There are several versions about the origin of the country’s name. According to one of them, the toponym “Nepal” originated from the Sanskrit word “nipalaya”, which means “at the foot of the mountains” or “dwelling at the foot”. The country lying at the foot of the Himalayas is the best match for this name. According to another version, the name of the country comes from the Tibetan “niyampal (niyampal)”, meaning “holy land”. According to the third version, the name is composed of two words “not” and “pal”, meaning, respectively, wool and a dwelling covered with an awning.
There are also legends about the origin of the Kathmandu valley itself, which is not only the center, but also the heart of the country. They agree that in ancient times there was a lake on the site of the valley. The Buddhist version says that Bodhisattva Manjushri cut a gap in the mountain range that blocked the flow from the lake with a magic sword, and thereby drained it. Hindus claim that it was the god Krishna, who, with the help of thunder and lightning, cut through the narrow gorge Chobar, through which the waters of the lake flowed. Be that as it may, scientists confirm that the Kathmandu Valley was indeed in ancient times the bottom of a lake that broke through the Chobar Gorge many years ago to the south. Check a2zdirectory for old history of Nepal.
Neolithic tools found in the Kathmandu Valley indicate that people lived at the foot of the Himalayas for at least 9,000 years. Around the 8th century BC, the Kirats come to the Kathmandu valley . The name of the first ruler of the Kirats, Yalambara, is mentioned in the great Indian epic “Mahabharata”, in total there were 27 kings in this dynasty. The legend says that during the reign of the 7th king of the Kirat dynasty, Buddha and his disciple Ananda visited Nepal and stayed in Patan. Most people now agree that the Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama), the great teacher and founder of Buddhism, was born in Lumbini, on the border of India and Nepal. There are several versions regarding his lifetime. According to Buddhist tradition, the Buddha lived from 623 to 544 BC, although some branches of Buddhism give later dates (from 488 to 368 BC). According to scientists, he lived from about 563 to 483 BC. Since that time, Buddhism began to spread in Nepal. In 250 BC, the Indian king Ashoka visited Nepal and erected a stele at the birthplace of the Buddha in Lumbini. It is believed that Ashoka erected four stupas around Patan. He may also have ordered the construction of the Swayambhunath and Boudhanath stupas in Kathmandu. The period of domination of the Kirats ended in the III-IV centuries of our era. It is believed that the Rai and Limbu peoples of modern Nepal are the direct descendants of this ancient people.
Early Buddhist legends mention that the Licchavi dynasty ruled India during the time of Gautama Buddha. Perhaps the descendants of this ruling house somehow intermarried with the Kirat dynasty, or perhaps they conquered the Kathmandu valley. One way or another, at the end of the 4th century AD, the Licchavi dynasty becomes the ruling dynasty in the Kathmandu valley.. The main information about this time is collected from inscriptions carved on stones by order of the kings. The very first inscription was made by order of Manadeva I in 464 and mentions three previous kings of the Licchavi dynasty. The inscriptions were made in Sanskrit using the Gupta script. These were mostly royal decrees or reports of donations to Hindu temples. Together with the Licchavi dynasty, a caste system entered the Kathmandu valley, which has been preserved in general terms to this day. And although at that time Buddhism remained the main religion, the influence of Hinduism increased. As now, the main neighbors of this state were India and the rapidly gaining strength of Tibet. The Kathmandu valley lay just on the trade route from India to Tibet, and trade brought prosperity to the Licchavi dynasty. Buddhism penetrated into Tibet through Nepal, this was facilitated by the fact that that the Nepalese princess Bhirikuti married a Tibetan king in the first half of the 7th century. The reign of the Licchavi was interrupted only once, when Prime Minister Amsuvarma assumed power by marrying a princess from the dynasty. He ruled the country from approximately 602 to 641, after which power returned to the Licchavi. Amsuvarma is also considered the founder of the Thakuri dynasty.
