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Nepal king's car stoned during Shivratri festival

The festival turned menacing when pilgrims were angered by the preferential treatment shown to the king by temple authorities.

india Updated: Feb 17, 2007 12:33 IST

Though his followers avowed to lead a march of Indian holy men in support of monarchy, Nepal's King Gyanendra found himself at the receiving end of pilgrims' wrath with crowds throwing stones at the monarch once revered as god.

Shivratri, one of the biggest Hindu festivals in Nepal celebrated by tens of thousands of devotees at Kathmandu's famed Pashupatinath temple, turned menacing on Friday when pilgrims were angered by the preferential treatment shown to the visiting king by temple authorities.

Thousands of pilgrims, who had come from afar and had been patiently waiting in queues for hours braving chill and a drizzle to offer worship, saw red when temple officials decided to bar their entry to make way for King Gyanendra.

It was a sombre king who arrived late in the evening to offer his traditional worship at the temple.

However, in a departure from tradition, the king came alone, without Queen Komal who usually accompanies him on his public engagements and without Crown Prince Paras and his wife Crown Princess Himani, who comprised the royal retinue even last year.

There were other remarkable changes for the royal family this year.

For the first time in over the two century-long history of the Nepal Army, the king was not invited to the Army Day celebrations in the capital.

In the past, the king used to be the chief commander of the army and therefore chief guest at army celebrations.

However, last year, after his 15-month direct rule provoked a public revolt and he had to relinquish power, the prime minister became head of the army.

The newly revived parliament also removed the king as patron of the Pashupatinath Area Development Trust that runs the Pashupati temple and the queen lost her role as chairperson of the trust.

As a further concession to democracy, this year the temple officials had announced they would not stop devotees from entering the temple during the arrival of the king.

However, when Gyanendra arrived around 6.10 pm, the rush among the over 300,000 strong crowd to take photographs of the king resulted in chaos.

For security reasons, temple officials blocked the entry of pilgrims, triggering ugly scenes.

The impatient crowd, now plagued by a power outage, first began screaming slogans against the king and royal family and then started throwing stones.

As the king came out of the west gate of the temple after finishing his worship, the situation was so tense that his security personnel bundled off Gyanendra into the temple again, where he remained till the situation was brought under control.

However, even after his guards rushed the king into his waiting black Mercedes and drove off, the resentment of the people continued with crowds throwing stones at the royal motorcade.

Police later arrested a 17-year-old school student. This is the second time in the last two years that the royal motorcade has been stoned.

Last year, when the king was ruling Nepal with absolute power, stones were thrown at the crown prince's car during a closure called by anti-monarchy protesters.

The furious crown prince, who was going to the airport to meet his parents, who were returning after a long foreign tour, later created an even worse row over the incident.

He stormed into a meeting of senior security officials and manhandled one of them. Later the home minister was sacked.

First Published: Feb 17, 2007 12:33 IST