Nepali History, a Beginning…

This is the first of a series of posts on some of the history, politics and current events of Nepal. As I mentioned on Sunday, a lot of stuff is happening in this little country which has a history that the average person probably isn’t aware of (certainly I wasn’t until I became an “honorary” Nepali of sorts). I enjoy writing about Nepali culture, and I think this topic is relevant as well. I don’t think it veers too far astray from my main theme of intercultural relationships… I mean, isn’t it nice to have some holistic knowledge of your partner’s home?

I also want to give the disclaimer that I am not, by any means, an expert on Nepali history or politics. I will definitely make a point to talk to people who know far more than I and look up additional resources, but feel free to call me out if something doesn’t sound right or if you disagree, or vice versa. I mean, that is what the comments section is for anyway, right?

alooparatha

Our aloo paratha *almost* looked this pretty. Practice makes perfect...

So where to start? Tonight P and I went to AS and N’s place for dinner. Inspired by an Indian dinner we had a few nights ago, AS and I rolled out homemade tasty spicy aloo (potato) paratha and fresh tomato achar, and over dinner I tried to pick N’s brain about Nepali politics. His dad is a prominent politician back home, and N’s life has been surrounded by politics. Whether he likes it or not he is a politico at heart.

What I secretly wanted was for him to sit down and give me a nice neat intro to Nepali politics and history. I said to him, “pretend I know nothing about the country and we are planning to meet for coffee, what could you tell me in 15 minutes that would give me a very brief general context for what is happening now?” (as if any political situation can be summed up like this… fat chance…)

“That is impossible” he said, “everything is so interconnected and complicated. Where would I begin?” So we spent the reminder of dinner going back and forth about some of the larger issues, but I still don’t think it is what I needed for my introduction.

So I guess I’ll start with this: Nepal has a long history of conflict. Whether the conflict stems from forced Hinduization, or caste struggles, or land reform, the past several hundred years have been a cycle of various conflicts and power struggles culminating in the  “People’s War” from 1996-2006 which might just be in the process of rekindling. I guess one could argue that continuing conflict is common in many countries around the world, so perhaps Nepal is not so unique. Fair enough, but in our situation I know that conflict in Nepal has hit a lot closer to home for P’s family (riots, power cuts, strikes, burning tires, blockades of the city, etc) than it ever has for me in the United States.

Nepal_Prithvi_Narayan_Shah

Prithvi Narayan Shah

Modern Nepali history begins around 1768 with the formation of the Nepali state and the institution of the first Shah king, Prithvi Narayan Shah, who conquered the peoples of the Kathmandu Valley. Under the king, and within 40 years of the king’s death, his Gurkhas (warriors from Gorkha) had expanded the borders of the kingdom beyond the present day borders of Nepal into large regions of northern India. Unfortunately, around 1814 the British East India Company was gaining strength in the region to the south, and the Gurkha had to engage the Company on multiple occasions to keep the kingdom’s autonomy. Although Nepal proper was never colonized, a peace treaty with the Company in 1816 led to the shrinking of Nepal’s borders to their present day position. The failure to protect all of Nepal from western seizure caused much political turmoil for the monarchy, leading the Rana family to usurp power from the ancestral line of kings in 1846 and caused the monarchy to be nothing more than figure heads for the next one hundred and four years.

On a side note, the  Gurkha became famous for their fierce fighting and courage. Although the British didn’t colonize Nepal, they did create a “Gurkha” division in the British army which still exists to this day. You can learn more about the Gurkha’s HERE and also read about their recently won campaign to give retired Gurkha soldiers immigration rights to the UK HERE.

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11 responses to “Nepali History, a Beginning…

  1. Can you mention more on the Hindufication of Nepal in a post? I’d like to read your perspective on that.

    • Actually, this was part of our conversation at dinner last night as well. To be honest, I don’t know much about it, and my friends didn’t really either, but one of our older neighbors (M-dai) told AS and N once about stories his grandfather used to tell.

      M-dai comes from the mountainous region (relatively) close to Everest and comes from the “Sunwar” ethnic group. I remember having a conversation with him once about Hinduism and he pointedly told me that he is not technically Hindu and that Sunwars don’t really practice Hinduism, per say, but a different more indigenous religion that is a bit more animistic and shamanistic in its approach (perhaps related to the indigenous Tibetan Bön religion?)