Members of the Thakuri Dynasty they came to power again only in 869. One of the most famous kings from this dynasty was Gunakama Dev, who ruled from 949 to 994. During his reign, a wooden palace called Kastamandup (Tree House) was built. It is believed that the modern name of the capital of Nepal – Kathmandu – came from him. Gunakama Dev founded the large city of Kantipur on the site of the future Kathmandu. In the middle of the 11th century, Thakuri of Nuwakot succeeded him, the most famous being the last king of this dynasty, Shanker Dev, who ruled from 1067 to 1080. He was replaced by a descendant of Amsuvarma, the first founder of the dynasty. Nepal is mired in internecine wars, as a result of which the rulers were replaced one after another. In 1099, another strong king Shivadeva III came to power. He founded Kirtipur, a city that closed the entrance to the Kathmandu valley, and covered the roofs of the temples of Pashupatinath with gold. Shivadeva ruled Nepal until 1126, and after him the kings succeeded each other in a quick succession, until Arideva came to power in 1210, who founded a new dynasty Malla.
The clan of Arideva, according to legend, came from the Rajput dynasty from India. For some time, his ancestors ruled in the principality of Gandaki and constantly fought with the inhabitants of the Kathmandu valley, who were under the rule of the Thakuri dynasty. According to one legend, when King Arideva was training in the martial art, he was given the news of the birth of his son. The king wished to give the newborn the title of Malla, which means “fighter” in Sanskrit. Arideva ruled the conquered state from 1210 to 1216, and the people inhabiting the valley from that time began to be called Newari. During the initial period of the centuries-old rule of the Malla dynasty, culture and art flourished.
Power of the Malla dynasty extended to the most powerful state located in the Kathmandu valley. In the rest of the territory of present-day Nepal, until the 15th century, there were numerous small principalities. They united in a kind of federation, in Baisi and Chaubisi, the two largest of them, there were 22 and 24 principalities, respectively. In most principalities, the form of government was an oriental despotism, and in some it looked like a republican one: state issues were decided by a council, which included representatives of influential families and an elected rajah. In the main squares of the capital, Durbarah, stone elevations have been preserved to this day, where such a council met.
In the most developed Nepalese principalities, as well as in India, society was divided according to the canons of Hinduism into the castes of Brahmins, Chhetris (Kshatriyas), Vaishyas and Shudras. Priests belonged to the brahmins, military men led by a raja belonged to chhetris, peasants, merchants, officials, some groups of artisans belonged to vaishyas, cleaners, servants and artisans belonged to sudras. In addition, there were many people who remained outside the castes. They included, for example, slaves. Slaves were usually peasants who could not pay the rent for the land to the landowner.
One of the famous rulers of the Malla dynasty was Jayastiti., who ruled from 1382 to 1395. In 1355, he married the daughter of an influential nobleman from Bhaktapur and only 27 years later managed to unite the Kathmandu valley, subordinating it to his power. The merits of Jayastiti Malla include the unification and strengthening of the state, the formation of a strict division of society into castes and the publication of many laws. He made Hinduism the main religion, patronized the arts and the construction of temples. In addition, he carried out a number of economic and social reforms, including a new system of land distribution in accordance with caste.
In the 15th century, the art and culture of the Malla dynasty reached its peak. During the reign of Yaksha Malla (1428-1482) the borders of Nepal ran along the Ganges in the south, along the outskirts of Tibet – in the north, along the banks of the Kali Gandaki River – in the west, and in the east Nepal bordered on Sikkim. Yaksha Mala also patronized the arts, helped the poor, and built irrigation systems for farmers. By old age, he divided his possessions between his three sons, and since then there have been three principalities in the valley: Patan, Kathmandu and Bhadgaon (Bhaktipur) with capital cities of the same name. Another city – Kirtipur, located on a mountain and covering the entrance to the valley from the west, belonged to the principality of Kathmandu. The next two and a half centuries of the reign of the Malla dynasty became a period of internecine wars.
Historians name another period of economic and cultural upsurge in the Kathmandu Valley during the reign of Raja Pratap Malla. (1641 – 1647). Pratap was noted for his military prowess, which helped him keep the peace in the valley. Patan and Bhadgaon were subordinate to the principality of Kathmandu. The most important points on the main trade route from India to Tibet through the Kuti and Kerong passes were controlled by him. The country traded with India, Tibet and Kashmir. In addition, Pratap Malla was known as a highly educated and cultured ruler who knew several languages, including English. He composed poems dedicated to gods and goddesses, and by his order they were carved in temples. The fame of Pratap Malla’s scholarship and talents spread so widely that people came to him to study from distant principalities of India.
