Another Himalayan kingdom tumbles, but will Nepal miss its monarchy?

May 28, 2008

Another Himalayan kingdom is falling, a chapter closing on an ancient historical tradition. But will the modern system of democracy do a better job?

Sikkim’s monarchs, the Chogyals, retreated into history when India annexed their territory in 1975. Tibet’s “priest-king”, the Dalai Lama, was forced in exile when China invaded his land in the 1950s.

Nepal’s King Gyanendra looks at an animal sacrifice being performed at a temple in Kathmandu May 12, 2008. REUTERS/Gopal Chitrakar (NEPAL)Now, after 239 years of the Shah dynasty, Nepal is set to become a secular republic on Wednesday .

In the Himalayas, only in Bhutan does a monarchy still play a significant role, and even there it voluntarily surrendered power this year to a new democratically elected parliament.

Many of these kings were once revered as incarnations of Buddha or Vishnu, some still are.

But the Himalayan monarchies have come under pressure from he north and south, from their giant neighbours China and India. Pressure has come from below as well, from subjects demanding democracy on the roof the world. One by one, they are succumbing to that pressure.

The Buddhist majority in Bhutan seemed sad to see their king stand aside and democracy enter their largely peaceful land, fearing that conflict and corruption would surely follow.

Youths donning headbands which read, “Republic Nepal” dance and sing in Kathmandu May 28, 2008. Thousands of Nepalis marched danced and sung in the capital’s streets on Wednesday to celebrate “the dawn of the republic” hours before the Himalayan nation was set to abolish its once-revered Hindu monarchy. REUTERS/Shruti Shrestha (NEPAL)But few Nepalis seem unhappy to see Gyanendra or his son Paras pushed aside, even if many liked the idea of a constitutional monarchy.

Some people wonder if will Nepal one day regret the passing of its monarchy. Or are its people right to celebrate the advent of secular democracy and an end to feudalism?

In 1990, street protests forced King Birendra to relinquish power and introduce democracy. The palace was openly reviled at the time, but over the ensuing decade it gradually rebuilt its reputation. While politicians squabbled and stole, the king stayed firmly above the fray.

The palace massacre, and Gyanendra’s seizure of power, changed all that, and left the monarchy fatally wounded.

It now looks likely as though Maoist chief Prachanda will be prime minister, leaving the post of president a largely symbolic one.

But who will Nepal find to be its new, unifying figurehead? Does anyone mourn the death of an ancient tradition? And will its politicians finally live up to the promises they have made?


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Isn’t Nepali the language and Nepalese the race?

Posted by cyclops | Report as abusive

Thanks for your comment. The Oxford dictionary gives either Nepali or Nepalese for the inhabitants of Nepal, and Nepali for the language.
Reuters style has always been Nepali for both.

Posted by Simon Denyer | Report as abusive

Apparently, a change in Reuters’ style is now necessary. Nepali stands for Nepali language or its native speakers anywhere in the world; Nepalese for citizens of Nepal. A Nepali can be an Indian, as for example Prashant Tamang of Indian Idol fame, but a Nepalese can’t be an Indian as long as there is no dual citizenship law in both countries.

Posted by Shiva | Report as abusive

Really sad to see an ancient tradition coming to an end. Politicians just want power and with them comes “The ghost of corruption”.

Posted by Mr. Pai | Report as abusive

“Sikkim’s monarchs, the Chogyals, retreated into history when India annexed their territory in 1975.” … Is Nepal next?? One wonders ……

Posted by rdr | Report as abusive

King should be retained at any cost,there needs another people’s revolt,or this country will be next sikkim, which was gulped by INDIA, god save our King, and country from the corrupt politicians and INDIA

Posted by Choodamani | Report as abusive

Monarch is gone , monarchy is gone its all right .But will the corruption and inequality fades away or not ? it is still to be seen . Beside the depost was over thrown and again the corrupted and perpatators are in power . Loosing the king may not cost so much but these corrupted and sub academic faces in the power will cost much to the people .

Posted by Bhuwan Adhikari | Report as abusive

The current Nepaly king did all the ungodly infact demonly things to clinch power, I guess karma catching up with the deeds. Its victory of the common Nepali people..who wanted to have democracy and representation of their views and rights at the top level, the concept of Hidu kingdom hardly works in 21st century. Nepaless are modernist and liberal and I feel they have a great future ahead, and could well turn out to be the most modern of the South asian nations..

