Tag Archives: Royal Massacre

Royal Massacre, 11 Years Later…

I wanted to highlight an old post today.

P mentioned to me that I should write something about the Royal Massacre since 11 years ago today it took place. I wrote about this a while ago, so please excuse the recycling, but I think it’s an important enough topic to rehash.

Hope you are all well. I promise even though I have been quiet, I’ve been doing a lot of writing…

So now we are up to the point where Birendra, grandson of Tribhuvan (who re-took the throne), is now king. He began his reign in 1972 after his father Mahendra’s death.

King Birendra

Birendra was the first Nepali monarch to receive a formal education, studying abroad in India, the UK, Japan and even at Harvard University (from 1967-1968). Upon his return he married Aishwarya Rana (yes from that Rana family) in 1970 and had three children: Prince Dipendra (1971), Princess Shruti (1976)  and Prince Nirajan (1977).

Royal Family: King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya, Princess Shruti, Prince Dipendra and Prince Nirajan

He ascended to the throne as an absolute monarch, inheriting a country with banned political parties, and ruling through the panchayat system. In 1990 a series of strikes and pro-democracy riots broke out across Nepal, and due to this Birendra eventually agreed to become a constitutional monarch. He appointed a Constitution Recommendation Commission, and November 9, 1990 the new constitution was approved by the Prime Minister.

However quarrels continued leading to the Nepali Civil War between the Maoists and government forces between 1996 and 2006 (a post all of its own).

Which leads me to the massacre.

I’m not sure if we will ever really know what happened the night of June 1, 2001. Much like the American conspiracy theories of who assassinated President Kennedy, different theories about the Royal Massacre abound. The fact of the matter is—the Nepali Royal Massacre was the largest slaughter of a royal family since the shooting of the Romanov family during the Russian Revolution.

The more widely known story: Prince Dipendra was a bit of a troubled youth. Prone to drinking with a keen interest in all things military and a short temper. Not long before the massacre, Dipendra had been arguing with his parents over the choice of his bride. Dipendra wanted to marry his girlfriend Devyani Rana (also a member of the Rana family). Dipendra’s mother was against this match (due to the historical animosity between the king’s family and the Ranas… although Queen Ashiwara was also a Rana, so I’m sure I’m missing part of the story…) Tempers flared.

Dipendra and Devyani

On the night of June 1st much of the royal family gathered for an evening together including uncles, aunts and cousins. Missing from the party was Prince Gyanendra, younger brother to the king and potential heir (if Birendra and his two sons could no longer perform the duties as king).

Following an evening of heavy drinking, and still angry at his family, Dipendra was upset when he was scolded by his father for “misbehaving” at the gathering and told to leave the party. An hour later Dipendra showed up dressed in military fatigues with an MP5K and M16 and started shooting up the room, killing his father, sister, uncle, aunts, and a few other family members while wounding several others. His mother and brother escaped the room but confronted the prince in the garden, where he killed both of them, shooting the queen multiple times in the face (it was so badly damaged that her face was covered with a mask for the cremation ceremony). Before any guards arrived Dipendra turned the gun on himself.

Prince Dipendra survived his suicide attempt for three days, and was proclaimed king while in a coma. He died on June 4, 2001. While Dipendra lie in his coma his uncle Gyanendra (remember, the one conveniently missing from the party?) maintained the deaths were an “accident” but once Dipendra had died full blame was placed on him.

The country went through a period of national mourning—many people including P’s dad—shaved their heads as a symbol of death in their family, since the king was the “father” of the nation and revered as a god. The country was already embroiled in a civil war, and now they were without a symbolic figurehead.

Some people in Nepal suspected that Gyanendra was responsible for the massacre, and that Dipendra was blamed so that Gyanendra could take the throne. He was third in line to the throne (after Birendra, Dipendra and Prince Nirajan) and had been conveniently out of town during the party. It’s true that his son and wife were at the party and were wounded, but both survived (his son with only minor injuries). Feeding these rumors is the allegation that Dipendra was mortally wounded by a gunshot to the left side of his head, while he was right-handed, casting doubt on whether the injury was self-inflicted.

Gayanendra wearing the Nepali royal crown

Two survivors have publicly confirmed that Dipendra was the shooter, but many Nepali people still consider it a mystery.

Gyanendra assumed the throne and was king until 2008 when he was forced to abdicate due to social pressure and rioting.

