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The Gorkha Conquests (The Process and Consequences of The Unification of Nepal with Particular Reference of Eastern Nepal)

The Gorkha Conquests (The Process and Consequences of The Unification of Nepal with Particular Reference of Eastern Nepal)
Item Code: NAM648
Author: Kumar Pradhan
Publisher: Himal Books, Nepal
Language: English
Edition: 2009
ISBN: 9789937814478
Pages: 330
Cover: Paperback
Other Details: 9.0 inch x 6.0 inch
weight of the book: 480 gms
About the Book

Nepal was forget out of the conquests by the principality of Gorkha, and Nepalese historians often view this process as consisting of ‘national unification’. This work is a probe to see whether cohesive elements of nation-building were present in the past to warrant such a description. It examines some of the real motives behind Gorkha’s desire to expand over the neighbouring hills and plains and beyond, together with its consequences on the society and economy of the peoples of great diversity living in those areas.

Eastern Nepal, also called Kirat, was one of the last areas to be conquered by Gorkha, but has received somewhat scant attention from Nepalese historian. This book provides a region- specific coverage to allow for a deeper understanding of the process of Nepal’s political unification, and its impact.


About the Author

Kumar Pradhan received his PhD in history from Calcutta University. He served on the Department of History, Darjeeling ,Government College, from 1966 to 1984, when he took over as the principal of Kurseong College, Kurseong.

Pradhan is an eminent writer and critic who has edited a number of literary journals and anthologies and published learned articles in Nepali. He is the author of A History of Nepali Literature (1984), published by the Sahitya Akaderni, New Delhi, in the Sahitya Akaderni Histories of Literature Series.

His work Pahilo Pahar (1982) was awarded the Bhanubhakta Puraskar for 1983 by the Nepali Academy instituted by the Government of West Bengal. In 2002, he received the Nepali Sahitya Sammelan Puraskar awarded by the Nepali Sahitya Sammelan, and, in 2003, the Agam Smriti Puraskar, an award given every three years for contributions to the Nepali language and literature by the Sikkim Sahitya Parishad.

Since 1993, he has been the editor of the Nepali-language daily Sunchari Samachar, published out of Siliguri, West Bengal, India.

John Whelpton first came to Nepal in 1972 to work as a VSO lecturer in English with Thakur Ram Campus, Birgunj, and Arnrit Science Campus, Kathmandu. He later became a student of Nepalese history at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Since obtaining his doctorate in 1987, he has been teaching English, and recently also Latin, in Hong Kong.

He returns regularly to Nepal and continues research on history and politics. His Nepal-related publications include Jang Bahadur in Europe (1983), Nepal (in the World Bibliographical Series) (1990), Kings, Soldiers and Priests: Nepalese Politics and the Rise of Jang Bahadur Rana (an edited version of his PhD thesis) (1991), Nationalism and Ethnicity in Nepal (co-edited with David Gellner and Joanna Pfaff-Czarnecka) (1997 and 2008), People, Politics and Ideology (with Martin Hoftun and William Raeper) (1999) and A History of Nepal (2005)



It is a privilege to be able to express appreciation of Dr Kumar Pradhan's research on the origins of Gorkha state consolidation in Nepal, viewed from the perspective of contemporary affairs. Dr Pradhan is one of India's most erudite and versatile scholars in the Nepali area studies. Devoting himself to the work of teaching in his home district of Darjeeling, without the frills that others find in high- sounding titles such as area studies or interdisciplinary approach, he has used his basic professional competence as a historian to range from studying changes in the social outlook of Nepali literature in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (in India as well as in Nepal)- his volume on this is compendious and was published by the Sahitya Academi-to the processes of socio-economic change among the hill tribes in Darjeeling, which had till the eighteenth century been contested by Nepal and Sikkim, and in Eastern Nepal, contiguous to it across the international border.

