Records mention the Gopalas and Mahishapalas believed to have been the earliest rulers with their capital at Matatirtha, the south-west corner of the Kathmandu Valley. From the 7th or 8th Century B.C. the Kirantis are said to have ruled the valley. Their famous King Yalumber is even mentioned in the epic, ‘Mahabharat’. Around 300 A.D. the Lichhavis arrived from northern India and overthrew the Kirantis. One of the legacies of the Lichhavis is the Changu Narayan Temple near Bhaktapur, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Culture), which dates back to the 5th Century. In the early 7th Century, Amshuvarma, the first Thakuri king took over the throne from his father-in-law who was a Lichhavi. He married off his daughter Bhrikuti to the famous Tibetan King Tsong Tsen Gampo thus establishing good relations with Tibet. The Lichhavis brought art and architecture to the valley but the golden age of creativity arrived in 1200 A.D with the Mallas.
During their 550 year rule, the Mallas built numerous temples and splendid palaces with picturesque squares. It was also during their rule that society and the cities became well organized; religious festivals were introduced and literature, music and art were encouraged. After the death of Yaksha Malla, the valley was divided into three kingdoms: Kathmandu (Kantipur), Bhaktapur (Bhadgaon) and Patan (Lalitpur). Around this time, the Nepal as we know it today was divided into about 46 independent principalities. One among these was the kingdom of Gorkha with a Shah ruler. Much of Kathmandu Valley’s history around this time was recorded by Capuchin friars who lived in the valley on their way in and out of Tibet.
An ambitious Gorkha King named Prithvi Narayan Shah embarked on a conquering mission that led to the defeat of all the kingdoms in the valley (including Kirtipur which was an independent state) by 1769. Instead of annexing the newly acquired states to his kingdom of Gorkha, Prithvi Narayan decided to move his capital to Kathmandu establishing the Shah dynasty which ruled unified Nepal from 1769 to 2008.
The history of the Gorkha state goes back to 1559 when Dravya Shah established a kingdom in an area chiefly inhabited by Magars. During the 17th and early 18thcenturies, Gorkha continued a slow expansion, conquering various states while forging alliances with others. Prithvi Narayan dedicated himself at an early age to the conquest of the Kathmandu Valley. Recognizing the threat of the British Raj in India, he dismissed European missionaries from the country.
During the mid-19th Century Jung Bahadur Rana became Nepal’s first prime minister to wield absolute power relegating the Shah king to mere figureheads. He started a hereditary reign of the Rana Prime Ministers that lasted for 104 years. The Ranas were overthrown in a democracy movement of the early 1950s with support from the-then monarch of Nepal, King Tribhuvan. Soon after the overthrow of the Ranas, King Tribhuvan was reinstated as the Head of the State. In early 1959, Tribhuvan’s son King Mahendra issued a new constitution, and the first democratic elections for a national assembly were held. The Nepali Congress Party was victorious and their leader, Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala formed a government and served as prime minister. But by 1960, King Mahendra dissolved the Parliament, dismissing the first democratic government and thereafter establishing the Panchayat system.
After many years of struggle when the political parties were banned, they finally mustered enough courage to start a People’s Movement in 1990. Paving way for democracy, the then-King Birendra accepted constitutional reforms and established a multiparty parliament with King as the Head of State and an executive Prime Minister. In May 1991, Nepal held its first parliamentary elections. In February 1996, the Maoist parties declared People’s War against monarchy and the elected government.
Then on 1st June 2001, a horrific tragedy wiped out the entire royal family including King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya with many of their closest relatives. With only King Birendra’s brother, Gyanendra and his family surviving, he was crowned the king. King Gyanendra abided by the elected government for some time and then dismissed the elected Parliament to wield absolute power. In April 2006, another People’s Movement was launched jointly by the democratic parties and the maoist. Eventually, King Gyanendra relinquished his power and reinstated the Parliament. On November 21, 2006, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and Maoist chairman Prachanda signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) 2006, committing to democracy and peace for the progress of the country and people. A Constituent Assembly election was held on April 10, 2008. On May 28, 2008, the newly elected Constituent Assembly declared Nepal a Federal Democratic Republic, abolishing the 240 year-old monarchy. Nepal today has a President as Head of State and a Prime Minister heading the Government.
