It was a warm Friday evening on June 2001 in Kathmandu, Nepal and King Birendra Shah was looking forward to having a banquet with his friends and family. The evening started off well, but it ended in a tragic bloodbath which shook the country to its very core.
Palace guards first heard gunshots at around 9pm that evening. When they rushed upstairs to the room where the Royals were dining, they were greeted by a horrific sight: the room was dripping with blood and littered with bullet cases. Bodies were strewn across the floor. The gunman seemed to have vanished.
King Birendra lay in a pool of blood coming from a gunshot in his head, surrounded by dozens of dead and wounded diners. The guests were rushed to hospital where the King, his wife Queen Aishwarya, daughter Shruti and son Niraja were pronounced dead. Remarkably, crown prince Dependra was still alive despite also being shot in the head.
Who killed the King of Nepal? Read on to discover a tragic true story covered in betrayal, murder, mystical prophesies and political unrest.
Prophesy or Politics? Who Killed The King of Nepal?
The King wasn’t just idolised in Nepal: he was thought of as the reincarnation of the Hindu God, Krishna and was revered throughout the land. So who would dare slay a Godly ruler and his immediate family?
Birendra wasn’t just moderate and fairly liberal in his rule: he was also capable of change. In 1990, Birendra gave up absolute kingly power following demonstrations in Nepal and agreed to share his leadership with an elected parliament. To many, Birendra was a father figure, a symbol of stability in the country. He was liked by many.
Birendra’s family, the Shahs, had ruled Nepal since 1769 when Prithvi Narayan Shah defeated his rivals and made himself king. Prithvi had secured his families power for centuries to come, but was he also responsible for the tragic events which would happen over 200 years later?
According to legend, Prithvi insulted a hermit on the eve of his final triumph. This was no ordinary hermit: he was also a holy man with significant power who decided to punish the king for his rudeness. The hermit promised that the Shah family would rule in Nepal for ten generations and no more. Birendra Shah was the tenth King of Nepal when he was murdered…
Could the curse have really come true? Was this to be the end of the Shah dynasty? Or did the murders have a more earthly explanation?
Political Unrest In Nepal
King Birendra was liked by many but not by all. The Maoists, a group of communists in Nepal, didn’t think he had given up enough power. As long as there was a king, they could not realise their political ideals.
Nepal is still one of the poorest countries in the world, with many of its inhabitants living on less than $1 a day. In contrast to the meagre means of many locals, the Royal Family lived in a huge palace and enjoyed a lavish lifestyle full of sports cars, trips abroad and parties.
Was the king’s murder down to political unrest and jealousy? Or was the murderer part of the king’s own family?
Crown Prince Dependra: Innocent Victim Or Murderer?
Sixteen hours after a mystery suspect shot the entire Napelse Royal Family, a disturbing story hit the headlines. Crown Prince Dependra, the sole surviving victim of the bloodbath, was suspected of murdering his entire family.
The news was shocking: how could a seemingly obedient son murder his entire family?
Dependra’s upbringing was a formal affair with little paternal affection. As an adult, the young prince enjoyed spending time with the locals and got to know what life was like on the other side of the palace walls. He was seen as an accessible, friendly man who was well-liked by the people. He also drank, took drugs and partied, which didn’t always go down well with the Royal Family, and was known to be aggressive and unstable at times.
A surviving eyewitness to the murder backed up the claims that Dependra was responsible during a press conference held a week after the attacks, but he failed to explain how the Prince also came to be shot in the head. If Dependra committed the crimes to gain power for himself, why would he also shoot himself? Was someone else involved in the murder? Or did someone else shoot Dependra to end the massacre?
With his father now dead, Dependra would have become king but he was in a deep coma and therefore unable to rule. In his place, Dependra’s Uncle, the king’s brother, Gyanendra, took over the throne.
The people of Nepal did not trust Gyanendra and were not happy to hear of his new position. Suspicion soon started to spread throughout Nepal. Did Gyanendra plan the whole thing to get into power?
Did Gyanendra Kill His Brother?
Who really gained the most from the Royal Family’s murder, the man in a coma or the new king? Wasn’t it a coincidence how Gyanendra just happened to be out of town on the night of the killings? How did his wife and children, who were present at the banquet, miraculously survive when so many others were killed?
It was no secret that Gyanendra and the former king had a turbulent relationship. Gyanendra was angry when Birendra decided to share power with the government in 1990: he didn’t want to let go of the family’s power. There were also rumours that the brothers had quarrelled over how best to deal with the rebellious Maoists: Gyanendra had wanted to use more force against them. With his brother out of the way, the new ruler could make his own decisions about the future of Nepal.
For many Nepalese people, Gyanendra was clearly guilty. His coronation procession was met with an angry silence, while riots protesting his rise to power sprang up in the streets.
Gyanendra certainly gained a lot from his brother’s death, but did he really organise the killings or was it angry revolutionaries, or perhaps even the king’s own son. Or someone else entirely?
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