Definitions

SPAM of Nepal

History of Nepal

The History of Nepal (नेपालको इतिहास) is characterized by its isolated position in the Himalayas and its two dominant neighbors, India and China. Even though Nepal's heart land was independent through most of its long history, its territorial boundaries have varied greatly over time and internal mosaic of kingdoms restructured often: right from the period of Mahajanapadas, through Greater Nepal to the British Raj.

Due to the arrival of disparate settler groups from outside through the ages, it is now a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual country. Its population is predominantly Hindu with significant presence of Buddhists, who were in majority at one time in the past. Nepal was split in three kingdoms from the 15th to 18th century, when it was unified under a monarchy. The national language of Nepal is called 'Nepali', a name given - long after unification of Nepal - to the language called Khas Kura.

Nepal experienced a failed struggle for democracy in the 20th century. During the 1990s and until 2008, the country was in civil strife. A peace treaty was signed in 2008 and elections were held in the same year.

Many of the ills of Nepal have been blamed on the royal family of Nepal. In a historical vote for the election of the constituent assembly, Nepalis voted to oust monarchy in Nepal. In June 2008, Nepalis ousted the royal household. Nepal was formally known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, when it became a federal republic.

Toponymy

The word Nepal is derived from Nepal (नेपा:); the old name of Kathmandu valley was Nepal in Nepal Bhasa, the language of Newars, who were the early inhabitants of the valley, long before the unification of Nepal. The fact that Nepal Sambat, one of the three main calendars of Nepal, existed long before the unification of Nepal proves this historical fact.

Other toponym theories include: -

  • "Nepal" may be derived from the Sanskrit nipalaya, which means "at the foot of the mountains" or "abode at the foot", a reference to its location in relation to the Himalayas. Thus, it may be an Eastern equivalent of the European toponym "Piedmont."
  • It has also been suggested that the name comes from the Tibetan niyampal, which means "holy land".
  • A third theory suggests that Nepal came from combounding the words NE, which means wool, and PAL, which means a tented house; long time ago, Nepal used to produce a lot of wool and the houses were used to store the wool - hence the word NE-PAL.
  • The name, Nepal, is also supposed to be derived from the Sanskrit word "NEP"(नेप), with the suffix "AL" (आल) added to it; though still under controversy, NEP were the people who use to be cow herders - the GOPALS (गोपाल) - who came to the Nepal valley for the first time from the Ganges plain of India.
  • According to Nepali scholar Rishikesh Shaha, the ancient chronicles report that, a sage (muni) named Ne became the protector (pāla) of this land and the founder of its first ruling dynasty. The name of the country, Ne-pāla, therefore originally meant the land 'protected by Ne.'

Early ages

Prehistory

Neolithic tools found in the Kathmandu Valley indicate that people have been living in the Himalayan region for at least 9,000 years. It appears that a people who were probably of Tibeto-Burman ethnicity lived in Nepal 2,500 years ago.

Legends and Ancient times

Though very little is known about the early history of Nepal, legends and documented references, like the following, reach back to the first millennium BCE:

  • The epic Ramayana, which dates from an era before the Mahabharata, states that Mithila, currently known as Janakpur in Nepal, is the birth place of the highly revered princess Sita, the virtuous queen of Hindu divine king Lord Rama.
  • Also, the presence of historical sites, e.g. Valmiki ashram, indicates the presence of Sanatana (ancient) Hindu culture in Nepal at that period.
  • The epic Mahabharata mentions the Kiratas among the inhabitants of Nepal. Kirati king Yalambar had the dubious honor of being slain in the battle of the Mahabharata, in which gods and mortals fought alongside each other. Legend credits him with meeting Indra, the lord of heaven, who ventured into the Valley in human guise.
  • According to some of the chronicles the successors of Ne were the gopālavaṃśi or "Cowherd family", whose names often end in -gupta and are said to have ruled for some 491 years. They are said to have been followed by the mahaiṣapālavaṃśa or "Buffalo-herder Dynasty", established by an Indian Rajput named Bhul Singh.
  • inscriptions found on archeological stoneworks, which list mostly the dates and commissioners of these constructions, also communicate royal edicts, religious mantras or historical notes sometimes and, through the corroboration of local myths with such evidence, a people prior to the Licchavi have been identified, known as the Kirata.

Kirat Period

Nepal's recorded history began with the Kiratis, who arrived in the 7th or 8th century BCE from the east. Little is known about them, other than their deftness as sheep farmers and fondness for carrying long knives. The Kirats ruled for about 1225 years (800 BCE-300 CE), their reign had a total of 28 kings during that time. Their first and best remembered king was Yalambar, who finds a reference in the epic Mahabharata.

