The temporal power he enjoyed has been whittled away by Nepal's new political dispensation. His wings have been clipped over the past year, and are likely to be clipped even further. But in the culture and tradition of the Himalayan kingdom, King Gyanendra still matters, as Sunday's spectacle proved.
Despite the scorching heat, thousands of Nepalese queued up in front of the Narayanhity Palace for the privilege of having the king personally apply a
to their foreheads. In popular perception, the king is still the reincarnation of Lord Vishnu. It is a century-old tradition for the masses to receive the blessings of the monarch on Vijaya Dashami, the tenth day of the Dashain festival, as it is called here.
King Gyanendra did not disappoint his audience. For all his recent reverses, he looked confident and predicted a bright future for the country. "Beloved countrymen," he said in a short message, "on the occasion of our joyous festival that is a vehicle for nurturing dignity, good thoughts, cooperation and affection, we express our good wishes for the happiness, peace and prosperity of all Nepalis at home and abroad. We pray to Goddess Navadurga Bhavani that the country progresses through unity and reconciliation and sees lasting peace."
Indeed, for the past few days, the monarch, despite Maoists protests, has been visiting some famous temples in Kathmandu. At some places people even raised slogans in his support.
"The Maoists may want to abolish the monarchy altogether, but the King still has some socio-cultural relevance in Nepal," said Rajesh Shrestha, a businessman in Kathmandu.
Even Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, who has been going the extra distance to appease the Maoists of late, refused to endorse their opposition to the king's temple visits.
"How can we stop the king from visiting any temple as a commoner?" Koirala said.