Shree Panch Maharajdhiraj King Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev was the ninth Shah Dynasty ruler of Nepal. He was the first child born to King Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah Dev and Queen Kanti Rajya Laxmi Devi Shah on June 11, 1920 (Jestha 30, 1977 BS), at Narayanhiti Royal Palace in Kathmandu, Nepal. He also had a second mother, Ishwari Rajya Laxmi Devi Shah, sister of Queen Kanti and who was equally dear to the King. He had six younger siblings from both the mothers; Princes Himalaya and Basundhara Shah and Princesses Trialokya, Nalini, Vijaya, and Bharati Shah.
King Mahendra married Indra Rajya Laxmi Rana in 1940 at the age of 20. Mahendra and Indra Rajya Laxmi had three sons, King Birendra, King Gyanendra, and Prince Dhirendra, and three daughters Shanti, Sharada, and Shobha. Crown Princess Indra Rajya Laxmi died in 1950 due to post-partum hemorrhage following the birth of her sixth child, Dhirendra. In 1952 Mahendra married Indra Rajya’s younger sister, Ratna Rajya Lakshmi Devi, nearly centenarian now, who is fondly referred to as Muma Badamaharani, the queen mother. This marriage produced no children as King Mahendra had married on the condition that his personal life shall not hinder his national duties and Ratna Rajya Laxmi agreed to be childless.
He ruled the country for 17 years until his death in 1972 (2028 BS). His son Crown Prince Birendra resumed the throne after his death.
When growing up, Mahendra was strictly prohibited to participate in any political or social activities. He was even denied basic education while sons of elite families attended modern educational institutions in Nepal or abroad prior to 1950. However, he managed to study politics, economics, English, and Nepali languages privately at his Palace.
King Mahendra was a deep admirer of Nepalese literature since young age and has composed several poems, mainly romantic. He is also called the first lyricist of Nepal by some sources. Many of his lyrics went on to become chartbusters, Lolayeka Tee, Gajalu Tee Thula Thula Aakha, Garchin Pukar Aaama, Aakashma Tirmire, Kina Kina Timro Tasbir, etc. His songs were also sung by Indian singers like by Gulam Ali and Lata Mangeshkar.
King Mahendra’s Panchayat System
In 1950s, the dissatisfaction among Nepalese due to a weak autocratic regime of the Rana Rulers had caused a rebellion. The revolution of November 1950 brought an end to the Rana Empire that had ruled the country for 104 years, since 1846.
The personal safety of the royals was critical. Later on, the Ranas agreed to form the “coalition government” (गठबंधन सरकार) under the captive King Tribhuvan and they shared equal power with the political party called the “Nepali National Congress”. The Nepali National Congress was founded by Matrika Prasad Koirala in Calcutta (now Kolkatta), India on January 25, 1946. The Nepal Democratic Congress was founded by Subarna Shumsher Rana in Calcutta on August 4, 1948. The two parties merged on April 10, 1950, to form the Nepali Congress and Koirala became its first president. However, the political situation was still threatening as the government formed by different parties wanted to exercise full control to rule the nascent democratic country.
Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev ascended the throne in 1955, after the sudden demise of his father, but his crowning ceremony didn’t happen until May 2, 1956 (Baisakh 20, 2013 BS). After becoming the King of the new democratic Nepal, the first thing he found out was that the political situation was ebbing due to a power clash. Exercising his power Mahendra first dissolved the elected parliament, suspended the constitution, imposed direct rule, and imprisoned the ruling Prime Minister Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala of Nepali Congress along with his closest government colleagues on December 15, 1960 (Poush 1, 2017 BS). Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala, famous as B.P. Koirala was the elder brother of Matrika Prasad Koirala who founded the Nepali National Congress party in Calcutta.
King Mahendra established the Panchayat System using his emergency powers incepting a party-less political system on January 5, 1961 (Poush 22, 2017 BS). Under his direct rule, King introduced the four-tiered structure village, town, district, and national Panchayat on the basis of the limited elected executive committee. Mahendra appointed a council of five politicians to help him run the government. For the convenience of administration, he divided the kingdom into 14 Zones and 75 Districts.
In 1961, all political parties in Nepal were declared illegal and that prompted more political parties to be formed in secret. Mahendra, to dissolve these budding political parties, created another set of councils. It was around this time that many prominent government members and political party leaders were arrested.
King Mahendra, A Diehard Nationalist
King Mahendra was a courageous and visionary ruler who contributed everything he could for developing every sector of Nepal. After realizing that the villages were the backbones of the country, Mahendra established a National Campaign called “Back to the Village” in 1967. Under the “Gau Farka Rashtriya Abhiyan” /”गाउँ फर्क राष्ट्रिय अभियान”, literally back to the village Campaign, civil servants and students based in the cities were deployed in rural and remote Nepal to participate in development work and serve as teachers in village schools. This campaign made the villagers aware of their rights, duties, and privileges and it helped citizens strengthen their nationalism.
He established the Supreme Court and reformed the Nepalese judicial system to protect the fundamental rights of the citizens. He introduced the Land Reforms Act in January 1964 to protect the rights of small farmers and leaseholders.