Now people have their theories—but I was at the former Royal Palace in the summer of 2009 and went on a tour with the daughter of one of P’s family’s neighbors whose father used to work at the Palace as a food taste tester (I know, one of those strange connections). The suspicious thing is—when Gyanendra took over as king he dismantled the house in the garden where the massacre took place—brick by brick. All that is left is an outline of the house on the ground. A few bullet holes still mar parts of the garden wall but everything else is gone. It makes me wonder what he was hiding.

If you are interested in more information, the BBC had a documentary on the massacre, which you can watch on Youtube in five parts:

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“The Last Royals”

When it is quiet during my lunch hour, I sometimes like to shut my office door and watch documentaries that are streaming on Netflix. The past few days I was busy during lunch, so yesterday I thought I’d microwave my leftover rice and egg curry, put my headphones on and watch a National Geographic program called “The Last Royals.”

The description of the 50 minute show was “Though royalty has governed nearly every civilization, revolution and democracy have taken an enormous toll on the power of crowned heads across the globe. National Geographic offers an inside look at four enduring monarchs.” The cover of the film had a picture of Price William and Harry, so I figured it would mostly be about England, (I shamefully admit I thought I’d watch the program because my interest in the British royal family has been piqued by the William/Kate Middleton wedding—I know, guilty pleasures!)  but actually a sizable portion of the film was surprisingly about Nepal. (Later on I realized the expanded info mentioned Nepal, but I didn’t notice it when I started watching).

The film was put together by an American who came from the perspective of “Hey, America got rid of the British monarchy hundreds of years ago, and I’m happy with that. Why does England still have a fascination with the Royal Family?” (and by extension, what are some of the other monarchy situations around the world.) The film then looked at four monarchies—UK, Buganda (Uganda), Nepal and Tonga–offering different perspectives on why a culture did/did not feel the monarchy was important.

The UK monarchy was shown as a type of happy middle ground—the royals are more or less used for ceremonial purposes but don’t really have a governing role. People like them because they feel they represent tradition and culture, and many enjoy having them as national icons; however others find the royals’ use of taxpayer money as outrageous and their national symbol status unnecessary. The narrator transitioned by asking, “If they royals were deposed, would people miss them and ask for them back?”

Then he brought up the example of the Kingdom of Buganda (in present day Uganda), and how in the ‘60s the king was exiled from the country by the Idi Amin led military. Effectively the monarchy was dead in Uganda, but 30 years later, after Idi Amin was gone and the violence subsided the Bugandan people wanted the monarchy back, and the late king’s son was asked to return from exile. His role is purely ceremonial, but he uses his celebrity status to garner support for public interest projects like wells, schools, health programs, etc. It discussed how the monarchy was a powerful cultural institution, and a way to keep ties to tradition, and was useful in rallying the people and creating cultural cohesion. Thus it was ultimately shown as a positive example.

The next transition was supposed to be the “crisis” example—and what better crisis than the Nepali royal massacre of 2001? It gave a brief overview of what happened, and the controversy over succession rights (king was supposedly killed by the heir to thrown, should that heir, an apparent murderer, become king? And if he didn’t survive his injuries, the next in line was also rumored to have had a role in the massacre, should he be king?) As part of filming, the documentary crew interviewed Gayanendra, the late king’s brother who became king when Crown Prince/King Dipendra died. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in an English language interview before, so it was interesting to hear what he had to say. I was surprised to find him articulate. In my mind I always imagined him as a bumbling bad guy.

Next the film moved to Tonga, to give an example of a monarchy that was still culturally important, yet had too much governing power and whose people, or at least some of the people’s representatives, wanted a change. One politician leading an anti-monarchy campaign stated that the king could still be a figurehead, but it was time for more democratic representation. The king and his role had to be modernized for the new millennium.

Ultimately the film returned to Nepal and started talking about the Maoist insurgency and how Gayanendra not only took over the monarchy during the grips of a familial crisis, but a political one as well. Knowing the history, and knowing that ultimately Gayanendra’s actions after taking office and during the Maoist surge on Kathmandu together with his his unpopularity with the people ultimately led to the end of the Nepali monarchy in 2006, it was very interesting to hear the commentary on the potential future of Gayanendra’s rule in a documentary made about a year or two before the Hindu monarchy disappeared. In this case it truly was “the last royal.”

So I thought I’d share. Although I found the British royals part of the documentary kind of dull, it was interesting to learn more about Buganda and Tonga, and ironic to hear about the Nepali monarchy knowing now that it no longer exists.

The Royal Massacre

I realize that yesterday I mentioned the Royal Massacre, and that it shouldn’t be something just mentioned in a footnote—like, ho hum, Royal Massacre. A while ago I was writing about the general history of Nepal and got to the point where the Royal family of Nepal took back the reins of power from the Rana family in the 1950s.

