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Nepalese History

Nepal's diverse culture of today is a result of its close ties with its neighbors India and Tibet. Throughout its time Nepal's boundaries have fluctuated from including much of present day India to consisting of only a few city-states in the Kathmandu Valley.

Nepal's recorded history begins in the 7th century BCE (before the Common Era). The Kiratis, Mongolian people who came to Nepal from the east, are said to have been Nepal's first inhabitants. Little is known of the Kirati era other than that Buddhism was the dominant religion and that the Rai and Limbu people of eastern Nepal are the descendants of the Kiratis.

Around 300 CE (Common Era) the Licchavis, Hindu people from north India, overthrew the Kiratis. Hinduism became the main religion, and the caste system was imposed. The Licchavis were in power until 602 CE, when the Thakuris took over. The first Thakurian king, Amsuvarman, helped to bridge Nepal's relationship with Tibet when his daughter married a Tibetan prince. The dowry he collected from this marriage added to his great wealth. Amsuvarman liked the location of the Kathmandu Valley, tucked away within the towering Himalaya, and he decided to have his palace there. The city of Kathmandu was founded around the 10th century with the building of Kasthmandap (House of Wood) in Durbur Square. This and many other ancient buildings are still standing in Kathmandu's Durbur Square.

Around 1200 Kind Arideva began the Malla dynasty. Though towards the beginning of his time a huge earthquake killed thousands and, a few years later, the city of Patan was destroyed in an invasion, the Malla dynasty was one of great wealth and prosperity. The Mallas were Hindus and enforced a strict caste system, but were tolerant of Buddhists. The two religions practiced peacefully sided by side.

During the mid 1300s Nepal began dividing into many small city states with feuding royal families. A Muslim invasion of the area left Nepal fairly unharmed, though several Hindu and Buddhist shrines were damaged. It was India that faced major destruction, which caused many Hindus to find sanction in Nepal. The new population surge created even more city-states. At this time there were a total of 48 separate city-states in Nepal, each with their own coined currencies and armies.

In 1372, Kathmandu's king, Jayasthiti Malla, took over the neighboring city-state of Patan, and, a decade later, the city-state of Bhaktapur. (The photo at left as well as the photo at the bottom of this page were both taken in Bhaktapur). This unified the Kathmandu Valley into one large kingdom as opposed to three smaller ones.

The reign of King Yaksha Malla in the mid 1400s saw Nepal's borders extend south to the Ganges River, and north through Tibet. However, after his death in 1482, Nepal split up into many small states who would continue to battle each other for 200 years.

As the fighting continued amongst the Malla kingdoms, a new dydynasty came into power. The Shah kings of Gorkha, a small kingdom located halfway in between Kathmandu and Pokhara, gradually extended their power. In 1768, they conquered the Kathmandu Valley.

Throughout the 1790s Nepal and China were at war, bickering over who owned Tibet. Nepal suffered from a great defeat, and the treaty that they signed with China forced them to pay tribute to the Chinese emperor until 1912.

As the British power on the subcontinent continued to grow, the British arrived in Nepal in the early 1800s. Disputes over Nepal's expanding southern borders led to a war between the British and Nepal. Nepal lost much of its land, though Nepal's support for the British during the Indian Mutiny (or War of Independence) gave the British incentive to return the Terai and other parts of southern land in 1858.

The Shah's are still the current royal family in Nepal, but in 1896 an event known as the Kot Massacre occurred. Jun Bagadur Rana was a noble from western Nepal. On 15 September 1846, he invited hundreds of the country's top political and military officials to a party. He then massacred all of them. He gave himself the title of Prime Minister, which he said would be a hereditary position in Nepal. Thus the Ranas became another "royal family" within the kingdom. They held a great amount of power for over a century.

A constitution based on the parliamentary system was set up by King Mahendra Shah in the mid 1900s. Nepal's 1st general elections were held in 1959, and BP Koirala became the new Prime Minister. However, in 1960 King Mahendra decided that he did not like the setup of the new government. He had the entire cabinet arrested, political parties banned, and he regained absolute power again.

In 1962, King Mahendra changed the government to an indirect democratic system. The king continued to have executive power, and chose 16 of the 35 National Panchayat (council) members. He also appointed the Prime Minister and his cabinet. Political parties remained illegal. Local panchayats chose representatives to represent their area at the District Panchayat, which sent representatives to the National Panchayat.

King Mahendra died in 1972, and was succeeded by his son Birendra. King Birendra was sure that Nepal's indirect government system was right for his country, but his people did not agree. Throughout the 1970s corruption became obvious, and costs rose significantly. This led to violent riots in Kathmandu in 1979. The king decided to hold a referendum to choose between the panchayat system and a governmnet in which political parties were allowed to campaign. The panchayat system narrowly won, but the king had already declared that no matter what the outcome of the referendum was, the new government would consist of an elected legislature (with 5 year terms) who would elect the Prime Minister. The king would appoint 20% of the legislature, and candidates would be required to be members of a government-approved organization. The first such election was held in 1981.

There was strict censorship throughout the country, and suspected governmnet activists were arrested, beaten, and tortured. Economic problems and obvious corruption sparked the People's Movement of 1989. Political parties gathered together to form a coalition that fought for a multi-party democracy with the king as a constitutional head. The coalition held many peaceful protests, and in February of 1990 these meetings were met with bullets, tear gas, arrests, and torture from the government. After months of riots and over 300 deaths, the king lifted the ban on political parties on April 9. On April 16, he announced his approval for a constitutional monarchy.

Nepal had its general election for a 205-seat parliament in May of 1991. Times were uneasy in the years following the elections as some people still supported the king, others expected a perfect country after the elections, and everyone was hurt by price hikes.

While democracy has not solved Nepal's political problems, it has returned a sense of national pride to its people. The government continues to suffer from corruption as the politicians tend to think of meeting their financial needs first, and helping their people becomes a distant second priority.

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