The last rulers of the Malla dynasty in the main city-states of the valley were respectively Jaya Prakash in Kathmandu (1737-1768), Tej Narsingh in Patan (Lalitpur) and Ranjit in Bhaktapur (Bhadgaon). Chronicles have left conflicting information about the identity of Jaya Prakash Malla. But they agree that he had a quick temper, and besides, he lived in an atmosphere of constant palace intrigues. Naturally, constant strife weakened the power of the dynasty in the Kathmandu valley. During the reign of Jaya Prakash Malla, in the northwest of the Kathmandu valley, the mountainous principality of Gorkha strengthened and expanded. It was ruled from 1742 by Prithvi Narayan Shah. He was twenty years old when he assumed his father’s throne. The principality of Gorkha was not rich, despite the fact that his father conquered and annexed several neighboring principalities to him. Prithvi Narayan Shah nurtured ambitious plans to capture the Kathmandu valley for 25 years, most of the time was taken up by strategic preparations: the conquest of neighboring principalities and the capture of the two fortresses of Nuwakot and Kirtipur, protecting the entrance to the valley. Kathmandu itself was captured during a festival in honor of Indra in 1768. Soon Patan surrendered without a fight, and a year later Bhaktapur was conquered, and this ended the reign of the Malla dynasty.
Prithvi Narayan Shah became the sole ruler of the united state and moved the capital to Kathmandu. At this time, the state was called Nepal .. The state structure of Nepal resembled the structure of the principality of Gorkha. The supreme power in it belonged to the Maharaja, and the highest administrative posts were assigned to influential families and were inherited. The composition of the peoples of Nepal included Newars (indigenous inhabitants of the valley), Khases (natives of the principality of Gorkha), Magars, Gurungs and others. Hinduism was recognized as the state religion, and Nepali was recognized as the state language.
In 1775, Prithvi Narayan Shah died. His sons, Pratap Singh Shah and Bahadur Shah, continued to expand the borders of Nepal. Pratap Singh Shah spent all three years of his reign in wars. During this time, only one principality Morang was attacked eighteen times. In 1778, Pratap Singh Shah died, and his two-year-old son Rana Bahadur Shah was placed on the throne under the regent mother, Ranjendra Lakshmi. She, fearing the strengthening of Bahadur’s influence, sent him to prison, from where he fled to India. In 1786, after the death of the regent, Bahadur Shah returned to Nepal and took over as head of government. He was mainly engaged in expanding the borders of Nepal, annexing neighboring principalities one by one. In alliance with Palpa, joined by dynastic marriage, he forced the remaining principalities of the Chaubisi and Baisi federations to submit. In 1794 Bahadur Shah captured Garhwal and Kumaon. Now the territory of Nepal again stretched from Sikkim in the east to Kashmir in the west.
The grown-up ruler of Ran Bahadur Shah at the age of 16 removed his uncle Bahadur from the post of head of government and imprisoned him, where he died. Rana Bahadur was no more fortunate than his relative. Because of the discontent of the nobility, he had to flee to India, and, upon returning, he became only the head of the government with his young son. He directed his forces to strengthen the power of the Rajas, which finally set the nobility against himself, and was killed by his illegitimate brother.
By the end of the 18th century, a new influential player appeared on the political arena of Nepal – the English East India Company. In 1792, the East India Company concluded an agreement on customs duties with Nepal, and in 1801, an agreement on a trade union. Bhim Sen Thapa, who at that time held the post of mukhtiyar (head of government), was an implacable opponent of British influence. As a result, the conflict led to the Anglo-Nepalese war in 1814 – 1816. The Nepalese lost the war, as the forces were unequal, because the weapons and numbers of the English army were much superior to the Nepalese. According to the Segauli Treaty, Nepal was forced to cede to the British its western lands, the Terai region and part of Sikkim, which the Nepalese had previously owned. The agreement also provided for the permanent residence of the English resident in Kathmandu.
In the first half of the 19th century, the strongest aristocratic families of Pande and Thapa fought among themselves for power, that is, for the post of head of government. In these intrigues, the influence of the British, who initially supported the Pande family, was traced. This struggle was taken advantage of by a young, ambitious and violent aristocrat from the Chhetri caste, Jang Bahadur Rana. On the night of September 14-15, 1846, Jang Bahadur and his brothers massacred the royal palace. All the top officials of the most influential families perished: Pande, Tkhapa, Basneyat and others (according to some sources, about a hundred people, according to others – fifty-five). The Nepalese call this night the “Kota massacre”, after the name of the court in Kathmandu where it took place.
