Is Monarchy Relevant for Nepal? (Part III)

This is the last part of the article that proceeds debate on the necessity/relevance of monarchy in Nepal at a time when the country is heading for Constituent Assembly.

By Mahesh Poudyal

The culture of monarchy

What answer do you get/expect to get if you ask a British or other European who has a constitutional or ceremonial monarchy in their country – “what has your monarchy given you?”? The first thing I get from them is the sense of pride they have in their royal institution and their tradition. They (most of them anyway) seem very proud to have a father(/mother?)-of-the-nation-like figure in their country who they could look up to, like a model-family, role model for the people to follow. I have to admit this is more so with regards to the Dutch and the Nordic royal family than the British. Nevertheless, the British royal family never ceases to amuse its people – like Hollywood celebrities. Anyway, coming back to the point – our own monarchy – are we proud of our monarch? Do we accept him (its always him in case of Nepal sadly!) as a father-of-the-nation figure who unites our multiethnic, multi-religious, multicultural society? Are we proud in the culture of our monarchy?

There is no doubt we Nepalese are very proud of our society where there is so much diversity and where there is so much richness in culture, heritage and tradition. But, has monarchy brought any additional value to our already rich culture? Do we have a culture of monarchy that we can be proud of, and that is worth hanging on to? Personally, I think the monarchy in our country, especially of late, hasn’t been that of a symbol of unity among diverse culture, heritage and tradition. Perhaps it wasn’t the same when King Birendra was alive, but even then this issue of monarch/y being a symbol of unity among diverse cultures is questionable. I find it hard to go along with monarchists’ viewpoint that without monarchy our society will just disintegrate into ethnic lines. How do we know? We have not seen our society disintegrating.
True, we haven’t had in our country’s history not have a monarch BUT over the course of this history, especially during the periods of absolute monarchy, weren’t the Shahs’ and the Ranas’ ruling us by dividing our societies rather than by uniting us? (remember “Divide & Rule” principle?). It was true during a century of Rana autocracy (with puppet Shah monarchy), it was true again during three decades of autocratic Panchyat regime under the Shahs, and except for a decade after the 1990 revolution (during constitutional monarchy of King Birendra), it has been true during Gyanendra Shah’s autocratic regime. The alienation of indigenous people, both from the hills and the Terai was/has been rife during these autocratic regimes. Even a few decades ago, a Madhesi (a person from Terai) was now allowed to serve in the “royal” army. How can that be a symbol of unity?

The strength of a culture/tradition can be seen from the legacy it leaves for the future generations. What legacy, if any, has Shah dynasty left for us, for our future generations? Arguably, Prithvi Narayan Shah was the most important monarch of Shah dynasty, who with the help of his brother and some able generals created a “unified” country – Nepal. Other than the legacy of King Prithvi Narayan, there isn’t much to talk about when it comes to legacies of other Shah kings. Tribhuvan had some role to play in overthrowing the autocratic Ranas but was he doing it for the greater interest of the people or for his throne? There were martyrs, such as Gangalal and Dharma Bhakta, however, who were definitely fighting against the Ranas for the greater interest of the people. King Mahendra turned out to be another autocrat, whose legacy – the “partyless” Panchyat – King Birendra took over for another 18 years before bowing out to the democratic forces in 1990. King Birendra did stay on as a constitutional monarch, however, with massively reduced power and never during the course of his 10-year-reign after the restoration of democracy in 1990 did he interfere in the democratic politics. Probably, that is why there was such an outpour of public grief when he and his entire family were massacred in 2001, and probably the reason why Nepalese people still remember him fondly. Unfortunately, in his five-year reign after the royal palace massacre, king Gyanendra has probably eroded the little good legacy left by his predecessors.

