AT A GLANCE
Nepal can be divided into three regions from north to south: Himal, Pahar and Tarai.
Himal: This is the 'high, sparsely populated mountain regions where small communities of pastoralists and traders maintain a Mahayana Buddhist culture and way of life that closely resemble those of their neighbours in Tibet to the north'. Most people in Himal are of Tibetan origin: 'the Sherpas of the Solu and Khumbu valleys migrated south some 500 years ago'.
Pahar: This is the 'middle hill region that is the home of Nepal's dominant castes and ethnic groups'.
ETHNIC AND LINGUISTIC GROUPINGS:
There is a fair amount of diversity in ethnic and linguistic contexts, and the population 'becomes increasingly diverse as one moves though Nepal from west to east'; however, 'a process of general cultural homogenisation has been at work for many centuries and the differences between the various tribes have diminished'.
Caste Hindus called parbatiyas or Indo-Nepalese, mostly Brahmans and Chhetris, who speak Nepali as their mother-tongue.
Number of different peoples who speak Tibeto-Burman languages and appear to have entered Nepal from the north in the distant past.
The Newars: The Newars are 'an anomalous case'. 'Their language is Tibeto-Burman, but they share many cultural traits with the Indo-Nepalese. Their origins and identity are still debated, but it is generally agreed that the Newars comprise people of very different origins.'
RURAL AND URBAN: FACTS & TRENDS
Most of the people of the Pahar region are farmers who eke out a fairly meagre living on small plots of land.
Besides the towns in the Kathmandu and Pokhara valleys there are few urban centres in the hills. The population of the three main Kathmandu Valley towns (Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur) was approximately 350,000 in 1981, but it has certainly increased greatly since then.
To the south to north where people of recent north Indian origin, speaking languages such as Maithili, Bhojpuri and Awadhi, live alongside indigenous forest tribes such as the Tharu, as well as settlers from the hills.
Much was only a century or two ago covered by dense malarial forest. The forests served to isolate the hill region from north India, and account in part for Nepal's continued independence despite the domination of India by a variety of invaders from the medieval period onwards.
The name 'Nepal' was traditionally applied 'only to the Kathmandu Valley'. The name is linked with the Newars, the Valley's 'most ancient inhabitants'. There are several hypotheses regarding the coining of the word Nepal.
A combination of the Tibeto-Burman word ne (cattle) and the Sanskrit word pala (keepers, guardians).
A combination of Ne (the name of a mythical sage) with the Sanskrit word pala (keepers, guardians).
'Nepal is mentioned in the Arthashastra, a text of great antiquity but uncertain date.
The first clearly dated mention of Nepal appears in a pillar inscription at Allahabad which dates from the reign of the (north-Indian) emperor Samudragupta (335-76), and describes Nepal as a 'frontier state'.
The Chinese T'ang contemporaries of the Licchavi kings of Nepal knew the kingdom as Ni-po-lo. The use of the name was established probably during the early centuries of the Christian era, but was not applied to the whole of the region stretching from the Mechi river to the Mahakali until the Rana period, some considerable time after its political unification by the kings of Gorkha.
THE KATHMANDU VALLEY
The name 'Nepal' was traditionally applied 'only to the Kathmandu Valley'. The political dominance of the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal is unquestioned; all historical accounts of Nepal confirm this dominance.
'Historical developments within the Valley are described in great detail, while the history of the rest of the country is usually mentioned only when it impinges on that of the Valley, which is, after all, the region to which most visitors come and which contains most of Nepal's greatest artistic and architectural splendours.'
However, there is a 'greater Nepal', the modern nation-state and a distinct, living cultural entity.
1. The History of the Kathmandu Valley
The historical delineation of the Valley is derived from several myths. One account - preserved in a Buddhist text, the Swayambhu Purana - is the most widely accepted one. 'The earliest known copy of this text dates from 1558, but it may recycle a much older myth of lake-drainage that originates ultimately from Khotan in central Asia. Each myth describes the draining from the Valley of a huge lake, often called the Naga-vasa-hrada (lake of the Nagas' abode). The geological record confirms the existence of this lake during the Pleistocene era: subsequent erosion by rivers and streams has removed the top layers of sediment (tar) to increase the area of fertile plains (dol) of lacustrine soils. Most of the valley's settlements were built on the higher tar plateaux.'
