Unification of Nepal
Nepal's recorded history began with the Kiratis, who arrived in the Kathmandu valley in the 7th or 8th century BCE from the east. Little is known about them, other than their deftness as sheep farmers and fondness for carrying long knives. The Kirats ruled for about 1225 years (800 BCE-300 CE), they had a total of 28 kings during that time. Their first and best remembered king was Yalamba Haang, who is mentioned in the epic Mahabharata.
The first record of the word Nepal is found in ancient Indian annals such as the puranas from the 4th century A.D where an area known as 'Newal' or sometimes as 'Newar' is mentioned, referring to what is now known as the Kathmandu Valley. However, the area of the sovereign state of Nepal has changed from time to time during its history, expanding and shrinking in area since ancient times.
Of the kings originating inside or outside of modern Nepal, a common characteristic of attempting to unify Nepal from mostly west to east, along the southern track of the Himalayas and the northern plain of Ganges, can be identified. No Nepalese ruler has been recorded attempting to cross the Himalayas to expand their states into Tibet or China, and none has been recorded trying to cross the Ganges plain into modern India. For the most part, Nepalese rulers seem to have been focused on the territories that more or less comprise modern-day Nepal, between the region of Kashmir in the west and Bhutan in the east.
Nepal as a political region has been united by different kings of different kingdoms at various times in Nepalese history. Common tradition holds that among the first uniters of Nepal was a king by the name of Mandev, who ultimately controlled territory from the Brahmaputra River in the east and Gandaki in the west. Recorded details of his unification, however, are scarce, and thus Mandev's actions and his very existence cannot be definitively confirmed. The same may be said for various early recorded and traditional (i.e. not necessarily recorded) rulers of Nepal, all of whose kingdoms apparently broke up when their dynasties died out. While records and documents of several such rulers do exist, a lack of interest has made their accessibility difficult and limited the number of translations and analyses.
King Prithvi Narayan Shah
King Prithvi Narayan Shah (1723-1775) was born in the Shah dynasty of Gorkha on 11 January 1723 (27 Poush 1779 B.S.) After the death of Narabhupal shah on 25th chaitra he became the king of Gorkha. he ascended to the throne of Gorkha kingdom on 3 April 1743. He was interested in politics and diplomacy and had interests in both visiting and conquering other countries since his days as prince. He decided to enlarge his kingdom that was confined to the small Gorkha region of present day Nepal and had an area of just 2,500 square km (approx. 50 km x 50 km). He defeated major principalities in wars and unified them under his rule starting from 1740s ending with shifting of his Gorkha Kingdom’s capital from Gorkha region to Kathmandu in 1769. While he was successful at conquering the Kathmandu valley and the Sen kingdoms further east of the Kathmandu valley, his efforts were limited to the west of his homeland. He then attacked and absorbed dozens of other small principalities and gave a new name "Nepal" to his Gorkha kingdom. He was able to conquer some of the 22 principalities or kingdoms, know as the baisi raj-ya, and some of the 24 kingdoms (the chaubasi raj-ya), which were two sets of allies west of the King's homeland of Gorkha, in what is now called western Nepal.
Soon after he ascended the throne of Gorkha Kingdom, Shah tricked his way into the royal household of Bhaktapur for a number of months. He wanted the rich agricultural soil of the valley, and the strategic point of the Kathmandu valley as a transit point for expanding trade with both Tibet and India. Then he planned the conquest of the valley. To this end, he decided to first capture Nuwakot, which belonged to the state of Kantipur, as a strategic point. He also foresaw that taking over Nuwakot would significantly strengthen the position of his Gorkha nation and weaken the states occupying the Kathmandu Valley. Nuwakot held strategic importance, as there was already a fort there, and it had remained as a connecting pass the valley and Tibet.
Prithivi Narayan was a very ambitious king. Along with the invasion of the Gorkha he wanted it to protect it from the Gorkha troops, so he started to unify the small kingdoms to be a single nation . One year after becoming King, in 1744 AD, Prithvi Narayan Shah attacked Nuwakot but was repelled because the Gorkha army was not well equipped. In addition, conflicts of interest between the Pandeys and Basnets - two important warrior clans in the Gorkha palace - arose to add domestic political tension. Shah then made Kalu Pandey "Mul Kaji (equivalent to Prime Minister)" of his state and thus strengthened his domestic political position. Almost a year later, on 2 October 1744, he attacked Nuwakot again and won, thus expanding the bounds of his Gorkha state.
Kalu Pandey employed a strategy involving a blockade of the Kathmandu Valley, and subsequently took over the surrounding settlements and strategic positions around the valley. In the next two years (during 1745-46) he captured Mahadevpokhari, Pharping, Chitlang, Dharmasthali, Naldrum, Siranchok and Shivapuri. He then focused his attention on Kirtipur and Makawanpur, two palaces which were also strategic military targets. Kirtipur was in an elevated position with a fort surrounded by walls and jungles, an ideal place to make inroads into the valley. Shah thought that if he could take over Kirtipur, occupying the rest of the valley would be much easier. On 4 December 1757 he made his first attack on Kirtipur. In this war he lost his strong general Kalu pandey which was a great loss for gorkha. Kalu Pandey had told him that it was not the right time to attack Kritpur. His body was buried in Kirtipur. Prithvi Narayan Shah himself was nearly killed in the battle. As a result, the Gorkha army, having lost a great deal of morale, was defeated. It is said that as revenge for his two earlier defeats, The Gorkha army was repelled again in August 1765.
