Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hidden History of Nepal

This is an English translation of excerpt from the book called Nepal Geschenk der Götter(Nepal gifts of the Gods) -> written in German language

Since 1716, Gorakh Nath Narbhupal Shah had been sitting on his throne made of mud. He found his throne very uncomfortable, and wanted to change it with the silver throne of the Kathmandu Valley at any cost.

With this aim in mind , he married many times to widen his territory and built alliances. But he was not successful .Finally , he changed his tactics.In 1732, he sent his 10 years old son Prithvi Narayan to stay with the king of Bhaktapur.

In a covering letter, Narbhupal Shah requested the king of Bhaktapur to raise his son and provide him a good education which was only possible in Nepal.
But his real intention was to place his son in the palace so that he could spy on it and gather vital information.

The Malla king of Bhaktapur took in his young guest Prithvi Narayan Shah with friendship and showed him the prince of Gorkha.Prithvi Narayan Shah had an excellent memory , and remembered everything that he saw.

After five years, he returned to his hometown Gorkha. He had gathered much information about the reasons behind the quarrels among the valley kings, the exact quantity of military equipments and the strategic locations in Nepal.

Prithvi Narayan Shah was sure that he could conquer the pass of Nuwakot, so in the same year he sent his Gorkha soldiers to attack Nuwakot. The young prince had miscalculated or his father had underistimated the Mallas. The Malla kings banded together and their armies beat the Gorkhas very badly.

Since then , the Gorkha launched an attack on the valley every year right after the monsoon in order to possess its wealth. But they were failed. The Gorkhas came punctually at the end of September, but they never made any headway.Thiswent on till 1764.

Prithvi then sent a peace messages to the valley . The Mallas received his
messages with joy. The endlesss war was a strain on their resources, and it was also disrupting their business.

But Prithvi’s message was a clever deception; he really didn’t seek peace. The Mallas came to know that it was only a ploy when the Gorkhas blocked the northern trade route. Another thing that worried the Malla was that the Gorkhas had come into possessions of excellent arms and lots of money with which to prosecute the war. The Mallas didn’t know from where the Gorkhas had got them .

The British government had supplied the weapons to the Gorkhas, but this
fact has been kept hidden in Nepal history’s book.The secret treaty which was done is still preserved in London in the archives of East Indian Company.

The pact was signed by Captain Ceane and the Gorkhas. The British government agreed to supply the weapons and advice,and in return, the Gorkhashad to destroy the old trade routes between India
and China.

The Moguls of India had a flourishing business relationship with the Mallas of Nepal, and this trade accounted for 30 percent of the wealth of the Moguls. The British wanted to get their hands on the riches.

According to the accord, Prithvi Narayan Shah received 800 muskets along with 21 British advisors. And in 1766, armed with British weapons and intelligence, the Gorkhas attacked Kirtipur. The people of Kirtipur could not resist the superior arms, and two third of them were killed.

The cruel Gorkhas cut off the noses of the survivors. Till today , this
place is known as the “ village of the noseless”. The Mallas then realized that the situation had become precarious.
Jaya Prakash Malla, king of Kathmandu , was an intelligent ruler. He wrote a very touching letter to the East India Company appealing for assistance against the Gorkhas. The East India Company subsequently sent 15 very strong men under the command of a captain named Kinlock to help the Mallas.This captain was quite fond of dr
inking alcohol.

When the British arrived at the hills leading to the Kathmandu valley , they faked being defeated by the Gorkhas.The Gorkhas pretented to hit them and they acted as if they were wounded. The British wanted the Mallas to think that the Gorkhas were too powerful to fight with.

Jaya Prakash Malla then looked to religion for support. A prophet told the king that the future of Nepal depended on the Kumari.And so in 1768, the festival of Indra Jatra was celebrated with extra fervour. The Nepalese drank lots of rice beer during the festivities, especially on September 13 on the day of the chariot festival.

