NEPAL: HISTORICAL SETTING
The all-seeing eyes of Buddha, a detail from the great stupa of
Svayambhunath, a Buddhist shrine west of Kathmandu
NEPAL HAS BEEN A KINGDOM for at least 1,500 years.
of that period, the Kathmandu Valley has been Nepal's
economic, and cultural center. The valley's fertile soil
thriving village farming communities, and its location
trans-Himalayan trade routes allowed merchants and rulers
profit. Since the fourth century, the people of the
Valley have developed a unique variant of South Asian
based on Buddhism and Hinduism but influenced as well by
cultures of local Newar citizens and neighboring Tibetans.
the major themes in the history of Nepal has been the
of influences from both the north and the south into an
culture. During its entire history, Nepal has been able to
this process while remaining independent.
The long-term trend in Nepal has been the gradual
of multiple centers of power and civilization and their
incorporation into a varied but eventually united nation.
Licchavi (fourth to eighth centuries) and Malla (twelfth
eighteenth centuries) kings may have claimed that they
overlords of the area that is present-day Nepal, but
their effective influence extend far beyond the Kathmandu
By the sixteenth century, there were dozens of kingdoms in
smaller valleys and hills throughout the Himalayan region.
the destiny of Gorkha, one of these small kingdoms, to
neighbors and finally unite the entire nation in the late
eighteenth century. The energy generated from this union
armies of Nepal to conquer territories far to the west and
east, as well as to challenge the Chinese in Tibet and the
in India. Wars with these huge empires checked Nepalese
however, and fixed the boundaries of the mountain kingdom.
the late twentieth century was still surrounded by giants
in the process of integrating its many localized economies
cultures into a nation state based on the ancient center
Nepal took a fateful turn in the mid-nineteenth century
its prime ministers, theoretically administrators in
service to the
king, usurped complete control of the government and
kings to puppets. By the 1850s, a dynasty of prime
Rana (see Glossary)
had imposed upon the country a
that would last about 100 years. The Ranas distrusted both
own people and foreigners--in short, anyone who could
their own power and change their position. As the rest of
underwent modernization, Nepal remained a medieval nation,
the exploitation of peasants and some trade revenues and
by a tradition-bound aristocracy that had little interest
science or technology.
After the revolt against the Ranas in 1950, Nepal
overcome its long legacy of underdevelopment and to
varied population into a single nation. One of the early
of this process was party-based democracy. Although
parties were crucial in the revolution that overthrew Rana
their constant wrangling conflicted with the monarchy's
its own dignity and with the interests of the army.
condoning or encouraging a multiparty democracy, King
Bikram Shah Dev launched a coup in late 1960 against
Prasad (B.P.) Koirala's popularly elected government and
set up a
system of indirect elections that created a consultative
The system served as a sounding board for public opinion
and as a
tool for economic development without exercising effective
political power. Nepal remained until 1990 one of the few
in the world where the king, wielding absolute authority
embodying sacred tradition, attempted to lead his country
the twenty-first century.
Data as of September 1991