The present volume represents his findings on the historical origins of cultural diversity in the region, and on the way in which the Gorkha political lineage came to rear itself out of this, to create a new political pattern in conflict and compromise with British Indian imperialism, with far-reaching consequences of homogenisation for Eastern Nepal. A quite different socio-political culture and enclaved plantation economy grew in British Indian Darjeeling. In this book, Dr Pradhan focuses on the microcosmic aspect of changes in the Nepali state and society itself. One looks forward to reading another volume on his research into how quite different patterns emerged out of the mingling of autochthonous Lepchas, archaic elite Bhutias, Nepali migrants, British planters, missionaries and cantonment recruiters, Hindustani commodity dealers and small shopkeepers, and Bengali teachers and petty officials, all of whom came to settle in Darjeeling district, which imperialism annexed from its protectorate of Sikkim (to which they had restored it earlier from Nepal) to place in its own provincial territory of Bengal.

In this book, Kumar Pradhan makes certain interesting new points about political anthropology and political culture in historical perspective, with particular reference to Nepal as a part of South Asia.

1. As a Himalayan territory, it is from the point of view of the lobe, cis-montane, i.e., this side, south of even the great Parbat peaks. Like many Indian mountain communities traditionally dominated by chieftains and their clan lineages, Nepal had its tribal diversities. In the first part of this volume, Kumar Pradhan heuristically categorizes these diversities from the point of view of the masses, i.e., 'from below', as popular historians nowadays term it. He divides the terrain into its old, endogenous, subregional categories. From west to east were Khasan (contiguous to Kangra, Kumaon and Garhwal in India), Magrat (north of Central UP), the Valley proper (with Nepal's focal political towns of Patan, Bhadgau and Kathmandu) and Kirat to the East (divided in the same progression into Wallo, i.e., urle tarf in Hindustani, Hither Kirat; Majh, i.e., Middle Kirat; Pallo, i.e., parle tarf in Hindustani, Further Kirat). From North to 'South were Bhutan (inhabited by the Bhot peoples transhumant across the Tibetan plateau and the high ranges), Pahar (or hills, in Central Nepal), Madesh (or middle country-between the hills and the plains) the counter-part of what Indians call terai, and what breeds the dialect still called madesia among Nepali workers in tea plantations in the Indian terai. He then looks at data presented by recent scholarship in Nepal and Europe on Nepal's earliest political history and shows differences, as well as manifold intermingling and similarities, with popular Indian and mountain Buddhist culture. The tribal diversities are part of old Indian culture-not Hindu (a term not endogenous in ancient India, but ascribed by conquerors and travellers), but broadly South Central, and South-East Asian, in antiquity. They are the base of popular understanding across international borders within the SAARC, however much its ruling elites might occasionally posture at being at odds.

2. These diversities, without superordinate state control, led to feudal-like conditions of chieftaincy and principality among some tribes, and ultimately to internecine warfare. In this phase, the one about which the earlier epigraphic, numismatic or manuscript records, are available, the ruling groups in the Pahar as well as Madesh invited Brahman experts in statecraft and social surplus extraction from the plains to help in their affairs. Such people brought into the cismontane political organisation, the Hindu political consciousness of caste exclusiveness and hierarchical ordering of domination and sub- ordination of the masses. In principalities like the Sena territory of Makwanpur-north of the West Bihar terai-chiefs styled themselves and their eldest sons, Hindupati and Chhatrapati, some generations after Benaras pandits taught Shivaji and later the Peshwas this usage in Satara and Pune. The ancestral lineage of Gorkha was encouraged to think of political hegemony over the rest by warfare, conquest, unification, and the ritual celebration of force, as much as by ideologies of centralising synthesis, which Hindu Brahmanical Sanskritising philosophers have sought to emphasise by obscuring its trends of force and class distinction.