Another historical traditions asserts that the Buddha, Shakyamuni visited the Kathmandu Valley to pay homage to Swayambhu. The Buddha is believed to have been born near Lumbini, within the borders of modern Nepal; however, there is little authority to prove that he visited the Valley. Perhaps some of his disciples may have though.
There is also a hypothesis that the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka (r.c. 268-239 BCE) - 'who encouraged all religions but himself leaned towards Buddhism' visited the area. Although there are 'so-called Ashokan stupas' at cardinal points around Lalitpur, yet they might actually pre-date the Mauryan Empire. 'However, Ashoka did visit sites associated with the life of the Buddha in what is now the Tarai. The memorial pillars he erected at Lumbini and nearby sites in the middle of the 3rd century BCE are the earliest examples of stone-carving in Nepal.'
THE SWAYAMBHU PURANA STORY
The Naga-vasa-hrada lake was supposedly inhabited by a large number of nagas, 'serpentine creatures closely associated with water, rain and agricultural fertility which are ubiquitous in the art of the Valley'. The 'miraculous appearance of a lotus-borne flame upon the waters of the lake', led the Bodhisatva Manjushri to come down from the north and 'to cleave the southern rim of the Valley with his sword and release the waters, thus rendering the Valley habitable and suitable for the propagation of religion'.
'Nowadays the gorge at Chobhar, to the west of Lalitpur, is identified as this cleft, though the Bagmati river actually leaves the Valley through the Kotwal ('swordcut') gorge a few miles downstream. The foundation of a shrine to protect the flame (called swayambhu: 'self-existent', 'self-manifest') on a hill called singum (cow-tail) or goshringa (cow-horn) is dated to prehistoric times by the myth. A Hindu (Vaishnav) account of the draining of the Valley gives credit for the action to Pradyumna, the son of Krishna, who thus released the river-goddess Vagvati (the Bagmati) from the demon who had imprisoned her. This version of the myth was given greater credence during the late Malla period than it is today.'
The 'draining of the Valley' is supposed to have 'robbed the Nagas of their ancient home'; they are 'said to have been "swept down" to the plains below, from where they had to be "rescued". Each was subsequently installed in its own residence, where it remains today. On at least one celebrated occasion, a king of Nepal has entreated the Nagaraja, the king of the Nagas, for rain during a time of drought.
The valley is supposed to have been ruled by two royal dynasties: the Gopalas (cowherds) and Mahishapalas (buffalo-herds). (Though Gopalas and Mahishapalas are mentioned in later chronicles, yet there is little positive identification, except for the hypothesis that 'the centre of their kingdom may have been at Matatirtha, in the south-west corner of the Valley'. The Kiratas tribe is supposed to have wrested control of the kingdom was wrested from the Mahishapalas.
The identity of the Kiratas is problematic. One chronicle states that there were 26 Kirata kings, whose reigns amounted to a total of 1,581 years. Their name first appears in ancient Sanskrit texts to mean 'people of the periphery': it seems to have been used first to denote a specific tribe, and later to refer to Himalayan tribes more generally. Nowadays, the terms kirati and kiranti are used to denote the Rais and Limbus, Tibeto-Burman speaking tribal people of the eastern hills of Nepal. It may well be that an ethnic group called the Kirata was dominant in the Valley during the early centuries BCE. The modern Newars are of heterogenous ethnic origin, and it is know of their language has been drawn from an analysis of the Valley's oldest place names, which are all Tibeto-Burman, and the language has been described as 'proto Newari'.
DOCUMENTED HISTORY: THE 4TH CENTURY ONWARDS
Documented history pertaining to the Kathmandu Valley can be found from the 4th century onwards, though the material is uneven, with 'some periods yield[ing] more inscriptions, chronicles and remains than others'.