Mediaeval history

Birth of Buddhism

One of the earliest confederations of South Asia was that of the Shakya clan, whose capital was Kapilavastu, Nepal. One of its princes was Gautama Buddha, Siddharta Gautama (563–483 BCE), who renounced his royalty to lead an ascetic life and came to be known as the Buddha ("the enlightened one"). By 260 BCE, most of North India and southern Nepal were ruled by the Maurya Empire. It was during this period that Buddhism first came to Nepal; it is claimed that Buddha and his disciple Ananda visited the Kathmandu Valley and stayed for a time in Patan. Although not all of Nepal was under Maurya occupation, there is evidence of at least the influence of Maurya Emperor Ashoka the Great, the legendary Buddhist proselytiser and ruler from 273 BCE to 232 BCE. Ashoka was a visitor to Kathmandu in this period and, as a follower of Buddhism, he visited Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, and erected stupas in Kathmandu. His daughter married a local prince and further spread the religion. The remains of a Buddhist convent have been found in the Kathmandu Valley.

As the Kirat dynasty came to an end in the valley, parts still remained in the eastern mountains, History of Limbuwan > where they are considered to be the forefathers of today's Limbu and Rai castes.

By 200 CE, Buddhism had waned, and was replaced by Hinduism, brought by the Licchavis, who invaded from northern India and overthrew the last Kirati king. The Hindus also introduced the caste system (which still continues today) and ushered in a classical age of Nepalese art and architecture.

Licchavi rule

It is unclear when exactly the Licchavi kingdom began. From the findings at the ancient capital of Handigaun, it appears that Licchavi rulers were in power on two occasions: from about 200 CE to the 5th century, and from about 750 to 1200 CE. Archaeological evidence for the Licchavi period mainly consists of stonework inscriptions, reckoned on two separate, consecutive eras; the former era evidence, in the Åšaka or Saka era, has an epoch corresponding to 78 CE, whereas the latter, of Aṃshuvarmā or Manadeva-II's era, reckons from 576 CE.

In between, in the fourth century CE, the country fell under the influence of Indian Gupta Empire - considered to be a golden period of Hinduism in India - whose cultural diffusion is evident, despite their lack of direct control of Nepal.

First Licchavi rule evidence: A well-preserved life-sized sandstone sculpture of a king named Jaya Varman, discovered in Maligaon in the eastern part of Kathmandu, contains an inscription dating it to the 'samvat' year 107, which most probably is in the Shaka era and is, therefore, from 185 CE; this dating is also supported by the style of the sculpture which is clearly Kushan in origin. It is unclear whether Jaya Varman was a Licchavi or a pre-Licchavi monarch. However, most scholars are agreed that, Licchavi rule of the Kathmandu valley must have begun in the first or second century CE.

Second Licchavi rule evidence: Two known dated inscriptions, both Licchavi, are a broken pillar inscription from Pashupati dated 381 (459 CE), and the Cangu Narayana pillar inscription of King Manadeva in 386 (464 CE).

There is a good and quite detailed description of the kingdom of Nepal in the account of the renowned Chinese Buddhist pilgrim monk, Xuanzang, dating from c. 645 CE.

The Licchavi rulers arranged for the documentation of information on politics, society, and the economy in the region. Most of the Licchavi records—written in Sanskrit—are deeds reporting donations to religious foundations, predominantly Hindu temples; and the last such record was added in 733. The Licchavi dynasty went into decline in the late eighth century and was followed by a Newari era, from 879, although the extent of their control over the entire country is uncertain.

Thakuri rule

By 879, the Licchavi era had petered out and was succeeded by the Thakuri dynasty. A grim period of instability and invasions often referred to as the 'Dark Ages' followed, but Kathmandu Valley's strategic location ensured the kingdom's survival and growth.

Magar Empire

Magar is a warrior and martial people that first established it's kingdom in present day western Nepal. They were animistic and shamanic in their religious practices. The Kham Magar of upper Karnali basin and their brethren of mid hills of Nepal had a flourishing and empirical kingdoms. Much archaeological proof of their existence can be found in the western mid hills of Nepal.

Magar have a strong military and warrior traditions. However, their hospitality and concern for the fellow human being is also legendary. The two waves of immigrants became the undoing for Magar empire.

