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A-Z Around the World: Nepal


Welcome back to another installment of A-Z Around the World. Today we are covering Nepal, Enjoy !!!!!

 

Nepal, officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, is a landlocked country in South Asia. It is located mainly in the Himalayas, but also includes parts of the Indo-Gangetic Plain. With an estimated population of 26.4 million, it is 48th largest country by population and 93rd largest country by area. It borders China in the north and India in the south, east, and west while Bangladesh is located within only 27 km (17 mi) of its southeastern tip and Bhutan is separated from it by the Indian state of Sikkim. Nepal has a diverse geography, including fertile plains, sub-alpine forested hills, and eight of the world's ten tallest mountains, including Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth. Kathmandu is the nation's capital and largest city. Nepal is a multi-ethnic nation with Nepali as the official language.

The name "Nepal" is first recorded in texts from the Vedic period of the Indian subcontinent, the era in ancient India when Hinduism was founded, the predominant religion of the country. In the middle of the first millennium BCE, Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was born in Lumbini in southern Nepal. Parts of northern Nepal were intertwined with the culture of Tibet. The centrally located Kathmandu Valley is intertwined with the culture of Indo-Aryans, and was the seat of the prosperous Newar confederacy known as Nepal Mandala. The Himalayan branch of the ancient Silk Road was dominated by the valley's traders. The cosmopolitan region developed distinct traditional art and architecture. By the 18th century, the Gorkha Kingdom achieved the unification of Nepal. The Shah dynasty established the Kingdom of Nepal and later formed an alliance with the British Empire, under its Rajput Rana dynasty of premiers. The country was never colonized but served as a buffer state between Imperial China and British India. Parliamentary democracy was introduced in 1951, but was twice suspended by Nepalese monarchs, in 1960 and 2005. The Nepalese Civil War in the 1990s and early 2000s resulted in the proclamation of a secular republic in 2008, ending the world's last Hindu monarchy.

The Constitution of Nepal, adopted in 2015, establishes Nepal as a federal secular parliamentary republic divided into seven provinces. Nepal was admitted to the United Nations in 1955, and friendship treaties were signed with India in 1950 and the People's Republic of China in 1960. Nepal hosts the permanent secretariat of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), of which it is a founding member. Nepal is also a member of the Non Aligned Movement and the Bay of Bengal Initiative. The military of Nepal is the fifth largest in South Asia; it is notable for its Gurkha history, particularly during the world wars, and has been a significant contributor to United Nations peacekeeping operations.

Etymology

Local legends have it that a Hindu sage named "Ne" established himself in the valley of Kathmandu in prehistoric times, and that the word "Nepal" came into existence as the place was protected ("pala" in Pali) by the sage "Nemi". It is mentioned in Vedic texts that this region was called Nepal centuries ago. According to the Skanda Purana, a rishi called "Nemi" used to live in the Himalayas. In the Pashupati Purana, he is mentioned as a saint and a protector. He is said to have practiced meditation at the Bagmati and Kesavati rivers and to have taught there.

The name of the country is also identical in origin to the name of the Newar people. The terms "Nepāl", "Newār", "Newāl" and "Nepār" are phonetically different forms of the same word, and instances of the various forms appear in texts in different times in history. Nepal is the learned Sanskrit form and Newar is the colloquial Prakrit form. A Sanskrit inscription dated 512 CE found in Tistung, a valley to the west of Kathmandu, contains the phrase "greetings to the Nepals" indicating that the term "Nepal" was used to refer to both the country and the people.

It has been suggested that "Nepal" may be a Sanskritization of "Newar", or "Newar" may be a later form of "Nepal". According to another explanation, the words "Newar" and "Newari" are vulgarisms arising from the mutation of P to V, and L to R.

History

Ancient

Neolithic tools found in the Kathmandu Valley indicate that people have been living in the Himalayan region for at least eleven thousand years.

Nepal is first mentioned in the late Vedic Atharvaveda Pariśiṣṭa as a place exporting blankets, and in the post-Vedic Atharvashirsha Upanishad.

In Samudragupta's Allahabad Pillar it is mentioned as a border country. The Skanda Purana has a separate chapter, known as "Nepal Mahatmya", with more details. Nepal is also mentioned in Hindu texts such as the Narayana Puja.

