- This article is about the Gorkha Kingdom which later became Nepal. For other uses, see Gurkha (disambiguation).
Gorkhā is a former kingdom in the confederation of 24 states known as Chaubisi rajya located in present-day western Nepal. The Kingdom of Gorkha extended from the Marshyangdi River in the west to the Trishuli River in the east, which separated it from the kingdoms of Lamjung and Nepal respectively. The inhabitants of Gorkha were known as Gorkhali.
From the 16th century, Gorkha was ruled by the Shah dynasty. The Shahs installed themselves as rulers of Gorkha taking advantage of the confusion of an annual race held at a place called Liglig. It was the tradition of the local Ghale people to choose as their king for the year the fastest runner in the competition. In 1559, Dravya Shah attacked and captured Liglig when the inhabitants were engrossed in the race. He displaced the Ghale king and became king of Gorkha.
From 1736, the Gorkhalis engaged in a campaign of expansion started by king Nara Bhupal Shah, which was continued by his son, King Prithvi Narayan Shah and grandson Prince Bahadur Shah. Over the years, they conquered huge tracts of land to the east and west of Gorkha.
Among their conquests, the most important and valuable acquisition was the wealthy Newar confederacy of Nepal Mandala centered in the Kathmandu Valley. Starting in 1745, the Gorkhalis mounted a blockade in a bid to starve the population into submission, but the inhabitants held out.
The Newars appealed to the British East India Company for help, and in 1767, it sent an expedition under Captain Kinloch which ended in failure. The three Newar capitals of Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur fell to the Gorkhalis between 1768 to 1769. The Gorkhali king subsequently moved his capital to Kathmandu.
In 1788, the Gorkhalis turned their attention north and invaded Tibet. They seized the border towns of Kyirong and Kuti, and forced the Tibetans to pay an annual tribute. When the Tibetans stopped paying it, the Gorkhalis invaded Tibet again in 1791 and plundered the Tashilhunpo Monastery in Shigatse. This time the Chinese army came to Tibet's defence and advanced close to Kathmandu. The alarmed Gorkhalis appealed to the British East India Company for help, but they got none. Eventually, the Gorkhalis were forced to sign a peace treaty under which they had to pay tribute to Beijing every five years.
The Gorkha dominion reached its height at the beginning of the 19th century, extending all along the Himalayan foothills from Kumaon and Garhwal in the west to Sikkim in the east. They were made to return much of the occupied territories after their defeat in the Anglo-Nepalese War (1814–1816).
Gorkha to Nepal
The Gorkha dominion continued to be known as Gorkha Rajya (meaning Gorkha Kingdom) until the beginning of the 20th century. Since the 1930s, the name Nepal was used to refer to the entire country as the capital was located in Kathmandu. The name Gorkha Sarkar (meaning Gorkha government) was also changed to Nepal government.
Similarly, the Gorkhali language was renamed as Nepali in 1933. The term Gorkhali in the former national anthem entitled "Shreeman Gambhir" was changed to Nepali in 1951. The government newspaper, launched in 1901, is still known as Gorkhapatra (meaning Gorkha gazette).
The Shah dynasty ruled Nepal until 2008 when it became a republic following a people's movement. Today, Gorkha District, roughly corresponding to the old kingdom, is one of the 75 administrative districts of Nepal.
Gurkhas and Gorkhas
Not to be confused with the inhabitants of the old Gorkha Kingdom, the Gurkhas are military units in the British or the Indian army (where they are known as Gorkhas) enlisted in Nepal. Their history goes back to the Anglo-Nepalese War and the Sugauli Treaty of 1816. It allowed the British East India Company to recruit men from the Nepalese hills to serve as soldiers under contract.
The British referred to all those who enlisted as Gurkhas regardless of their ethnic heritage or geographical origin in Nepal. These Gurkhas became part of the British Indian Army after its formation.
During World War I (1914–18), more than 200,000 Gurkhas served in the British Army, suffering approximately 20,000 casualties, and receiving almost 2,000 gallantry awards.
During World War II (1939–45), a total of 250,280 Gurkhas served in 40 battalions, plus eight Nepalese Army battalions, plus parachute, training, garrison, and porter units. They earned 2,734 bravery awards, and suffered around 32,000 casualties in all theatres.
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