Jang Bahadur Rana was mukhtiyar (Chief Minister) from 1846 to 1877 and, unlike the representatives of the Shah royal family, who were the legitimate rulers, he had real power. He made the title of mukhtiyar hereditary, and most of the posts in the government went to representatives of the Rana family. To make their power more legitimate, members of his family entered into marriages with representatives of the royal family. The Rana family managed to hold power over the state for more than a century. This period in the history of Nepal is called the “tyranny of the Rana”. Some sources state that the Ran’s influence in Nepal was based on the support of the British. On the other hand, there is a strong desire of the authorities to isolate the country from external contacts. Be that as it may, until 1923 there were English residents in Nepal.
To strengthen the power of the Ran, they made sure that the legitimate Maharaja was a minor and always needed guardians. From childhood, they had access to all the pleasures: wine, women and drugs. Heirs rarely lived to adulthood. Therefore, in the eyes of the people, the royal family looked like a victim of the Rana family. Exceptional poverty and the terrible conditions in which the majority of the population found themselves in order to provide wealth to the ruling elite led to growing discontent among the people. In 1916, Nepalese emigrants in India began to publish the Gorkhali newspaper, which for six years agitated for the overthrow of the Ran government. After the defeat of the newspaper by the British in 1922, the first organization of Nepalese emigrants, the Gurkha League, was created in India. Then organizations arose: “Prachand Gorkha” (1931), “Nepal Praja Parishad” (1935). Poetry and fiction appeared against the Ran regime. Both political organizations and fiction of this direction were banned, their organizers (or authors) were imprisoned, some of them were executed, for example, the leaders of Nepal Praja Parishad. However, the result of this struggle was the abolition of slavery in Nepal on November 28, 1924.
The last representatives of the Rana dynasty softened the lockdown somewhat after the end of World War II, allowing a number of scientific and mountaineering expeditions to conduct research in Nepal. Among them, the expedition of Tilman, who visited the Langtang region, Namche Bazaar and reached the upper reaches of the Khumbu glacier, should be especially noted, and was also the first European to climb the Kala Pattar rock. And after studying the Khumbu icefall, Tilman concluded that it was possible to climb Everest from the south. Later, this hypothesis was confirmed by a reconnaissance expedition led by Eric Shipton in 1951. And, finally, one cannot fail to mention the French expedition of 1950 led by Maurice Herzog, as a result of which the first eight-thousand-meter Annapurna I was conquered. Meanwhile, in Nepal itself, political activity increased population. There were periods of revolutionary upsurge when up to forty independent political organizations operated in Nepal. The largest and most significant parties were the Nepalese National Congress (NNC), the Nepalese Democratic Congress (NDC), the National Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN).
In the 1950s, a new period of political struggle and instability began in Nepal. The Nepalese National Congress (NNC) organized the first satyagraha (civil disobedience campaign) back in April 1947. At the end of 1950, the then king Tribhuvan Vir Bikram Shah Deva fled the palace and took refuge in the Indian embassy. Then he asked for political asylum and left for India. By this time, the country was already at war between the Liberation Army, which consisted of volunteers recruited by the Nepalese Congress (NC), and government forces. Neither side had a decisive advantage, but most of the population, including soldiers and officers of government troops, sympathized with the liberation army. The flight of King Tribhuvan, and the subsequent coronation of his minor grandson Gyanendra, only increased the discontent of the people and accelerated the denouement. Prime Minister Mohan Shamsher Rana had to make concessions. The government promised the creation of a legislative assembly.
In early 1951, King Tribhuvan returned from India. He first of all canceled the inheritance of the title of Prime Minister by the Rana family and promised the creation of a coalition government, although Rana again got half of the posts in it. The coalition government did not last even a year, and then its members had to resign. In the same 1951, the Provisional Constitution was announced, which abolished the privileges of certain groups of citizens and guaranteed the equality of all before the law, suffrage and constitutional monarchy. The second government did not differ from the previous one for the better, and Tribhuvan took advantage of this to strengthen his power. Soon he announced his right to veto the articles of the provisional constitution, and then the concentration of all power in his hands.