3. The linkage of feudal hierarchy and politics with the Brahmanical religion of Benaras and other parts of the northern plains makes Nepal the last independent Hindu Kingdom-now in the throes. of a struggle with the forces of constitutionalism. It is explicated in Prithvinarayan Shah's dream of establishment of Gorkha's power all over the Nepal Valley, then west and east. His lineage explicitly Hinduised the rank ordering, introduced draconic punishments for infringements of the caste code for maintaining social order, and the newer and more modern aspects of the exploitative aspects of the land tenures of the tribal areas of the north, as well as the chieftaincies of the centre and south. Dr Pradhan focuses first on the narrative of what earlier Nepali historians and foreign scholars have studied as 'the unification of Nepal' and 'the creation of Nepali nationality'. Going through the chronology and source material meticulously, he shows that the first proposition did not necessarily lead to the second one; the Gorkhas built a powerful lineage but their state was a ruling class, one typical of late eighteenth-century India, without practical participation in nationality by the people in general. It emphasised a binary divide between tagadharis (those who donned the sacred thread, were Brahmanised) and those whom tagadharis treated with contumely as matwalis (people who drank distilled liquor, who were thus low-class because they stank and were of the lowest castes, hewers of wood and drawers of water).

The tagadhari-matwali distinction which the Gorkhas made the basis of their ruling class-people dichotomy was similar to the ashraf- ajlaf or babusahab-raxil dichotomy in North India, or the bhadralok- chhotolok dichotomy in Bengal, or Brahman-non-Brahman dichotomy in the south. It hegemonised the lower orders (by force as well as social purification ritual and missionary conversion into the tribecaste continuum that anthropologists like Nirmal Kumar Bose and Surajit Chandra Sinha have spoken of) into accepting subordination within the late-eighteenthlearly-nineteenth-century Indian indigenous state forms, what the British colonialists were then calling 'country powers' or later 'the princely states'. Such an order, based on social authoritarian values articulated by the Hindu religion, propagated by migrants from the middle Gangetic plains at a time when the Mughal Empire was showing signs of insurgency, zamindars' revolts and chaos within a ruling class which had alienated itself from the masses, was militarised between 1750 and 1815 as a transient Gorkha empire over the Himalayas: from Kangra and Garhwal's edges to the Lepcha region of Darjeeling, and part of South Sikkim in the 18th century.

4. The late-18th- and early-19th-century character of this state form-which is supposed to be transitional in India (as a transient phase between the successors-riyasats-following the Mughal Empire, such as Hyderabad, Bengal, the Maratha Confederacy, Awadh, the Punjab, the Rajpiit and Sikh principalities in Rajasthan, the Punjab and the northern hills, Jammu, Kashmir, etc, or such as the Ahom, Travancore, or Paligar principalities and chieftaincies and the British Indian Empire which homogenized a forced unity in earlier heterogeneous diversity)-is shown by Dr Pradhan to be parallel to, if not directly influenced by, core trends in Indian political ideology. The Nepali ruling class at that time referred to their great southern neighbour's territory as 'Mughlan'. Before the definitive collapse of Mughal legitimacy in 1787, when Shah Alam II was first blinded by Ghulam Qadir Rohilla and then given shelter and protection in his own Red Fort by Mahadji Sindhia, the Nepali Gorkha lineage treated themselves as a peripheral lineage in the domain of Mughal prestation and patronage. Kumar Pradhan signifies this religious symbiosis as follows: 'Prithvinarayan, the ruler of a small and poor principality, realised his dream of making himself the king of the Nepal valley. He shifted his capital to Kathmandu on 21 March, 1770 and adopted as his flag the royal banner of Bhadgau, introduced long before by Jayasthiti Malla, the red banner which (Baburam) Acharya descnbes as "the national colour of the Hindus". With the conquest of the three kingdoms of Nepal, Prithvinarayan's personal campaigning ended. Since the Mughal emperor was still the paramount power on the Indian subcontinent, Prithvinarayan requested him for recognition of the title "Maharaja Samser Bahadur J ung" and in 1770 received it.' (p.96). If the Gorkha lineage was later regarded as incarnations of Vishnu, this was a modern Brahmanical construct.

