Nepal’s monument of massacres awaits makeover

June 11th, 2008 - 2:05 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, June 11 (IANS) As Nepal’s last king Gyanendra makes his final exit from the Narayanhity royal palace Wednesday night to start life as a commoner, the historic edifice will also have a makeover from a monument to conspiracy and violent death to a national museum. The pink pagoda-like palace that was the seat of power in Nepal for over two centuries was first the abode of the powerful and ruthless clan of Rana prime ministers who fought a long and bitter battle with the Shah kings for supremacy.

Till the mid 19th century, the Ranas lived in Narayanhity while the Shah kings lived in another palace now known as the Hanumandhoka palace.

In 1846, when Rajendra Bir Bikram Shah was king and Fateh Jung Chautaria was the prime minister, an attempt by the queen, Lakshmi Devi, to seize power for her paramour Gagan Singh eventually led to a bloody battle in the palace, in which over 80 people died.

Known as the infamous Kot massacre, the black event enabled Jung Bahadur Rana to seize power and begin an era of hereditary prime ministers under whom the Shah kings were mere puppets.

After 1880, the then Rana prime minister Ranadip Singh gifted the palace to minor king Prithvi Bir Bikram Shah, the great grandfather of deposed king Gyanendra.

Reports say Singh was killed in Narayanhity by his nephew Bir Shumsher with the baby king and his mother witnessing the horrifying scene.

Prithvi Bir Bikram’s death at the age of 36 gave rise to suspicions that he was poisoned, probably in his drinks.

His son and successor Tribhuvan lived with the fear of death hanging over him due to escalated tension with the then omnipotent Rana prime minister Mohan Shumsher.

In 1950, fearing he could be assassinated, Tribhuvan fled the palace with his son Mahendra and eldest grandson Birendra, to India.

It was only after a pro-democracy revolt overthrew the Rana regime in 1950 that the fugitive king returned and became the de facto ruler of Nepal.

When Mahendra became king, he never ruled from the main durbar, preferring to use Mahendra Manzil, the mansion built for his use.

A new building was added in 1970 when Mahendra’s successor Birendra married.

In 2001, in a repeat of the Kot massacre, Birendra was gunned down along with nine more members of his family inside the palace.

Gyanendra, who succeeded him, shifted into the palace 13 months later, after religious rites were conducted to cleanse the palace and exorcise evil spirits.

It was in this palace that the king plotted with army generals to stage a coup in 2005 and seize the absolute power his father had enjoyed.

One year later, it was from the same palace that he read out a statement, announcing he was surrendering power.

The palace, as history shows, proved unlucky for most of its residents, be they the Ranas or Shahs.

Perhaps its demons will be finally exorcised in the democratic republic of Nepal when it slashes all association with power and becomes a national museum.

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