A Short History of Nepal: Ancestors, Casts and Dynasties

The Nepali People

’s geographical location as a buffer between and has massively influenced its development and character, as well as its two major national , and . Nepal is revered by as the birthplace of , and devotion is centered on in , the site of one of Hinduism’s most shrines. Shiva is Nepal’s patron deity.

The major tribal groups

Three major have historically been present in the area we today call Nepal: the , ancestors of the and ; the (a pejorative term no longer used), ancestors of the and ); and the . The name “Nepal” may be derived from the nipa-laya, which means “ at the foot” – Nepal occupies one-third of the , a country of soaring peaks dotted with valleys that have helped to preserve distinct communities. Hindu texts name the Himalayan-dwelling Kirataas the original inhabitants and rulers of eastern Nepal, whose language derived from languages.

Nepal has long had a that reaches into almost every facet of daily life, but the indigenous tribes had no concept of any kind of caste system before it was introduced with the arrival of Hindu beliefs from the south. The four main divisions in the Hindu caste system are (priests and scholars), or Chhetri (rulers and warriors), Vaisya (merchants and traders), and (farmers, artisans, and laborers). The Kirati rulers claimed the caste of Kshatriya (Chhetri) for themselves.

The Modern Economic Structure

From this introduction of the caste system, the modern economic structure of Nepal began to take shape. The high-caste began to appropriate the cultivatable lowlands and introduced the system of private ownership, ignoring the migrants’ system of communal ownership. , power and privilege converged around the high castes.

Trade and political relations developed between South and Central across the under the Licchavis, who invaded from northern India and overthrew the last Kirati . The first reliable chronicles of Nepal’s are documents written during the C14th century under the Licchavi dynasty, although the stone inscription at Changu Narayan documents King I’s (C 464-505 A.D.) visit it to C5th. The Licchavi period lasted for over six hundred years, until the rise of the .

The Mallas

The suffix malla, (‘wrestler’ in Sanskrit), began to appear in the early C12th and the practice of adopting the name was continued by rulers in Nepal until the C18th. This long Malla period strengthened the Kathmandu Valley as a political, cultural and economic center of Nepal and saw the growth of the towns that eventually became the three small kingdoms of Kathmandu: (Lalitpur), and (); the center of Newar . The Newari people, unlike the Kirati mountain tribes and the hill-dwelling Khas, have never been a single ethnic group. The term Newar rather designates people who historically lived in the Kathmandu Valley, a center of crossroads between Indians, Tibetans, and .

The name ‘Newar’ is a colloquialism of the Sanskrit word ‘Nepal’, which is what the older generations of the mountain tribes still call the Kathmandu Valley (a trip down into the valley for the grandparents is a trip to Nepal). The Newar have absorbed many disparate ethnicities and castes, from the south and the north, and two religions; some Newar are Hindu and some are Buddhist. It is the Newar who are responsible for Nepal’s and styles. Newari became the official language of Nepal under the Malla dynasty.

Newars are responsible for the many trading towns dotted throughout the hills of Nepal. For centuries Newar merchants handled the trade between and India, exporting rice and locally manufactured products to Tibet over the mountain track trade routes.

The Gorkhali

The Khas, the indigenous people of the western hills, whose language is modern-day Nepali, migrated from the west and have traditionally been Nepal’s fighters; they will ever be associated with the /Gurkhas. The referred to their homelands as Khas desh (Kha’s country) until the C19th.

The origins of the Gorkha dynasty are legendarily linked to warrior princes who arrived from India in the C15th. Gorkha armies expanded to Kangra in the west and in the east, their territory to the east and pushed northward toward Tibet, where they were forced to a stop by the stronger armies of China.

King Prithvi Narayan Shah

Disharmony between the three kingdoms handed an advantage to the Nepali-speaking shah kings of Gorkha to the west, and they conquered the Kathmandu Valley in 1769 and established the Shah dynasty. Nepal became a state in 1769 under the Gorkhali king , who reigned from 1743-75. Shah unified over 50 small principalities, oversaw the migration of the hill people eastward into the and shaped the face of modern Nepal.

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About sadiksha

Namaste! I am a Nepali Art Dealer specialized in Mandala and Thangka paintings. I love to write articles about the monastic culture of the Himalayas.

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