Legends and ancient texts that mention the region now known as Nepal reach back to the 30th century BC. The Gopal Bansa were likely one of the earliest inhabitants of Kathmandu valley. The earliest rulers of Nepal were the Kiratas (Kirata Kingdom), peoples often mentioned in Hindu texts, who ruled Nepal for many centuries. Various sources mention up to 32 Kirati kings.

Around 500 BCE, small kingdoms and confederations of clans arose in the southern regions of Nepal. From one of these, the Shakya polity, arose a prince who later renounced his status to lead an ascetic life, founded Buddhism, and came to be known as Gautama Buddha (traditionally dated 563–483 BCE).

By 250 BCE, the southern regions had come under the influence of the Maurya Empire of North India and later became a vassal state under the Gupta Empire in the 4th century CE.

There is a quite detailed description of the kingdom of Nepal in the account of the renowned Chinese Buddhist pilgrim monk Xuanzang, dating from about 645 CE. Stone inscriptions in the Kathmandu Valley are important sources for the history of Nepal.

The kings of the Lichhavi dynasty have been found to have ruled Nepal after the Kirat monarchical dynasty. The context that "Suryavansi Kshetriyas had established a new regime by defeating the Kirats" can be found in some genealogies and Puranas. It is not clear yet when the Lichhavi dynasty was established in Nepal. According to the opinion of Baburam Acharya, the prominent historian of Nepal, Lichhavies established their independent rule by abolishing the Kirati state that prevailed in Nepal around 250 CE.

The Licchavi dynasty went into decline in the late 8th century, and was followed by a Newar or Thakuri era. Thakuri kings ruled over the country up to the middle of the 12th century CE; King Raghav Dev is said to have founded the ruling dynasty in October 869 CE. King Raghav Dev also started the Nepal Sambat.

Medieval

In the early 12th century, leaders emerged in far western Nepal whose names ended with the Sanskrit suffix malla ("wrestler"). These kings consolidated their power and ruled over the next 200 years, until the kingdom splintered into two dozen petty states. Another Malla dynasty beginning with Jayasthiti emerged in the Kathmandu valley in the late 14th century, and much of central Nepal again came under a unified rule. In 1482, the realm was divided into three kingdoms: Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur.

Kingdom of Nepal (1768–2008)

In the mid-18th century, Prithvi Narayan Shah, a Gorkha king, set out to put together what would become present-day Nepal. He embarked on his mission by securing the neutrality of the bordering mountain kingdoms. After several bloody battles and sieges, notably the Battle of Kirtipur, he managed to conquer the Kathmandu Valley in 1769. A detailed account of Prithvi Narayan Shah's victory was written by Father Giuseppe, an eyewitness to the war.

The Gorkha control reached its height when the North Indian territories of the Kumaon and Garhwal Kingdoms in the west to Sikkim in the east came under Nepalese control. A dispute with Tibet over the control of mountain passes and inner Tingri valleys of Tibet forced the Qing Emperor of China to start the Sino-Nepali War compelling the Nepali to retreat and pay heavy reparations to Peking.

Rivalry between the Kingdom of Nepal and the East India Company over the control of states bordering Nepal eventually led to the Anglo-Nepali War (1815–16). At first, the British underestimated the Nepali and were soundly defeated until committing more military resources than they had anticipated needing. Thus began the reputation of Gurkhas as fierce and ruthless soldiers. The war ended in the Sugauli Treaty, under which Nepal ceded recently captured lands as well as the right to recruit soldiers. Madhesis, having supported the East India Company during the war, had their lands gifted to Nepal.

Factionalism inside the royal family led to a period of instability. In 1846, a plot was discovered revealing that the reigning queen had planned to overthrow Jung Bahadur Kunwar, a fast-rising military leader. This led to the Kot massacre; armed clashes between military personnel and administrators loyal to the queen led to the execution of several hundred princes and chieftains around the country. Jung Bahadur Kunwar emerged victorious and founded the Rana dynasty, later known as Jung Bahadur Rana. The king was made a titular figure, and the post of Prime Minister was made powerful and hereditary. The Ranas were staunchly pro-British and assisted them during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (and later in both World Wars). Some parts of the Terai region populated with non-Nepali peoples were gifted to Nepal by the British as a friendly gesture because of her military help to sustain British control in India during the rebellion. In 1923, the United Kingdom and Nepal formally signed an agreement of friendship that superseded the Sugauli Treaty of 1816.

