When a pregnant young queen started to drown, her attendants wouldn’t help. Find out why.
The protocol around royalty which governs how they interact with commoners is usually ancient, rigid and ensures royal family members’ inviolability.
On one occasion however it caused an entirely avoidable tragedy for the Chakri royal dynasty of Siam, modern-day Thailand.
Queen Sunanda Kumariratana was just 19 years old when she travelled to see the newly built and bountiful Bang Pa-In palace be opened by her husband and King — Rama V, but reaching the palace required crossing the Chao Phraya River.
She made her way down to the water’s edge.
Squawks and cries of life rang out sporadically in the thick heat that beat down in the surrounding jungle, and dangerous currents whooshed and sploshed water downstream after heavy rains.
A boat was waiting to ferry the vulnerable young queen, her two-year-old little princess and unborn child to the other side. The boat would be towed in turn by a larger one which would ferry the queen’s retinue.
What should’ve been a joyous day for the King and his family was struck by tragedy; as the boat was hauled across the strong current, it capsized.
The Queen and two-year-old infant daughter were dumped in the river and flailed their arms as they attempted to stop from sinking under. Her entourage, horrified and aghast, failed to act, however.
A no contact rule in the Kingdom of Siam forbade any commoner from touching royal family members under any circumstances and under pain of death. So, with no rope, the head guard felt he could do nothing except look on as the queen slowly drowned.
For this absurd episode, the King imprisoned the guard who did nothing to rescue the favourite of his three queen consorts, yet the poor servant was merely guilty of sticking to the laws of his king.
The Prince who murdered his family because he couldn’t marry his one true love
This is the grisly story of a truly astounding crime. In 2001 the Nepalese Royal Family was slaughtered in a frenzied shooting spree. What makes this more disturbing is that it was committed by one of their own family members. On top of that, their sad demise fulfilled an ancient prophecy made over 200 years before — that the Shah royal line would end after 10 generations.
On the 1st of June 2001, one of the world’s most venerated royal families; the Shah royal family, was butchered by the King’s firstborn son, Crown Prince Dipendra, who gunned down his parents plus seven more of his kin before turning the gun on himself. That at least, is the official version of events…
Let’s go back to when this saga ultimately began.
The Sage’s Prophecy
The Shah royal family came to rule the Gorkha Kingdom from 1559 AD and conquered and unified the surrounding patchwork of kingdoms into modern-day Nepal by 1768. This secluded, mystical, part-tropical-part-alpine kingdom was hemmed in by the British Raj to the south and the sheer Himalayan mountains to its north and its rustic and rugged interior incubated one of the most formidable warrior cultures on the planet.
The first King of this newly expanded realm was Prithvi Narayan Shah and the story goes that the King was once marching back into the Kathmandu valley when he happened across a sage.
The benign King offered the sage some yoghurt. The learned old man tried the yoghurt then, to reciprocate, blessed it before returning the dish to the King. Yet, the haughty Sovereign didn’t want to eat the yoghurt now this sage had soiled it and he threw it on the ground, spilling the food on his feet. The sage chastised the King for his pride and said if he had taken the yoghurt every wish he made would be fulfilled. Instead, the yoghurt covering the King’s 10 toes now portended a much darker fate; that his dynasty would fall after 10 generations.
From Past to Present
In the intervening epochs, the royal family’s fortunes waxed and waned as the Shahs tussled for power with the Rana dynasty of Prime Ministers between the mid 19th and mid 20th centuries. By 1996 the Kingdom of Nepal was in serious political turmoil with the launch of a Maoist insurgency that would not end until 10 years later. By mid-2001 King Birendra had been on the throne for almost 30 years, siring two sons and a daughter in that time.
He was also the 10th descendent of King Prithvi Narayan Shah and his reign and life would soon be extinguished.
Prince Dipendra’s Deadly Attack
What precisely occurred on the evening of June the 1st is mired in murky intrigue and suspicion. In the bloody aftermath, investigators pieced together what happened as best they could.
Friday nights were when King Birendra and his wife Queen Aishwarya would come together with their family to eat at the Narayanhiti Palace, in Kathmandu. That night, the King and Queen were joined by four of the King’s five siblings and their three children. Plus, others were present that night — about a dozen family members in total.
Crown Prince Dipendra, the next in line for the throne, arrived at the Palace at 7:30pm and went to the billiards room to play billiards by himself over a couple of whiskeys. Half an hour later and the Crown Prince headed out to pick up the Queen Mother to take her to the gathering then, once returned, called an aide to fetch him some hashish cigarettes.
Before 8:30 came about, family members saw the Crown Prince now looking intoxicated, swaying and slurring his speech. Four of them helped him to his room. The Queen then sent aides to check on him and who could hear him vomiting in the bathroom, but he came out and, forebodingly, ordered them to go to their rooms to sleep. At 8:30, the King and Queen arrived and entered the billiards room to greet guests whilst the Prince reappeared and exchanged a few words with another guest before telling them: “I am now about to sleep… good night. We’ll talk tomorrow.”
But Prince Dipendra didn’t go to sleep. He re-emerged from his room donned in black army fatigues and was armed to the teeth. He proceeded to the billiards room and pumped his family with lead from automatic fire. He killed eight people there, including his father King Birendra, a sister, a brother, an uncle and two aunties. He wounded another four. His Mother, Queen Aishwarya and brother Prince Nirajan tried to flee to the inner courtyard. But Prince Dipendra was merciless and he hunted them down too, killing them both before pulling the gun on himself.
Confusion and Conspiracy
In the aftermath, the tragedy sent shockwaves through not just the mountain valleys of Nepal, but the entire world. Messages were sent by the British Royal Family, the Pope, the Indian Prime Minister and UN Secretary-General, amongst others to convey their deep shock and sadness.
Yet, their dismay was nothing compared to the uproar the King’s subjects felt, and they rioted and demanded to know what happened. And who could blame them? No royal family had been slaughtered by one of its own members before.
The frustrating thing about these kinds of ‘lone wolf’ shooting sprees is that the perpetrator’s motive is impossible to ascertain when they typically add themselves to the body count, as Prince Dipendra did. The most plausible theory is that Queen Aishwanya forbade her son from marrying his true love Devyani Rana, due to her mother’s family having conflicting political alliances with the Nepalese Royal Family, so he attacked his family in spite.
There are other rumours that the King’s elder brother, Prince Gyanendra, who shortly became King, might have had a part to play in the massacre due to him being a noticeable absentee at the dinner party.
After the shooting, Prince Dipendra actually survived in a coma for three days and royal protocol awkwardly decreed that he be crowned King now his father had perished, even though he was apparently now a cold-blooded murderer. But once he passed away Prince Gyanendra was crowned King in turn until Nepal became a Republic seven years later.
Even more controversy surrounds the shooting as many, both within and outside Nepal, question whether Prince Dipendra was even the perpetrator of this horrific crime at all. It’s strange to note, for example, that the self-inflicted bullet wound was to the Prince’s right temple, despite him being left-handed…
But I will leave others to sift through the murky ‘conspiracy theories’ surrounding what happened that night. That this massacre fulfilled an ancient prophecy is bizarre enough!
When Nepal’s King Prithvi fell foul of that sage, all those centuries before, who’d have guessed that his prophecy, that the Royal line would end after ten generations, would come true and in such a horrendous fashion?