KUKRI HISTORY & HERITAGE.
Pre-Gorkhali Invasion -
Early history of Nepal, the Khas Kingdoms of the 11th-14th century
Notes on early Gorkha.
Since ancient times Nepal has been the home to many myths and legends, from the birthplace of Lord Buddha to several Hindu gods, goddess´s and stories which are placed in Nepal. The following page contains simplified/general information regarding Nepal, its history and heritage which I belive is important to understand in the larger discourse. From the movement of people to caste, the Khas kingdoms to early Gorkha, as to give a brief story prior to the Gorkhali conquest in the mid to late 18th century.
Nepal is not new to history, but history is new to Nepal. History in a way of documenting it, being able to explore the events of the past, its role in public discourse and opinion making is new. For large parts of time, Nepal as a nation, history was censored by those in power. Proper Historical research only started after 1951 which means that large areas of history is little known and still being explored. Therefore what we know of Nepal’s history outside the Kathmandu Valley is very limited. The first book on Nepal and some of its history date to 1811, the work of Col. Kirkpatrick, followed by several other British visitors and staff at the British Residence, the occasional European (i.e. Gustave le Bon, Sylvain Levi, Sven Hedin, etc) visitor over the 19th century and early 20th century. It was only in the 1930´s that a book on history written by a Nepali came into existence and that too as a political tool to educate the people on Nepal’s past, largely focused on various historical figures to challenge the reign of the Rana dynasty. Even today to find a comprehensive book on Nepal’s history is not an easy task but unlike the past possible! Still much remains unknow so we have to make the best with what we know and exploring the world of Nepalese Weapons is a mystery in itself and not an easy task. History is about interpretations of what happened earlier, our ideas may change over time, while what happened before does not change.
Movement & distinction of People, a ancient pattern -
Migration and movement of people is in a way the story of Nepal and over time we find various people from the Tibeto-Burmese and Indo-Aryan language groups making Nepal their home. The area of Nepal became a mixing pot of various Himalayan cultures, some with roots in the south in what we call India, others north in Tibet and China and from the east and the west. The mighty Himalaya mountains to the north and the malaria infested jungles of the south in Terai provided a natural protection for the many valleys, hills and rivers in between where people took up settlement. Do keep in mind that modern ideas of nation-states, citizenship and such did not exist.
Almost every socio-ethnic group in Nepal trace their roots somewhere outside, only the Magars and Newars do not but still most of socio-ethnic groups origin is only now starting to become somewhat clear with DNA testing and academic research. Myths may explain a lot but often does not give exact answers. Either way Nepal is the home for a very varied population that together form the Nepalese, it is just as much a home for those who arrived several centuries ago as it is to those who came in ancient times. For most of history nomadic life was not uncommon. Among the earliest settlers are various Tibeto-Burmese groups, such as the Kiratis (Rai, Limbu, Sunuwar), Gurungs, Tamang’s, Sherpas and others. Indo-Aryan groups had come early in history, but a large wave came in the 12th to 14th century was going to change Nepal. The Indo-Aryan or Indo-Nepalese groups are often refered to a Khas, which is often a with a mix of native Tibeto-Burmese groups of western Nepal with the Indo-Aryans. The Khas include the Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Dalits and other groups.
The ethno-linguistic groups are then as per Hindu tradition further diveded into caste groups, based on birth and occupational guidelines. It was a way of organizing ancient soceity but much still governs relations between people of the same neighbourhood, soceity and country. It is in many ways similar to medeival european society and today a social evil. It important to understand the base while trying to understand history in Nepal´s context. With various Hindu ruling dynasties being established in ancient Nepal, the caste system took a deeper root while large parts of the population were not traditionally governed by it. With the advent ofgroups comming from Hindu lands in current India over the 11th to 14th centuries it became in Nepal´s context more established. Below I have given three images which briefly shows the distinctions and also provides the reader a good base of the Caste system, incase unaware.
In western India a period of Islamic invasions had started and became stronger in the 12th century, the Turks (and Turko-Afghans) set up a powerful kingdom with Delhi as capital. The invasions of various Islamic dynasties would last into the 16th century and resulted in a migration of various “Indo-Aryan” groups into the hills of Nepal. Several Brahmin, Rajput and Chettri families trace their genealogical records to this time. The Ranas of Nepal for example trace their record back to the fall of Chittor in 1303 by Sultan Alauddin Khalji and related to the Ranas of Mewar (current Maharaja of Udaipur). The former royal family of Nepal, the Shah´s as well claim origin in western India. The stories of their past and genealogical charts are a mix of genuine history, myth and legends, which is often the case with even outside South Asia.
The origin of the Khukuri is often debated, leading authors laying claim to a a theory ofits origin to Nepal from ancient India, while it came to India from the west, often said to have been from Alexander the greats invasion. Records in Nepal though point to a ancient origin among the Tibeto-Burmese groups and the name "Khu-kuri" itself is of Tibeto-Burmese origin, meaning curved/angled knife. Thus the question where did it come from will have to remain open on several possibilities and not a single origin theory. We can at best conclude a most likely possibility but not a absolute answear.
