Late King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah is the most internationally well-known king in the modern history of Nepal. Born on 14 Poush, 2002 BS (28 December 1945 AD) in Narayanhiti Royal Palace, he was the eldest son of King Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah and Queen Indra Rajya Laxmi Shah. He was the 10th Shah King of Nepal.
Childhood and Schooling
King Birendra was born while the Rana family still dominated the government of Nepal and the royal family was kept under strict surveillence. But the political movement that overthrew the Ranas occurred when the crown prince was only five years old, and his socialization into politics and society in Nepal and abroad was very different from that of his father, King Mahendra.
Since his childhood, Birendra was always known for his calm demeanor, mild manners, a soft-spoken and kind-hearted personality. Birendra’s formal education, for instance, was in prestigious schools outside Nepal: St. Joseph’s in Darjeel
ing, India; Eton in Great Britain; Harvard University in the United States of America; and the University of Tokyo in Japan. During those educational days, he was exposed to a rich assortment of theories and models on political and economic change in “developing” societies like Nepal, and he demonstrated an open and inquisitive mind on such subjects. He was also an art collector and supporter of Nepalese craftspeople and artists. He also learned to fly helicopters. King Birendra came back to Nepal in 2020 BS (1964 AD) after finishing his study in Japan.
As a prince of the nation, he was always keen to learn about the difficulties faced by his netizens, and to understand this on a grassroots level he used to visit villages throughout Nepal. He got insights into all the problems of his people and proposed to his father to end the Panchayat system in Nepal.
Marriage and Children.
The royal wedding of King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya was held on 16 Falgun, 2026 BS (27 February 1970 AD). The dates and times of all the wedding rituals were determined by Hindu Astrologers. Two days of elaborate Vedic rituals were conducted prior to the wedding.
On the wedding day, Birendra mounted his royal elephant at the Royal Palace, The Narayanhit and led a two-mile-long Janti, a wedding procession to Singha Durbar. At the venue, the prince tied nuptials with the Aishwarya Rajya Laxmi Devi Rana following Hindu traditions.
A postal stamp was issued to mark the occasion.
King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya had three children, Prince Dipendra, Princess Shruti, and Prince Nirajan.
Birendra’s Coronation Ceremony
King Birendra succeeded to the throne on 17 Magh 2028 BS (31 January 1972 AD).
He had to immediately take the responsibility as a king upon his father’s death. King Birendra was crowned as the tenth Shah King of Nepal on 12 Falgun 2031 BS (24 February 1975 AD) at 29. The coronation was held two years after the death of his father, King Mahendra because the first year was a year of the mourning period and the following was considered inauspicious by the astrologers.
The coronation ceremony or “Rajyabhisekh” of King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya started with a ritual bathing ceremony which led to the crowning with the Emerald Crown and the Nepalese Diamond Tiara at 8:37 AM in the Temple of the Hanuman Dhoka Palace, followed by a Procession on Elephants through the streets of Kathmandu.
Birendra’s Major Contributions
For Environmental Changes
King Birendra was a nature enthusiast and an ardent promoter of environmental protection.
During his tenure under his supervision, the government of Nepal established the anti-rhino poaching squad of 130 armed personnel and a network of guard stations across Chitwan in response to the significant fall of the rhinoceros population caused by large Terai migration and the magnitude of poaching. To avoid rhino extinction through a legal structure, the Chitwan National Park was gazetted in December 2026 BS (1970 AD), with limits determined the following year, and formed in 2029 B.S (1973 AD).
In 2032 BS (1976 AD), an area of 368 square km was gazetted as Royal Karnali Wildlife Reserve for tiger protection in the country, which was later renamed Royal Bardiya Wildlife Reserve in 2038 BS (1982 AD). He also contributed to forming Langtang National Park, Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, Royal Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve, Sagarmatha National Park, and so on.
For Economical Changes
With the assistance of China, a trolley bus system was built in Nepal by King Birendra on 13 Poush, 2023 BS (December 28, 1975 AD), with a focus on sustainability and environmental protection. Following his father’s footsteps, he established industrial estates in Nepalgunj, Pokhara, Butwal, Bhaktapur, Dhankuta, and Birendranagar. King Birendra was initially credited with designing the Melamchi water project plan for Kathmandu. Gorakhali Tyre Industry, Udayapur Cement Industry, Nepal Metal Company, and Nepal Pharmaceuticals were all formed under his regime.
Pashupati Area Development Trust was patronized by King Birendra. In 2035 BS (1979 AD), the Nepal Oriental Magnesite facility was constructed in Lakuri Danda in Dolakha District with a joint investment of the Nepal government and Orissa Industries, India, to produce dead-burned magnesite and talc powder.
He was able to form a Nepal-Pakistan Joint Economic Commission in 2039 BS (1983 AD), which resulted in major foreign investment in the nation.
When he became the king, there was constant political pressure from India, China, and the Soviet Union. Despite that, he was able to maintain Nepal’s independence. His first foreign visit as the king was to India in 2029 BS (1973 AD) followed by China two months later. During the Mustang revolt, he averted the separation of Mustang from Nepal. The disarming of Khampa insurgents fighting against China led Nepal-China ties to new heights.
People recall King Birendra for his lengthy effort and commitment to the formation of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the South Asian Food Reserve. He also managed to establish the SAARC Secretariat in Kathmandu during his rule. He established diplomatic ties with an additional 46 countries, bringing the total number of countries with which he had diplomatic relations to 96. He also bolstered Nepal’s neutrality stance by pushing Nepal as a UN Zone of Peace. He argued that because Nepal was situated between two Asian nations, it should maintain good ties with them.