5. The making of the Nepal monarchy was as much, however, a part of British emergence in Indian Empire, as it was of Mughal decadence and roi faineant complaisance. Prithvinarayan’s early aggrandisements occurred at a time when Britain was winning Plassey and Wandiwash. His conquests in Majh Kirat, especially at the expense of the old Hindu lineage of Makwanpur whose territories marched with the Mughal domains in Purnea and Bettiah in Bihar (with rebellions in which their chiefs were embroiled) were not seen with favour by Bengal rulers, whether Mir Kasim, or Harry Verelst. The former committed his 'new model army' drilled by Gurgin Khan and Reinhard to an adventure in defence of the old dynasty of Makwanpur. Prithvinarayan's Gorkha troops who had just conquered it destroyed the Bihar army, leaving the Nawab weak before the British attack in 1763. The East India Company, in its turn, acquiring Diwani in 1765, sought to defend the Makwanis; but the Kinloch Expedition of 1767 was also repulsed. Yet Prithvinarayan did not challenge the new rulers of the plains proximate to Majh Kirat and Pallo Kirat, and chose to deal with them with cautious diplomacy. His successors and their captains preferred to expand into more northern mountain recesses, all the way to the forts of Nagari and Darjeeling past Ilam and Khumbu. In Eastern Nepal, the kingdom was formed in the interstices of the British expansion into North Bihar and Kuch Bihar, in the same way as Prithvinarayan Shah's successors' captains expanded into the Western Himalayan foothills or for that matter, as Ranjit Singh became. Maharaja of the Punjab, shattering the Rajput petty hill principalities of Nagarkot and its neighbourhood, and others collapsed in the desiccation of Indian power in the latter years of the 18th century. In the same way the new Alaungpaya dynasty of Burma erupted with rapine and anarchy into the Brahmaputra Valley in Assam in the early 19th century. Both Nepalis and Burmans were aggrandisers within the new state system that grew with new imperial expansion, i.e., of what Edward Thompson called The Making of the Indian Princes. At the same time, the new Nepal also aroused the antagonism of the Chinese over- lords of Tibet. Prithvinarayan had described Nepal as a 'tuber between two rocks' and, in 1792, Tibet forced Nepal to buckle down northern expansion.

The British tolerated such a state on its periphery while it faced Its own Western imperial crisis in the Napoleonic Wars. Immediately after Waterloo, Lord Hastings struck at the Gorkhas. Though the War increased British respect for the hillmen, imperialism annexed their edges in the west, and turned the easternmost fringe, the Nagari Subbah, which included the salubrious Darjeeling spur, into a pro- tectorate as part of its Sikkim ally during the Anglo-Nepal War.

6. After that, the social history of the Nepal state is one of subalternity-which means junior cadetship, and not popular com- petition against the ruling elite as recent jargon tries to suggest. A Bengali historian at Oxford has recently translated 'subaltern consciousness' as habildari chetana. Kumar Pradhan has a fruitful set of hypotheses to explain the factions at the Kathmandu court-one group led by the Pandes, supporting revanchism against the British which was popular among the soldiery, the other first by Bhimsen Thapa and then Jung Bahadur Rana, the founder of the Rana oligarchy, compromising with imperialism and leading to the later policy of turning into a Nepali royal recruiting agency for it, a policy of subordinate feudalism bulwarking capitalist colonialism. The processes of tension, violence, and even massacres, as well as dismal social existence conditions for the peasantry which made up these tendencies, were part of the social trends of Hinduisation, Sanskritisation and casteist reactionary force summed up by the tagadhari-matwali dialectic, in which the latter became subjects, followers of, and even retainers to the former. However, as Dr Pradhan does not fail to note, there were recurrent revolts and insurgencies against the royal officials, in Eastern Nepal (his case), as elsewhere, as well as a flow of migration to India and abroad. This led to a 'hundred years of solitude' from democratic trends for the people of Nepal, in which political unity was established at the expense of cultural diversity. It was to be a century and much more, whose dead hand has begun to wither only very recently.