Talking about the legacy left by the monarchs in Nepal, perhaps we should look to an earlier era – that of the Mallas. The Mallas who ruled in and around the Kathmandu valley have left us with a rich cultural and traditional heritage, especially to the Newar communities who form a majority in the valley and in the adjoining the cities. They have not only left monuments that are listed as world heritage sites but also the legacy of the kings such as one benevolent king who used to keep watch over his people from the window of the tallest building in his durbar square to make sure that food was being cooked in every home (the smoke coming from the roof-tops told him whether or not a cooking fire was on in every house)! No wonder the Malla period is considered the Golden Age in the history of Nepal, especially that of the Kathmandu valley. Even today, thousands of visitors flock to these durbar squares to marvel at those legacies, BUT not to the Narayanhiti or the Singh Durbar. It is probably safe to say that the culture of monarchy, if there was any, and the legacy of the Shah dynasty has not been so great for an ordinary Nepalese to be proud of, except of course those of a few monarchs like King Prithvi Narayan.

The verdict again? In my opinion, the Shah monarchs haven’t really been a symbol of unity as the monarchists claim them to be. Of late, and especially at times of autocratic regimes, they have been more of a symbol of division than that of unity. Culturally, we had richer monarchies like the Mallas and the Lichchhivis, which have left richer tradition and heritage to the Nepali people, especially to those indigenous to the Kathmandu valley and the surrounding cities. Are we proud to have monarchy as it stands now? Again, personally I am not – especially after what happened in the royal palace in 2001. I think, we should be proud of the monarchs like King Prithvi for creating an politically unified Nepal, King Birendra for at least giving up his power and staying within his constitutional rule until his tragic death (or murder?). However, monarchs like Gyanendra who have not only brought about great suffering to the Nepalese people but also used brutal force against them to stay in power, have brought shame not only to themselves but also to the institution of monarchy. It is time we put an end to this part of our “culture” and “the culture of monarchy” and move on.


Following the events unfolding back home in Nepal for the past two weeks or so from this alien land, I have become increasingly “concerned” (as one blogger remarked, we are only good at being “concerned” and not acting on it!) not only about my family who live there but also about the country I was born and I grew up in. Having grown up “under” a monarch, in the beautiful Himalayan kingdom, I also used to think that our society (and nation) wouldn’t be complete without a monarchy. I also used to look at our monarchs as the symbol of unity in our multiethnic, multi-religious, multicultural land. However, the events of these past two weeks have forced me to analyse the role of monarchy in Nepal in the cold light of day, and this essay is the product of my analysis. The increasing stubbornness, and senseless political meandering of king Gyanendra, coupled with his current acts of using brutal force against the freedom loving (and peace seeking) people of Nepal might have swayed me to being an anti-monarchist, BUT I have tried to look at the role of monarchy and whether it has brought/ is likely to bring any benefits to an ordinary Nepalese from economic, political and cultural aspects as best I can (considering my lack of knowledge in the politics of my own country!). From all three aspects of monarchy – economic, political and cultural – I have come to the conclusion that we Nepalese are better off getting rid of this white elephant than keeping it. At this point I remember a story that I used to hear from my elders when I was a kid. It was about a Baba (saint) who predicted way back in King Prithvi Narayan’s time that the Shah dynasty will come to an end after the 10th monarch (or was it 11th?). Anyway, King Birendra was the 10th Shah King so may be that Baba had a divine vision and saw the palace massacre happening nearly 250 years earlier! And may be we should follow that Baba’s divine words and put an end to the monarchy now before it is too late.

Published by UWB

Pioneering blog from Nepal...since 2004.

21 thoughts on “Is Monarchy Relevant for Nepal? (Part III)

  1. Yes, it is relevant. I am surprised people are now hysterically going against king’s position. Of course, king’s position should be no more than a ceremonial in this era. But I guess it has not been time yet, to remove this institution from Nepal. Not yet.
    I am surprised so called ‘Buddhijibi’s like the one who posted this article – have no idea what the real issue behind. They have not started to think about what political system should the country follow, what economic management – ?commune system like in Cambodia ? socialist state? Or no change in the status quo and the backward people in remote area still suffer? (that was the main issue when maoists took arms, but now even they have forgotten).

    Please come with better ideas to develop this nation altogether, not just this rotten rhetoric that we need republic or ceremonial king etc. Well, this debate is largely settled. Ceremonial king – the best option.

  2. Dude,
    For real, I am tired of this topic. We already know most people don’t want monarchy. It is not a matter of debate. It is about the choice of people, it is about the freedom of people to decide. Moreover, how many times do you want people to write same thing over and over again?

