The Birth of Nepal

The Birth of Nepal

                                                        – Buddhi N Shrestha

King Prithvi Narayan Shah the Great was born to the royal house of Gorkha on 11 January 1723, and he had ascended to the throne on 3 April 1743. He was keen on politics since he was young. He was interested in diplomacy and had interests in visiting other countries since his princeship. He had felt even at a young age that the British had growing influence in India, and conflicts brewing up amongst the three states of the Kathmandu valley and also amongst the fiefdoms of the western hills. That time disintegration had started within the 22 and the 24 fiefdoms (principalities) of western Nepal. Considering that if these smaller states continue to fight amongst one another the British could easily take them over and annex them, and King Prithvi Narayan Shah decided to unify them.

Soon after he ascended the throne of Gorkha, he set out to study the political, economic and social situations of the Kathmandu Valley. This was a strategic move before he was to launch his unification campaign. He stayed in Bhaktapur for a couple of months and acquainted himself with the internal affairs of the Valley. He knew about the rich agricultural soil of the Valley, and also that the Valley could be a transit point for expanding trade with both Tibet and India. Then he thought about conquering the Valley. For this he took Nuwakot, belonging to Kantipur, as a strategic point and decided to capture it first. He also foresaw that taking over Nuwakot would significantly strengthen the position of Gorkha State and weaken the Valley. Nuwakot carried strategic importance for there already existed a fort, and it had remained as a pass as connecting point between the Valley and Tibet.

One year after becoming King, in 1744 AD, Prithvi Narayan Shah attacked Nuwakot but suffered defeat. The reason was the Gorkha army was not well equipped and then there was the clash of interests between the Pandeys and Basnets – two important courtier clans in the Gorkha palace. Then he made Kalu Pandey Mul Kaji (equivalent to Prime Minister) and strengthened his internal position. One year later, on 2 October 1744, he attacked Nuwakot again and won, thus  expanding the borders of the Gorkha state.

Prithvi Narayan Shah employed the tactic of blockading the Kathmandu valley, and subsequently took over the surrounding settlements and the strategic positions around the valley. In the next two years during 1745-46 he captured Mahadevpokhari, Pharping, Chitlang, Dharmasthali, Naldrum, Siranchok and Shivapuri. Then he focused his attention on Kirtipur and Makawanpur, the two places, which were strategic military targets. Kirtipur being in an elevated position with a fort surrounded by walls and jungles was an ideal place to make inroads into the Valley. He thought that if he could take over Kirtipur, winning the Valley would be much easier. On 4 December 1757 he made his first attack on Kirtipur. Although the Gorkha army initially pressed hard, in the final moment of the battle Kalu Pande, commander of the Gorkha army, was killed. Prithvi Narayan Shah himself was nearly killed in the battle. As a result, Gorkha army was defeated. Kalu Pande had shown great leadership and courage in the earlier battles and was a great assistant to Prithvi Narayan for the expansion of the state of Gorkha. But unfortunately, he was killed by Kirtipurians.

But Prithvi Narayan Shah did not remain quiet. He changed his tactic and took over the nearby settlements of Panga and Chovar, and in August 1764 he attacked Kirtipur for the second time. This time the people of Kirtipur fought with the Gorkha army on their own and two brothers of Prithvi Narayan Shah– Sur Pratap Shah and Daljit Shah were injured. This time also the Gorkha army faced defeat.

After two defeats, the Gorkha army changed its strategy and surrounded the Kirtipur during the harvest season. The Gorkha army also took over the Balaju fort. After several months of blockade, the people of Kirtipur could not even get water to drink and they were forced to surrender to the Gorkha army on 17 March 1766. Thus, this time the Gorkha army took over Kirtipur without a fight. It is said that as a revenge for his two earlier defeats Prithvi Narayan Shah had his army cut the nose of many people of Kirtipur.