So now we are up to the point where Birendra, grandson of Tribhuvan (who re-took the thrown), is now king. He began his reign in 1972 after his father Mahendra’s death.

King Birendra

Birendra was the first Nepali monarch to receive a formal education, studying abroad in India, the UK, Japan and even at Harvard University (from 1967-1968). Upon his return he married Aishwarya Rana (yes from that Rana family) in 1970 and had three children: Prince Dipendra (1971), Princess Shruti (1976)  and Prince Nirajan (1977).

Royal Family: King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya, Princess Shruti, Prince Dipendra and Prince Nirajan

He ascended to the thrown as an absolute monarch, inheriting a country with banned political parties, and ruling through the panchayat system. In 1990 a series of strikes and pro-democracy riots broke out across Nepal, and due to this Birendra eventually agreed to become a constitutional monarch. He appointed a Constitution Recommendation Commission, and November 9, 1990 the new constitution was approved by the Prime Minister.

However quarrels continued leading to the Nepali Civil War between the Maoists and government forces between 1996 and 2006 (a post all of its own).

Which leads me to the massacre.

I’m not sure if we will ever really know what happened the night of June 1, 2001. Much like the American conspiracy theories of who assassinated President Kennedy, different theories about the Royal Massacre abound. The fact of the matter is—the Nepali Royal Massacre was the largest slaughter of a royal family since the shooting of the Romanov family during the Russian Revolution.

The more widely known story: Prince Dipendra was a bit of a troubled youth. Prone to drinking with a keen interest in all things military and a short temper. Not long before the massacre, Dipendra had been arguing with his parents over the choice of his bride. Dipendra wanted to marry his girlfriend Devyani Rana (also a member of the Rana family). Dipendra’s mother was against this match (due to the historical animosity between the king’s family and the Ranas… although Queen Ashiwara was also a Rana, so I’m sure I’m missing part of the story…) Tempers flared.

Dipendra and Devyani

On the night of June 1st much of the royal family gathered for an evening together including uncles, aunts and cousins. Missing from the party was Prince Gyanendra, younger brother to the king and potential heir (if Birendra and his two sons could no longer perform the duties as king).

Following an evening of heavy drinking, and still angry at his family, Dipendra was upset when he was scolded by his father for “misbehaving” at the gathering and told to leave the party. An hour later Dipendra showed up dressed in military fatigues with an MP5K and M16 and started shooting up the room, killing his father, sister, uncle, aunts, and a few other family members while wounding several others. His mother and brother escaped the room but confronted the prince in the garden, where he killed both of them, shooting the queen multiple times in the face (it was so badly damaged that her face was covered with a mask for the cremation ceremony). Before any guards arrived Dipendra turned the gun on himself.

Prince Dipendra survived his suicide attempt for three days, and was proclaimed king while in a coma. He died on June 4, 2001. While Dipendra lie in his coma his uncle Gyanendra (remember, the one conveniently missing from the party?) maintained the deaths were an “accident” but once Dipendra had died full blame was placed on him.

The country went through a period of national mourning—many people including P’s dad—shaved their heads as a symbol of death in their family, since the king was the “father” of the nation and revered as a god. The country was already embroiled in a civil war, and now they were without a symbolic figurehead.

Some people in Nepal suspected that Gyanendra was responsible for the massacre, and that Dipendra was blamed so that Gyanendra could take the thrown. He was third in line to the thrown (after Birendra, Dipendra and Prince Nirajan) and had been conveniently out of town during the party. It’s true that his son and wife were at the party and were wounded, but both survived (his son with only minor injuries). Feeding these rumors is the allegation that Dipendra was mortally wounded by a gunshot to the left side of his head, while he was right-handed, casting doubt on whether the injury was self-inflicted.

Gayanendra wearing the Nepali royal crown

Two survivors have publicly confirmed that Dipendra was the shooter, but many Nepali people still consider it a mystery.

Gyanendra assumed the thrown and was king until 2008 when he was forced to abdicate due to social pressure and rioting.

Now people have their theories—but I was at the former Royal Palace in the summer of 2009 and went on a tour with the daughter of one of P’s family’s neighbors whose father used to work at the Palace as a food taste tester (I know, one of those strange connections). The suspicious thing is—when Gyanendra took over as king he dismantled the house in the garden where the massacre took place—brick by brick. All that is left is an outline of the house on the ground. A few bullet holes still mar parts of the garden wall but everything else is gone. It makes me wonder what he was hiding.

If you are interested in more information, the BBC had a documentary on the massacre, which you can watch on Youtube in five parts: