In a very rare Hindu exorcism ritual, Nepal today attempted to draw the curtain on a horrific chapter in the nation's history on the final day of mourning for their slain king and other royal family members.
Seated on a handsomely bedecked elephant, a Hindu priest dressed like the late King Birendra was ceremonially banished from the Katmandu Valley in what could be called a Nepali attempt to bring closure to the political crisis that has gripped the Himalayan country for the past 11 days.
The katto ceremony came as the nation awaits an official explanation for the June 1 palace massacre that ended with the deaths of the former king and queen and seven other royal family members.
Former Crown Prince Dipendra, identified as the shooter by witnesses, also died of gunshot wounds days later, after being briefly proclaimed king.
Breaking Sacred Taboos
Dressed in a shimmering gold shalwar kurta and ornaments and shoes worn by the late King Birendra, Durga Prasad Sapkota, 75, a senior Brahmin priest, rode the elephant through the streets of Katmandu today as crowds chased him out of the capital.
The ceremonial dressing, a ritualistic appropriation of the soul of the dead king, was followed by a meal of 84 delicacies laced with bone marrow, Nepalnews, a Nepali Web site reported.
A strict vegetarian all his life, Sapkota broke with one of Hinduism's most sacred taboos in a symbolic show of the spirit of the former king carrying the ills of the world into exile.
He took with him a number of possessions belonging to the late king, including domestic items like a radio and television set, local media reported.
The katto ceremony, which was conducted on the banks of the Bagmati river in Katmandu, was attended by a number of senior government officials including Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and Chief Justice Kevhab Prasad Upadhaya, who is heading the official inquiry commission into the killings.
However, King Gyanendra, the younger brother of the slain former king, did not attend the ceremony.
A similar ceremony for Prince Dipendra is scheduled for Wednesday.
An Inauspicious Start
King Birendra's katto ceremony, however, got off to an inauspicious start on Saturday when the elephant selected to bear the Hindu holy man into exile killed a woman as it was being brought from the Royal Chitwan National Park to the capital, The Katmandu Post said.
The ominous start was the latest in a series of troubles that have rocked the impoverished state since June 1, when foreign news services broke the news of the royal bloodbath.
A failure to come up with an immediate official explanation as well as initial conflicting reports by King Gyanendra saw rioters take to the streets of Katmandu protesting the lack of information and voicing their discontent with the new king.
A popular figure who took over the Shah dynasty after the death of his father King Mahendra in 1972, King Birendra was widely seen as a stabilizing force in Nepalese politics.
Birendra was especially credited for his handling of pro-democracy agitations in 1990 that ended with the setting up of a constitutional monarchy.
Unlike his elder brother, Gyanendra is not a popular member of the royal family and has yet to win the love of his 22 million subjects, many of whom have expressed public dismay at the political discord and social and economic backwardness that continue to haunt the picturesque Himalayan country.
A Nation in Crisis
Despite several witness accounts that have said Dipendra was responsible for the killings, most Nepalese still find it hard to hold the crown prince responsible for the tragedy.
On June 7, a member of the royal family who was in the palace during the shooting delivered a detailed eyewitness account of the killings, naming Dipendra as the shooter.
Local newspapers today reported that Dr. Rajiv Raj Shahi, the son-in-law of the late Prince Dhirendra, was under investigation for speaking without authorization.
Prince Dhirendra was the younger brother of the late King Birendra.
Last week, the editors of The Kantipur Daily, Nepal's leading newspaper, were arrested for running an article by an underground Maoist leader who urged the military to stop defending the palace.