Like Nuwakot for Kathmandu’s trade with Tibet, Makawanpur in the south was equally important for trade with India. While the battle in the north to surround Kathmandu was going on, the Gorkha army captured Sindhulikot, Timilakot and Hariharpur in the south and southeast before they entered into the Makawanpurgadhi. Makawanpur was captured only after 10 hours of battle in August 1762. In 1763 AD, the Gorkhalis won seven other villages, including Dhulikhel and Banepa and expanded the border line to the north. With this, the Kathmandu Valley was completely surrounded and blockaded. After all the four passes (Sanga, Baad, pati and Chandragiri Bhanjyang known as Char Bhanjyang) of the Kathmandu Valley were controlled by Prithvi Narayan Shah, the deficiency of salt, oil, spices, and even clothes led to turmoil  and there was hue and cry in Kathmandu. When the government failed to pay salary to the soldiers, their morale dwindled. Then the King of Kathmandu, Jaya Prakash Malla asked for help from the British in British India. In August 1767, when the forces of the British-India arrived in Sindhuligadhi, the Gorkhalis launched guerrilla attacks on them. Many of them were killed and the rest fled leaving behind a huge amount of weapons and ammunitions, which the Gorkha army seized.

On the one hand, this boosted the morale of the forces of Prithvi Narayan Shah and on the other, further demoralized the Kings of the Kathmandu Valley, including that of Kantipur. In addition, the political situation of the valley, wrangling inside the palace and personal enmity had rendered the people of Kantipur very weak because Jaya Prakash Malla, the King of Kantipur, was of distrustful nature, and his own brother and courtiers were dissatisfied with him. Lalitpur had also faced chaos after the death of its king Yogendra Malla. There were six Pradhans (courtiers), who had taken power in their own hands, and they put Tej Narsingh Malla on the throne, but the actual power remained with the Pradhans. In reality, the political situation was very much chaotic. In Bhaktapur too, the palace of King Ranjeet Malla was in disarray due to internal wrangling. When Ranjeet Malla wanted to declare his two-year-old son as his heir, a queen who was brought not through marriage opposed it. This forced the King to declare his illegitimate son as his heir to the throne. This only flared up the conflict in the palace as a result of which the palace was weakened further.

When the three kingdoms of the Kathmandu Valley were engaged in clashes and enmity, Prithvi Narayan Shah used this opportunity to impose economic blockade against the Valley. He closed the trade route to Tibet, which passed through Nuwakot. Stung by economic blockade, the rich people of the Valley had started helping the Gorkhalis covertly. When the situation of the Valley became anarchic, the Gorkha army marched into the Valley. On 25 September 1768 when the people of Kathmandu were celebrating Indrajatra festival, Prithvi Narayan had an easy victory over Kantipur. Eleven days later (on 6 October 1768), Prithvi Narayan Shah won Lalitpur. On 14 April 1769 he gained Thimi and seven months later on 17 November 1769, he took over Bhaktapur. In this way, the whole Kathmandu Valley came under the control of Prithvi Narayan Shah. In such a way he was successful tieing up all the lands of Kathmandu Valley into the border line of his territory.

After his conquest of the Valley, he unified other smaller countries south of the Valley to keep other smaller fiefdoms near Gurkha State, out of the influence and control of the British rule. After his Kingdom spread out from north to south, he made Kantipur the capital of expanded country, and called it Nepal instead of Gorkha. In this way, Prithvi Narayan Shah formally established Nepal as a country and Nepal was born in 1769 AD.

Had Prithvi Narayan Shah not established the Kingdom of Nepal, one can only imagine that the smaller and weak nation states would have come under the control of the British regime, whose influence was increasing in India. If the British army had not been stopped and defeated at Makawanpurgadhi-Sindhuligadhi, neither would Nepal have been born as a country nor would Nepalese be known as a separate race (people). The credit for all these activities goes to Prithvi Narayan Shah the Great. While he had given ancestral birth to Pratap Singh Shah and Bahadur Shah as his sons, he gave birth to Nepal as a nation in 1769 AD. However, historians say that the word Nepal was used for more than 2,500 years. Some historians say the evidential history of Nepal starts from the 6th century Bikram era. There are other historians who say a tribe of people called ‘Nep’ came from west and settled in this part of the Himalayas. Since then this part of the Himalayas has been called Nepal. Some historians that the word Nepal came from ‘Nepa+Aal’ meaning abode of the Nep. Others also say, a Saint called Ne had nurtured and protected this land, so it was called Nepal.[1] Talking about the later period, historians also say the Malla kings of Kantipur claim them to be the Nepaleswor (the ruler of Nepal). This shows that the word ‘Nepal’ was there long before the Malla kings ruled the Valley. But the theme of this text is not about the origin of the word Nepal, but how Nepal was born as a powerful and unified country in 1769 AD.


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