers , armed with latest weapons and cannons, this force advanced to occupy the territories between the Ganga and Yamuna  rivers in Garwal and Kumaon.  Realizing that he could not defend the non-combatants against this assault in the valley of Dehradun the brave Gorkha General decided to take them to Nalapani fort (located due North East from Deradun).

A night before the declaration of war, the British General Gillespie had sent a letter to Balbhadra asking him to surrender and he would be made the Governor of Dehradun. In reply he tore the letter and said,

I shall meet your General in the battlefield “.

It was at this time that Balbadra supported by only 600 troops (including women, the young and elderly) and fight these foreign mercenaries who had come to occupy his Hindu lands.

The Hindu troops used basic rifles, stones and arrows to fight the British hordes. This was so much in contrast to the modern rifles and 11 cannons with which the British were armed.  What followed was a fierce battle between the brave Hindu Gorkha troops and the British mercenaries for the next one month.

After realizing that military might would not make these brave Hindu surrender the cowardly British decided to cut off the only supply of water to the fort at Nalpani. This causes immense trouble to the Hindus inside the vicinity of fort, especially due to the presence of small children, women and the elderly. The walls of the fort had also been battered by the fodder of the British cannons.

Many brave Hindus had lost their lives fighting for the sake of their lands. Therefore to prevent any further harm to the defenceless Babhadra Kunwar decided to take the inhabitants, combatants and non-combatants alike, to the safety Dwarka on the night of Nov 16 1814. The Brtish continued to launch attacks on them, knowing fully well that they had non-combacts with them. The proud Hindus continued to respond to these kind while couriering the defenseless and weak to safety.

Thereafter a message was sent to the British

We had handed over to you your deed and injured soldiers on your request. We now request you to hand over our injured soldiers to us”

a request declined by the British although they claimed that they were taking care of POWs.

Seeing the condition of his people, Balbhadra decided to ask Kathmandu for more troops as reinforcement to fight the foreigners. Sadly as the Shah’s were still consolidating the Hindu Kingdom, these troops could not be provided on time and so the Commander decided to move on to Gopichand hill fort from Dwara on Nov 18, 1814.

The Hindus spent the night at Gopichand hills while the British kept on bombarding them with their cannon fire. Meanwhile his trusted lieutenant Sardar Ripumardan Thapa (sardar standing for a leader and not a Sikh should any misunderstanding ensue) sustained an injury in his right arm from an enemy shell. Sadly he couldn’t continue the ascend uphill and had to stop while the rest of the Hindus continued to climb uphill to safety.

The next day on Nov 19,1814, men sent by Balabhadra carried Ripumardana to Chamuwa for treatment. Kaji Ranadipa Simha Basnyat,  Kaji Rewanta Kunwar and Subedar Dalajit Kanwar also had arrived by this time for the assistance of Gurkhas, even though they were killed by enemy fire on the very next day.

Defiant to the last of his resources ultimately after four days of thirst, hunger, weariness and enduring severe wounds the Hindu lion Balbhadra emerged out of the camp with khurkris drawn in both his mace like hands (along with the rest of 70 surviving Hindus) and roared to the British Merceneries –“ You could have never won this battle but now I myself voluntarily abandon this fort. There is nothing inside the fort other than corpses of the children and women” Saying thus, he and his Gurkhas left for the hills.

Finally a peace treaty was signed between the British East India Company and His Royal Highness Maharaja Dhiraj Girvan Vikram Shah and  the British East India Company, known as Sugauli Treaty. While the Hindu Gurkhas might not have won this war, they still came out as victors. Victors of the spirit of Sanatana Dharma, the fire that ignites the hearts of countless Hindu men and women since ages which tells them to never give up not even in the face of extreme opposition. So enamored were the British by the bravery of brave Hindu Gurkhas that one of their poets, John Ship,  dedicated the following lines to them,

I never saw more steadinesses Or bravery exhibited in my life. Run they would not and of death They seemed to have no fear Though their comrades were falling Thick around them, as bold For we were so near to know That every shot of ours told’.”

Bhalbhadra Kunwar did not loose his life in the Gurkha-Anglo war, he procceded to Lahore, then capital of Punjab to join ranks with the new Lahore regiment formed by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Balbhadra Kunwar in keeping with his brave past was made the General of this new regiment, which consisted of entirely Hindu Gorkhali troops. The word Gorkhali was strictly reserved for those Hindus who served under the Hindu kings, others who had served the Muhammadan warlords were known as “Munglane” and were seen as lowly and unclean.

It was during the Sikh-Afghan war, that the brave General finally met his heroic end while fighting the afghans tribals during a bout of heavy artillery fire. It is said that he was the last man in his regiment to fall and kept fighting to his end. Thus came a comma to the great and heroic life of a great Hindu warrior (I saw comma because in Sanatana Dharma there is no fullstop). As a tribute to his gallantry the British erected a war memorial at Nalapani, where the following words bear inscribed bear testament to his life

as a tribute of respect for our gallant adversary Balbudder Commander of the fort and his brave Gorkhas who were afterwards while in the service of Ranjit Singh shot down in their ranks to the last man by the Afghan artillery.”

Later Capt. Balbhadra Kunwar´s descendants and family members were to establish the Rana dynasty in the middle of the 1800´s led by Jung Bahador Kunwar Rana.

Today the decendants of Balbhadra live mainly in Nepal (kathmandu and pokhara, other cities too) but are also found Internationaly in the India, USA, UK, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, U.A.E among other places.

By Amit



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