Inscriptions: 'Some 200 inscriptions survive from the period 464-879, but less than a dozen from 879-1200.'
Architectural and sculptural remains
Accounts of foreign travellers, such as the Chinese
Vamshavalis, or chronicles: 'These have been the most important sources of data for the reconstruction of Nepal's long history.'
The most basic of these [the vamshavalis] are simple lists of kings, but others provide details such as regnal dates and the ruler's actions to honour his gods, such as donations to temples or the founding of shrines.'
The earliest of the vamshavalis were compiled during the 14th century - these were based on orally-transmitted genealogies. Although there is confusion about dates and chronology in each vamshavali, and a fair amount of 'myth and fantasy', yet 'careful cross-referencing between chronicles, inscriptions and other evidence has produced a fairly clear picture of portions of Nepali history.'
The Gopalaraja Vamshavali (often called Jayasthiti Malla): This is supposed to be the oldest and was 'compiled during the reign of Sthiti Malla (1382-95)'. The Gopalaraja Vamshavali, the "Chronicle of the Gopala Kings", was so named because it begins with a list of the obscure Gopala rulers. But it is from the Licchavi period that Nepal's oldest examples of solid documentation survive.
THE LICCHAVI PERIOD: Corresponds with the reign of the imperial Guptas and their successors in India. The Guptas presided over an efflorescence of art and sculpture in India. This fact is reflected in Licchavi art: many of Nepal's finest stone sculptures date from between the late 5th and early 7th centuries. 'While Gupta art declined in India, it was developed further in Nepal, where the Licchavi kings founded many of Nepal's holiest shrines on sites that were probably already regarded as sacred.' These include:
The Shaiva temple of Pashupati at Deopatan
The Vaishnav temple of Changu Narayan; and
The great Buddhist stupa of Swayambhu
Other than chaityas and a small number of primitive shelters housing Shiva lingas, no buildings survive from the Licchavi period, but the Valley still contains many Licchavi sculptures of wonderful quality.
EARLY MALLAS (1200-1382): 'The name "malla" is not normally an ethnic designation or a dynastic name. It means 'wrestler' or 'victor' and, unlike the title 'thakuri' which was applied centuries later by the writers of chronicles to a miscellany of kings, the name was actually adopted by the writers themselves.'
Ari Malla: (r. 1200 -1216) Little is known of Ari Malla's actual origin, and of how he and his successors came to supplant the Licchavis and their descendants. 'Later chronicles attempt to link the Mallas with the Maithaili-speaking rulers of Tirhut (also known as Videha or Mithila), a powerful kingdom on the present day Bihar/Tarai border, but is seems that they came from at least two different families. Their capitals were at Bhaktapur and Banepa, but the first century of this period is much like the century which preceded it: there seem to have been no outstanding kings, and the period is very poorly documented.'
Rudra Malla (also known as Jayarudra Malla; r. 1295-1326): He was one of the several remarkable personalities in the 14th century. 'Rudra Malla gave sanctuary to Devaladevi, the widowed queen of the last Maithil king, Harisingh Deva, when she and her family and entourage arrived in the Valley as refugees in 1326. Harisingh Deva had ruled the kingdom of Tirhut until he was ousted by the Tughlaq ruler of Delhi, whereupon he fled to the hills but died on the journey. His family brought their tutelary deity, the goddess Taleju, to Bhaktapur, and the Mallas subsequently became her devotees. It is possible that Queen Devaladevi was related to the wife of Rudra Malla, for she and his mother together raised Rudra Malla's only child and heir, a girl named Nayakadevi, after her father died. Nayakadevi subsequently married Devaladevi's son Jagatsingh, but died while giving birth to a daughter in 1347. Since Jagatsingh was (inexplicably) imprisoned after this, Devaladevi herself raised her granddaughter, until she married Sthiti Malla (who became king in 1382) at the age of eight. This made the widowed Maithil queen exceedingly powerful in the kingdom for over fifty years, and had several significant effects, not least the increased prestige and influence of the Maithil language and its highly developed literature in the cultural life of the Valley.'