    Again, the points you mentioned are nothing new to the fellow visitors of this blog. We all know Mahendra was an autocrat. We are all too familiar with the Ranas. And so is true about British monarchy system.

    Seriously, there has to be some brainstorming. Now that the heat of the protest has cooled down, the enthusiasm of the visitors has gone down too. The reason is not the end of the protests alone but also the lack of charm in the articles. The articles are rather monotonous and cliche. Just a suggestion…

  3. On Culture of Monarchy, I would say that people outside Kathmandu did have great respect for the King. This is not a royalist view – people respected the King. As a religious symbol more than anything else. I don’t think the unfortunate people who were left out of formal education thought of him as a symbol of national unity. I don’t think most of those people are thinking about the nation or anything like that.

    All of us know that this dynasty has been involved in cultural opression of many ethnic groups. But apart from the educated people, I am not sure those hardships were attributed to the King by the general mass. For example, if you go talked to a Kami, somewhere in the hills, I am not sure if the person would attribute the reaons behind his not-so-great soci-economic status to the Kings. So, when we are talking about the Kings and culture and history, we need to think about how the King was perceived by the people who were completely left out from education and enlightenment. You can debate if that perception is wrong or not, but it is a valid perception that exist (hopefully I can say existed) in the country.

    The “monarchy as a symbol national unity” rhetoric seems to be a royalist invention. But at least until recently, the institution of monarchy had a deep respect from people outside Kathmandu. People in Kathmandu and the educated people probably lost their faith in this institution in the recent times.

  4. Please read the article of Bamdev Gautam (esp. last paragraph) in Kantipur of today. I agree with that statement.

    Until Birendra, I had a mediocre view on Monarchy and was ready to accept ceremonial king. But after royal massacre and role of Gyanendra and more specifically, notorious acts of Paras, I will not accept monarchy any more in Nepal like most of the Nepalese. Why should they get special treatments? Why should poor people’s tax be spent to feed this white element. if they are qualified and capable, they can come to politics and serve nepali people like Dr. Karan Singh of India or Scindia family of Gualior of India. Or they can run their own business and pay taxes. I request all the friends to get out of medieval thinking. let the best and qulified person liked by the people take care of the government.


  5. Sanohbai,
    “The “monarchy as a symbol national unity” rhetoric seems to be a royalist invention.”
    I AGREE 100%.
    On the contrary, they would like to divide Nepalese and rule. They want to keep us uneducated, poor and rule. In 220 (+/-17) years of absolute rule of the king where do Nepal stand now? Who contributed for our misery?
    Remember, on Gyanendra’ proclamation on Friday, he did not even mentioned about 15 or 17 people dead and thousands of people injured during strike. I am so mad at him for being so uncaring and insensitive. Even if your enemy dies, you show your symphathy to his family. This monarchy is a rotten fruit about to decay and drop.

  6. what chances nepal has got when after 19 days of demonstration and thousands of injured, lots of dead nepali what we get is dying old ,corrupt, quoted by his visionary brother as “only fit for habaldar” – got longer nose than his vision for nation as prime minister?? is that worth dying for?? is that worth demonstrating for??
    nepal needs to find young energetic leader
    I rembember gagan thapa saying when he was standing for students union in tri chandra college “you have to be corrupt to be leader only corrupt are leaders!!”
    so that explains the present and future of nepali politics

  7. Mahesh.
    i am so happy and grateful for this post and i agree with your every word.
    ‘this’ monarchy has no any ground to be even ‘ceremonial’.
    so everybody leave all your old ties ‘maya moha biswas aastha’ all all ties with this monarchy and be ready mentally and emotionally for “republic Nepal”.
    all the propaganda,ill beliefs and lies that royalists had forced to we ignorant people in support of monarchy have crumbled down to reveal the real hideous reality.
    –the way kamal thapa’s blame of maoists ‘ghuspaith’ went against himself.

  8. We all can express our views in favour or against the Monarch, but one thing very certain is that we will have no peace with out going for constituent assemply elcections that will decide the fate of monarch and our destiny for 21st century Nepal. I am very doubful with the role of even ceremonial Monarch, particularly looking at one (Gaynendra) who did everything last 2-3 weeks to suppress democratic movement and one (Paras) who hardly deserves such role. Most importantly, we the democratic movement will not stop without going for constituent assembly elections. Even the Maoists have bowed to poeple power, and this is the right time to let Nepales shape thier future destiny and bring the Maoist into democratic political mainstream so we all can move head with our heads held high.
    Jai Nepal.

