01 June 2016

Remembering the Royal Ladies of Nepal

Queen Aishwarya looked around the room at her extended family. Her husband the King sat at the head of the group surrounded by his children, siblings, nieces and nephews. As with all families, there were disputes and disagreements, but the ruling house always clung to this tradition of gathering together for dinner once each month. Aishwarya and King Birendra had married in a grand ceremony 30 years earlier and had led the country together for nearly 29 of those years.

Perhaps Aishwarya had been a little too influential early on, but she was respected for her beauty and her support of social programs and her interest in culture. She herself was a poet and composer. More importantly, she had ably fulfilled the role of any royal consort: producing a children. Crown Prince Dipendra arrived soon after their wedding, followed five years later by Princess Shruti, and three years after that by Prince Nirajan. All three of her children were seated around the room.

Now 24, Princess Shruti was already of mother of two herself, with her second daughter arriving just eight months ago. Shruti was beautiful like her mother and well-educated, having completed a bachelor's degree from the women's college in the capitol city of Kathmandu.

Aishwarya's younger sister, Princess Komal, was in attendance with her husband, Prince Gyanendra, one of the king's brothers. The double relationship as both sisters and sisters-in-law only strengthened their commitment to the crown and the country. The two even looked alike. Komal had added two children, a son and a daughter, to their joint dynasty.

Scanning the familiar faces, Aishwarya also saw her other royal sisters-in-law. The eldest, Princess Shanti was also university-educated and renowned for her work in social welfare, particularly for those suffering from leprosy, for which she had founded her own charity, and people with disabilities. She also took on the causes of family planning, and animal welfare, and like many princesses around the world, was actively engaged with the Red Cross. She had married very well and was now the Rani of Bajhang and mother of three.

The king's second eldest sister, Princess Sharada, had also completed a university education and taken on issues of social welfare through the Red Cross and other organizations. Her greatest areas of concern were disaster relief and children, which led her to launch the Nepal branch of the SOS Children's Villages to provide homes, care and education for orphans. She believed her mission in life was to raise social consciousness.

Their youngest sister Princess Shova had an identical education and concern for the well-being of individuals. She also devoted herself to the Red Cross and her own family, with three daughters of her own. The other royal ladies at the dinner included the king's cousin Princess Jayanti who had devoted her life to supporting research and treatment for cancer and heart disease. She had even presented papers at important conferences around the world. Jayanti's younger sister, Mrs. Ketaki Chester, who had surrendered her royal titles for love years earlier was also there.

It was an ordinary gathering except the tensions between Aishwarya's oldest son, Crown Prince Dipendra, and his father the king were reaching a boiling point. Dipendra seemed to stumbling over himself and behaving badly. Perhaps he had grown tired of fighting with his father about his own marriage. At 30, the prince's marriage was becoming incredibly urgent, but he wanted to marry a young woman of whom both his parents disapproved. But, his behavior this evening was beyond anything the family had seen before. After one too many boorish acts, the Crown Prince was sent to his room like a child, escorted their by his brother and a cousin.

Finally, the party could continue. Or so it seemed. Within minutes, Dipendra returned, now dressed in military fatigues and carrying several automatic weapons. Ketaki leaned over to her sister, Princess Jayanti and whispered, "Isn't he too old to be showing off those guns?" Unusual behavior, but no one felt threatened even as the Crown Prince approached the king. So, they thought, he's returned to show the king his weapons like a boy playing soldier? Then, one of the guns went off, wounding the king and then firing blindly into the ceiling from the massive recoil. As several family members rushed to the bleeding king's side, Dipendra fled, but then returned again to kick his father's body. His favorite uncle stepped in front of him, "you've done enough," he said, but those were his final words.

Perhaps in shock over killing his favorite uncle, Dipendra began shooting indiscriminately around the room. One cousin shoved some of the children to safety behind a sofa, but others were falling quickly. Not realizing that her own arm had been shattered, Ketaki tried to help a cousin. Across the room, she could see her sister dying. She saw the king's sister-in-law Komal bleeding profusely from the chest and Dipendra's young sister gasping to breathe in a pool of her own blood.

Queen Aishwarya's disfigured
face was covered by a china
mask at her funeral.
Image by Duvilar
via Wikimedia Commons
Barely five minutes had passed, when Dipendra rushed out of the room, with his mother and his brother in pursuit. Startled he turned and killed his brother. "You have killed your father. You have killed your brother," Aishwarya cried out. "Kill me too." He did.

Palace guards pursued him, shooting Dipendra at least six times in the back, before he shot himself. Still alive, he was taken to a hospital and declared king upon the death of the father he had murdered. His sister died at the hospital not far from him. Princess Komal struggled to recover from the wound in her chest while Ketaki never regained full use of her arm. The only survivor among the king's immediate family was Princess Shruti's husband, who was left with two young daughters to raise.

In all ten members of the royal family were massacred. Dipendra had killed his father, mother, brother, and sister, his favorite uncle, his aunts Shanti and Sharada, Sharada's husband, and his father's cousin Jayanti. The tenth victim, Dipendra himself, died a few days later.

The ultimate casualty, however, was the Nepalese crown itself. Although Dipendra's only surviving uncle, Prince Gyanendra (who had been out of the country during the massacre), became king with his recovered wife Princess Komal at his side, the monarchy lasted less than seven years. After three centuries as the rulers of Nepal, the Shah dynasty was swept away by the Nepalese Constituent Assembly in favor of a federal democratic republic.