With monarchy gone, Nepali crown to find new home

KATHMANDU Mon Mar 19, 2012 10:47am EDT

1 of 2. Chief Royal Priest Keshriraj Pandey crowns Nepal's new king Gyanendra at the Hanuman Palace in Kathmandu June 4, 2001. PK/CP

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - The crown worn by Nepal's kings, once considered the reincarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, will be put up for public viewing at a palace museum, an official said on Monday, nearly four years after the abolition of the 239-year-old monarchy.

A specially elected assembly dominated by the Maoist former rebels abolished the Hindu monarchy in May 2008, turning one of the world's poorest countries into a secular republic.

The pagoda-roofed pink palace in the heart of Kathmandu was made into a museum after the last monarch King Gyanendra left, handing the ruby- and diamond-studded crown to the government.

"We are keeping the crown and the ceremonial sceptre in a safe room in the palace as there are not enough security arrangements in place at the museum right now," said Lekh Bahadur Karki, chief of the Narayanhiti palace museum.

"The government has decided to display them for public viewing. We'll prepare a bullet-proof show case for the crown which will be put up at the Surkhet Baithak," Karki told Reuters, referring to the room where former kings received their foreign guests.

Nepal's leading jewelers had been unable to put a monetary value on the crown, saying only it was "priceless", Karki said.

"Its security and safety is our prime concern. Our goal is to exhibit the crown in mid-July when the current fiscal year ends," he added.

A 1939 Mercedes Benz presented by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler to King Tribhuvan, Gyanendra's grandfather, is also to be displayed at the museum.

The car is now rusting in a dusty palace garage after an engineering college in Kathmandu, which used it to train mechanics, said it did not have enough money and spare parts to restore the antique car to its original form.

ROYAL MASSACRE REMEMBERED

In addition, authorities say they plan to rebuild the house in the same royal compound where the then-Crown Prince Dipendra gunned down his popular father King Birendra and eight other royals before turning the gun to himself in 2001, according to an official investigation.

Only a six-inch brick outline remains of the building now.

Many analysts say the incident, which vaulted Gyanendra on to the throne, marked the beginning of the end of the monarchy in the devoutly religious nation of 26.6 million people.

Although many people considered the king the incarnation of Vishnu, the Hindu god of protection, Gyanendra failed to win the same respect as his slain brother Birendra.

He sacked the elected government in 2005 and took on absolute powers.

Now he lives as a commoner with his family in a private home and the former palace has become a popular tourist attraction in the temple-studded capital ringed by lush green hills.

"It was nice to visit the rooms where the kings once lived and see some of their possessions," said 45-year-old housewife Poonam Bhandari, emerging from a room where two stuffed tigers were on show.

"It is unbelievable that we can walk into what was once the king's bedroom," she added. "I will come again to see the crown after it is displayed."

Nepal, wedged in the central Himalayas between China and India, is struggling to prepare its first republican constitution as Maoist former rebels haggle with other political parties over the system of government, creation of federal provinces and how to split scarce resources between them.

Baburam Bhattarai, a senior Maoist leader whose party waged a decade-long civil war to topple the monarchy, was elected prime minister in August last year.

(Editing by Elaine Lies)

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