  9. You can do two things to wish to strengthen monarchy-
    1. Do a bhakal in dakshnikali with Kalo Boko. Hope that priests by sacrficing black goat will help the king.
    2. Visit Kali Baba and ask for his precious direction (read the article on the independant about how superstitous the king is)
    Otherwise, as of now, its hopeless.

  10. i offer a better solution:
    why not make this king a figurehead of hindu fundamentalists(like sankaracharya).

    he has already accepted the crown of “hindu samrat” anyway

    like he can have some palace( or better temple ) where his followers (who believe him to be the vishnu avatar, and can’t imagine a world without him)
    can worship him.

    royalists can be happy to have their dear guardian with them and king will be also content to have those medieval followers who will drink water from his feet.

    you guys king and king’s men make a community and live happily and let we other freedom lovers enjoy our freedom.
    please don’t bug us with your problems.

  11. ROYALISTS?????????? bug who?????????????

    there are people who beleive in absolute monarchy and people who believe in constitutional monarchy…. now which one of them is royalist???? or are both royalist….

    the king bro is a hindu so big deal huh… mind hahaha….

  12. replytoall, In case you didn’t know, in my opinion, the word royalist refers to people who believe in something closer to absolute monarchy than ceremonial monarchy. You will not find a precise definition of the word. At least what people think of when they use that word is mostly consistent. For example, you will not call GP (right now) a royalist while you will call Tulsi Giri a royalist. I can not think of a name right now who is an ardent supporter of constitutional monarchy – that person probably would not be called a royalist.

    I didn’t get your second comment. I don’t think he can do anything about the fact that he is a hindu short of changing his religion. Is that what you want him to do?

    Open mind is good. So is laughing.

  13. Stop this nonsense of Vishnu’s avatar… this is nothing but a scam introduced in our society by some royalists of the past. First of all no body in this world can guarantee if god even exist or not let alone mr. Vishnu then where does this avatar comes from? The monarchy in Nepal has only barred people from its education and rights. I am sad to say most people who take him as Vishnu’s avatar are the people who were barred from education by this monarchy.
    I support Gita, no more tax money for this white elephant. If gods do exist then the avatars do not use police battons against peaceful protestors and bullets against bricks and try to make justification. Do govt in western countries use bullets against peaceful protestors, should the rulers of west who have given education and freedom be considered as devil’s avatar for doing the right things? We Nepalese are in this stage just due this monarchy system.



  15. POUDIYAL…you are just putting together a lot of small small arguments to put together a BIG are failing in making a strong case by talking about ‘WHITE ELEPHANT KING’…saying ‘OTHER COUNTRY KINGS ARE GOOD’ etc…saying before the SHAH KINGS the KINGS were GOOD etc..all contrived arguments….

    We Need the King at least till the Maobadi are defanged….MAOBADI MUST LAY DOWN ARMS BEFORE CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY exercise….

  16. Actually Shanti, he puts up a really good arguement about how, in his opinion, the concept of monarchy has changed.

    Can you please stop typing in caplocks, it’s annoying and immature. You haven’t said anything for needing a King except the maoists. That doesn’t make sense because in the last four years, the king did nothing to get rid of the Maoists, in fact, I hear they’re stronger.

    And yes, look at countries like Thailand, Norway, the UK etc, the people love their monarchs because their monarchs are wonderful and care about their people (while holding no political power). Nepal’s monarchy on the other hand, has only caused suffering. They have done nothing, I repeate, nothing, to get rid of poverty, disease, illiteracy etc.

  17. Shanti, the alias u’ve used is pretty ironic. Think u should use another one.
    When all the political parties and most of the people in Nepal have set their mind to throw the king, u are suggesting to empower him again and for such a pathetic, illogical, absurd reason- to defeat maoists! Well, i’ll tell ya one thing not only this king but even if he comes forward together with dead kings including PN Shah and also backed by devraj indra or indra’s bau chandra, they won’t be able to subdue maoists. So, better get rid of ur daydream.
    Look,just by trimming the teeth and claws of the king ,peace and harmony has started to bloom and whole nation taken a sigh of relief, how peaceful would it be when we get completely rid of that devil along with his evil spawns.