7. The entire thesis is a fruitful one for general political sociology as well as history. It arouses interest in the democratic aspects of diversity lurking beneath sovereign unity. It leads to the question- was fragmentation the only reason for their failure? Or, were they enfeebled by their hill range and narrow valley isolation? Or, as Dr Pradhan emphasises, and scholars of eighteenth-century Punjab and Afghan decline like Prof Athar Ali or Dr Muzaffar Alam have done in their recent articles or books, was the desiccation of trade routes across the Himalaya, Pamir and Hind Koh mountain chains from India to Central Asia, a more important reason for their weakening and authoritarian consolidation under repressive political elites? An admixture of these factors lies at the roots of the transitional political forms of Nepali tribes and castes; and also of the Swat Pathans studied by Barth, or of the Kachins of Highland Burma studied earlier by Edmund Leach. Kumar Pradhan contributes to this literature, not least by placing the last independent Hindu Kingdom in a historically materialist perspective. On the other hand, he contributes to a more specialist theme, which is recently evoking scholarly interest in the West as well as in India-the internal dynamics of South Asian political systems parallel to early colonialism. He shows how a representative one consolidated itself by contact with Brahmanical ideological structuring, how its Sanskritisation was not necessarily harmonious for the lower classes, and how its ruling class maintained itself, like its neighbours, by becoming junior collaborators of British imperialism. On both counts, this book should be of interest to a wide variety of readers.



The Process and Consequences of the Unification of Nepal, with Particular Reference to Eastern Nepal AD 1750-1850, written almost a decade before and accepted as a doctoral dissertation by Calcutta University in 1982, is being published with the main title of The Gorkha Conquests. The book has been divested of many details and all the diacritical marks for the convenience of general readers.

Nepal has received the attention of many Indian scholars, and monographs on different facets of Indo-Nepal relations have appeared. This work is a study on the emergence of the present Nepalese state and society. Historians of Nepal have written about the subject, often describing it as 'national unification'. However, this study differs from them in the sense that it is an attempt to examine how the multitudinous diversity of the land was resolved in the process of unifying scores of independent political units into one state and the socio-economic consequences of this process on peoples embracing great cultural and ethnolinguistic diversity.

Though this work deals primarily with the history of the birth of the present kingdom of Nepal, that is, roughly between 1750 and 1850 CE, the theme of the work necessitated a review of the process in a broader chronological framework for a more meaningful understanding.

For its source material, the work had to depend on published and unpublished archival as well as other material in Nepali because no archival material in English for the subject is available. Innumerable documents of varying historical importance are still to be found in private possession in Nepal. Quite a number of trips, especially to Eastern Nepal, had to be undertaken for on-the-spot study of such documents and the traditions behind them. Such visits not only gave opportunities for gaining an intimate knowledge about the people but also for making a sustained study of their oral and literary traditions.

The words 'Kirata' and 'Kirat' have been used here with some difference in the shades of their usages. The first is a generic name that designates the Indo-Mongoloids, and Kirat, as is the general practice among Nepalis, stands for the tribes known as the Rais (Khambus) and Limbus of Eastern Nepal, the region which is also known as Kirat and is divided into the Near, Middle and Far Kirat.

With gratitude I recall the unfailing encouragement and kind attention given, even during his illness, by my supervisor Professor Nirmal C. Sinha, then Centenary Professor of International Relations, Calcutta University. I am grateful to the University Grants Commission for the financial assistance which, to an extent, made this study possible.

With affection I thank Suren (Dr Surendra Munshi, Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta) for sharing his views with me and collaborating in it preliminary survey of the subject, and to Srobona (Mrs Srobona Munshi, Department of English, Calcutta University) for all the help and inspiration I got from her. Fondly and with pro- found regard I cherish the memory of Professor Bimala Prasad Mukherjee who not only encouraged but helped me in getting registered for my PhD.

This study could not have been possible without the works of numerous scholars from whose works, as recorded in the Notes and Bibliography, I have derived heavily. I thank those archivists and librarians of Nepal and India without whose help in obtaining documents and books not much progress would have been possible.

With great pleasure I remember some renowned historians of Nepal, the late Baburam Acharya, Nayaraj Panta, Dhanavajra Vajracharya and Mahesh Chandra Regmi, for giving me their time and attention. For warm hospitality and unstinted help in Eastern Nepal I thank a host of my friends, most particularly Mr Kaziman Kandongba. Thanks are also due to one of my old pupils, Mr Man Bahadur Chhetri of Ilam, for procuring some rare and valuable documents and to my nephew Daya Ratna Pradhan for patiently pho- to copying a really large corpus of documents.

