At the turn of the millennium, Nepal was the world's last remaining Hindu kingdom: even the most skeptical of observers could hardly imagine that the institution of the monarchy could ever be in jeopardy. In 2001, however, Nepal's popular King Birendra was killed in the royal palace. The crown passed to his brother Gyanendra, but the monarchy would never fully recover. Nepal witnessed an anti-king uprising in April 2006, and over the course of two years, an interim
administration systematically took over all the king's duties and privileges. Most decisively, beginning in the summer of 2007, the government began blocking the king from participating in his many public rituals, sending the prime minister in his place instead.
Demoting Vishnu argues that Nepal's dramatic political transformation from monarchy to republic was contested-and in key ways accomplished through-ritual performance. By co-opting state ritual, the king's opponents were able to attack the monarchy's social identity at its foundations, enabling the final legal dissolution of kingship in 2008 to take place without physically harming the king himself. All once-royal rituals continue to be performed, but now they are handled by the
country's President-a position created in 2008 to take over state ceremonial functions. Ex-King Gyanendra Shah continues to live in Nepal, is permitted to move about the country and abroad, but is no longer king in any respect.
Mocko's book theorizes the role of public ritual in producing Nepal's state ideology. It examines how royal ritual once authorized kings to serve as the privileged apex of national governance and how, in the 21st-century, those rituals stopped serving the king and began instead to authorize rule by a party-based 'head of state.' Demoting Vishnu illustrates how upheaval in ritual contexts undermined the institutional logic of the monarchy, demonstrating in very public ways that kingship
was contingent, opposable, and ultimately dispensable.
Anne T. Mocko is Assistant Professor of Asian Religions, Concordia College.
Acknowledgments ; 1. Introduction ; 2. The Rise and Fall of the Shah Dynasty ; 3. Succession rituals and the 2001 crisis ; 4. Reinforcement Rituals I: Seeing the Sacred Vest ; 5. Reinforcement Rituals II: Gaining the Goddess's Blessing ; 6. Reinforcement Rituals III: Celebrating the Nation's Patriarch ; 7. Conclusion ; Appendix A: Proclamation of the House of Representatives (18 May 2006) ; Appendix B: List of Formal Interviews ; Appendix C: Glossary of Nepali Terms with Devanagari-Script Equivalents ; Bibliography ; Index