Kukri History & Heritage
Nepal Khukuri Gallery
1.THE MAKING OF NEPAL.
Mid 16th to late 18th century.
Text: The Rise of the House of Gorkha.
The Rise of the House of Gorkha -
During the 16th century the town of Gorkha in the hills of central Nepal was ruled by a Magar dynasty, the Khadka Magars reigned from their hilltop palace. Further 35 km away in Ligligkot the Ghale´s had established their reign, various smaller and larger principalities with local rulers was the norm, not large nation states, kingdoms or empires. Regular skirmishes and battles were frequent between the rulers, looking to expand and dominate weaker principalities at any opportunity that arose. Further away in Lamjung (90 km from Gorkha), where the Annapurna route now starts, the Shah´s were the rulers. In the west of Nepal the Baise and Chaubise principalities along the Karnali basin and Gandaki river, in the Kathmandu Valley, the wealthy Malla´s, the Sen rulers of the south and further to the east the various Kirati principalities. In the mid 16th century more then 50 various rulers and principalities existed in what we now call Nepal.
Gorkha Durbar (Palace), the home of the Shah dynasty as established by King Dravya Shah.
The presence of native Nepalese, weapons with various Indian (Mughal and other) weapons is common in the collection of Arms & Armour. Over the late 18th century several Chinese weapons are found too and in the 19th century European as well.
The martial heritage as found in weapons shows a fascinating heritage and history of Nepal.
Prince Dravya Shah, son of King Yasobrahma Shah of Lamjung knew as per tradition that his brother, crown prince Narahari Shah would inherit the throne. In the mid 16th century he set out to carve out his own kingdom, Lamjung would pass to his brother, and in doing so was to establish the Shah dynasty of Gorkha, later becoming the Royal House of Nepal. Priorto 1559 Dravya Shah conquered Ligligkot and then Gorkha in 1559, establishing himself as the King of the area, founder the Shah dynasty of Gorkha, his descendants were to remain as Kings of Nepal till 2008.
From the 16th century we jump to the 18th century as no weapons or historical charachters from the 17th century is given in the collection.
As we enter the 18th century and the reign of King Prithvi Narayan Shah, some almost 200 years after King Dravya Shah, the modern roots of Nepal as a nation are found. King Prithvi focused his limited resources on the Kathmandu Valley, the centre of trade, wealth and agricultural lands once he ascended the throne in 1743. To conquer the three kingdoms of Kathmandu - Lalitpur and Bhaktapur was his principal aim.
There was no possibility to launch a large military campaign as he did not have the resources, military power or experience. Instead of attacking the Valley kingdoms with their Walled cities which he knew his military would not be able to succed in, he focused on a economic blockade of the Valley. He understood the value trade had and if he could stop the trade going through the Valley across the Himalayas into Tibet and down south to India, he would eventually gain the upper hand as he would be able to stop the strength of the Valley Kingdoms. It was a calculated gamble which would take time and why his campaign to conquer the Valley took almost 25 years. Slowly but steadily he and his Gorkhali army took on the smaller towns surrounding the Valley and the trade route, to enforce the blockade and come a step closer they fought against Banepa, Belkot, Bhisankhu, Chaukokot, Changu, Chobar, Chitlang, Dhulikhel, Dolakha, Mahadev-Pokhari, Nala, Naladum, Naikot, Nuwakot, Khadpu, Palung, Panauti Pharping, Panga, Tistung, Sanga, Sankhu and other surrounding smaller towns. By the 1760´s the economic burden of the blockade resulting in no trade was felt in the Valley, many building projects had to be stopped due to lack of funds and the Malla kings were no longer as powerful. The Gorkhalis slowly came closer and closer conquering over the smaller towns surrounding the larger walled cities.
Both the Baise & Chaubise confederation was a strategic annoyance to the Gorkhalis. His father and earlier forefathers had fought them and at times came into alliance with them. Any major attack on the Valley meant that enough of the military had to be left to protect the borders of Gorkha on other sides as the Baise and Chaubise confederacy could attack at any given sign of weakness.
When Kirtipur fell in 1767 after the third attempt of the Gorkhali´s to conquer the town, it sent a shock to the three Malla Kings...the Gorkhali´s were very close, they had punished the surviving military harshly and the Mallas Treasure was empty, as a last resort they had to take from the wealthy Temples they had been patrons of. Naturally it was not well perceived by the general population.