Legalized slavery was abolished in Nepal in 1924. Nevertheless, an estimated 234,600 people are enslaved in modern-day Nepal, or 0.82% of the population. Debt bondage even involving debtors' children has been a persistent social problem in the Terai. Rana rule was marked by tyranny, debauchery, economic exploitation and religious persecution.

In the late 1940s, newly emerging pro-democracy movements and political parties in Nepal were critical of the Rana autocracy. Meanwhile, with the invasion of Tibet by China in the 1950s, India sought to counterbalance the perceived military threat from its northern neighbour by taking pre-emptive steps to assert more influence in Nepal. India sponsored both King Tribhuvan (ruled 1911–55) as Nepal's new ruler in 1951 and a new government, mostly comprising the Nepali Congress, thus terminating Rana hegemony in the kingdom.

After years of power wrangling between the king and the government, King Mahendra (ruled 1955–72) scrapped the democratic experiment in 1959, and a "partyless" Panchayat system was made to govern Nepal until 1989, when the "Jan Andolan" (People's Movement) forced King Birendra (ruled 1972–2001) to accept constitutional reforms and to establish a multiparty parliament that took seat in May 1991. In 1991–92, Bhutan expelled roughly 100,000 Bhutanese citizens of Nepali descent, most of whom have been living in seven refugee camps in eastern Nepal ever since.

In 1996, the Communist Party of Nepal started a violent bid to replace the royal parliamentary system with a people's republic. This led to the long Nepali Civil War and more than 12,000 deaths.

On 1 June 2001, there was a massacre in the royal palace. King Birendra, Queen Aishwarya and seven other members of the royal family were killed. The alleged perpetrator was Crown Prince Dipendra, who allegedly committed suicide shortly thereafter. He was briefly declared as the king for three days while he was in coma. This outburst was alleged to have been Dipendra's response to his parents' refusal to accept his choice of wife. Nevertheless, there is speculation and doubts among Nepali citizens about who was responsible.

Following the carnage, King Birendra's brother Gyanendra inherited the throne. On 1 February 2005, King Gyanendra dismissed the elected government and legislature,assuming full executive powers to quash the violent Maoist movement. But this initiative was unsuccessful because a stalemate had developed in which the Maoists were firmly entrenched in large expanses of countryside but could not yet dislodge the military from numerous towns and the largest cities. In September 2005, the Maoists declared a three-month unilateral ceasefire to negotiate.

In response to the 2006 democracy movement, King Gyanendra agreed to relinquish sovereign power to the people. On 24 April 2006 the dissolved House of Representatives was reinstated. Using its newly acquired sovereign authority, on 18 May 2006 the House of Representatives unanimously voted to curtail the power of the king and declared Nepal a secular state, ending its time-honoured official status as a Hindu Kingdom. On 28 December 2007, a bill was passed in parliament to amend Article 159 of the constitution – replacing "Provisions regarding the King" by "Provisions of the Head of the State" – declaring Nepal a federal republic, and thereby abolishing the monarchy. The bill came into force on 28 May 2008.

Republic of Nepal (2008–present)

The Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) won the largest number of seats in the Constituent Assembly election held on 10 April 2008, and formed a coalition government, which included most of the parties in the CA. Although acts of violence occurred during the pre-electoral period, election observers noted that the elections themselves were markedly peaceful and "well-carried out".

The newly elected Assembly met in Kathmandu on 28 May 2008, and, after a polling of 564 constituent Assembly members, 560 voted to form a new government, with the monarchist Rastriya Prajatantra Party, which had four members in the assembly, registering a dissenting note. At that point, it was declared that Nepal had become a secular and inclusive democratic republic, with the government announcing a three-day public holiday from 28–30 May. The king was thereafter given 15 days to vacate Narayanhity Palace so it could reopen as a public museum.

