- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 12, 2001

NEW DELHI — A Nepali priest rode off on an elephant for a lifetime of exile yesterday in a ceremony designed to exorcise the ghosts of the royal massacre.

Wearing the late King Birendra´s shoes, socks and spectacles, Durga Prasad Satkota was deemed by Nepalese Hindu ritual to be taking the king´s spirit with him to the remote mountainous region where he will spend the rest of his life as an "unholy outcast."

Devout Nepalis believe his departure will ease the troubles in the country since the massacre on June 1, when Crown Prince Dipendra murdered nine members of the royal family before fatally shooting himself.

Before leaving Katmandu, the frail 75-year-old Brahmin, who volunteered for the role, sat in a tent on the banks of the Bagmati river and ate 84 different items, including rice and vegetables, from silver bowls. In ancient times, he would have eaten part of the king´s brain, but the leg of a sacrificed goat served the purpose yesterday.

After the meal, he put on a red and gold brocade dress and the king´s footwear and spectacles. Arranged around the tent were the king´s sofa, study table, leather briefcase, peacock feather fan and radio.

A silver crown with a long white plume, similar to the king´s, was placed on Mr. Satkota´s head, and he sat under a bamboo canopy, signifying the throne.

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala then offered the priest money before asking him if he was happy. "I am happy, I have everything now. I just don´t have a house. I need a house," replied Mr. Satkota. According to tradition, the banished priest is granted all his demands.

He was, however, given $12,000 raised from an appeal before mounting the brightly-painted elephant that will remain with him in exile.

Named Nirajan, after Birendra´s youngest son, who was also killed in the royal massacre, the animal carried the priest, shielded from the sun by a red parasol, across the swift-flowing Bagmati toward the crowds waiting to participate in the ritual by "chasing" him away.

Before the ceremony, the elephant inauspiciously killed a woman in an accident thought to have resulted from the ancient superstition that walking between an elephant´s legs enabled women to give birth to a male child.

The elephant´s departure improved the atmosphere yesterday. "It is a good sign. If the elephant refuses to go, it could mean bad omens," said one participant.

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