In 1955 King Tribhuvan died and his son Mahendra became his heir. Bir Bikram Shah Dev. Mahendra, like his father, continued to take care of strengthening his power, but he did it in a subtler and more diplomatic way. He renounced direct rule while postponing promised democratic elections indefinitely. As a result, demonstrations and actions of civil disobedience (satyagraha) forced King Mahendra to set an exact date for elections to the constitutional assembly. A week before the elections, a new constitution was promulgated, which provided for parliamentary elections and unlimited powers of the king himself: the ability to change the constitution and dissolve parliament. Parliamentary elections were held in February 1959, with the Nepalese Congress Party (NC) winning a landslide victory, and B.P. Koirala became prime minister. The new parliament did not last as long as the previous governments. Maybe, the reason for this was the corruption of the bureaucracy, however, it was simply impossible to bring the country out of the crisis in a year. Provoked by the opposition parties, popular unrest began again, and disagreements grew between the king and parliament. This led to the fact that in December 1960 Mahendra ordered the arrest of all members of the government and the dissolution of Parliament. All power was again with him, and all parties and public organizations were dissolved.
In December 1962, a new constitution for Nepal appeared. It established a new indirect and non-party system of government, called “panchayat”. The system was five-stage (“panch” – “five”) and consisted of elected self-government bodies: village, city, district and zonal. The pinnacle of the system was the National Panchayat, part of which was appointed by the king, part was chosen by members of lower panchayats. This system, although not a particularly effective tool for democratic change, was able to bring a period of relative stability to a country torn apart by political strife.
In 1972 King Mahendra died and his son Birendra became his heir., educated in England at Eton and Harvard. King Birenra, like his father, was a supporter of the panchayat system, but massive popular unrest forced him to propose a referendum in 1980 giving the people a choice between panchayats and a multi-party system. The disgraced leader of the Nepalese Congress, B.P. Koirala, was allowed to campaign, but 55% of those who voted were in favor of maintaining the existing system. Nevertheless, changes were made to the panchayat system, the legislature and the prime minister were elected for a five-year term. The king reserved the right to appoint 20% of the composition of the legislature. The first such elections were held in 1981.
In 1989 opposition parties formed a coalition to fight for a multi-party democracy combined with a constitutional monarchy. This movement was called Jana Andolan or People’s Movement. Popular unrest intensified due to the economic crisis in which the country found itself due to the actual blockade by India. After several months of clashes between the police and the opposition, in April 1990, King Birendra announced on national radio that the ban on organizing political parties was lifted and that he accepted the role of a constitutional monarch. Elections were held in May 1991, and the NK won the majority of votes, with the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) in second place. The Nepalese congress tried to put into practice some economic reforms, first of all, price controls on basic foodstuffs were removed.
The population, expecting an immediate improvement in their situation, was disappointed with the government, mass riots broke out again, and early elections were called in 1994. They were won by the CPN with the support of a number of liberal parties, a unique situation arose – a communist government in a country with a theocratic monarchy. However, the NK and other parties soon ceased to support the communists, fearing the strengthening of their influence in the country. Already in 1995, the communist government was dispersed, and since 1996 the Maoist opposition has moved to active hostilities.
June 1, 2001 Another political crisis rocked Nepal, Crown Prince Dipendra at a traditional dinner, he shot everyone present, and then shot himself. King Birendra died, and Dipendra stayed as king for another 3 days in intensive care and died. Then Birendra’s brother Gyanendra became king. The tragedy generated countless opinions and stirred up the whole country, which led to increased instability. Gyanendra from the first day of accession to the throne experienced distrust of the people, especially because of a series of authoritarian measures aimed at combating the Maoists. The Maoists by that time were firmly in control of the main part of the Terai and the region of Everest and Annapurna. Incidents involving several foreign tourists have led to a sharp decline in tourism, another blow to Nepal’s weak economy. As a result, parliament took away from the king the right to veto laws, Vishnu reincarnation status and political immunity. On November 26, 2006, the coalition government made peace with the Maoists, and on January 14, 2007, a new constitution was announced. According to it, the Maoists received seats in parliament, and the king lost the status of head of state, now the prime minister elected by the people becomes the head of state.