They did not notice that the Gorkhas had entered the city until they had surrounded the Kumari’s chariot.Pandemonium broke out . Jaya Prakash Malla jumped down from the royal chariot with his two wives and escaped to Lalitpur. Prithvi Narayan Shah stepped in front of the bewildered crowd and shouted , I’m now your king. Carry on with your drinking.”
Prithvi Narayan Shah was at that time 46 years old .

Many Newars drank rice beer because they were terror-stricken. The Gorkhas put their swords to the necks of the Newars who refused to accept the new king,so they had no choice but to obey.

In the following winter, the Gorkhas also conquered Lalitpur without any opposition. The Mallas the n gathered at the palace in Bhaktapur. The palace was well defended. And following the advice of his British advisors, Prithvi Narayan Shah imposed a blockade. After three years, Bhaktapur’s food stock ran out. And one night , illegitimate children of the Mallas opened the gates to the city. The valley’s three kings were arrested in their bedrooms. Jaya Prakash Malla committed suicide. To show his big-heartedness, Prithvi allowed Jaya Prakash to be brought to Pashupatinath for the final rites.

Bhaktapur’s king Ranjit Malla , who had given shelter to Prithvi Narayan, was not killed; but his eyes were put out and sent to the Hindu holy city of Banaras.Tej Narasingh of Patan did not want to exchange any words with Prithvi Narayan.

Tej Narasingh was imprisoned in a vault and walled up. A small hole was left open to pass food to him. And for twn days, a bowl of rice was put near the hole. When they saw that Tej Narasingh had not touched the food, the hole was bricked up.

Prithvi Narayan Shah did everything according to Captain Ceane’s suggestions. He said to Prithvi , “ The people of Nepal
are very hard working and intelligent. That is why they are very dangerous. We need to strike terror into their hearts in order to control them. Don’t let them come to power even after many centuries. We need to obliterate from their minds the idea of rising up to seize power. This can only be achieve through harsh laws and violence.

Accordingly, Newars were not allowed to read , write or repair their houses. If they broke the law, they faced the dealth penalty.In 1770 , two and half thousand Newars were killed. The second generation was thoroughly intimidated, and gave up . The third generation started to forget. The tax records of 1767 show that 176 different kinds of fruits and vegetables were
grown in the valley.

After Prithvi Narayan Shah took control of the valley, the old cities began to stagnate even though so much money was pouring into the country. The only changes in the cityscape that occured were the result of earthquakes.

The British naturally benefitted greatly from their cruel plan. In 1776, the Mogul Empire became bankrupt and was forced to become a colony of Britain. The whole of central Asia suffered after Prithvi Narayan Shah took over Nepaland closed the old trade routes.

Tibet’s economy too was negatively affected . The depressed economy forced monasteries to become financially self-reliant.This was how feudalism emerged as a shadow on the gentle face of the Buddha. There was a negative effect even in China.

The British were also not very happy with the Gorkhas. The Gorkhas hadtasted the blood, and did not give up violence. In this way , they conquered all the hill states. The Gorkha turned the country into a “ forbidden land”. As long as the country remained closed up, the British were not disturbed. But in 1789, the Gorkhas became crazy and went to war with China and England. Britain’s General Ochterlony said, “ We have to keep the Gorkhas busy so that other things besides conquest come to their minds.”

Lord Hastings wrote in his diary in 1817, “ To bring peace in Nepal, the Gorkhas must be kept busy and far from their country.”

This policy led to the recruitment of Gorkha soldiers into British army. The Nepal government took one-third of the money sent home by the Gorkhas. It was an important source of income for the government of Nepal.

After the Gorkhas began leaving Nepal , there was peace on the frontier as well as within the country. But there was no peace in the king’s palace. The Shahs fought among themselves. They didn’t care about the country or the people. They remained engrossed in their own interests .

Then came the Kot Parwa, and the Jung Bahadur Rana took over power from the Shah king.

Source: Matina journal published from UK

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Can I continue it?