After two defeats, the Gorkha army changed its strategy again and surrounded Kirtipur during the harvest season, effectively laying siege to the stronghold. The Gorkha army also took over the nearby Balaju fort. After several months of this blockade, the people of Kirtipur could not even get water to drink and were forced to surrender to the Gorkha army on 17 March 1766. This time the Gorkha army took over Kirtipur without a fight. Prithvi Narayan Shah had his army cut off the noses and lips of some people of Kirtipur.
Conquest of Southern Nepal and the Kathmandu Valley
As Nuwakot was a key point for Kathmandu’s trade with Tibet, Makawanpur in the south was equally important for trade with India. While the battle to surround Kathmandu was going on in the north, the Gorkha army, captured Sindhulikot, Timilakot and Hariharpur in the south and southeast of modern-day Nepal before it entered into the Makawanpurgadhi territories. Makawanpur was captured after only 10 hours of battle in August 1762. In 1763 AD, the Gorkha army conquered seven other villages, including Dhulikhel and Banepa, and expanded the Gorkha state's border line further north. With this, the Kathmandu Valley was completely surrounded and blockaded. After all the four passes (Sanga, Baad, pati and Chandragiri Bhanjyang, also known as Char Bhanjyang) of the Kathmandu Valley were controlled by Prithvi Narayan Shah, the eventual lack of salt, oil, spices, and even clothes led to turmoil in the valley and disaster struck Kathmandu. When the local government failed to pay its soldiers, the morale or its military dwindled.
The king of Kathmandu at the time, Jaya Prakash Malla, then asked for military aid from the British in British India. In August 1767, when the forces of the British India arrived in Sindhuligadhi, the Gorkha military conducted guerrilla attacks against them. Many of the British Indian forces were killed and the rest eventually fled, leaving behind a huge amount of weapons and ammunitions, which were seized by the Gorkha army.
This boosted the morale of the forces of Prithvi Narayan Shah and further demoralized the kings of the Kathmandu Valley, among which was the king of Kantipur. In addition to this, the political situation of the valley, political 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 a paranoid nature, and his own brother and courtiers became dissatisfied with him. The state of Lalitpur had also faced chaos after the death of its king Yogendra Malla. Six pradhans (courtiers) then took power into their own hands, and put Tej Narsingh Malla on the throne; but the actual power in Lalitpur remained with the pradhans. In Bhaktapur as well, the palace of King Ranjeet Malla was in disarray due to domestic political wrangling. When Ranjeet Malla wanted to declare his two year-old son as his heir, a queen (not through marriage) opposed it. This forced the king to declare his older illegitimate son as his heir to the throne. This only fueled conflict in the palace, as a result of which the palace was weakened further.
While the three kingdoms of the Kathmandu Valley were engaged in clashes and enmity, Prithvi Narayan Shah used this opportunity to impose an economic blockade against the entire valley region. He closed the trade route to Tibet, which passed through Nuwakot. The Gorkha army, marched into the valley. On 25 September 1768, when the people of Kathmandu were celebrating the Festival of Indrajatra, Prithvi Narayan Shah won an easy victory over Kantipur.
Some historians doubt this version of the history written by the conquerors. They say that the valley was overtaken not on September but on cold December. The official version of overwhelmingly large force that captured Kathmandu is considered historically inaccurate. The truth, however, is that the powerful Pradhan courtiers of Kathmandu were promised lucrative position in the new Kingdom in lieu for their help in killing the beleaguered king. The king realized that he had enemies galore and fled to the neighboring Bhaktapur leaving the throne empty in Kathmandu. Upon easing his way to the throne of the Kathmandu, the very next day, he ordered the beheading of all of the Pradhan courtiers and their extended family.
Eleven days later (6 October 1768), he conquered Lalitpur. On 14 April 1769, he gained the town of Thimi and seven months later (17 November 1769), he took over Bhaktapur. In this way, the whole Kathmandu Valley came under the control of Prithvi Narayan Shah.
Establishment of a united Kingdom of Nepal
After his conquest of the Kathmandu Valley, Prithvi Narayan Shah conquered other smaller countries south of the valley to keep other smaller fiefdoms near his 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 renamed it Nepal from its original name of Gorkha. After this he turned his attention towards the east. The Sena kingdom of Choudandi was conquered by 1773 A.D. and Vijaypur, another Sena kingdom, was annexed shortly thereafter. Prithvi Narayan Shah formally established Nepal as a country and the Kingdom of Nepal was officially born in 1769 AD.
Implications of unification
Had Prithvi Narayan Shah not established the Kingdom of Nepal, it is likely that the smaller and weaker nation states would have come under the control of the British Empire, whose influence was increasing in India at the time. If the British Indian army had not been stopped and defeated at Makawanpurgadhi-Sindhuligadhi, Nepal would not have born as a country, and the Nepalese would not have been known as an independent, sovereign, political entity. The majority of credit for preventing these outcomes goes to Prithvi Narayan Shah. Despite this historical legacy however, there are some who criticize his aggressive campaigns of conquest and empire-building.
After Prithvi Narayan Shah's death in 1775, his eldest son Pratap Singh Shah defeated some small princes and absorbed their fiefdoms into his kingdom. However, because he was a firm religious believer, the unification was not much focused upom during his time. After Pratap Shah died at the age of twenty five in 1777, Prithvi Narayan Shah’s second son, Bahadur Shah, ruled until 1794 and enlarged the kingdom. Later Bhimsen Thapa also expanded the territory of Nepal until the expansion was checked by the Anglo-Nepalese War.
- Reed, David. p208.
- Fr. Giuseppe. (1799). An account of the kingdom of Nepal. Asiatic Researches. Vol 2. (1799). p307-322.
- Reed, David. (2002). The Rough Guide to Nepal. DK Publishing, Inc.