  18. There really is no point replying/debating with people like Shati. He/she is so far and oblivious to reality that its just a useless task.
    Besides there are peobebly like 10-15 other people who still hold on to that view… so really its inconsequential.

  19. The Royal Disconnect

    There will be many postmortems on the decayed cadaver of the royal Rana and Shah families. The clause in the 1990 constitution of Nepal that bars criticism of the royal family and effectively places them above the law will have to be removed in a new constitution, and witnesses to the inner workings of the palace will have to be granted immunity from prosecution, before the full story of the tragic events of the past decade and the ongoing tragedy before our eyes can be fully told. What is known throughout Nepal but never openly expressed, includes the following. Unlike the royal families of India, the Shah and Rana families never considered it necessary to prepare their children to serve a useful function in the modern world. They never sent their children out to the villages of the hills and the terai to come to understand the hardship, suffering, and despair of the great majority of the people of Nepal. They didn’t send their sons and daughters abroad to get a first class education so they could come back to Nepal and be productive contributors to Nepal’s development. In their family owned businesses, they never considered following modern business practices but relied on their political power and wealth to coerce and bribe, to deny opportunity to others , and to prevent any competition. If tobacco, alcohol, and gambling are the most profitable sources of personal revenue in Nepal, so what if it violates the central tenants of Vaishnaism and undermines the core claim to legitimacy for Nepal being a Hindu state with a Hindu king; all the better to retain a monopoly as far as possible. Rather than invest their profits in Nepal, they have stashed their profits away in foreign banks. In short, their business interests, rather than stimulating the economy, put a break on economic development.

    Nor did the royal family ever interact with Nepal’s intellectuals, writers, poets, scholars, or political leaders unless they bowed and scraped and said and wrote what the palace wanted to hear. Any intellectual whose understanding of what was happening socially, culturally, or economically in Nepal led to the conclusion that change was necessary; found themselves without a job, censored, denied a visa to travel, and if they persisted, they ended up in jail. This total lack of interest in ideas and aversion to debate, resulted in Nepal’s rulers living in an intellectual vacuum. I will leave it to experts in genetics and behavioral psychology to assess the impact of one hundred and fifty years of inbreeding on the intellectual capacity and social behavior of the princes of the royal family whose reported activities have violated the moral conscience of Nepal. Mentally, as well as physically, the royal family has lived in isolation from the rest of Nepal. They do not appear to have ever made an effort to break out of the total isolation forced upon then during the Rana period, nor give up the pleasures and vices they were offered as an alternative to holding power. It appears they never understood that they could only have one or the other, but not both. As a result, they lost the moral authority to play the traditional ceremonial role as preservers of tradition and never acquired the knowledge or skills to be a positive force in the political and economic development of Nepal.

    In the realm of politics, the royal family has never shown any ambition beyond holding onto, and in the case of his monarch, expanding royal power. Corruption was never an issue unless it could be used to bring down an enemy, otherwise, it was accept as “business as usual.” Any effort at social or economic reform was seen as a threat to the status and wealth of the royal family and thwarted with a combination of threats and bribes wherever necessary. Had the Palace been less reactionary in thwarting social and economic reforms, including the desperate need for land reform in western Nepal, the demands of the early 90”s in parliament for social reforms and expanded opportunities for Nepal’s minorities could have been met and the present civil conflict between the Palace and the Maobadi avoided.