When the Gorkhalis finally marched into Kathmandu in September 1768 it was with little fighting, a similar scenario some weeks later in Lalitpur/Patan. The two principal town of the Valley were conquered with minimal fighting, among others due to lack of funds among the Malla Kings.
Ranjit Malla, King of Bhaktapur.
Born: 1703- d.1770s.
Reign: 1722 to 1769.
King Ranjit Malla commissioned the golden gate of Bhaktapur, the large Taleju bell at the Vatsala Durga Temple among other contributions in his 47 year long reign.
The last Malla King of Bhaktapur had a very long reign and the only Malla King who was spared his life after the Conquest of the Valley in 1768, Bhaktapur was subdued in 1769.
King Nar Bhupal Shah of Gorkha, father of Prithvi Narayan Shah (PNS) had arranged the “Miteri” ritual between the Shah House of Gorkha and the Malla House of Bhaktapur when the two crown princes were young. They were tied by a ceremonial friendship/ritual kinship like blood brothers which allowed PNS to spend his formative years as a teenager in Bhaktapur.
Being in Bhaktapur gave the prince of Gorkha an unique possibility to study and understand the Mallas, their administration, culture, military, wealth and shortcommings which he was to use in his later campaign to conquer the Valley.
During the Gorkhali invasion of the Kathmandu Valley, PNS sought the support of King Ranjit Malla but not much came. After conquering Kathmandu and Lalitpur, King Prithivi Narayan Shah took a short break to consolidate the important events and for his military to rest and celebrate. King Ranjit Malla was given a option to stay on as King but over surrounding areas of Bhaktapur and to accept the sovereignity of King Prithvi Narayan, he refused. At the end there was no option but to fight against a father figure, over three days by which the city fell in 1769. The King and his family were spared death but sent on exile to Varanasi, India for the rest of their lives, marking the end of a long and prosperous dynasty.
It was a norm for the Mallas to maintain a high number of mercenaries in the military force which included troops from southern and eastern (Orissa area) India. Besides various groups from within the area that became Nepal, for example Chettris, Magars, Tamangs all served in the Malla military force, besides a small number of Newars.
Read more on the Malla´s HERE.
King of Gorkha, 1st King of unified Nepal.
Born: 1722 - d. 1775.
King Prithvi Narayan Shah is considered the Father of Nepal as a Nation, laying the foundation by conquering approx. 1/3 of what Nepal is today.
King Prithvi Narayan Shah is held in high regard by most Nepalese, as a father of the nation and saviour, sparring Nepal much of the violence and pain India went through in the 18th century.He went from being the ruler of small principality of Gorkha to the father of a nation, Nepal, as its "unifier". Between 1743 to 1775 he commanded a series of brilliant military campaigns with his Gorkhali army and shrewd diplomacy to conquer and unify the land we call Nepal.
His focus to conquer the Kathmandu Valley, a long campaign spanning over 25 years was the result of a desire to conquer the most important region in the Himalayas. Being able to conquer the Valley meant being able to access wealth and power, to have a firm grip on the affairs of the region across the Himalayas and immense wealth. To realise his goal he raised a standing Army of five regiments (battalions) in 1762, which later became the Nepalese Army. Early troops included a majority of: Thakuri, Chettri, Magar and Gurungs.
It is at times said his goals to unify Nepal was to spare Nepal from British colonization, but this is not supported by historical documents available, it became only a reality at the end of his life. His vision was practical and his desire to conquer the Kathmandu Valley was based on the reality of Gorkha and its population.
Gorkha was poor, had a large population in comparison to other principalities, farming land was of bad quality, and minimal trade. The Kathmandu Valley had everything Gorkha sought; good farming land, space and a lot of trade. It was the lure of wealth and prosperity that initially fueled Prithivi Narayan to focus on the Valley.
By the time he died in 1775 he had planted the seed of a nation, through an administration system based on merit and service to the State instead of personal gain, creating a union instead of uniformity where regional cultural, social and fiscal institutions and laws were accepted and respected as long as the broader Gorkhali reign was accepted. He described his idea of Nepal in the Dibya Upadesh (his teachings which was made into a book) as "Four Castes and thirty six ethnicities, a beautiful flower garden...
He left the legacy of a strong King, just Statesman, a brilliant Warrior behind him, sadly the period following his death was best a shadow of his reign, whereby Nepal for 32 years of 40 was ruled by a minor King and his regents. His administration system required a impartial and strong leader which was not to be found.