To Subhash (Mr Subhash Ranjan Chakraborty, Department of History, Presidency College, Calcutta) I am indebted for his constant fraternal proddings and help in getting the book published and to Dr (Mrs) T.T. Kumar, lAS, not only for her keen interest and encouragement but also for going through parts of the typescript and suggesting corrections.

I have no words to express my gratitude to Professor Barun De for his help in getting the book published by Oxford University Press and for readily agreeing to grace the book with his Foreword. In- deed, this work would not have seen the light of day without him.

I am grateful to Mr Wangchu Lama, Darjeeling Forest Office, for typing the thesis as well as the press copy of this book. The painstaking task of making the Index was undertaken by my wife Purnima and children Indira, Somendra, Gehendra and Manasa, whose loving help sustains me during the periods of research and writing.

The credit for any merit in the work must be shared by all whom I have named and who prefer anonymity, but none of them are responsible for the lacunae that this book suffers from or for the views it propounds.



From the summit of Chandraghiri there is a most commanding prospect, the eye, from hence, not only expatiating on the waving valley of Nepaul, beautifully and thickly dotted with villages, and abundantly chequered with rich fields fertilised by numerous meandering streams; but also embracing on every side a wide expanse of charmingly diversified country. It is the landscape in front, however, that here most powerfully attracts the attention; the scenery in this direction gradually rising to an amphitheatre, and successively exhibiting to the delighted view the cities and numberless temples of the valley below; the stupendous mountain of Sheoopoori; the still super-towering Jibjibia, clothed to its snow-capped peak with pendulous forests; and finally, the gigantic Himma-leh, forming the majestic back-ground of this wonderful and sublime picture.

Thus, in 1793, was Colonel William Kirkpatrick enchanted by the view of Nepal valley from the summit of the nearby Chandragiri hill. Five decades before his visit, the heart of Prithvinarayan Shah, then ruler of a small hill principality called Gorkha, about a hundred kilometres to the west of the valley, was similarly captivated. The panorama that he saw stoked his ambition .to conquer it and the intensity of that passion he describes in Divya Upadesa 'So that the king of Nepal might not recognise me,' he recounts, 'I covered myself with a syakhu (a shawl-like covering) and went along the banks of the Rapti, accompanied by Bhanu Jaishi and other thar-ghar.

'On reaching the top of the Chandragiri hill I asked, "Which is Nepal?" They pointed out saying, "That is Bhadgau, that is Patan, and that is Kathmandu." Then I cherished a desire in my heart that I might be the king of these three cities. At that moment these two astrologers said to me, "Maharaj, your wish will be fulfilled." I marvelled as to how they could know my innermost desire, and I asked them. They replied, "At that moment your eyes were riveted on Nepal, you stroked your moustache, and it seemed to us that you were wishful to be the king.”

Prithvinarayan's ambition was fulfilled after thirty years when this valley became the centre of a new and enlarged kingdom, thence called Nepal. Yet, the inhabitants of the surrounding hills, plains and mountains refer to the valley as Nepal even though they live within political frontiers of the present kingdom of Nepal.

The Nepal valley, also called the Bagmati or the Kathmandu valley, is barely two hundred and fifty square miles in area. Though small enough to be traversed on foot in a day, it contains what has been called the 'scene of a cultural efflorescence remarkable even in the perspective of the civilisations of Nepal's neighbours-India and Tibet.

Present-day Nepal was once a cluster of petty principalities, small kingdoms and settlements virtually independent under respective tribal chiefs. The rulers of Gorkha conquered them, thus forging the new kingdom of Nepal and marking the transition from an era of petty states (diversified power) to an era of nation-building. This is a most significant period which deserves attention for a proper understanding of the history of Nepal.

Historians of Nepal tend to describe the polity before the conquests of Prithvinarayan Shah as the state of 'political fragmentation' before 'national unification'. However 'fragmentation' implies a breaking or separation into pieces of a pre-existent whole; and national unity connotes the change, a conscious one, from the chaos of national disintegration to the quondam state of cohesion. Such a description also presupposes the presence of various factors contributing to the sense of national unity among a people with aspirations towards a separate national identity. Herein lies the debate: Was Nepal ever a nation before Gorkha forged it into one and did it ever have a physical shape comparable to the present one to merit such a description?

