Birendra of Nepal

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Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev
King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah (cropped).jpg
Birendra Bir Bikram Shah
King of Nepal
Reign31 January 1972 –
1 June 2001
Coronation24 February 1975
Born(1945-12-28)28 December 1945
Narayanhiti Royal Palace, Kathmandu, Nepal
Died1 June 2001(2001-06-01) (aged 55)
Narayanhiti Royal Palace, Kathmandu, Nepal
ConsortAishwarya Rajya Lakshmi Devi
IssueKing Dipendra
Princess Shruti
Prince Nirajan
Regnal name
Shree Paanch Maharajadhiraj Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev
FatherKing Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev
MotherIndra Rajya Lakshmi Devi

Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev (Nepali: वीरेन्द्र वीर विक्रम शाह) (28 December 1945 – 1 June 2001) was the king of Nepal from 1972 until 2001. As the eldest son of King Mahendra, he reigned until his death by assassination in the 2001 Nepalese royal massacre.


From a very young age, Birendra was described by his Eton teachers as a kind prince.[citation needed] He was remembered by his Eton classmates as a "very, very nice bloke who was embarrassed when his full title was read out at the school assembly."[1]

Birendra allowed the 2036 B.S. Janmat Sangraha (1980 Referendum) which was considered a move towards democracy. However, the leaders advocating for the democracy and the historians have claimed that the referendum was rigged.[2] After People's Movement I that resulted in few hundred deaths, he established a constitutional monarchy in Nepal.[3]

Some historians have speculated that Birendra's democratic views and simple nature may have led to the success of the People's Movement I (1990).[4] He is credited for introducing SAARC in Asia in order to strengthen the foreign relations of Nepal with the other South Asian countries.

Early life[edit]

King Birendra Bikram Shah Dev

Birendra was born at the Narayanhiti Royal Palace in Kathmandu as the eldest son of the then Crown Prince Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev and his first wife, Crown Princess Indra Rajya Lakshmi Devi.[5][6]

Birendra spent eight years studying at St Joseph's School, a Jesuit school in Darjeeling, with his brother Gyanendra. In 13 March 1955, their grandfather King Tribhuvan died and their father succeeded the Nepalese throne. With his father's ascension, Birendra became the crown prince of Nepal.

In 1959, Birendra was enrolled at Eton College in the United Kingdom. After studying at Eton until 1964, he returned to Nepal where he began to explore the country by travelling on foot to the remote parts of the country where he lived humbly with what was available in the villages.[5] He later completed his education by spending some time at the University of Tokyo, before studying political theory at Harvard University from 1967 to 1968.[7] Birendra enjoyed travelling in his youth, and went on trips to Canada, Latin America, Africa, many parts of India, and a number of other Asian countries. He was also an art collector and supporter of Nepalese crafts people and artists, and learnt to fly helicopters.[8]

Birendra was married to Aishwarya Rajya Lakshmi Devi from the Rana family, his second cousin, on 27 February 1970.[9] The wedding, which was billed as one of the most lavish Hindu nuptial ceremonies in history, cost $9.5 million to stage.[10]

Early reign[edit]

Birendra ascended to the Nepalese throne on 31 January 1972, at the age of 27, after the death of his father King Mahendra. 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.[8] However, Birendra maintained that he presided over a democracy in which representatives to the assembly were indirectly elected and said that his poor and backward country could not afford a democracy based on party politics. He also maintained that Nepal needed firm and decisive government.[11] His first trips abroad as king were to India in October 1973 and China two months later.[12] He believed that Nepal, sandwiched between the two Asian powers, should have good relationship with both.[13]

Coronation in 1975[edit]

After Mahendra's death in 1972, Birendra consulted his court astrologers, who advised him to delay his coronation for three years, as the most auspicious moment for his crowning was at 8:37 am precisely on 24 February 1975. On the dawn of 24 February, Birendra was driven to the temple of his ancestral palace, the Hanuman Dhoka ("Gate of Hanuman"). There he was smeared with mud taken from various symbolic places - the bottom of a lake, the tusk of an elephant, a mountain, the confluence of two rivers and the doorstep of a prostitute's house. Then, with Queen Aishwarya beside him, he was cleansed with butter, milk, yogurt and honey as priests chanted praises and salutations.[14]

The coronation ceremony was attended by statesmen and political leaders from 60 nations, with the Prince of Wales representing the British Royal Family. Birendra's personal guests included his former housemaster at Eton, Peter Lawrence, three other masters and 15 old boys. At the ordained time, the chief priest placed on the head of Birendra the emerald green crown, encrusted with jewels and adorned with feathers from a bird of paradise.