    Nothing could provide greater proof of the total disconnect between the Palace and the people of Nepal than King Gyanendra’s televised speeches on Friday evening, April 21 and Monday, April 24 2006.Beginning his speech with “ beloved countrymen” he seemed totally unaware that the feeling was not mutual, that throughout Nepal hundreds of thousands of his beloved countrymen were marching on government offices in district centers and on the Royal Palace calling for an end to the Shah dynasty. The vehemence of the curses of his subjects as they watched the broadcast, locked in their homes by a curfew and orders to “shoot on sight’ anyone venturing out, reflected the pent-up rage of a people fed up with more lies. The “meaningful exercise in multiparty democracy’ was not, as he claimed, the royal coup of February 1, 2005, but a revolution taking place at that very moment on the streets of Nepal demanding full democracy. Was the king aware that his ‘
    “civil servants demonstrated [their] sincerity towards their duties” while he was speaking by deserting their offices and joining the demonstrators on the street? Did the king know that at the very moment he was praising his security personnel for “upholding their glorious traditions” his police were clubbing to death innocent women and children and his soldiers were using live ammunition and shooting to kill his beloved countrymen for daring to exercise their fundamental right to speech and assembly?

    Were the king’s speeches an extraordinary example of self deception? Certainly no one else in Nepal was fooled. Western reporters may be excused for not knowing that in Nepal “the Prime Minister and council of Ministers which will bear the responsibility of governing the country in accordance with the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal – 1990” have no control over the military, and that the kings of Nepal , as Commander in Chief of the Royal Nepal Army, have never hesitated to use the army to overthrow any government that threatened their hold on power as has the present king. Did the king think that the leaders of the political parties, after being dismissed from office and thrown into prison under the king’s interpretation of the 1990 constitution, would be such fools as to fall into the same old trap again? Perhaps they have! Had the king been at all sincere he would have announced the end of all restrictions on the press, the freeing of all political prisoners, the end of all curfews and restrictions on the freedom of assembly and speech in the heart of Kathmandu, and a unilateral ceasefire in his war against the Maobadi. He would have, himself called for a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution and promised to abide by its provisions even if that meant relinquishing the throne and going into exile. What is obvious is that the Palace will continue to fight by every means at its disposal to hold onto and, if possible, regain lost power.

    Serious questions are raised from listening to King Gyanendra’s speech.
    If the king truly believed what he said, can a monarch so ignorant of the will of his people be allowed to control an army and use it against his own people? Has the king by his own actions so undermined his own moral authority that the monarchy in Nepal has become an expensive anachronism that an impoverished Nepal can no longer afford? If this is the case, then the king has no choice but to take his entire family and go into exile.

    If we assume that the king, through his extensive intelligence network knew exactly what was happening while he was speaking, and will say anything, and do anything, to hold on to power; then, prosecution rather then exile may be his fate. In attempting to turn back the clock to an earlier and more regressive period in Nepal’s history, time has run out on the monarchy and the verdict from the street is that it has no place in Nepal’s future. What ever happens to the royal family, it will certainly be the coroner’s verdict that death was caused by self inflicted wounds.

  20. This Article was Originally Submitted by Another User:
    Bahunists and Bahunism – A mini-Dissertation on the Caretakers of Nepal’s Feudal Tradition
    (Courtesy: Sano Baje)

    Part 1

    For those of us who have lived with this phenomenon all our lives, what is described below is no big revelation. However, for the benefit of those who think Nepali politics boils down to a struggle between Royalists and Maoists, or democrats and autocrats, or centrists and extremists, they are only partially correct. There is one other critical grouping that serves as chief sponsor of the political turmoil in Nepal – the Bahunists.
    Who are the Bahunists?
    So who (what) exactly are the Bahunists? Well, those who believe in Maoism are Maoists; those who believe in the Royal tradition are Royalists. Similarly, those who believe in the “Bahun-baad” tradition, are the Bahunists.
    What is the “Bahun-baad” tradition and who precisely are the Bahunists? Ask any Janajati, Dalit, Newar, Madhesi (or non-Brahmin individual) – he or she will provide you a dissertation on what “Bahun-baad” is and exactly how much damage the Bahunists have done to the idea of liberal democracy in Nepal.
    Ask the Chhetris, the Thakuris, the Ranas, the Thapas, the Mallas, the Shresthas, the Tamrakars, the Kayasthas (etc.) the same question, and it is likely they will give you a different answer. Members of these groups are sure to know who the Bahunists are, but they probably don’t understand the phenomenon that well.
    Why? Because for centuries, Bahunists have successfully performed as the mechanism that enables (and amplifies) Nepal’s feudal traditions; at the same time, the Bahunists have been successful in portraying the non-Bahunists as either the face, or the victims of feudalism.

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