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Tuesday, 5 June, 2001, 13:18 GMT 14:18 UK
Aishwarya: Nepal's forceful queen
The late King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya
Queen Aishwarya came from the aristocratic Rana family
Nepal's Queen Aishwarya, killed in a palace massacre along with her husband King Birendra and other members of the royal family, was seen as something of a strong character in Nepal.

In contrast to her quiet husband, she was outspoken and forceful, and during the pre-1990 day of absolute monarchy she was viewed as the real power behind the throne.

Aishwarya Rajya Laxmi Devi Shah was born on 7 November 1949, in Lazimpath, Kathmandu.

She was the eldest of the three daughters of Kendra Shumshere Jung Bahadur Rana, a Lieutenant General in the Nepalese army, and Rani Rajya Lakshmi Rana.

Rana dynasty

Her two sisters were married to King Birendra's brothers - Gyanendra (now king) and Dhirendra.

Until the people's revolution in 1950 the Rana dynasty was in power in Nepal for 104 years.

The Rana clan usurped all executive powers in 1846 and whilst the monarchy continued, real power was wielded by the Ranas who held all the major posts.

She was educated at St Helen's Convent, Kurseong and St Mary's School in Kathmandu, and then went on to study at Padma Kanya College and Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu.

Queen Aishwarya married Birendra in 1970 before he ascended to the throne two years later.

King Birendra
The couple married in Kathmandu in 1972
There were many ugly rumours about her, particular during the 1970s and 1980s, when there were outbreaks of violence from anti-monarchists.

The queen was thought to have tried to persuade her husband to retain an absolute monarchy for as long as possible, though the country finally started its transition to democracy when the king relinquished his powers in 1990.

Her true influence is difficult to assess, but Nepalese sources say her dominating character mellowed down the years and she was mostly seen as a companion for the king whose stature and popularity increased.

'Arranged marriage'

It is believed the queen played a part in important decisions in the pre-democracy phase.

She opposed her oldest son Dipendra's choice of bride, Devyani Rana, possibly because she came from a rival faction of the aristocratic clan. She was the great granddaughter of the last Rana prime minister, Mohan Shumsher, who bowed out following the people's movement in 1950.

The queen wanted her son to have an arranged marriage with someone else. Although she allegedly threatened that the crown could pass from Dipendra to his younger brother Nirajan, our Nepalese sources say this would have been barred under the constitution.

Nirajan, 22, was also killed in the massacre, along with his 24-year-old sister Princess Shruti.


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