Between 1200 and the mid-14th century, the Malla kings were weak. Powerful nobles ruled at court and in their own fiefdoms, and the Valley was vulnerable to raiders and attackers from outside.
The Doyas of Tirhut were by far the most destructive: in 1299 and 1311, for instance, Lalitpur and Deopatan (the hamlet surrounding Pashupati temple) were completely sacked, and in 1300 their attack on Bhaktapur caused internal strife.'
Seven years later, Anananta Malla withdraw to Banepa, donating all his treasures to Pashupati temple.
'The Khasa of the western hills launched half a dozen raids between 1287 and 1334; but, although they plundered the Valley's traders, they paid homage at its shrines.'
'Sultan Shamsuddin Ilyas, who had taken Tirhut in 1345-6 passed through the Valley with an army in 1349, looting Pashupati and smashing the linga and severely damaging Swayambhu on his way. But this was one of only two Muslim incursions into the Valley, and but a pale reflection of the fate that befell Buddhist and Hindu shrines on the plains of northern India.'
LATER MALLAS (1382-1769)
Sthiti Malla: The most powerful figure at court from about 1370 onwards, he is a major figure of Nepalese history. 'The weakness and vulnerability of the Malla kingdom came to an end with Sthiti Malla', who was 'summoned from the south' - probably from a rich or noble Maithil family - at the instigation of Devaladevi'. He ruled jointly with Arjunadeva from 1372, and ruthlessly took [over] power 10 years later. Sthiti Malla strengthened Nepal's defences, 'gave [the] Valley society a more rigid structure by codifying Hindu laws of caste and conduct with the help of Brahmans brought from north and south India' and it was 'during [his] reign that Newari became an important literary language in its own right, particularly in drama and poetry, and that Degutale, a form of Taleju, was adopted as the Mallas' lineage deity, in addition to Pashupati'.
1395: Throne was inherited jointly by Sthiti Malla's three sons.
1408: By this time, two of Sthiti Malla's three sons had died.
1408 - 1428: Rule of Jyotir Malla, the remaining son of the ruler Sthiti Malla.
Yaksha Malla (r. 1428-1482). The son of Jyotir Malla, he ruled Bhaktapur until 1482, and managed to liquidate the kingdom of Banepa during his reign.
Thus, though a complex pattern of conquest, secession and succession between 1484 and 1619, the three separate Malla city-states of Kathmandu, Lalitpur (Patan) and Bhaktapur emerged. Because of the complexity of the politics of the late Malla period, the borders of each state were constantly being re-drawn. 'Contrary to popular belief, Yaksha Malla did not divide the kingdom between his sons. After his death, six sons and a nephew ruled jointly, but some began to carve out morsels of the kingdom for themselves.'
Ratna Malla seized Kathmandu for himself sometime after 1482
Raya Malla and his descendants held on to Bhaktapur
Banepa broke away again under Rama Malla, and was not re-annexed by Bhaktapur until the 1640s
Lalitpur became the fiefdom of a group of powerful nobles, but was restored to the Mallas by Ratna Malla's descendant, Shiva Singh in 1597. After the death of Shiva Singh, king of Kathmandu and Lalitpur, in 1619, each city was given to a grandson.
THE MALLAS, ART & CULTURE
Royal Patronage in Art
Among the 'bewildering' number of kings, the most important was Pratap Malla (r. Kathmandu, 1641-74), who deserves the credit for most of Kathmandu's palaces and temples, and for the preservation of many Licchavi sculptures which he moved to his palace, the Hanuman Dhoka. In Bhaktapur, the last three kings (Jitamitra, Bhupatindra, and Ranjit) were important donors and builders, while many of the Lalitpur's finest monuments were built by Siddhi Narasingh, Shri Nivas and Yog Narendra. 'Though all these kings were descendants of Sthiti Malla, relations between them were often against one another and against the kingdom to the west. On several occasions, city-states forged alliances with rulers outside the Valley to skirmish with their neighbours. This contained the seeds of their downfall, but they nonetheless managed to settle their differences on important ceremonial occasions, and a more positive aspect of the intense rivalry was the way in which each ruler vied with the others to create the most spectacular palace square.'
