Nepal's history dates back to the time of the Gopalas and Mahishapalas who are believed to have been the earliest rulers of the valley with their capital at Matatirtha, the south-west corner of the Kathmandu Valley. They were ousted by the Kirantis around the 7th or 8th Century B.C. The Kirantis are said to have ruled the valley for many centuries. 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, their king Amshuvarma, 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 after the Mallas conquered them.
During their 550 year rule, the Mallas built remarkable temples and beautifully designed palaces with picturesque squares. It was also during their rule that the valley society and the cities became well organized; spectacular religious festivals were introduced and literature, music, art and drama were encouraged. After the death of Yaksha Malla, the valley was divided into three kingdoms: Kathmandu (Kantipur), Bhaktapur (Bhadgaon) and Patan (Lalitpur). At the time, the Nepal as we know it today was divided into 46 independent principalities. One among these was the kingdom of Gorkha ruled by a Shah king. Much of Kathmandu Valley’s history around this time was recorded by Capuchin friars from Italy 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 Gorkha state dates back to 1559 when Dravya Shah established his kingdom in a land predominated by Magar people. During the 17th and early 18th centuries, the Gorkha kingdom was slowly expanding, conquering some neighbouring states while forging alliances with others. Eventually it was Prithvi Narayan Shah who led his troops to the Kathmandu Valley. After a long struggle he defeated all the valley kings and established his palace in Kathmandu leaving Gorkha for good. Recognizing the threat of the British Raj in India, he dismissed European missionaries from the country and for more than a century, Nepal remained closed to the outside world.
During the mid-19th Century Jung Bahadur Rana rose to power as Nepal’s first Prime Minister, becoming more powerful than the Shah King he was supposed to serve under. The king became a mere figurehead. Jung Bahadur started a hereditary reign of the Rana Prime Ministers that lasted for 104 years. In 1950 the Ranas were overthrown in an uprising to bring democracy in the country with strong 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 this government didn’t last long as King Mahendra decided to dissolve Parliament in 1960, and introduced a one party Panchayat rule.
The Panchayat system lasted until 1990, when a popular people’s movement led by the political parties that had been banned by the government which until then had been known as ‘His Majesty’s Government’, gave way to democracy. The long struggle paid off when King Birendra accepted constitutional reforms and established a multiparty parliament with himself as the Head of State and an executive Prime Minister under him. In May 1991, Nepal held its first parliamentary elections.
In February 1996, the Maoist parties declared a 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 along with most of their closest relatives. With only King Birendra’s brother, Gyanendra and his family surviving, he was crowned king. King Gyanendra abided by the elected government’s rule for some time, but then dismissed the elected Parliament to wield absolute power. In April 2006, another People’s Movement was launched jointly by the democratic parties focusing on Kathmandu, which led to a 19-day curfew imposed by the king. With the movement not cowering down and ignoring the curfew, King Gyanendra eventually relinquished his power and reinstated the Parliament. On 21st November 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. The king was removed and the decade long Maoist war on the state was over. A Constituent Assembly election was held on 10th April 2008. And on 28th May 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 constitutionally elected Prime Minister heading the Government.
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