In his reign, King Mahendra introduced Five-year Plans that focused on the development of the country. Under this plan, he launched schemes like Rastriya Beema Sansthan (Life Insurance Corporation), Nepal Rastra Bank (Nepal’s first National Bank), Rastriya Banijya Bank (Nepal’s first Commercial Bank) , and the Krishi Bikash Bank (Agriculture Development Bank).
He also established industries like Bansbari Leather Shoes Factory and Janakpur Cigarette factory that provided employment opportunities to his people. Hydro Power projects at Trishuli and Panuati were also set up to generate electricity to run these industries.
Major Works of King Mahendra
- He laid down the foundation of the East-West Highway (Mahendra Highway) at Gailakot that serves as a trade route between Nepal and India.
- He created and introduced the New Civil Code (Muluki Ain) on 17th August 1963 to protect the rights of women, children, and weaker sections of society.
- For the development of education across the country, King Mahendra established the Tribhuvan University, the Janak Education Material Centre, and the Teacher’s Training Institute.
- For the development of culture, arts, and sports he created the National Sports Council, Rastriya Nachghar, Rastriya Sabhagriha, and Dasarath Stadium.
- He also focused on developing tourism in Nepal. Therefore, he constructed numerous, rest-houses, inns, and water taps in this beautiful country.
- He pursued a foreign policy of neutrality between China and India. Nepal continued to enjoy diplomatic relations with 51 countries until January 1972.
- Due to his friendly attitude towards the neighboring countries and the international organizations, Nepal was admitted to the United Nations Organization (UNO) in 1955, the Non-aligned Community in 1961, and the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 1966.
Awards & Honours of King Mahendra
International Honours from various countries
- King Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev was appointed as a British Field Marshal in 1960.
- France: Grand Cross of the Order of Legion of Honour (1956)
- Finland: Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of the White Rose (1958)
- Denmark: Knight of the Order of the Elephant (1960)
- Iran: Grand Collar of the Order of Pahlavi (1960)
- Japan: Collar of the Order of the Chrysanthemum (1960)
- United Kingdom: Royal Victorian Chain (1961)
- Grand Cross Special Class of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (1964)
- Belgium: Grand Cross of the Order of Leopold II (1964)
- Grand Cross of the Order of the Netherlands Lion (1967)
- Collar of the Order of the Million Elephants and the White Parasol, Kingdom of Laos (1970)
- Nishan-e-Pakistan (1970)
- Collar of the Order of Sikatuna, Rank of Raja, Philippines (1971)
- Iran: Commemorative Medal of the 2500th Anniversary of the founding of the Persian Empire (1971).
King Mahendra National honors:
- Sovereign of the Order of Nepal Pratap Bhaskara
- Sovereign of the Order of Ojaswi Rajanya
- Sovereign of the Order of Nepal Taradisha
- Sovereign of the Order of Tri Shakti Patta
- Sovereign of the Order of Gorkha Dakshina Bahu
- Most Glorious Mahendra Chain (26 February 1961)
- Commemorative Silver Jubilee Medal of King Tribhuvan (11 December 1936).
Mystery Death of King Mahendra
King Mahendra died at his palace Diyalo Bungalow in Chitwan, South-west Nepal after a heart failure. That terrible grief came over all Nepalese on January 31, 1972 (Magh 17, 2028 BS). The King’s body was subsequently flown to Kathmandu by helicopter in preparation for the State Funeral.
His son Birendra Shah ascended the throne on 24 February 1975 (12 Falgun, 2028 BS) following his death.
King Mahendra’s death is still a topic of controversy. The story goes back to 1968 (2024 BS), his first visit to a British hospital King Mahendra had expressed concern about Bangladesh partitioning from Pakistan. According to former Research and Analysis Bureau (RAW) employee AK Yadav, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had an idea to split Terai from Nepal Similarly. Terai is Nepal’s biggest stretch of the southern plain that borders India. It was the desire of the rulers of the capital city Delhi for Nepal to be a part of India. When Mahendra learned about this, he pushed harder for Nepal to join the United Nations as Nepal had great diplomatic relations with 53 countries worldwide. King Mahendra received billions of rupees as aid and investments from wealthy countries. He used it to build roads, schools, and universities. He connected all the districts of Terai from East starting at Mechi to the west in Mahakali and called it the “Mahendra Highway”. This 286kms highway is the longest highway in Nepal. Mahendra also maintained a great bonding with Mao Zedong, the Chinese leader and so he constructed Araniko Highway, a 115kms highway connecting Kathmandu to Nepal-China Border and nourished his ties further with the Northern neighbor.
These international ties and gigantic investments that Mahendra made possible were a big blow to Delhi. Indira Gandhi saw that Nepal could not be divided or destroyed while King Mahendra lived.
In 1972, Mahendra was staying at Diyalo Bungalow Palace during winter when he suffered a chest pain after returning from his hunting game. According to Dr. Sushil Chandra Haldar, King’s trusted Physicians Dr. Mrigendra Raj Pandey and Dr. Sachey Kumar Pahari had attended King after complaints that night, later Indian doctor Dr. ML Bhatia also joined the team in King’s treatment.
One question like why there was no prompt evacuation makes Mahendra’s death a mystery. After all the severe investigation on three attendee doctors, it was established that King Mahendra died suffering a heart attack at the age of 51 and no other evidence has surfaced to the contrary.
Feature Photo: King Mahendra of Nepal, collection of Sunil Ullak