Historical Background

Ancient Cities

Neoclassical artifacts discovered in the Kathmandu Valley indicate that humans have inhabited the Himalayan region since pre-historic times, however, little is known about the people and lifestyle of that era. Therefore we can say the history of Kathmandu Valley began with the beginning of the first century AD.

The Licchivi Period (third - seventh century AD)

The Licchivi dynasty, which began in the third century, is considered to be the first significant dynasty in Kathmandu Valley. These Licchivi people entered Nepal through North India and were greatly influenced by Indian art and architecture. They established Deopatan (the present Pashupatinath temple complex) as their capital city and erected several temples and villages around Kathmandu.

Licchivi people were very fine craftsmen. They worked primarily on stone carving and painting, which became very popular during that time. Some of their fine sculpture can still be found around the city temples. One of the examples of their greatest sculpture can be seen at Budhanilkantha Temple at the northern outskirt of Kathmandu.

Sculpture of Budhanilkantha

We can even find a number of fine woodcarvings and wood structures dating back to this period; these demonstrate that the Licchivis had excellent wood craftsmanship. Kasthamandapa, meaning the wooden house, was originally built during this period. This structure is considered as the oldest known wooden building found in Nepal. The name of the city-Kathmandu-the place where Kasthamandapa still stands was named after this great structure.
Even though the Licchivies made a great contribution in the development of sculpture and woodcarving, they did not contribute much to the architectural history of Nepal. After the Licchivi period many other small kingdoms rose and fell without leaving much historical and architectural significance to the place until the Mallas invaded and started ruling from around the end of twelfth century. Therefore we can say the architectural history of the valley began only around thirteenth century AD after the Mallas came into power.

The Malla Period (thirteenth- eighteenth century AD)

The rulers of the Malla period were Burmo-Mongolian in origin and were very orthodox Hindus. They proclaimed themselves as Lord "Vishnu" and built several temples and palaces around the city dedicated to themselves.
Mallas ruled the valley for about 550 years and this period of Kathmandu Valley is also called “the golden period” in history because of the extraordinary building and developing activities that took place in art and architecture during this time. Almost all of the awesome ancient pagodas, temples and palaces that we see in the skyline of Kathmandu today date back to this period. Little consideration was given to the public housing but many common baths, rest houses (called sattals) and market areas were built for public purposes.

Mallas at first ruled the valley as a single kingdom for a few centuries, but due to various political reasons it was later divided into three small kingdoms known as Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan. Kings of these kingdoms started building their separate huge palaces and tall temples to show off their strength. This rivalry had a very positive impact to the art and architecture of the place. Considering the small area of the valley, the development in art and architecture was spectacular. Most of these palaces and temples still exist and they are UNESCO world heritage sites. These three ancient cities are the most closely clustered world heritage sites found anywhere in the world.

Basantapur Tower at the Palace of Kathmandu

The pagoda - tiered roofing - was the most dominant architectural feature of this period. It is believed that pagoda architecture was first practice here long before Malla period but it was during the Malla period that pagoda architecture flourished. The proportion of the tiers in the pagoda roofing, the finest woodcarving work, the height of the plinth and its effect on the surrounding proved to be the great architectural concepts and craftsmanship of these people.

These Burmo-Mongolian people dominated the Valley until the end of the end of eighteenth century. They were called the Newars and they were very fine craftsmen. They were most popular in woodcarving and metallurgical work. To this day, the most admired art and architecture in Nepal is built by the Newars. Newars have also developed unique residential housing called ‘Newar Houses.’ They located a number of houses around a big courtyard called a ‘chowk’, which was used as the common space to all these houses around it. Elaborately carved windows and doors and very low ceiling heights-proportionate exactly to human scale-are the unique characteristics of Newar houses.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


I wish you a very happy, prosperous, democratic, liberal and creative new year.

From January 1, you will find views on Nepal's politics, society, environment and many other issues. It is being done by a kathmandu-based journalist but it has nothing to do with his profession.