'Although the art and culture of the Malla period retained their own distinctive characteristics right up until after the Gorkhali invasion, links with India and Tibet played a significant role in the course of their development.'
Brahman scholars from Tirhut were invited by the Malla kings because of their reputation for learnedness, undermined the importance of Buddhism and strengthened the cult of Shiva.
The cult of the goddess Taleju received a new impetus during the reign of Sthiti Malla, who also paid homage to the indigenous deity called Matsyendranath or Macchendranath by Hindus and Karunamaya by Buddhists.
'The later Malla kings were impressed by Mughal courtly culture, and their adoption of Mughal and Rajput costumes is shown in bronzes and paintings - particularly in the figures of Malla kings on top of pillars in front of the palaces of each of the three cities. The Mughal dome was imitated in a few temples from the late 17th century onward, and the Arabic script appeared occasionally on Malla coins.'
'Trade with southern Tibet was vigorous, and coins manufactured in Nepal circulated in Tibet as official currency, particularly during the reign of Mahendra Malla in Kathmandu. The Tibetans had turned to India and Nepal for Buddhism, but by the 16th century, when Buddhism flourished in Tibet, it had declined somewhat in Nepal. Thus Tibetans undertook the care and rehabilitation of major Buddhist shrines in the Valley: Swayambhu was repaired at the instigation of Tibetan lamas in 1751, though the work was funded by Jayaprakash Malla of Kathmandu. Interestingly, the replacement beam for the central mast was supplied by Prithvi Narayan Shah of Gorkha.'
Newar metal craft was much sought after during the 14th and 15th centuries.
A-NI-KO/ BALBAHU: he name of a 13th century Newar called A-ni-ko by the Chinese, and sometimes Balbahu by the Nepalese, still lives on. 'Kulbilai Khan, the Yuan emperor of China, had requested his preceptor, the abbot of Sakya monastery in Tibet, to provide an artist who would create images for the imperial chapels. The abbot turned to the king of Nepal, who promptly sent a contingent of 80 artists led by A-ni-ko (1244-1306) in 1265. By 1273, A-ni-ko was in charge of all the emperor's craftsmen and was granted the hand of a descendant of the Sung royal family in marriage. Many of the greatest Tibetan bronzes are the work of Newar artists. A distinct Newar style of painting had emerged by 1300: by 1650, Rajasthani, Pahari and Mughal influences had appeared, and such paintings were popular inside late Malla and early Shah palaces.'
'In 1744, the army Prithvi Narayan Shah began its campaign against the Valley kingdoms, which failed to unite against a common enemy and were eventually vanquished in 1768-69. To understand the developments which led to this, the so-called unification of Nepal, it is necessary to go back in time once more, and to look beyond the Valley to what is now the far west of Nepal.'
MID-EIGHTEENTH CENTURY NEPAL: THE KHASA KINGDOM
The early history of western Nepal is almost totally unknown, but the little that has been reconstructed from the 12th century onward is of enormous importance for an understanding of the kingdom's modern culture. Very broadly, the process of unification and expansion which came to an end after the Anglo-Nepalese wars of 1814-16 had its origins in a process of immigration and movement eastwards the started before the 11th century.'
The Khasa/Khas: were the early immigrants who came 'from the north-west'; their 'name might be reflected in place-names such as Kashmir and Kashgar'. The Khasa supposed to have 'mingled and intermarried with immigrant groups from the south - including many Rajputs - and with the indigenous populations'. 'The Khasa are the ancestors of the present day Chhetri case, the largest caste in Nepal, and by the mid-13th century their kings had begun to use a language in their inscriptions which closely resembled modern Nepali.'