Several studies conducted in 2028 BS (1972 AD) revealed that constructing road connectivity in mountainous and rural locations was more expensive than building air connectivity. As a result, the then-government implemented a strategy of linking rural regions with airports and building roads only where there was a substantial volume of traffic.
Airports in Baglung, Dhorpatan, Mahendranagar, and Rukum Chaurjahari were all built under this program in 2029 BS (1973 AD). Several other airports were established in the following years. Similarly, with Swiss government assistance, the Lamosangu-Jiri road going to Solukhumbu was completed in 2041 BS (1985 AD).
During King Birendra’s tenure, the government placed a strong emphasis on agriculture promotion. As a result, by 2046 BS (1990 AD) about 90 percent of the population was directly or indirectly involved in agriculture.
Furthermore, Bhrikuti Pulp and Paper was founded in 2041 BS (1985 AD) with backing from China under the Companies Act, 2020 BS (1964 AD). He also boosted agricultural areas and agricultural labor supply and increased food supplies, leading to greater nutrition.
Corn output climbed from 500,000 tons in 2017 BS (1961 AD) to nearly 1 million tons in 2047 BS (1991 AD). Lumbini Sugar Mills was established in 2038 BS (1982 AD) with technical support from China. The foundation of Gorakhali Rubber Industries resulted in the first planting of rubber in Jhapa, Illam, and many other areas of eastern Nepal.
Peace Keeping Pacts
In the United Nations conference, he recommended that Nepal be proclaimed a zone of peace, taking into account Nepal’s historic peace status, the birthplace of Gautam Buddha, and its historical policy of non-alignment with any foreign powers. This proposal was endorsed by 116 UN member countries.
He developed a peacekeeping training camp in 2042 BS (1986 AD). In 2057 BS (2001 AD), this was converted into a training institute for peacekeeping personnel, which was later named Birendra Peace Operations Training Centre in Paachkhaal, Kavre. This institute was eventually reformed as the training agency through which Nepal began sending trained peacekeeping forces in collaboration with the UN.
King Birendra effectively disarmed the Khampa rebellions and settled them in the northern Himalayan area in 2030 BS (1974 AD) by providing land, money, and citizenship to individuals who surrendered their guns and confiscated firearms. Those who did not surrender would so be barred from traveling to the Tibetan territory.
King Birendra is also credited for preventing the employment of the army to quell the Maoist movement in the country, which would have exacerbated the crisis and disrupted national harmony.
Civil war and Political Instability
On his ascension, he was effectively an absolute monarch as he inherited a country where political parties were banned and he ruled through a system of local and regional councils known as Panchayats. Birendra resented the absolute monarch tag maintaining that he presided over a democracy in which representatives to the assembly were indirectly elected and saying that his poor and backward country could not afford a democracy based on party politics and that it needed firm and decisive government.
In an attempt to maintain the panchayat system of government prominent leaders of the Nepali Congress Party were arrested. Because of the growing pro-democracy movement, Birendra announced a referendum to decide between a non-party and a multi-party system would be held. The referendum was held in 2036 BS (May 1980 AD) with the non-party system winning by a margin of 55% to 45%. During the 2036 BS (1980 AD) the restraints that had been imposed on political organizations were starting to ease and liberal student-led groups were starting to appear demanding constitutional change in Nepal.
In 1990 a series of strikes and pro-democracy riots broke out in Nepal. Because of the rioting, Birendra agreed to become a constitutional monarch. He appointed an independent Constitution Recommendation Commission to represent the main opposition factions and to prepare a new constitution to accommodate their demands for political reform. The commission presented him with the draft of the proposed constitution on 24 Bhadra, 2047 BS (10 September 1990 AD). The new constitution would make Birendra head of state of a constitutional monarchy with a system of multiparty democracy. The draft constitution was approved by Prime Minister K.P. Bhattarai and his cabinet. Birendra promulgated the new constitution transforming Nepal into a constitutional monarchy on 23 Kartik, 2047 BS (9 November 1990 AD).
However, the row between various political parties and numerous social problems led to the Nepalese Civil War, a conflict between Maoist rebels and government forces, which lasted for a decade from the year 2052 to 2063 BS (1996-2006 AD).
Royal Massacre aka “Durbar Hatyakanda”.
Facing domestic unrest, including a Maoist insurgency, the Nepalese royal family never suspected that the greatest threat to the monarchy lived within the palace walls. King Birendra used to host a monthly family gathering every third Friday of the month at the Tribhuwan Sadan banquet hall of the Narayanhiti Palace in Kathmandu.
According to the speculations on 19 Jestha, 2058 BS (1 June 2001 AD), Birendra’s firstborn, the crown Prince, Dipendra in an inebriated state stumbled into the royal dining hall. He gunned down King Birendra, Queen Aishwarya, and eight other members of the royal entourage, including his younger siblings. The prince allegedly then turned the gun on himself in an attempt to commit suicide. He failed to end his own life and plunged into a coma.
As heir to the throne, Prince Dipendra was declared the next King of Nepal. He reigned for three days in the hospital before being declared brain dead.
On Jestha, 2058 BS (4 June 2001 AD), after Dipendra died, the government imposed a curfew throughout the country. His body was transferred on a truck and not on a decorated vehicle to the Pashupatinath Temple. He was cremated without any royal farewell, without witnesses or family members amidst ongoing curfew. 13 day mourning period was declared and senior civil servants were ordered to shave their heads and eat saltless food for three days as a sign of respect for the deceased.
Hundreds of thousands of people poured onto the streets to bid a final farewell to the deceased. Their bodies were cremated at the royal funeral grounds of Pashupatinath Temple, following Hindu tradition.
After the collapse of the royal family, various political groups vied for influence in the government. Although it took several years, the Nepalese royal massacre later resulted in the multi-party system that Nepal has today.