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Thursday, 14 June, 2001, 13:34 GMT 14:34 UK
Nepal's living link with history
Mourning for late King Birendra
The monarchy is looked to as the symbol of the nation
By Daniel Lak in Gorkha Durbar

The view of river valleys and Himalayan peaks is breathtaking - and the sense of history is overwhelming.

Temple buildings
Gorman Durbar temple complex: Birthplace of modern Nepal
Gorkha Durbar, a renovated palace and Hindu temple complex about 110 km west of Kathmandu, is the birthplace of modern Nepal, and the seat of the nation's founder, Prithvi Narayan Shah.

Nepalis are proud of their history, particularly the combination of statesmanship and military prowess used by King Prithvi of Gorkha to weld dozens of squabbling hill states and prosperous Kathmandu valley cities into the Kingdom of Nepal.

He made his final conquest in 1769 and Nepal was born.

At Gorkha Durbar, ordinary people offer prayers to a Hindu goddess, Gorakhkali, a sage and holy man, Gorakhnath, and to the various relics of Privthi Narayan Shah's remarkable achievement.

"This is a place where we our history combines with our faith," says Purna Jung Shahi, curator of Gorkha Durbar and an appointee of the late King Birendra Bikram Shah.

For in Nepal, the Shah kings are far more than just the hereditary monarchs of the world's only Hindu kingdom.

Living institution

The Nepalese king is seen by many as a living incarnation of the Hindu god, Vishnu, the Preserver of Life.

The king unites us like no other figure.

Historian Prayag Raj Sharma
The other gods of the Hindu trinity are Brahma, the creator and Shiva, the destroyer.

"This is very much based on ancient Hindu practice," says Prayag Raj Sharma, a cultural historian.

"The king dispenses justice and exudes fairness, he is the preserver of life."

"People in the old Hindu kingdoms of the Gangetic basin in northern India also saw their kings as representatives, as incarnation, of gods."

Gorkha - today just a small hill town with a somewhat ragged bazaar - was always the seat of justice in Nepal.

An ancestor of Prithvi Narayan Shah, Ram Shah was one of the country's earliest reformers of land revenues and the inventor of a penal code.

A common saying even today in Nepal is: "If you are denied justice, go to Gorkha."

Continuity with past

The intense outpouring of grief after the tragic killing of King Birendra and much of his family in early June was a very real indication of the monarchy's crucial role in Nepal.

Statue at Gorkha Durbar
The king is seen as the living incarnation of the gods
Even though the late King Birendra gave up his power to an elected multi-party parliament in 1990, he is revered as someone who represents continuity between past and present, fair play and freedom from petty political concerns.

"The king is a constitutional monarch," says Prayag Raj Sharma, "but this is a diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic land. The king unites us like no other figure, not even a popularly elected politician."

Grim prophecy

A legend about Prithvi Narayan Shah says that at the age of six, he refused to eat yogurt spat into his hand by the holy man, Gorakhnath.

Nepalese man praying
Many hope the monarchy will continue
The guru is said to have told the six-year-old boy who would one day create Nepal that his success and that of his ancestors would be limited by this action.

Had he eaten the yoghurt, he would have got his heart's desire.

Some have repeated this prophecy in the wake of the killings at the Royal Palace in Kathmandu.

But most Nepalis seem to feel overwhelmingly that the monarchy - an institution steeped in history and tradition - will continue to symbolise all that they love about their country.

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See also:

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