The Constituent Assembly made significant progress to accomplish the mandate of writing a new democratic constitution of Nepal during its first 4 years term. The country also had an extensive democratic exercise in that direction including collection of public inputs on the contents of the new constitution and intense deliberations in the Assembly. However, due to political disagreements on some of the contentious issues like federal provinces and form of government, the first CA could not accomplish the historic task and there was natural termination of its mandate in 2012. The election of CA II was held in November 2013 and in its first meeting, leaders of political parties set the timeline of 1 year to complete the task of writing the new constitution.
Devastating earthquake of 7.8 magnitude hit Nepal in April 2015 followed by several powerful aftershocks causing loss of life, infrastructure and property in an unimaginable scale. Most mid hill districts of Nepal including Kathmandu valley saw massive devastation. This terrible experience created a sense of urgency among political parties to expedite the constitution writing so that a political process would come to a meaningful conclusion and country can divert all its focus on post disaster reconstruction.
The new constitution of Nepal was promulgated through an overwhelming majority of the votes of CA members on September 20, 2015. With this historic achievement, the decades-long dream of Nepali people to have a constitution made through an elected representative body has now been realized. As per the provisions of the new constitution, elections of the new President, Prime Ministers and some other State positions have been successfully held.
Culture and Society
The culture of Nepal is rich and unique. The cultural heritage of Nepal has evolved over the centuries. This multi-dimensional heritage encompasses the diversities of Nepal’s ethnic, tribal, and social groups, and it manifests in music and dance; art and craft; folklore and folktales; languages and literature; philosophy and religion; festivals and celebration; foods and drinks.
Dance and music
Legends state that dances in the Indian subcontinent originated in the abode of Lord Shiva — the Himalayas and the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal — where he performed the tandava dance. This indicates that dance traditions of Nepal are very ancient. With altitudes and ethnicity, the dances of Nepal slightly change in style as well as in the costumes. The Dishka, a dance performed at weddings, includes intricate footwork and arm movements. Accompanying music and musical instruments change in tune with the themes, which revolve around topics like harvesting of crops, marriage rites, war stories, a lonely girl’s yearning for her love, and several other themes and stories from everyday life in the villages.
Languages and literature
As per the 2011 census, 123 languages are spoken in Nepal. Nepal’s linguistic heritage has evolved from three major language groups: Indo-Aryan, Tibeto-Burman, and indigenous. The major languages of Nepal (percent spoken as mother tongue) are Nepali (44.6%), Maithili (11.7%), Bhojpuri (6%), Tharu (5.8%), Tamang (5.1%), Nepal Bhasa (3.2%), Magar (3%) and Bajjika (3%).
Nepali, written in Devanagari script, is the official national language and serves as lingua franca among Nepalese ethno-linguistic groups.
Religions and philosophy
The 2001 census identified 80.6% of the population being Hindu. Buddhism was practiced by about 11% of the population. About 3.2% practice Islam and 3.6% of the population follows the indigenous Kirant religion. Christianity is practiced officially by less than 0.5%.
Hindu and Buddhist traditions in Nepal go back more than two millennia. In Lumbini, Buddha was born, and Pashupatinath temple, Kathmandu, is an old and famous Shiva temple of Hindus. Nepal has several other temples and Buddhist monasteries, as well as places of worship of other religious groups. Traditionally, Nepalese philosophical thoughts are ingrained with the Hindu and Buddhist philosophical ethos and traditions, which include elements of Kashmir Shaivism, Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, works of Karmacharyas of Bhaktapur, and tantric traditions.
Festivals and celebrations
Some of the festivals celebrated in Nepal are Dasain, Tihar, Chhat, Lhosar, Buddha Jayanti, Eid, Maghi, Uvaulli, Udhauli, Holi, Mahashivaratri, Christmas etc.