Sur Pratap Shah, Prince.
Born after 1722. - d. 1780s.
aka. Suruparatna/ Shura Pratap Shah, younger half brother of King Prithivi Narayan Shah.
Commander of 2nd (1764), held rank of General during 3rd (1767) Battle of Kirtipur, was struck by an arrow in the eye and blinded.
Treated by Capuchin monks for wounds in battle.
1768 - appointed as Kaji when Kathmandu & Lalitpur was conquered.
Main Commander of Gorkhali troops at Battle of Bhaktapur 1769.
Played an important role in the Palpa war 1775 leading to annexation of Tansen-Palpa.
Capturing Kirtipur would give the Gorkhalis a major strategic advantage in the process of conquering the main three Kingdoms of the Valley, three major battles finally secured Gorkhali victory in 1767 over Kirtipur. Each battle was led by Commanders with vast experience due to the importance of Kirtipur. In the first battle Gorkhali Commander Kaji Kalu Pande was in-charge, he died while fighting and later his weapons were placed on the Bag Bhairav temple (see image on start top right). The later two battles were under Prince Sur Pratap Shah, a half brother to the Gorkhali King and one of his closest officers and appointed as Kaji once Kathmandu and Lalitpur fell in 1768 and led the mission to conquer Bhaktapur in 1769.
In the fall of 1767 Kirtipur was under siege, the economic blockade of the valley had made life difficult and as the Gorkhalis came closer they blocked any movement to and from the city, cutting it of from food supplies as well. Gorkhali troops with muskets (a unseen sight for the vast majority) surrounded the towns entry and exit points, finally one night some of the local residents opened the city gates to be able to get food and not continue to live in fear. After capturing Kirtipur a severe punishment was given, the noses were cut off and the city was called Naskatapur (town of cut noses). Both native and foreign accounts confirm this but not if it was only the military, all males or the whole population. This act of "terror" sent a strong message to the Malla Kings who the following year fell.
Once the Valley had firmly been subdued by the end of 1769, the Gorkhali military was sent to the eastern and southern Nepal which were conquered over the next six years, 1769-1775 inwhich large areas of the Rai, Limbu and other rulers of the east and Sen´s of the south were conquered, including a War with Sikkim in 1775. Nepals border now extended to the river Teesta and would do so till 1816.
Following a successful eastern campaign they turned westward from 1776 onwards to subdue the Chaubise and Baise Kingdoms/Pricipalities, specially from 1780 onward. The Gorkhalis conquered large areas of the western hills in a series of brilliant military campaigns prior to 1788, when the Sino-Nepalese War broke out.
Daljit Shah, Prince.
Born after 1722. - d. late 1780s - 1790s.
Younger half brother of Prithivi Narayan Shah.
Fought in 2nd (1764) and 3rd (1767) Battle of Kirtipur. Against Capt. Kinloch´s expedition in 1767.
1768- Appointed Kaji,
1769- as Amalidar (revenue collector & exec. power) of Dolakha,
1770´s- as Chautaria (which included duties as Commander in Chief), leads the Gorkhali military to annex Makwanpur in 1772.
1776- to Kancha (Junior) Chautaria (as two Chautarias were established in the 1770s).
Late 1770s- Imprisoned by his nephews and sister and sister in law (Rana Bahadur Shah & Queen Mother Rajendra Laxmi´s supporters) and sent on exile to Varanasi, India.
1784, returned to Nepal after the Queen Mother dies and appointed as Chautaria.
1785- leads the Gorkhalis to conquer the Chaubise states, annexes Kaski. The campaign started in 1782.
A power vaccum was created in 1775 with the death of King Prithivi Narayan Shah followed by his eldest son Pratap Singh´s death in 1777, a dramatic period of power struggle with infant kings, regents, chautarias, kajis and others wielding their influence for power.
With the the conquest of the Valley and the eastern part of Nepal a larger disagrement between the brothers start to emerge, the princes wanted what they believed was their fair share while the older brother, the King had different ideas. He had by now become not only a powerful and popular King but started to see a greater dream of a unified country, that of Nepal. His brothers demanded personal honours and provinces to rule in the newly conquered areas. The King had started to see the Kingdom, the State as a seperate entity, he described the State as a rock. This was a radical difference to earlier rulers or the norm by which the State was seen and a personal fief and shared among the closest members of the family. He simply refused and elaborated that a rock was no longer a rock if it was split, men, including his brothers were to serve the State to strengthen it, not to split it for personal gain. The idea of a unified and strong Nepal had emerged in theory!
