Mysteries behind the Nepalese royal massacre

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Mysteries behind the Nepalese royal massacre

On June 2, 2001, news of a tragic event spread across Nepal that soon threw the whole country into chaos. Ambulances transported 15 members of the royal family from the Narayanhiti Palace to the military hospital the night before. Nine, including King Birendra, his wife, and two children, were shot dead. Crown Prince Dipendra was proclaimed king while in a coma but died two years later. His death marked the extinction of the main branch of the royal family.

Nepalese Royal Family
Nepalese Royal Family By Reuters

The government tried to cover up the event by shutting down state media. Later that week, Gyanendra, King Birendra's extremely unpopular younger brother, was crowned. Gyanendra stated, "The incident happened by an accidental firing of an automatic weapon." However, the word on the street said a completely different story. People whispered that Prince Dipendra killed his father, King Birendra, along with eight other family members. The royal family used to dine together twice a month on Fridays. On the night of the incident, the Crown Prince was hosting the family reunion. He asked everyone to confirm their arrival days earlier, although it was usual to come at the last minute without announcing. His uncle, Prince Gyanendra, said that he had a business in Pokhara and can't join.

King Gyanendra
King Gyanendra

People had many questions. What led the Crown Prince to shoot his family? If he was indeed behind the killing spree, was it because he was angry that his father made Nepal a constitutional monarchy after the 1990 revolution? Was Gyanendra, his uncle, a conspirator since the shooting wiped out every person in the line of succession before him? The fact that Gyanendra's three immediate family members were at the gathering and survived while almost everyone else died didn't help. His wife, Princess Komal, was only slightly injured. His two children were left unscathed. Gianandra's only son, Paras, was a notorious troublemaker. A year before, police suspected him of running over and killing a famous singer. An army officer later claimed responsibility for the incident. Paras was also known to have drunken brawls in nightclubs and was arrested few times for unauthorized use of firearms. There were also rumors that Indians organized the assassination due to King Birendra's refusal to surveillance against its rival, China. Some claimed that the CIA planned the massacre, although there wasn't any motive for Americans to wipe out the royal family. A radical group of Nepalese communists known as Maoists was also suspected because they tried to abolish the monarchy since 1990. These are only a few of the many theories that had circulated. A Bollywood production company even made a movie by one of the conspiracies.

King Gyanendra
Prince Gyanendra and Prince Komal Photo: Kathmandu Post

Days after the incidents, stories from Dipendra's childhood also began to emerge. Although he was a well-behaved child, some said that he would often throw heavy tantrums and even display sadistic tendencies if his parents ignore him due to official duties. Others said that the prince had been collecting guns as a hobby since he received his first pistol at eight. He liked visiting the army training with his father, and if he saw a weapon he wanted, he would grab it from the soldier. Palace staff recalled that although it was common among men in the royal family to carry weapons on them, only the Crown Prince would leave loaded guns unattended in his chambers like clothes. As the prince practiced shooting for hours every day, the palace workers and the people in the neighborhood got used to gunfire sounds. He would also often go bird hunting in the palace gardens. As a teenager, the prince fell in love with Supriya Shah, his second cousin. Queen Aishwarya rejected the match and sent her son to the prestigious Eton College in England.

Kathmandu royal Palace

At Eton, the prince met Devyani Rana, a girl from the wealthiest family in Nepal. Prince Dipendra fell in love with her at first sight and wanted to marry her. However, his mother disliked her. First, her great grandfather was the last Rana prime minister of Nepal, who wielded more power than the monarchy. Her maternal grandmother was a former Indian royal. Thus, her marriage can potentially overshadow the royal family or even bring them under foreign influence. Secondly, Devyani's family belonged to a lower caste despite their enormous wealth, making her unfit to be a future queen. There are also rumors that when Devyani's mother met Queen Aishwarya, she told her that the marriage to the royal family might reduce her daughter's standard of living because she grew up in a life of extreme luxury. It is not confirmed whether this conversation took place or not. Either way, the royal family didn't allow the Crown Prince to marry Devyani. The king even threatened to remove Dipendra as heir apparent if he marries her.