Firstly, the Khasas were welcomed and assimilated within Magar empire. Secondly, following the rout of fundamentalist Brahmin Hindus of the Gangetic plains of India by the advancing Mugal forces, the traditionalist Brahmin Hindus entered Magar empire as refugees. They brought with them Hindu religion.

It is the misfortune of Magar empire and the whole Magar people that these two groups were given sanctuary in Magar empire. The latter group of refugees started to impose their fundamentalist view of Hindu religion upon Magars in Magar kingdoms whereas the former group were given the status of Chettri by the latter group in accordance to their fundamentalist view of Hindu religion.

This left the Magar people to be boxed into the third tier of their own kingdoms. (The first being the fundamentalist refugee Brahmin, the second being newly elevated Chettri, previously the Khasas)

This meant that the once rulers of the Nepali mid hills became the ruled upon. Thus starts the degradation of Magar empire. The introduction of Hinduism in itself became the cataclysmic event in the undoing of the Magar empire.

Malla dynasty

Several centuries later, the Thakuri king, Arideva, founded the Malla dynasty, kick-starting another renaissance of Nepali culture. Despite earthquakes, the occasional invasion, and frequent feuding between the independent city-states of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, the dynasty flourished, reaching its zenith in the 15th century under Yaksha Malla.

Chalukkya dynasty

By the late 11th century, southern Nepal came under the occupation of the Chalukaya Empire of southern India. Under the Chalukayas, Nepal's religious establishment changed as the kings patronised Hinduism instead of the prevailing Buddhism.

History of Limbuwan

In the mean time, History of Limbuwan covers much of the history and achivements of Kirant people of Eastern Nepal/Limbuwan from ancient period until the Limbuwan Gorkha War and the Gorkha Limbuwan Treaty of 1774 AD.

Newar Empire: Three medieval kingdoms

Thirteenth-century Nepal was occasionally attacked by the rulers of Delhi Sultanate of northern India, and was consequently marked by increased Nepali militarisation. By the late 14th century, much of the country came under the rule of the king Jayasthitimalla, a Newar King, who managed to unite most of the fragmented power bases. This unity was short-lived; in 1482 the territory was carved into three kingdoms : Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhadgaon.

Most of the Nepalese architectural heritage such as temples, palaces including many UNESCO world heritage sites were built by Newars during the rule by Newar Kings. These include Kathmandu Old Palace (Kathmandu Durbar Square), Patan Palace (Patan Durbar Square), Bhaktapur Palace (Bhaktapur Durbar Square) etc.

Between 1717 and 1733, the Nepalese in the west, and also the Bhutanese from the east, attacked Sikkim many times, culminating with the destruction of the capital Rabdentse by the Nepalese. The Sikkim king fled to Tibet.

Modern period: Gorkha rule

After decades of rivalry between the medieval kingdoms, modern Nepal was created in the latter half of the 18th century, when Prithvi Narayan Shah, the ruler of the small principality of Gorkha, formed a unified country from a number of independent hill states. Prithvi Narayan Shah dedicated himself at an early age to the conquest of the Kathmandu valley and the creation of a single state, which he achieved in 1768.

The country was frequently called the Gorkha Kingdom. It is a misconception that the Gurkhas took their name from the Gorkha region of Nepal. The region was given its name after the Gurkhas had established their control of these areas. Gurkha, also spelt as Gorkha, are people from Nepal who take their name from the legendary eighth century Hindu warrior-saint Guru Gorakhnath. Gurkhas claim descent from the Hindu Rajputs and Brahmins of Northern India, who entered modern Nepal from the west.

After Shah's death, the Shah dynasty began to expand their kingdom into what is present day North India. Between 1788 and 1791, Nepal invaded Tibet and robbed Tashilhunpo Monastery of Shigatse. Alarmed, the Chinese emperor Qianlong dispatched a sizeable army that forced the Nepalese to retreat and pay heavy reparations.

After 1800, the heirs of Prithvi Narayan Shah proved unable to maintain firm political control over Nepal. A period of internal turmoil followed.

Rivalry between Nepal and the British East India Company - over the princely states bordering Nepal and India - eventually led to the Anglo-Nepalese War (1814–16), in which Nepal suffered a complete rout. The unequal Treaty of Sugauli was signed in 1816, ceding large parts of the Nepali territories of Terrai and Sikkim, (nearly onethird of the country), to the British, in exchange for Nepalese autonomy. As the territories were not restored to Nepal by the British, at the time of granting freedom to the people of British India, these have become a part of the Republic of India, although Sikkim was annexed by India later.

