ANGELIC GANGAMMA: THE OTHER FORGOTTEN PRINCESS OF COORG
By: C.P. Belliappa
In 1841, two wives of the exiled raja of Coorg – Chikka Veerarajendra – added two daughters to his brood of children. Of the two girls, Gowramma became well-known as Queen Victoria’s goddaughter, and after her baptism in London in 1852, was christened – Princess Victoria Gowramma of Coorg. I have covered her story in my book – Victoria Gowramma: The Lost Princess of Coorg.
While writing the book I came across several references to her half-sister Gangamma. British officials at the time who met the two young princesses have invariably extolled about Gangamma’s beauty. One of the earliest references is by Lord Dalhousie who had met both the sisters in Benares. He says, of the two, Gangamma is one of the prettiest and angelic girls he has seen in India. He laments it was the fairer Gangamma who had converted to Christianity instead of Gowramma.
Jung Bahadur Rana the powerful prime minister of Nepal, visited Chikka Veerarajendra at Benares in 1850 just before his voyage to England. He instantly fell for Gangamma’s beauty even though he was 24 years her senior. He married Gangamma in 1852.
Dalhousie made these cynical comments about the two daughters of Chikka Veerarajendra, in 1852:
…While marrying off one daughter [Gangamma] to Jung Bahadur, ruler of Nepal, the raja [Chikka Veerarajendra] had turned the other [Gowramma] to a Christian… The little heathen sister [Gangamma] whom Jung Bahadur took away with him to Nepal was really very pretty. The orthodox one [Gowramma] is nearly not so good looking…
Dr Henry Ambrose Oldfield, who treated Ganagamma during his tenure in Nepal narrates this incident:
In August 1854 Jang asked me to prescribe for one of his wives, daughter of the ex-Raja of Coorg, who was very ill. I declined doing so, unless I saw the patient. He then allowed me to see her. Her apartments are low, narrow, passage rooms, and she was lying on a mattress-bed on the floor, with a slave-girl using a hand-punkah over her. Her hair was unconfined, and loose over her shoulders. On the second visit I opened a large abscess on her right side, much to Jang’s delight and the astonishment of his own two native doctors, who were present. On her being a little faint, I told them to give her a little water; while she drank it, I had to stand up in the sill of an open window, looking into the Court, so that my feet might not touch the mattress, or any part of the furniture directly or indirectly connected with her bed, although two minutes before there was no objection to my feeling her pulse, examining and lancing her side—a regular case of swallowing the camel and straining at the gnat.
Margaret Oldfield, wife of Dr Henry Oldfield gives an excellent account of Gangamma, and life in Jung Bahadur’s zenana, in this description of a Royal Wedding between Jung Bahadur’s daughter and the Crown Prince of Nepal in 1857.
About 5 o’clock in the afternoon of 25 June 1857, a very handsome English-built close carriage (with a large gilt sun on it by way of a coat of arms) came to the Residency for Mrs. Byers and me… Jung Bahadur Rana asked us if we would allow him to introduce his wives to us, for, as there was no gentleman with us, he had no objection to their being seen. We, of course, were only too happy, and he went and brought out 4 of them. He led them up one by one, and introduced them to each of us separately, making them shake hands with us, and telling us what King’s daughter each was. His favorite (who was also much the best looking) is the Coorg Rajah’s daughter [Gangamma], whose sister [Gowramma] has become a Christian and is living in England. He then told the Maharanee, or principal wife, to lead Mrs. Byers by the hand, and the Coorg one to lead me to the Pianos. Monsieur Chavdon, who teaches them music then made his appearance, and these two Ranees began to play some polkas and waltzes for us, sometimes both pianos together, and sometimes separately. Jung placed us on chairs between his wives, so that while they were playing we had a good look at their dress. The skirts (with no crinolines under) were a kind of brown net, so completely covered with gilt lace flowers that you could only see a thread or two of net, their bodies were tight velvet, of a dark red or purple colour, covered with gold lace, and they had a kind of thin gauze veil with gilt sprays on them, thrown about them in a native way. Their head-dresses were most costly, the hair was drawn tightly off the face, and hung down their backs in one thick, long plait. The Coorg Ranee wore a most lovely tiara of diamonds and emeralds, in the form of a large bunch of flowers, very like those belonging to the Queen of Spain in the Exhibition of 1851, but much more splendid. They all wore necklaces and bracelets of most beautiful diamonds, emeralds and pearls and well as their rings worn one on each finger outside a pair of white thread gloves, so when they played, each took off 10 superb rings… Jung himself was very pleasingly dressed… After his ladies had played for us they had to depart, as the bride required their attendance. Jung then took us round the rooms, and showed us all his pictures of himself, his wives and brothers,
Col Ramsey, the British Resident at Nepal, in a letter to Sir John Login in 1860 expressing surprise after hearing news about Lady Lena Login’s brother, Lt Col John Campbell, having married Princess Victoria Gowramma in London.
…Pray offer my best regards to Lady Login. That is surely not a brother of hers [Lt Col John Campbell] who married the Princess Gouramma of Coorg the other day! Her sister [Princess Gangamma] who married Jung Bahadour some years ago, is now a very fine-looking young woman, and seems happy enough. The other sister [Princess Muddamma], whom he also brought with him from Benares in 1858, was sadly duped, and wanted to go back to her brothers. She is said to be very unhappy…
I have been interacting with my FB friend Mr Subodh Shumsher Rana, a scion of the Rana family, who has written extensively about Nepal and the influential Ranas, in his blogspot: http://historylessonsnepal.blogspot.in. I am thankful to Subodh for some of the details in this article and an image of ‘Ganga Maharani’ as Gangamma was known in Nepal. Even though this picture of Gangamma does not do justice to her beauty, I am sure more information and photographs of Gangamma remains unexplored in some archive or the other.
From the material available as of now, there is no mention of Gangamma after the one made by Col Ramsey in 1860. There is also no record if she had children. There is an ominous observation that Maharani Gangamma too died around the same time her half-sister Princess Victoria Gowramma died in London in 1864. Jung Bahadur Rana died in 1877 aged 59.