Devyani Rana
Devyani Rana Photo: DW News

Dipendra's 30th birthday was coming up, and the family felt that he has to marry one of the two girls they had picked on the special day. The prince had a remarkable military career and was adored by the Nepalese. He only had to marry the right girl to secure the throne. But his anger towards his family was intensifying. Dipendra, who used to enjoy alcohol and smoke cannabis in secret, was now using them openly to displease his parents. Eyewitnesses from the royal family, who were present at the horrific event on June 1, 2001, provided a somewhat complete picture of the events. Shortly after the family gathered, the crown prince got drunk and was carried to his quarters. He had a phone call with Devyani, but the details of the conversation are still unknown today. Soon after, the prince wore his military uniform and returned to the dining hall heavily armed. He walked to his father and shot him. Eyewitnesses said he gave a cold-eyed stare and continued shooting in a calculated manner, making some believe that he made the victim list in advance. At one point, he briefly left the room to reload his ammo. His mother ran after him and begged him to stop. His brother also asked him to forgive his mother and kill him instead. Dipendra accepted his request and shot him. Then he murdered his mother anyway. At the end of the killing spree, Dipendra pulled out a gun from his belt and shot himself in the head.


It is the official version of the event published by the investigation team appointed by King Gyanendra and the Supreme Court. The government denied the offer of Scotland Yard, the London Metropolitan Police, to assist in the investigations. The evidence submitted by the Nepalese investigation team left quite a few holes in the story. The funeral for the royal family was held on Sunday. Hundreds of thousands of people poured onto the streets to bid a final farewell to the deceased. Their bodies were cremated in front of the Pashupatinath Temple, following Hindu tradition. The funeral procession came during a time of political instability. It was hard for people to understand how their beloved King Birendra, worshipped as an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, could have been murdered by his son. Within hours Nepal's capital was gripped by riots, forcing the government to impose a curfew.

Riot following Nepalese royal family massacre
Photo: BBC

On June 4, after Dipendra died, the government imposed a curfew on the entire country. His body was transferred by a truck – not by a fancy vehicle – to the Pashupatinath Temple. With all of Nepal under curfew, he was cremated without ceremony, without witnesses or family members. Many asked why his body was cremated so quickly and secretly. Why did no one perform an autopsy on him? How is it possible for the bullet wound to be at the back of his head if he shot himself? Some have suspected that Prince Paras, Gyanendra's son, disconnected the crown prince from the ventilator and killed him. Others questioned how the security guards arrived at the murder scene 10 minutes after the shootings, although multiple gunshots were heard throughout the whole palace ground. About a week after the funeral, a katto ceremony was performed to banish the spirits of the two dead monarchs, King Birendra and Dipendra, from Kathmandu. Riding decorated elephants, Hindu priests dressed like the late king and his son were ceremonially banished from the capital. The ritual took an inauspicious turn when an elephant carrying the likeness of King Birendra killed a woman. It said Kali Bista, the mother of three girls in her early 30s, was picked up by the elephant and threw aside as she tried to walk under its belly. According to local belief, a woman will conceive a son if she passes under an elephant.

Pashupatinath Temple
Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu by mariusz kluzniak

We will probably never know the whole story of the tragic incident. Was it a story of a man madly in love, or was it a political plot? One way or another, the unfortunate event turned the course of history. Life has not been normal in Nepal ever since. A Civil War, which broke out in 1996, ended with a royal coup in 2005. To restore order, King Gyanendra seized power from the government and took a series of emergency actions, including a curfew. The restrictions led to more violent demonstrations. In 2008, the king stepped down and abolished the monarchy. His son, Paras, got arrested for drug-related charges in Thailand. He is currently in rehab in northern Thailand. The newspapers reported that his father, the former king, stopped paying for his medications due to financial issues.

Paras Shah
Paras Shah on the left

The political scene in Nepal is still not stable. Last December, the prime minister dissolved parliament and called for early elections. Thousands of people marched through the streets of Kathmandu, urging him to reverse his decision. Nepal's democracy is now under threat at the hand of the communists who once championed the cause. It is hard to tell if the beloved King Birendra and his son would have brought stability in times like these if they were alive. But their death certainly hadn't stopped the chaos that prevailed in the Himalayan nation for thirty years.


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