Rana Administration

Factionalism among the royal family led to a period of instability after the war. In 1846, Queen Rajendralakshmi plotted to overthrow Jang Bahadur, a fast-rising military leader of Indian Rajput ancestry, who was presenting a threat to her power. The plot was uncovered and the queen had several hundred princes and chieftains executed after an armed clash between military personnel and administrators loyal to the queen. This came to be known as the Kot Massacre. However, Bahadur emerged victorious eventually and founded the Rana dynasty; the monarch was made a titular figure, and the post of Prime Minister was made powerful and hereditary, held by a Rana.

The Rana regime, a tightly centralized autocracy, pursued a policy of isolating Nepal from external influences. This policy helped Nepal maintain its national independence during the British colonial era, but it also impeded the country's economic development and modernisation. The Ranas were staunchly pro-British and assisted the British during the Indian Rebellion of 1857, and later in both World Wars.

20th century

In 1923 Britain and Nepal formally signed an agreement of friendship, in which Nepal's independence was recognized by the British.

Slavery was abolished in Nepal in 1924.

Democratic Reform

Popular dissatisfaction against the family rule of the Ranas had started emerging from among the few educated people, who had studied in various Indian schools and colleges, and also from within the Ranas, many of whom were marginalised within the Ruling Rana hierarchy. Many of these Nepalese in exile had actively taken part in the Indian Independence struggle and wanted to liberate Nepal as well from the internal autocratic Rana occupation. The political parties like The Prajaparishad and Nepali Congress were already formed in exile by the leaders like B.P. Koirala, Ganesh Man Singh, Subarna Sumsher Rana, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai,Girija Prasad Koirala and many other patriotic minded Nepalis, who wanted to stage both the military and popular political movement in Nepal, to overthrow the autocratic Rana Regime. Among the prominent martyrs to die for the cause, executed at the hands of the Ranas, were Dharma Bhakta Mathema, Shukraraj Shastri, Gangalal Shrestha and Dasharath Chand. This turmoil culminated in King Tribhuvan, a direct descendant of Prithvi Narayan Shah, fleeing from his "palace prison" in 1950, to newly independent India, touching off an armed revolt against the Rana administration. This eventually ended in the return of the Shah family to power and the appointment of a non-Rana as prime minister. A period of quasi-constitutional rule followed, during which the monarch, assisted by the leaders of fledgling political parties, governed the country. During the 1950s, efforts were made to frame a constitution for Nepal that would establish a representative form of government, based on a British model.

In early 1959, Tribhuvan's son King Mahendra issued a new constitution, and the first democratic elections for a national assembly were held. The Nepali Congress Party, a moderate socialist group, gained a substantial victory in the election. Its leader, Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala, formed a government and served as prime minister. After years of power wrangling between the Kings (Tribhuvan and Mahendra) and the government, Mahendra dissolved the democratic experiment in 1960

Royal Coup by King Mahendra

Declaring parliamentary democracy a failure, King Mahendra carried out a royal coup 18 months later, in 1962. He dismissed the elected Koirala government, declared that a "partyless" panchayat system would govern Nepal and promulgated another new constitution on December 16, 1962.

Subsequently, the elected Prime Minister, Members of Parliament and hundreds of democratic activists were arrested. (In fact, this trend of arrest of political activists and democratic supporters continued for the entire 30 year period of partyless Panchayati System under King Mahendra and then his son, King Birendra).

The new constitution had established a "partyless" system of panchayats (councils) which King Mahendra considered to be a democratic form of government, closer to Nepalese traditions. As a pyramidal structure, progressing from village assemblies to a Rastriya Panchayat (National Parliament), the panchayat system constitutionalised the absolute power of the monarchy and kept the King as head of state with sole authority over all governmental institutions, including the Cabinet (Council of Ministers) and the Parliament. One-state-one-language became the national policy and all other languages suffered at the cost of the official language, "Nepali", which was the king's language.

King Mahendra was succeeded by his 27 year-old son, King Birendra, in 1972. Amid student demonstrations and anti-regime activities in 1979, King Birendra called for a national referendum to decide on the nature of Nepal's government--either the continuation of the panchayat system with democratic reforms or the establishment of a multiparty system. The referendum was held in May 1980, and the panchayat system won a narrow victory. The king carried out the promised reforms, including selection of the prime minister by the Rastriya Panchayat.

People in rural areas had expected that their interests would be better represented after the adoption of parliamentary democracy in 1990. Nepali Congress with support of "Alliance of leftist parties" decided to launch a decisive movement agitational movement, Jana Andolan, which forced the monarchy to accept constitutional reforms and to establish a multiparty parliament. In May 1991, Nepal held its first parliamentary elections in nearly 50 years. The Nepali Congress won 110 of the 205 seats and formed the first elected government in 32 years.