Attempts have been made to establish that Nepal broadly conformed to the present physical shape even in the remote past. Epigraphic and literary sources are cited to vindicate this thesis, but on closer scrutiny they seem vague and do not prove the theory definitively.

Shifts in emphasis rather than basic differences have characterised the studies of different scholars of Nepalese history. Baburam Acharya, the doyen among Nepalese historians, regarded the conquests of Gorkha as the cause of national unification. D.R. Regmi felt that behind Prithvinarayan's conquests 'patriotism was the guiding factor' because the king was a 'nationalist to the core of his heart'. However, Regmi considerably changed his view in the revised edition of his Modern Nepal,' Ludwig F. Stiller's study on the Rise of the House of Gorkha, covering the period from 1768 to 1846, elaborates by emphasising the leadership of Prithvinarayan Shah, whose 'inspiration: .. was alone able to solve the riddle' posed by 'the geographic, geopolitical, and economic forces at work in the Himalayas that militated against unification"." He sums up saying, 'This is my analysis of the unification of Nepal; inspiration and economic incentive".

In addition to Prithvinarayan's role as the founder of Modem Nepal, scholars have praised his statesmanship in keeping the British out. D.R. Regmi is of the view that 'in the wake of Prithvinarayan's defeat the British colonial interest would surely have acquired a firm footing,' and adds, that had things been different, Nepal would not have become a 'united whole as it is today'. 10 Similarly, Stiller, describing the conquests of Prithvinarayan, 'in terms that hopefully will render a hitherto confusing picture both meaningful and strategically understandable', explains the Gorkhali efforts to administer their newly acquired kingdom. Indeed he shows how a departure from these ideals enunciated by Prithvinarayan Shah led to a momentary breakdown in the administrative system and weakened Nepal in its fight with the British in 1814-16.11 He then adds that despite this lapse, Prithvinarayan's system 'proved itself strong enough to with-stand the shock of military defeat and sustain the Nepal state in its struggle to maintain its independence against the tide of encroaching British imperialism.

Considering his achievements, it is no wonder that scholars of Nepal should extol Prithvinarayan. He was truly a remarkable character. Though critical of him in many respects, even Hamilton agrees that 'Prithvinarayan ... was a person of insatiable ambition, great courage, and increasing activity'.

However, Nepalese historiography Suffers from the prejudice of nineteenth-century West European and North American historians who dealt largely with governments and great men, or from what E.H. Carr described as the 'Bad King John' and 'the Good Queen Bess' theory of history. 14 A disagreement with the dictum 'history is the biography of great men' is not to declare the individual to be a quantite negligeable. The individual has his free will and a role in history, but even a great man is a social being, defined by his social relations. The traditional historians of Nepal, however, tend to make too little of the 'dull multitude' and too much of the cataclysmic personality of the rulers. Analyses of social and economic forces help one to dispel the penumbra of twilight surrounding many historical events of the time. Prithvinarayan's public action certainly had historical antecedents and definite consequences.

A departure from the traditional historiography of Nepal was made by Mahesh Chandra Regmi. Lamenting that the persistent disregard for the economic aspects of Nepal's historical problems were inexplicable and inexcusable, in his A Study in Nepali Economic History, 1768-1846 Regmi sought to describe 'the economic policies and programmes followed by the Gorkhali rulers to mobilise human and material resources for territorial expansion'. His aim was to be of help 'in providing insights into the basic features and objectives of Gorkhali rule without which the political history of this period can- not be studied meaningfully'. In the process he tries to throw light on the 'impact of these policies and programmes on the life of the people' and 'to analyse economic influences at work among the people'. Thus his understanding of the process of political unification and its economic aspects and consequences led him away from the spectacle of the sword to a realisation that military campaigns resulting in the mobilisation of human and material resources eventually hampered long-term economic growth.

