The Nepalese Royal Massacre

Before becoming the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal in 2008, the Shah dynasty ruled over the Himalayan nation for almost 450 years. Also referred to as the Royal House of Gorkha, Shah monarchs had ruled the 24 confederated tribes that became the Ghorka Kingdom since 1559, before the nation became the unified kingdom of Nepal in 1768.

While the rule of the Shah dynasty came to an end through democratic means, with the monarchy abolished and Nepal declared a republic in 2008, much of the Royal Family had in fact lost their lives seven years earlier, when ten members were killed. Known as the Nepalese royal massacre, the incident saw the death of King Birendra of Nepal, his wife Queen Aishwarya and seven princes and princesses.

With King Birenda having died from his wounds at the scene, his gravely injured son, the Crown Prince Dipendra, was named king, ruling for three days and never waking from a coma that resulted from his injuries. However, after his death, an inquiry found that Dipendra had in fact been responsible for the massacre, including his own self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Much confusion still surrounds the circumstances leading up to the incident and how the shooting transpired, with a number of conspiracy theories arising.

Crown Prince Dipendra. Image: Nabin Sapkota

The official account of the massacre, established by a two-man committee appointed to investigate the shooting, is as follows. On 1st June 2001, King Birendra was hosting a party for family members in the grounds of Narayanhiti Royal Palace, the official residence of the Nepalese monarch. During the festivities, Crown Prince Dipendra produced a number of guns, with accounts identifying an M16A2 rifle, MP5K sub-machine gun, SPAS-12 shotgun and Glock 19 pistol as the weapons used.

Dipendra shot and killed his parents, as well as his younger siblings Prince Nirajan (22) and Princess Shruti (25). Also killed were King Birenda’s three siblings Prince Dhirendra, Princess Shanti and Princess Sharada, alongside Sharada’s husband Kumar Khadga and King Birendra’s cousin Princess Jayanti. Four other members of the household were injured. Birendra then turned the gun on himself, shooting himself in the head.

With the majority of the Royal line dead, Dipendra was pronounced king as he lay in a coma in hospital, despite being the perpetrator of the massacre. His reign lasted just three days, before he succumbed to his injuries at the age of 29. He was succeeded by his father’s surviving brother Gyanendra, who would prove to be the final king of the Shah Dynasty. While Dipendra survived in hospital Gyanendra told media that the deaths had been as a result of an accidental discharge from an automatic weapon, before changing his story after his nephew died. 

Devyani Rana, photographed around the time of the massacre. Image: Getty

The motivation for the killings remain unknown, with a number of competing theories. It is well documented that Dipendra wished to marry Devyani Rana, the daughter of a senior politician and member of the Rana dynasty. Due to her mother’s family’s relatively low status amongst Indian royals and her fathers political stance, Dipendra’s parents objected to the pairing. They also feared greater Indian influence on the future king. 

Another theory for what triggered the massacre is that Dipendra objected to a shift from absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. However, he appeared supportive of the 1990 People’s Movement uprising at the time.

Gyanendra Shah, who ultimately became king following the death of his brother and nephew. Image: Krish Dulal

Others have pointed out how Dipendra’s uncle Prince Gyanendra was notably absent from the family gathering, and ultimately succeeded him after his death. The theory that Gyanendra either galvanised Dipendra to action or otherwise conspired to cause the massacre remains a common belief in Nepal, even after Gyanendra relinquished the throne in 2008 after Nepal became a republic.

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