Civil Strife

In 1992, in a situation of economic crisis and chaos, with spiralling prices as a result of implementation of changes in policy of the new Congress government, the radical left stepped up their political agitation. A Joint People's Agitation Committee was set up by the various groups. A general strike was called for April 6.

Violent incidents began to occur on the evening ahead of the strike. The Joint People's Agitation Committee had called for a 30-minute 'lights out' in the capital, and violence erupted outside Bir Hospital when activists tried to enforce the 'lights out'. At dawn on April 6, clashes between strike activists and police, outside a police station in Pulchok (Patan), left two activists dead.

Later in the day, a mass rally of the Agitation Committee at Tundikhel in the capital Kathmandu was attacked by police forces. As a result, riots broke out and the Nepal Telecommunications building was set on fire; police opened fire at the crowd, killing several persons. The Human Rights Organisation of Nepal estimated that 14 persons, including several on-lookers, had been killed in police firing.

When promised land reforms failed to appear, people in some districts started to organize to enact their own land reform, and to gain some power over their lives in the face of usurious landlords. However, this movement was repressed by the Nepali government, in "Operation Romeo" and "Operation Kilo Sera II" which took the lives of many of the leading activists of the struggle. As a result, many witnesses to this repression became radicalized.

Nepalese Civil War

In February 1996, one of the Maoist parties started a bid to replace the parliamentary monarchy with a so-called people's new democratic republic, through a Maoist revolutionary strategy known as the people's war, which led to the Nepalese Civil War. Led by Dr. Baburam Bhattarai and Pushpa Kamal Dahal (also known as "Prachanda"), the insurgency began in five districts in Nepal: Rolpa, Rukum, Jajarkot, Gorkha, and Sindhuli. The Maoists declared the existence of a provisional "people's government" at the district level in several locations.

Meanwhile, on June 1, 2001, Crown Prince Dipendra went on a shooting-spree, assassinating 11 members of the royal family, including King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya, before shooting himself. Due to his survival he temporarily became king before dying of his wounds, after which Prince Gyanendra (Birendra's brother) inherited the throne as per tradition. Meanwhile, the Maoist rebellion escalated, and in October 2001 the king temporarily deposed the government and took complete control of it. A week later he reappointed another government, but the country was still very unstable: because of the civil war with the Maoists; the various clamouring political factions; the king's attempts to take more control of the government; and worries about the competence of Gyanendra's son and heir, Prince Paras.

In the face of unstable governments and a Maoist siege on the Kathmandu Valley in August 2004, popular support for the monarchy began to wane. On February 1, 2005, Gyanendra dismissed the entire government and assumed full executive powers, declaring a "state of emergency" to quash the Maoist movement. Politicians were placed under house arrest, phone and internet lines were cut, and freedom of the press was severely curtailed.

The king's new regime made little progress in his stated aim to suppress the insurgents. Municipal elections in February 2006 were described by the European Union as "a backward step for democracy", as the major parties boycotted the election and some candidates were forced to run for office by the army. In April 2006 strikes and street protests in Kathmandu forced the king to reinstate the parliament. A seven-party coalition resumed control of the government and stripped the king of most of his powers. As of 15 January 2007 Nepal was governed by an unicameral legislature under an interim constitution. On December 24, 2007, seven parties, including the former Maoist rebels and the ruling party, agreed to abolish monarchy and declare Nepal a Federal Republic.. In the elections held on April 10, 2008, the Maoists secured a simple majority, with the prospect of forming a government to rule the proposed 'Republic of Nepal'.

Declaration of Republic

On May 28, 2008 the newly elected Constituent Assembly declared Nepal a Federal Democratic Republic, abolishing the 240 years old monarchy. The motion for abolition of monarchy was carried by a huge majority; out of 564 members present in the assembly, 560 voted for the motion while 4 members voted against it. Finally, on June 11, 2008 ex-king Gyanendra left the palace. Ram Baran Yadav of Nepali Congress became the first president of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal on July 23, 2008. Similarly, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, popularly known as Prachanda, of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) was elected as the first Prime Minister on August 15, 2008 defeating Sher Bahadur Deuba of Nepali Congress.

Footnotes

References

  • Tiwari, Sudarshan Raj (2002). The Brick and the Bull: An account of Handigaun, the Ancient Capital of Nepal. Himal Books. ISBN 99933-43-52-8.

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