Nonetheless, political tensions and consequent power-sharing battles have continued in Nepal. In May 2009, the Maoist-led government was toppled and another coalition government with all major political parties barring the Maoists was formed. Madhav Kumar Nepal of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist–Leninist) was made the Prime Minister of the coalition government. In February 2011 the Madhav Kumar Nepal Government was toppled and Jhala Nath Khanal of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist–Leninist) was made the Prime Minister. In August 2011 the Jhala Nath Khanal Government was toppled and Baburam Bhattarai of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) was made the Prime Minister.

The political parties were unable to draft a constitution in the stipulated time. This led to dissolution of the Constituent Assembly to pave way for new elections to strive for a new political mandate. In opposition to the theory of separation of powers, then Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi was made the chairman of the caretaker government. Under Regmi, the nation saw peaceful elections for the constituent assembly. The major forces in the earlier constituent assembly (namely CPN Maoists and Madhesi parties) dropped to distant 3rd and even below.

In February 2014, after consensus was reached between the two major parties in the constituent assembly, Sushil Koirala was sworn in as the new prime minister of Nepal.

On 25 April 2015, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal. Two weeks later, on 12 May, another earthquake with a magnitude of 7.3 hit Nepal, which left more than 8,500 people dead and about 21,000 injured.

In 20 September 2015, a new constitution, the "Constitution of Nepal 2015" , was announced by President Ram Baran Yadav in the constituent assembly. The constituent assembly was transformed into a legislative parliament by the then-chairman of that assembly. The new constitution of Nepal has changed Nepal practically into a federal democratic republic by making 7 unnamed provinces.

In October 2015, Bidhya Devi Bhandari was nominated as the first female president.

Demographics

According to the 2011 census, Nepal's population grew from 9 million people in 1950 to 26.5 million. From 2001 to 2011, the average family size declined from 5.44 to 4.9. The census also noted some 1.9 million absentee people, over a million more than in 2001; most are male labourers employed overseas, predominantly in South Asia and the Middle East. This correlated with the drop in sex ratio from 94.41 as compared to 99.80 for 2001. The annual population growth rate is 1.35%.

The citizens of Nepal are known as Nepali or Nepalese. The country is home to people of many different national origins. As a result, Nepalese do not equate their nationality with ethnicity, but with citizenship and allegiance. Although citizens make up the majority of Nepalese, non-citizen residents, dual citizens, and expatriates may also claim a Nepalese identity. Nepal is multicultural and multiethnic country because it became a country by occupying several small kingdoms such as Mustang, Videha(Mithila), Madhesh, and Limbuwan in the 18th century. The oldest settlements in Mithila and Tharuhat are Maithil. Northern Nepal is historically inhabited by Kirants Mongoloid, Rai and Limbupeople. The mountainous region is sparsely populated above 3,000 m (9,800 ft), but in central and western Nepal ethnic Sherpa and Lama people inhabit even higher semi-arid valleys north of the Himalaya.

The Nepali speaking Khas people mostly inhabit central and southern regions. Kathmandu Valley, in the middle hill region, constitutes a small fraction of the nation's area but is the most densely populated, with almost 5 percent of the nation's population. The Nepali are descendants of three major migrations from India, Tibet, and North Burma and the Chinese province of Yunnan via Assam. Among the earliest inhabitants were the Kirat of east mid-region, Newarsof the Kathmandu Valley, aboriginal Tharus of Tharuhat,

Despite the migration of a significant section of the population to the Madhesh (southern plains) in recent years, the majority of Nepalese still live in the central highlands; the northern mountains are sparsely populated. Kathmandu, with a population of over 2.6 million (metropolitan area: 5 million), is the largest city in the country and the cultural and economic heart.

Languages

Nepal's diverse linguistic heritage stems from three major language groups: Indo-Aryan, Tibeto-Burman, and various indigenous language isolates. Nepal is home to at least four indigenous sign languages.

Derived from Sanskrit, Nepali is written in Devanagari script. Nepali is the official language and serves as lingua franca among Nepali of different ethnolinguistic groups. The regional languages Maithili, Awadhi, Bhojpuri and rarely Urdu of Nepali Muslims are spoken in the southern Madhesh region. Many Nepali in government and business speak Maithili as the main language and Nepali as their de facto lingua franca. Varieties of Tibetan are spoken in and north of the higher Himalaya where standard literary Tibetan is widely understood by those with religious education. Local dialects in the Terai and hills are mostly unwritten with efforts underway to develop systems for writing many in Devanagari or the Roman alphabet.

