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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Royal Tragedy: Unraveling The Nepali Royal Massacre

 

By Emeka Chiaghanam

The Narayanhiti Palace, once the proud residence of the Nepalese monarchy, now stands as a haunting museum, bearing witness to the most controversial event in modern royal history. The Nepali royal massacre, which unfolded on 1 June 2001, sent shockwaves through the nation, claiming the lives of nine members of the royal family, including King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya.

Following the abdication of the king and the establishment of a republic, the Narayanhiti Palace underwent a transformative shift, from a symbol of royalty to a museum encapsulating a bygone era.

The tragic event unfolded during a gathering of the royal family, as Crown Prince Dipendra, according to a government-appointed inquiry team, turned a festive occasion into a nightmare. The massacre, marked by a mass shooting, left Dipendra comatose after a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Despite the coma, Dipendra was declared King of Nepal after his father’s death, only to succumb to his injuries three days later. The throne passed to Birendra’s brother, Gyanendra, amidst lingering questions about the circumstances of that fateful night.

The motive behind Dipendra’s alleged actions remains elusive, giving rise to various theories. From a desire to marry Devyani Rana, met in the United Kingdom, to concerns about Indian influence and discontent with the shift from absolute to constitutional monarchy, the controversy deepened. The royal family’s objection to Dipendra’s choice of a bride added layers of complexity, raising questions about class and tradition.

The aftermath of the massacre was clouded by unresolved questions, including the apparent lack of security at the event, the absence of Prince Gyanendra, Dipendra’s self-inflicted head wound at odds with his right-handedness, and the limited scope of the subsequent two-week investigation.

The following day saw the Royal Family receiving a state funeral, their cremation held in front of the revered Pashupatinath Temple. Dipendra, posthumously declared king, died on 4 June 2001. Gyanendra, appointed regent, eventually ascended the throne.

Gyanendra’s initial claim of an “accidental discharge of an automatic weapon” within the royal palace stirred controversy. However, a full investigation, conducted by Chief Justice Keshav Prasad Upadhaya and Speaker of the House Taranath Ranabhat, concluded that Dipendra was responsible. The findings faced skepticism both within Nepal and internationally.

The Nepali royal massacre became a catalyst for political turmoil, exacerbating the existing Maoist insurgency. Gyanendra’s ascension witnessed a decline in the monarchy’s popularity, with some viewing the massacre as the turning point that eventually led to the monarchy’s abolition in 2006.

A Hindu katto ceremony on 12 June 2001, symbolically exorcising the spirit of the late king, marked a poignant moment as a priest, Durga Prasad Sapkota, dressed as Birendra, rode an elephant out of Kathmandu into symbolic exile.

Conspiracy theories, fueled by the circumstances surrounding the massacre, persist. Eyewitness accounts and public statements, including claims of individuals wearing masks resembling Crown Prince Dipendra, add layers of complexity. Allegations of external involvement by Indian and American intelligence agencies further contribute to the intrigue.

Despite the passage of time, claims ranging from a broken ventilator to poisoned water supply and milk continue to circulate in Nepalese media. Accusations against Gyanendra, claiming his involvement to assume the throne, remain unproven.

The Nepali royal massacre remains an indelible chapter in Nepal’s history, marked by tragedy, unanswered questions, and enduring conspiracy theories. As the nation moves forward, the unresolved mysteries serve as a stark reminder of a dark period that left an indelible impact on the political and cultural landscape.

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Emeka Chiaghanam, author, blogger at Heraldviews.com

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