Posted by Sceptic Indian | Report as abusive

Everything has to come to an end and so is the monarchy in Nepal. People of Nepal finally stepped into democracy. Thankfully all that happened without any loss of life. Now it would be up to the Maoist or the new government to take Nepal to new high, especially on the economic front. Corruption and crime is a part of society. Everyone has to live with the evil. So do’nt have any fears for the same.

Posted by Akhilesh Shukla | Report as abusive

Nepal will be better off without the king who almost assumed the role of a dictator- he was responsible for the chaos, destruction and teh ruin of the kingdom …the demon king as i wud call him. Democracy was crippled. But as they say that all bad things come yo an end. At this point of time it is hard to say whther democracy can bring out a positive change(if u see countries liek Pakistan) but yes, it will gv the Nepalese the much needed space and freedom to led their own lives rather than existing just for the state

Posted by Nayantara | Report as abusive

This was long overdue. We should not have king long time back. Because of their deeds Nepal remained poor country all along. I hope for better.

B Pokharel

Posted by B Pokharel | Report as abusive

Might I point out, none of the Himalayan kingdoms is or was ever ruled by a Buddha. As a matter of fact, the Buddha, as an evolved being who has attained nirvana, is free from the cycles of rebirth. It is the Boddhisatvas,
beings who defer their Buddha-hood so that they may be reborn for the benefit of humankind, who are reincarnations.

The word Chogyal means ‘he who rules justly’, and it was a title given to the first bearer of that name by a Buddhist monk. The Bhutani monarchy operates on the division of secular and religious power.

And the ‘god-king’ of Tibet is a reincarnation of the Boddisattva of mercy, Chenrezi, known in Pali as Avilokitshwara Padmapani.

Now that the Buddhas are out of the way: the Nepali king is generally described as an ‘incarnation’ of Vishnu. This is not peculiar to your organisation, but is across media. I would prefer the term ’embodiment.’

Not for the mere fact Vishnu’s nine incarnations have come and gone, and the cannon allows for just one more, who is to arrive at the stroke of doomsday.

Not also for the fact the Hinduism in the Himalayas from Nepal through Bengal to Assam was of the Shakta variety — which incorporated doctrines of power and animism that pre-dates Aryanisation — which is so very different from the pacifist and vegetarian Vaishnavite Hinduism. Note here the royal chapels and cathedrals of Nepal — Pashupatinath is dedicated to Shiva, the hemp smoking, ashes and skull adorned ascetic. The goddess the royal family worships with animal sacrifices is Kali, the fearsome one. The Kumari is an incarnation of Taleju, a shakta goddess.

And if the Shahs had a royal guru, he would be from the Nath sect of Gorakhpur, a Shaivaite sect. Indeed, Prithvi Narayan Shah was blessed and cursed by the founder of this sect. And as late as Birendra’s time, the royal
family used to seek the spiritual directorship of its current head.

The Hindu pantheon would offer us clues to this puzzling question: why would a shaivaite-influenced monarchy be seen as as an embodiment of Vishnu. Of the gods represented in stone, Vishnu is easily recognisable by the crown that he bears. He, of all the gods, is the embodiment of royalty. In native Hindu kingdoms, where the king was divine, it is not strange that the king becomes an embodiment of the god of royalness.

Posted by Ing Shiong | Report as abusive

Thanks for all the comments. We will definitely consult and reconsider our Nepali/Nepalese style. And I will certainly take on board the interesting comments on the religoius aspects of the monarchies. Time for some more research!

Posted by Simon Denyer | Report as abusive

what ever peoples says about the recent development and the end of monarch in Nepal, i believe as being the citizen of Nepal that we need monarch as it is the symbol of unity and independent country.
in the history, not all the republic country or democratic country progressed, many failed because of corruption and because of their internal causes and in term of Nepal, as the country itself is in complex position from all angle we need some one who have authority to take action immediately and right was one the monarch who has understood better of the suitation then other.
the former king Gyanendra did some wrong things because of his corrupt advisers and the people who were in touch with them.
anyways, now in the country our king is no more, and we have to see how the new government will lead Nepal and how will be the new Nepal. Hope there will no power struggle and nepal will be a prosperous country…JAI NEPAL

Posted by Sundar | Report as abusive