The Khasa kingdom is presumed to be a 'trans-Himalayan kingdom' which at the zenith of its power encompassed Garhwal and Kumaon (now hill-provinces in U.P. in India), most of Nepal west of Gorkha and Guge and Purang in south-western Tibet.' It supposedly existed between from 'about 1100 until the late 14th century'. The Italian researcher, Giuseppe Tucci, and the Nepali scholar Yogi Naraharinath, revealed - in the 1950s - the existence of this kingdom and made known the names of some of its kings. Very sketch details are available, and there is a fair amount of 'chronological uncertainty'. However, it is known that these were Buddhist kings, who 'employed Sanskrit, Tibetan and early Nepali - called Sinjali - in their documents and inscriptions', and 'that they were powerful enough to attack the prosperous Kathmandu Valley on some six occasions between 1287 and 1334, and sometimes to occupy it for months or even years, as they did from c. 1290-c.1300'.
'The kingdom was feudatory and highly decentralized: vassal states paid annual tributes, and local chieftains were strong. At its zenith under Prithivimalla (1338-58), there was a modicum of scholarly and artistic activity, encouraged by tax exemptions to Brahmans and artisans. Little now remains, beside ruins, of the palace at its capital, Sinja, of the system of mountain highways the kings constructed to boost a flourishing trans-Himalayan trade, or of the stupas and temples they sponsored. The most interesting legacy of the old Khasa kingdom is the large number of wayside pillars from which the genealogy of the kings has been dawn. Most inscriptions on these pillars are headed with a stupa motif and begin with the Buddhist invocation 'Om Mani Padme Hum'. The most important for historical purposes are the great steles preserved at Dullu, to the north of Surkhet.'
It is believed that the kingdom was severely undermined in the mid-14th century:'the Tibetan provinces were lost, and the vassal state of Doti was sovereign by 1387. The kingdom was taken over by the Varma nobles, descended from Yashovarma, Prithvimalla's chief minister'.
This process of political fragmentation is supposed to have 'continued until the 17th century, by which time the region west of the Kathmandu Valley was occupied by two loose confederations of petty kingdoms: the baisi rajya (22 kingdoms) in the Karnali basin, and the chaubsi rajya (24 kingdoms) in the Gandaki region to the east. The kings of all these tiny states were Hinduised Khasa, and the most powerful to emerge was the kingdom of Gorkha.'
THE (PRE-RANA) SHAH DYNASTY: 1744-1846
'Gorkha, a tiny hill principally about 60 miles west of Kathmandu, was ruled by a line of kings who called themselves Shah. The kingdom was founded in 1559 by Drabya Shah, and its rulers maintained strong links with the Malla states of the Valley. Ram Shah (r.c.1614 - c.1636) concluded a friendship treaty with the rulers of Lalitpur, and invited Newar traders and craftsmen to settle in Gorkha. The influence of Newar art and architecture is clearly apparent in the style of both palaces at Gorkha.'
1685: Gorkha recruited and mobilised (aided by 'offers of tax-free land [to soldiers] in exchange for victory), embarked on 'a campaign of conquest'. The 'chronic disunity' of Malla kings allowed Gorkha to enter 'into innumerable alliances with one or two of the city-states against on or two of the others'.
1744 - 1769: Gorkhali forces 'gradually took pieces of the Valley perimeter'; they 'cut lines of communication and trade', and, in September 1768, they 'marched into Kathmandu during the festivals of Indra Jatra, when the city's defenders had lowered their guard'. 'Prithvi Narayan Shah received the Kumari's consecration, granted annually to Malla kings, which affirmed his right to rule.' Lalitpur fell in October, and in November 1769, Bhaktapur fell.
Prithvi Narayan maintained the Hanuman Dhoka as his palace; he added the Basantpur tower to it. The continuing Gorkhali campaign 'swallowed up' the Khasa kingdoms to the west, and 'subdued' the tribes to the east. 'In 1792 the Gorkhalis fought the Chinese and were defeated at Nuwakot, and in 1814-16 they clashed with the army of the British East India Company in the southern foothills. By this time, the Gorkha kingdom encompassed a large area of land spreading from Sikkim in the east to the Kangra Valley in the west. The battles against the British ended with the imposition on the Nepalis of a treaty which deprived them of the newly conquered lands west of the Mahakali and east of the Mechi rivers (Nepal's present borders) and of large chunks of the Tarai, some of which were subsequently restored to Nepal.' A British Residency was established in Kathmandu.