      Anyway, N and AS said that M-dai’s grandfather used to talk about how (back in the day… probably before his grandfather was born) representatives from the King used to come to these “less Hindu” regions and “make sure” that the people were following Hindu rituals. For example, on Dashain every family had to slaughter a goat for the ritual sacrifice. Then you had to smear goat blood outside your house to indicate to the officials that you did this ceremony. If you did not do this there was some sort of repercussion.

      I’d be interested to find out more about this (and talk to M-dai myself on the matter). I know that under the monarchy Nepal coined itself the only “Hindu kingdom” in the world. However on the ground the country is definitely not 100% Hindu. Even in the Kathmandu valley a lot of Newars (not all but many) consider themselves Buddhist (including P’s mom) even though the line between Hinduism and Buddhism is very much blurred. Outside of the city, up in the mountains, Buddhism is huge. Along the Everest trek we saw so many Buddhist symbols… mani stones, prayer flags, monasteries, monks. It’s hard to imagine many people up there agreeing to the “Hindu kingdom” idea.

      I’ll see what more I can find out, and report back in a later posting…

  2. I knew nothing of Nepal’s history before I met my husband. I’ve done a little reading on it, but I need to learn more. I find the Gurkha’s history really interesting…my husband’s father is a retired Gurkha and his younger brother joined the British army a couple years ago. Evidently, it’s an extremely competitive process to be selected.

    • Stories about the Gurkha soldiers are pretty interesting… My neighbor M-dai’s father was also a Gurkha, and it does seem to be a very competitive and strenuous process! I remember seeing a video online somewhere about the training and selection, but I can’t seem to find it.

      The BBC website has a lot on the Gurkhas (especially recently with the fight for their pensions and immigration rights).

      If others want to learn more the BBC has one article on: “Who are the Gurkhas?” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/2786991.stm

      And a brief video on the selection process: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8044702.stm

      Various other BBC articles can be linked to from these pages.

  3. The Gurkhas fought at Monte Cassino and Falklands

    50000 Gurkhas are in the Indian Army too

    They do have a reputation for extreme bravery

    The Gurkhas have fended off the Jihadis in Kashmir for decades

    The Nepal Army Chief is also an honorary general in the Indian Army
    and vice versa

    Hindus consider the Buddha as one of the Avatars and the line is very blurred

    Even in India, there are lots of shamanist sects
    that are loosely called Hindu

    The Nepalese kings also annexed a lot of Tibet, namely the Mustang region in 1780
    This led to a chinese invasion of Kathmandu, which was stopped just outside the city by the Gurkhas

    There are millions of Oriental looking Hindus, in Nepal, North East India and in Thailand and Bali and all are considered legitimate.

    http://www.militaryphotos.net/forums/showthread.php?t=128616

    has a lot of very nice photos of Gurkhas in the Indian army

  4. Thanks for responding. Yep, I have sort of pieced together some idea about Hindufication and some type of marginalization of non-Hindu “castes” but it is all from hearsay or “folk knowledge” so I am kind of wondering about the historical account. Do keep me posted if you come across any resources or find out more about the issue. Can’t wait for your upcoming posts on Nepal’s history :-)

  5. The Nepal Maoists are not run by China
    Rather they are a part of CCOMPOSA, which in turn is part of RIM

    RIM also runs the Shining Path in Peru

    RIM is run by radicals from Berkeley USA

  6. Gurkhas are some tough fighters. I hear they can survive in any environment….

  7. I don’t really have anything to add/remark upon, but I appreciate this post, and look forward to learning more about Nepal’s history in the future. Most of what Aditya knows is from (of course) a very Indian perspective.

    P.S. You should write something about Nepal’s time zone being 15 minutes off of India’s time zone… I’m rather bemused by this fact.

  8. Prithvi Narayan Shah, also had the habit of slicing off the noses and ears of civilians in the new territories he conquered

  9. 120k Nepalis were ethnic cleansed from Bhutan for being non-buddhist
    So far 13000 Nepali refugees are being settled in US and they need transition assistance

    An NRI Indian NGO is working with them
    http://www.sewausa.org/bhutanese-refugee-empowerment-project

    * Financial help
    * Essential materials such as blankets, winter jackets, clothes, toys etc.
    * Employment assistance
    o Job search assistance
    o Sponsorship of vocational training
    o Job fairs
    * Mobility
    o Help in acquiring driver licenses
    o Sponsoring or donating used cars
    * Help in transitioning to a new environment while preserving their culture
    o Help in conducting cultural events
    o Mentoring and friendship
    o Rides to their preferred places of worship

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