In many works regarding Gorkhali history the end the Gorkhali story is when the Valley is conquered. It is important to remember that many important battles continued in the making of what became Nepal. Only 1/3 of todays area had been conquered in 1775 and over the next 40 years the Gorkhali Kingdom was to grow to cover a area from the river Teesta in the east, by Sikkim to the river Sutlej in the west in Himachal Pradesh, while the current borders were established largely in 1816 by the Anglo-Gorkha War.
Ram Krishna Kunwar, Sardar.
Born: 1728 - d. 1787-88.
Great grandfather of Maharaja Jung Bahadur Kunwar Ranaji, whom established the Rana dynasty.
Ram Krishna´s family moved to Gorkha when he was a child, his father Ahiram Kunwar had taken service under King Nar Bhupal Shah.
commander in the Gorkhali military of King Prithivi Narayan Shah holding the rank of Sardar.
Defeated Mir Kasim´s army in 1763 in Makwanpur area, the British East India Company´s Kinloch expedition in 1767 at Sindhuli.
One of the main Commanders and architects of the invasion of Kathmandu in 1768 resulting in the unification of Nepal.
Annexed eastern Nepal along with with Abhiman Singh Basnet in the 1770s, annexing Chainpur and upper Arun river area.
From 1777 Governor of the newly conquered Chitwan area, bordering British India.
Died in 1787-88 while on campaign in the western hills.
Ram Krishna Kunwar´s younger brother Jay Krishna was also a noted military Commander and fought in the Conquest of Kathmandu. His descendants continued to play a important role in Nepals military, during the Anglo-Gorkha War of 1814-16 his nephew Capt. Balbhadra Kunwar and son Ranjit Kunwar fought, and his great grandson Jung Bahadur established the Rana dynasty in the mid 19th century.
In the course of the long campaign to conquer the Kathmandu Valley the Gorkhalis also fought foreign troops twice. Firstly the Nawab of Bengal, Mir Kasim and his Armenian General Gurgin Khan (1762) in Makwanpur area. The Nawabs force had come to assist the Sen King of southern Nepal, a good friend of his and a trade partner. The Nawab had bought his title from the East India Company
The Gorkhalis had enforced a long economic blockade which had stopped all trade and profits from the Sen king and the Nawab. The the fall of 1762 battles were fought around Makwanpur which ended in Gorkhali victory, manyof the captured rifles (muskets) were issued to the newly raised permanent units of the army. Until 1762 the Gorkhalis had largely been dependent on hand to hand fighting and bow and arrow, following the defeat of the Nawabs forces they were equipped with effective shooting weapons, which were then used in the Conquest of Kathmandu.
Secondly against British East India Company under Capt. Kinloch (1767), whom came to assist the Malla kings of the Valley but were repulsed in Sindhuli and fleed leaving many muskets which the Gorkhalis found great use for.
Damodar Pande, Kaji.
Born 1751/2 - d. 1804.
Son of Kaji Kalu Pande.
Had a long legendary military career in the campaigns to conquer the Kathmandu Valley, the Chaubise (24) and Baisi (22) states (lordships/principalities). One of PNS main commanders.
Fought from east nepal against Pallo kirat in the 1770s, in the west against the chaubise states in the 1780s and north at the Sino-Nepalese Wars of 1788-92.
Chief military and administrative officer of the newly conquered western hills regions from 1786.
Received the first permanent British Envoy in 1802.
Appointed Chief (Mul) Kaji in 1803. Executed by ex-King Rana Bahadur when he returned from exile in Varanasi in 1804.
The decision to turn the Gorkhali military on further campaigns, to the east and south was a natural result of a long period of fighting together. By 1769 the Gorkhali army had a permanent force, five regiments and many more irregulars. The troops had developed into a tight knit fighting force of discipline which was well-equipped with modern weapons. The officers were battle proven and hardend, their leadership was accepted. The desire for more land in the military, as it was the princal method of payment, added to decision to continue the expansion just as much as the idea of a nation, unified under King Prithivi Narayan Shah. Once the Valley had been conquered the King could start to think of unification and greater ideas of Statehood.
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