Birendra was the first Nepalese monarch to receive a formal education. He spent eight years studying at St Joseph's College a Jesuit school in Darjeeling, India. On 13 March 1955 his grandfather King Tribhuvan died and his father succeeded to the Nepalese throne. With his father's ascension Birendra became the Crown Prince of Nepal.
In 1959 Birendra enrolled at Eton College in the United Kingdom. After studying at Eton until 1964 he returned to Nepal where he began to explore the country by travelling incognito to remote parts of the country where he lived on whatever was available in the villages and monasteries. He later completed his education by spending some time at the University of Tokyo before studying political theory at Harvard University from 1967 to 1968. Birendra enjoyed to travel in his youth and went on trips to Canada, Latin America, Africa and a number of Asian countries. He was also an art collector and supporter of Nepalese crafts people and artists. He also learnt to fly helicopters.
Birendra was married to Aishwarya Rajya Laxmi Devi Rana from the Rana family on 27 February 1970. The wedding which was billed as one of the most lavish Hindu nuptial ceremonies in history cost $9.5 million to stage. Birendra and Aishwaraya had three children.
In an attempt to maintain the panchayat system of government prominent leaders of the Nepali Congress Party were arrested. Because of the growing pro democracy movement Birendra announced that a referendum to decide between a non-party and a multi-party system would be held. The referendum was held in May 1980 with the non-party system winning by a narrow margin 55% to 45%. During the 1980s the restraints that had been imposed on political organisations were starting to ease and liberal student-led groups were starting to appear demanding constitutional change in Nepal. He was made a British Field Marshal in 1980.
In 1990 a series of strikes and pro-democracy riots broke out in Nepal. Because of the rioting Birendra agreed to become a constitutional monarch. He appointed an independent Constitution Recommendation Commission to represent the main opposition factions and to prepare a new constitution to accommodate their demands for political reform. The commission presented him with the draft of the proposed constitution on September 10, 1990. The new constitution would make Birendra head of state of a constitutional monarchy with a system of multiparty democracy. The draft constitution was approved by the Prime Minister K.P. Bhattarai and his cabinet and so on 9 November 1990 Birendra promulgated the new constitution transforming Nepal into a constitutional monarchy.
However, the quarrels between various political parties and numerous social problems led to the Nepalese Civil War, a conflict between Maoist rebels and government forces, which lasted from 1996 until 2006.