Another significant consideration to be borne in mind is that Nepal is a country of diversity at multiple levels and of many kinds. The insistence that the conquests of Gorkha were for the national unification of Nepal implies as the most salient point the integration of all diverse elements into a whole. The present kingdom of Nepal, an elongated rectangular country of roughly 55,000 square miles, is in- deed small in size. But within this physical framework almost all the climatic zones on the earth are represented. Thus, there are the southern terai region, or Nepal's share of the Indian Gangetic plain and swamps; the high fertile valleys and sharp mountain ridges of central Nepal; and the snowy wastes of the Alpine zone where Nepal juts out at places into the trans-Himalayan plateau.

The landscape changes from paddy fields, grasslands and jungles in the plains land near the Indian boundary to soaring mountain heights of approximately 25,000 feet, a mere 150 miles to the north on the Tibetan border. Accordingly, the climate ranges from the tropical heat of the lowlands to the arctic cold of higher altitudes. The diversity of this geographic setting is equally matched by ethnic, linguistic, religious, social variety and this is seen especially in Kathmandu where the population is on the increase. Furthermore, Nepal is basically an agrarian country. No other town in the country can boast of even a third of the 1,50,492 strong population of Kathmandu, the country's capital and largest town (1971 Census). More than thirty languages and innumerable dialects, belonging to distinct groups of Indo-European, Tibet-Burman, and Austro-Asiatic origin, are spoken. 'If about a half of the population in the western and southern hemispheres claim Indian origin with regard to language, religion, social organisation and physical features, a different pattern is discernible in the mountain villages of the north and east where the Tibetan linguistic, cultural and religious connections and Mongoloid physical type of inhabitants are distinct traits. Again, the people are divided into a multitude of clans and sub-clans, castes and sub-castes and groupings so numerous that Giuseppe Tucci says, 'the ethno- graphical study of Nepal, despite the many researches undertaken, is still one of the most complex in the world' . Similarly, 'religious differences, which are of great social, economic and political significance in Nepal, introduce another element of complexity into the country's human geography. The distribution of religious groups does not follow the lines of tribal divisions; many of the tribes are divided as to religion'.

With its predominantly agricultural and pastoral economy there existed a complexity with respect to land tenure. Raikar, birta, guthi, jagir, and kipat were the major land tenure systems." Similarly, the taxation methods, too, lacked uniformity.

Reviewing the process and consequences of the political unification of Nepal, the consideration of such diversities leads to questions that ask how the problem of this multitudinous diversity was resolved, and how scores of politically independent units were consolidated into a common territorial framework under one ruler or government. Indeed, what were the consequences of this unification on different groups with their diverse and discrete primordial sentiments?

These questions are tackled for a better understanding of the subject. They seek to refute M.C. Regmi's view that 'a classification of the Nepali society purely from the ethnic view point would hardly be a socioeconomic study.'

Nepalese society was not homogeneous; hence, for an in-depth understanding of the essence of Nepalese history and sociology this study holds ethnolinguistic or ethnocultural classification important. Though the period of the Gorkha conquests and consequent territorial unification covered hardly seventy years, the subject is examined against a broader historical perspective. The political history of different regions before they were conquered by Gorkha has been analysed. Further, special emphasis is laid on Eastern Nepal, an area more or less ignored by Nepalese historians. No coherent account of pre-unification Eastern Nepal being available, an attempt has been made to reconstruct its history from as early a date as possible from available source materials. Such a treatment is necessary for an intensive study of the society of the area which was one of the last tribal regions to be conquered by Gorkha and annexed to the emergent kingdom of Nepal. This exhibits a common pattern in a long- drawn historical process of which the unification of Nepal under Gorkha appears to be only a part, though often over-accentuated.




  Introduction to the 2009 edition vii
  Foreword to the 1991 edition xvi
  Preface xxiii
  Introduction xxvi
Part One Pre- Unification Situation  
1 Historical Background 5
2 People and Society 25
3 Eastern Nepal: Tribes and Traditions 51
4 Eastern Nepal: History and Polity 69
Part Two The Process of the Political Unification  
5 The Gorkha Conquest of Nepal 95
6 The Gorkha Conquest of Eastern Nepal and Sikkim 115
Part Three Some Consequences of the Unification  
7 Consequences and Conclusion 167
  Notes 227
  Appendix 271
  Bibliography 275
  Index 287


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