Religion

The significant majority of the Nepalese population follows Hinduism. Shiva is regarded as the guardian deity of the country. Nepal is home to the famous Lord Shiva temple, the Pashupatinath Temple, where Hindus from all over the world come for pilgrimage. According to Hindu mythology, the goddess Sita of the epic Ramayana, was born in the Mithila Kingdom of King Janaka Raja.

Lumbini is a Buddhist pilgrimage site and UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Kapilavastu district. Traditionally it is held to be the birthplace in about 563 B.C. of Siddhartha Gautama, a Kshatriya caste prince of the Sakya clan, who as the Buddha Gautama, founded Buddhism.

The holy site of Lumbini is bordered by a large monastic zone, in which only monasteries can be built. All three main branches of Buddhism exist in Nepal and the Newa people have their own branch of the faith. Buddhism is also the dominant religion of the thinly populated northern areas, which are mostly inhabited by Tibetan-related peoples, such as the Sherpa.

The Buddha, born as a Hindu, is also said to be a descendant of Vedic Sage Angirasa in many Buddhist texts. The Buddha's family surname is associated with Gautama Maharishi. Differences between Hindus and Buddhists have been minimal in Nepal due to the cultural and historical intermingling of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. Moreover, traditionally Buddhism and Hinduism were never two distinct religions in the western sense of the word. In Nepal, the faiths share common temples and worship common deities. Among other natives of Nepal, those more influenced by Hinduism were the Magar, Sunwar, Limbu and Rai and the Gurkhas. Hindu influence is less prominent among the Gurung, Bhutia, and Thakali groups who employ Buddhist monks for their religious ceremonies. Most of the festivals in Nepal are Hindu. The Machendrajatra festival, dedicated to Hindu Shaiva Siddha, is celebrated by many Buddhists in Nepal as a main festival. As it is believed that Ne Muni established Nepal, some important priests in Nepal are called "Tirthaguru Nemuni". Islam is a minority religion in Nepal, with 4.2% of the population being Muslim according to a 2006 Nepali census. Mundhum, Christianity and Jainism are other minority faiths.

Culture

Customs and traditions differ from one part of Nepal to another. A conglomeration lies in capital city Kathmandu where cultures are blending to form a national identity. Kathmandu Valley has served as the country’s cultural metropolis since the unification of Nepal in the 18th Century. A prominent factor in a Nepali’s everyday life is religion. Adding color to the lives of Nepalis are festivals the year round which they celebrate with much pomp and joy. Food plays an important role in the celebration of these festivals.

Customs

The diversity in Nepal in terms of ethnicity again makes room for various sets of customs. Most of these customs go back to the Hindu, Buddhist or other religious traditions. Among them, the rules of marriage are particularly interesting. Traditional marriages call for deals arranged by parents after the boy or girl come of age.

Nepalese, mostly Hindu, do not eat beef. The cow, considered as Universal Mother, symbolizes motherhood, charity, and pity. To respect it is to put into practice the concept of Ahimsa, which in Sanskrit literally means "non-violence", an important component of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Before entering a temple or a house, you will often be asked to take off your shoes, so as not to pollute pure interiors with your stained soles. Some temples are forbidden to non-Hindus. The right hand, considered pure, is used to eat, pay, give and receive. If rural Nepal is mostly agrarian, some aspects of the urban life carry the glitz and glamour of the ultra-modern world.

Cuisine

Nepal does not have a distinct cooking style. However, food habits differ depending on the region. Nepali food has been influenced by Indian and Tibetan styles of cooking. Authentic Nepali taste is found in Newari and Thakai cuisines. Most Nepalis do not use cutlery but eat with their right hand. The regular Nepali meal is dal (lentil soup), bhat (boiled rice) and tarkari (curried vegetables), often accompanied by achar (pickle). Curried meat is very popular, but is saved for special occasions, as it is relatively more expensive. Momos (steamed or fried dumplings) deserve a mention as one of the most popular snack among Nepalis. Rotis (flat bread) and dhedo (boiled flour) also make meals in some homes.

 

Travel to Nepal: Lonely Planet

A trekkers' paradise, Nepal combines Himalayan views, golden temples, charming hill villages and jungle wildlife watching to offer one of the world's great travel destinations.

 


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