On the auspicious occasion of his coronation, the new king announced that he had ordered his government to make primary education available and free for every child, but disappointed those Nepalis who hoped that he would promise progress towards democracy.[15]

1980 referendum[edit]

In an attempt to maintain the panchayat system of government prominent leaders of the Nepali Congress Party were arrested.[8] Because of the growing pro-democracy movement Birendra announced that a referendum to decide between a non-party and a multi-party system would be held. The referendum was held in May 1980 with the non-party system winning by a margin of 55% to 45%.[13] During the 1980s the restraints that had been imposed on political organisations were eased, and liberal student-led groups started to demand constitutional change in Nepal.[7][16]

Democratic era[edit]

Birendra with Rajiv Gandhi

In 1990, a series of strikes and pro-democracy riots broke out in Nepal. Due to the riots, Birendra lifted the ban on political parties and agreed to become a constitutional monarch in April 1990. 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 10 September 1990. 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 the Prime Minister Krishna Prasad Bhattarai and his cabinet and so, on 9 November 1990, Birendra promulgated the new constitution transforming Nepal into a constitutional monarchy. Birendra appointed an interim government to pave the way for elections. To head this he chose Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, who he had imprisoned for several years. In a discussion on BBC radio, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai spoke of Birendra's impeccable personal manners and courtesy and his equally impeccable role as a constitutional monarch.[17][18] Birendra, however, could not prevent the Nepalese Civil War, a conflict between Maoist rebels and government forces, which lasted from 1996 until 2006.


Birendra and his whole family were gunned down by Crown Prince Dipendra at a royal dinner on 1 June 2001. Almost all of the royal family members were killed in the massacre except Gyanendra Shah, Birendra's younger brother. Dipendra was proclaimed the king but died a few days later of self-inflicted gunshot wounds sustained in the massacre. Consequently, Gyanendra was made the king.[19]

Titles and honours[edit]

National orders
Foreign orders
Association honours



  1. ^ Malhotra, Inder (4 June 2001). "Obituary: King Birendra of Nepal". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 May 2021.
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Nepal's King Gives Way to Multiparty Democracy". The New York Times. 11 November 1990.
  4. ^ Katawal, Rookmangud (2014). Aatmakatha ["Autobiography"] (in Nepali) (paperback ed.). Nepal. ISBN 978-9937874076.
  5. ^ a b "King Birendra of Nepal". Daily Telegraph. 23 August 2001. Retrieved 21 July 2008.
  6. ^ "The Late King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah - Childhood Picture".
  7. ^ a b "Birendra: Nepal's monarch of change". BBC. 2 June 2001. Retrieved 21 July 2008.
  8. ^ a b c Crossette, Barbara (3 June 2001). "Birendra, 55, Ruler of Nepal's Hindu Kingdom". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 July 2008.
  9. ^ Mainali, Pramod (2000). Milestones of History. p. 111. ISBN 99946-960-4-1.
  10. ^ "Marriage of Convenience". Time. 9 March 1970. Archived from the original on 14 February 2009. Retrieved 21 July 2008.
  11. ^ Tully, Mark (23 April 2002). "The late King Birendra of Nepal". CNN. Retrieved 21 July 2008.
  12. ^ "King Birendra's Historic China Visit". Archived from the original on 23 July 2015. Retrieved 23 July 2015.
  13. ^ a b Malhotra, Inder (4 June 2001). "King Birendra of Nepal". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 July 2008.
  14. ^ "Coronation in 1975, Jean Pierre Laffont, 89 images".
  15. ^ "King Birendra of Nepal". The Telegraph. 3 June 2001.
  16. ^ "King Birendra Credentials".
  17. ^ "The Constitution of 1990". Country Studies. Retrieved 21 July 2008.
  18. ^ Malhotra, Inder (4 June 2001). "King Birendra of Nepal A ruler much loved by his people, he bowed to popular will and surrendered absolute power". The Guardian.
  19. ^ West, Julian (2 June 2001). "Nepal's royal killer is named King as his parents are cremated".
  20. ^ "Bilateral relations". La France au Népal. Archived from the original on 18 October 2015. Retrieved 8 September 2018.
  21. ^ "Boletín Oficial del Estado" (PDF). Retrieved 8 September 2018.
  • Album of late King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev by Narayan Prasad Shiwakoti: Published in 1995 – Election
Regnal titles
Preceded by Crown Prince of Nepal
Succeeded by
King of Nepal