Short History of Nepal
Besides sharing its geographical borders
with India and China, Nepal also shares
history with its two giant neighbors.
It was influenced to a large extent
by the same incidents that proved to
be turning points in the history of
India and China.
The earliest recorded
history of Nepal goes back over 2,800
years when a tribe of Mongolian peoplethe
Kiratisarrived in the Himalayan
territory, across the Tibetan plateau.
The current tribes of Limbu and Rai
are believed to be direct descendants
of the Kiratis. From the Indu plains,
the Buddhist Shakyas are credited with
introducing Mahayana Buddhism to Nepal
and it became the dominant religion.
Around 300 B.C.E.,
Nepal received its second round of migrations
from India. The Licchavis and the Guptas
arrived in Nepal from the northern parts
of India. The newcomers overthrew the
Kiratis descendants and ushered in Hinduism
as the official religion of the country
and alternated power. The Guptas are
thought to have introduced the caste
system, essentially alien to the dominant
cultural system, but it remained localized
among the elite. The Licchavis ruled
for three centuries and were displaced
by the Thakuris in 600 B.C.E.
Ansuvarman, the founder
of the Thakuri dynasty, was a shrewd
and wealthy king. In order to protect
his northern borders from attacks by
the Tibetan kings, he married his daughter
to a Tibetan prince. Ansuvarman was
fond of a valley in the eastern part
of his kingdom and founded his capital
city there. It was from here in the
10th century that Kasthmandap (Holy
Place of Wood) was founded, which has
come to be known as Kathmandu. It is
at the same the location as Ansuvarmans
palace, in Durbar Square, that the Nepalese
monarch stayed till the more modern
Narayanhity Palace was built.
The Thakuri dynasty
ruled Nepal for three centuries. The
12th century brought the Malla dynasty.
First of the Malla rulers, King Arideva's
reign was one of great wealth and prosperity
for the Himalayan Kingdom. The Mallas,
though Hindu, were tolerant of the other
major religion, Buddhism, but were particularly
strict on enforcing the caste system.
However, the dynasty suffered a major
reverse within a century and lost control
over large parts of the country, which
split into small city-states, as many
as 48 at one point. Partly responsible
were the frequent invasions of India
by Muslim armies from the northwest,
which also invaded Nepal several times.
It was nearly 100 years later when another
Malla king took charge of the country.
Meanwhile, two kingdoms began to gain
power to challenge the Kathmandu valley,
that of the Palpa and the Khas Kingdom.
In 1372, Kathmandus
king, Jayasthiti Malla, took over the
neighboring city-state of Patan, and,
a decade later, the city-state of Bhaktapur.
The newly unified Kathmandu Valley kingdom
expanded tremendously during the reign
of his successor, King Yaksha Malla.
By the middle of the next century, Nepals
borders extended southwards to the Ganga
River, and north deep into Tibet. During
this time, the caste system became entrenched
as an attractive method of social stability,
ensuring the Malla reign. However, after
his death in 1482, Nepal once again
split up into many small states. The
situation lasted for almost two centuries.
In the 18th century, a new dynasty came
Shah, born in Gorkha came to power in
the Gorkha Kingdom and set about to
unify the many princely states in reaction
to colonialism. He gradually extended
his power until finally, in 1768, he
conquered the Kathmandu Valley and established
the modern nation of Nepal. Barely 20
years later, war broke out between Nepal
and China over Tibet. Lasting nearly
a decade, the Nepalese were defeated
and forced to sign a treaty that obligated
them to pay annual homage to the Chinese.
This tribute continued for over a century
and ended only in 1912. In the meanwhile,
Nepal also battled the British, who
had been conquering territory in India
throughout the 18th century. The British
were fighting Nepal for control over
the southern parts of Nepal and the
Ganga plains. Once again, Nepal lost
and conceded much of its territory to
the British in the war of 1814-16.
Throughout the tumultuous
times, the Shahs continued to be the
rulers of Nepal until 1846. they lost
power to the powerful Rana family, big
landowners from the west. Jung Bahadur
Rana, an upstart, plotted the infamous
Kot massacre and assassinated all the
court and political leaders of Nepal
in a single swoop, proclaimed himself
prime minister and took all the executive
power from the monarchy, reducing the
king to a mere figurehead. The position
of prime minister became a hereditary
one and the Rana family continued in
power for over a century, with the Shah
kings virtual prisoners in the palace.
After the Indian independence in 1947,
Nepali Congress factions in India began
plotting a revolution to overthrow the
Ranas. In 1950, King Tribhuvan fled
to India, and an armed revolt followed.
Under pressure from India, the Ranas
were deposed and Tribhuvan Shah became
absolute monarch again, but he passed
away in 1955. His son, Mahendra, succeeded
Nepal was not eager
to return to a totalitarian monarchy.
Bowing to pressure, King Mahendra instilled
a constitutional parliamentary system.
The first elections under this system
were held in 1959 and Nepali Congress
activist and leader B.P.Koirala, became
the first elected prime minister of
However, the honeymoon
between the monarchy and democracy was
short-lived and within a year the king
dissolved the parliament, placed the
entire cabinet under arrest and resumed
total control. He then introduced a
decentralized pseudo-democratic system,
setting up the National Panchayat (or,
councils). The king chose 16 members
of the panchayat, while the other 19
were chosen through indirect elections.
While political parties remained banned,
the village panchayats nominated members
for the district panchayats and which
in turn sent members to the Rashtriya
Panchayat (National Council).
The system was rife with corruption
and bad governance and not democratic
in the least. Upon the death of King
Mahendra in 1972, his son Birendra succeeded.
Birendras lack of political reform
drew sharp criticism; riots in 1979
forced the king to call for a national
referendum to decide the fate of the
panchayat system in favor of multiparty
system. Held in May 1980, the referendum
gave a narrow victory to the panchayat
system, but many believed it to be rigged.
The king carried out some promised minor
reforms, but the system stayed largely
In 1990, the political
parties again pressed the king and the
government for change. Leftist parties
united to form United Left Front and
joined forces with the Nepali Congress
Party to launch strikes and demonstrations
in the major cities of Nepal. The two-month
Jana Andolan was initially dealt with
severely, more than 50 people killed
by police gunfire and hundreds arrested.
But in April, the king finally capitulated
as the movement swelled and gained massive
ground support. Consequently, he dissolved
the panchayat system, lifted the ban
on political parties, released all political
prisoners, and re-introduced multi-party
democracy, reducing much of his own
An interim government
was sworn in on April 19, 1990. It was
headed by Krishna Prasad Bhattarai as
prime minister, who presided over a
cabinet made up of members of the Nepali
Congress Party, the Communist Party
of Nepal, royal appointees and independents.
The new government drafted and promulgated
a new constitution in November 1990,
which enshrined fundamental human rights
and established Nepal as a parliamentary
democracy under a constitutional monarch.
International observers characterized
the May 1991 elections as free and fair
elections, in which the Nepali Congress
won 110 seats out of 205 to form the
government. The largest opposition,
the United Marxist and Leninist Party
(UML), won 69 seats. Girija Prasad Koirala
became prime minister and formed the
government. In May-June 1992 the structure
of Nepals new democratic government
was completed following local elections
in which the Nepali Congress Party scored
a convincing victory.