The article analyses Nepal's transition in 2007 from the constitutional definition of the state as a ‘Hindu monarchical kingdom’ to a ‘secular federal republic’, followed by the abolition of the Shah monarchy in 2008. Nepal's institutional change in 2007–2008 invites reflection on the role of Hindu kingship in informing Nepali nationalism in its constitutional formulation. The developments of the Shah monarchy are interpreted as the product of both the institution and the various historical figures that have occupied that institutional place. However, it is argued that the more or less charismatic qualities of individual Shah kings were ‘contained’ within and minimised by the prevailing institutional dimension of the monarchy in defining the Nepali nation. The nationalist legitimacy of the Shah monarchy as Nepal's core political institution rested upon the notion of Hindu kingship, which transcended the single historical personalities of the Shah kings and proved so pervasive that it has shaped the constitutional definition of the nation even in republican Nepal.