THE SHAH KINGS, ART & CULTURE
The Shah kings were concerned with conquest and expansion, not with culture or beautification. According to Slusser, they simply 'moved into the Malla house, taking over their cities, palaces and temples and creating no new forms'. However, art and culture did receive some impetus, albeit indirectly,
Prithvi Narayan preached a kind of cultural and economic self-sufficiency to his people: 'For your entertainment, attend the Newar dances of the three cities of Nepal which are in the accordance with the shastras. In giving (to the Newar dancers) the wealth of your country remains at home'. The dependence on Newar styles of architecture displayed in the palaces at Gorkha is further reflected in temples, fountains and other buildings commissioned by the Shahs well into the 19th century, though what Slusser calls the 'rather pathetic' domed temples of the same period, and the Dharhara minaret, built to commemorate the Gorkhalis' military campaigns, show a liking for Mughal forms. Newar arts and crafts continued to receive the patronage of kings - but by and large the creative genius was spent, and the innovative spirit of earlier centuries disappeared. Few of the metal images produced recalled the former mastery, and most stone sculpture from the 18th century onward is uninspired, though high standards were maintained in woodcarving until the quite recent past.
THE RANAS, 1846-1951
From the last quarter of the eighteenth century, increasing political power was held by regents or the commanders-in-chief of the army, 'since successive monarchs were minors or incapacitated'. There was a political tussle between the Thapa and Pandey families over the post of Prime Minister.
1837: Overthrow of Bhimsen Thapa, who had dominated Nepal for 30 years. Followed by 'period of intense factional strife'.
1846: Factional strife ended by a coup by Jang Bahadur Kunwar in which 'most of his political rivals were slain in a massacre at the Hanuman Dhoka [and] the rest were sent into exile'.
1847-1877: Jang Bahadur retained control of Nepal. 'The Shah kings remained on the throne with the title Shri Panch Maharajadhiraja, 'five-times-blessed king of great kings' but, like the Licchavis of the mid-7th century, their status was that of figureheads. The position of Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief, and the title Shri Tin Maharaja, 'thrice-blessed great king', became hereditary: until 1945, all subsequent rulers were nephews of Jang Bahadur. The family adopted the name Rana and the years from 1846 to 1950-51 are called the Rana period.
THE RANAS, ART & CULTURE
'Under the Ranas, art and architecture were profoundly influenced by the fashions of 19th century Europe. The Ranas aligned Nepal strongly with the British, assisting in the suppression of the Indian 'Mutiny' in 1857 and allowing the recruitment of Gurkha soldiers to take place with in Nepal from about 1887 onwards.'
However, the basic 'isolationism' remained - the kingdom was closed to all Europeans except British Residency. Much was spent on the development of the nation as a whole, 'but a great deal went into the building of vast stucco palaces, modelled perhaps on Buckingham Palace or the Palace of Versailles, and the development of an elaborate courtly and military culture.'
'The Ranas imported vast quantities of Victorian bric-a-bracÖ[and] 'scores of incongruous mansions were bedecked with developed a liking for portraiture in European fashion'.
MODERN NEPAL, 1951 - PRESENT
'The Rana regime was removed by a revolution mounted by the Nepali Congress, a party formed by exiled intellectuals in India, in collusion with a disaffected Rana faction and King Tribhuvan in 1950-51.' The regime's end was imminent when the British left India in 1947. 'Since 1951, the Shah kings have wielded most of the power: after a brief flirtation with parliamentary democracy which produced a Congress majority in 1959, King Mahendra dismissed the government and in 1962 introduced a new party-less system of panchayat democracy which remained in place until 1990.'
Between the end of the Rana regime in 1951 and the restoration of multi-party democracy in 1990, Nepal experienced vast and irrevocable changes. The population doubled, roads were built to link Kathmandu with the outside world, an education system was introduced which increased the national literacy rate from 2% to 40%, a tourist industry developed which currently attracts more than 250,000 visitors a year addition to Indian tourists, and Nepal became the recipient of large sums of foreign aid money and an active member of the world community.