Over time Villages and valleys clustered together to form the early principalities, some larger, some smaller and developed into loosely administered areas under various rulers. Tax was paid in agricultural produce, Trans-Himalayan trade was taxed, and this formed the basis of the economy. Wealth was largely based on agricultural production and a bad harvest was the result of an unfavourable relationship with the divine powers of harvest or negative spirits. If the farmers produced little, the kings had little too, if agricultural production was high the Court would have a lot too.
Partly due to lack of wealth standing armies only developed in the 18th century otherwise it was the duty of the nobles to protect the King and the common people to farm. Smaller semi-standing armies, often mercenaries did exist in for example Kathmandu Valley by the 14th century or earlier, which was the wealthiest area in the Himalayas. But there too I really mean small. Often when we read of battle in the history of the Indian sub-continent it’s about massive armies, tens of thousands, alas not in Nepal, where until the mid 18th century a force of 500 men would have been considered very large! In times of war, the common man was only taken to war as a very last resort and very rarely did it happen. Fighting was a duty for the warrior class and firstly the men closest to the ruler whom had the most to gain or lose from conquering or being conquered.
Khas Kingdoms -
Various Khas Kings had grown powerful during the 11th to 14thcenturies in western Nepal. Among them the Khasa kingdom of Jumla which in its height of power ruled over a vast area which included large parts of western Nepal (from the Pokhara valley to Dullu), parts of what is now Uttarkhand in India (southern Kumaon) and western Tibet. It a was alternative seat of power, economic activity and arts competing with the Kathmandu Valley by the late 13th century.
The fleeing groups that came into the Western hills of Nepal in the 13th century included a large number of Rajputs, men used to arms and fighting, quickly found employment among the various rulers of western Nepal. Earlier groups had done the same and established themselves by employment (usually at the court) and farming, the main lifeline of survival, even today. The threat of an invading mighty military force became real as groups of people fleeing their ancestral homelands arrived. The combination of a possible threat, the arrival of men with skills of weapons, a strong military culture and used to political intrigues led to a quick militarisation of the area, both in the west and in the Kathmandu Valley.
The militarisation added fuel to in-fighting among the smaller rulers who now felt confidant to take on their neighbours, older native dynasties were over-thrown and newer self-appointed dynasties rose, a large number of them of Rajput origin, replacing many Khas ruling houses. The might of the western rulers even with new ruling houses were never to rise again to its former glory. These states were to become the Baise Rajye (22 Kingdoms) of the Karnali basin in the far west and the Chaubise Rajye (24 Kingdoms) of the Gandaki basin in the west of Nepal. Each principality was independent but loosely unified as a confederacy for protection and the occasional military campaign. These principalities will play a role later in the story of Nepal.
Similar to the Mallas of the Valley the Khas rulers held the title name of Malla as well but not related to each other’s and of different ethnic backgrounds. Battles between the Khas rulers of western Nepal and the rulers of Kathmandu are known on at least two instances prior to the 15th century. Following the collapse of the western Mallas, a powerful dynasty of the Sen´s arose in south Nepal with power centred in Makwanpur (current Hetauda area) and then shifted to Palpa. In the Kathmandu Valley the earlier Licchavi dynasty was replaced with the Malla dynasty in the early 13th century.
There is so far little evidence suggesting an Islamic invasion of western Nepal, but Kathmandu Valley did suffer in 1345-46 when the Sultan of Bengal, Shams-ud-din sacked the valley, plundering Buddhist and Hindu Temples but left thereafter. The Mallas of the Kathmandu Valley seem to have “bounced” back rather quickly as no trace of the invasion has been seen besides in the annals of history and mentality of the hill people that a powerful force existed in the south, across the jungles of the Terai. Later to be replaced by the British and then by the Republic of India.
The hill people were safe in the valleys and at home with a large degree of independence, self sustaining practices and courage to face to harsh yet beautiful nature which could be both a curse and a blessing.
Brief notes on the Shah´s of Gorkha -
The Shah´s of Gorkha called themselves for Magar kings, as mentioned in the “teachings” Divya Upadesh of King Prithvi Narayan Shah. The Shah dynasty claimed Rajput descent from Rajasthan, a popular trend among the hill rulers in the wake of a crumbling Mughal empire of the 18th and 19th century. A rather confusing mixture which is often the case in Nepalese history. The reference to the Magar king may be that the majority of their subjects were Magars and that the crown originated from a Magar dynasty. The ties to Rajasthan are debatable as several centuries had passed since the arrival of the Shah´s into the foothills of Nepal. Often the old records are a mix of history and myths with little solid proof, which is not uncommon in most genealogical records, not only in South Asia. The lack of proper research does not help the equation either. The Rana´s for example had their claim approved by the ruling dynasty of Mewar (Rajasthan, India) and the Royal pundits of Nepal in the middle of the 19th century.
The area of Gorkha and its neighbours were often in the process of conquest and defence, fighting over neighbouring areas was not uncommon. Gorkha for example was often fighting minor battles against Lamjung (west) and Tanhun (south). Besides fighting alliances were also built, often against a common enemy but larger military forces were not maintained.
As the king’s duties grew from conquering new areas or brining new area into cultivation, he shared the responsibility of administration with a few trusted men with whom he shared parts of the revenue in a simple way. He assigned them one or several villages from which they collected tax at harvest time, and they became the lords of the land they were assigned too. The royal houses collected revenue from taxes on agricultural output and trade, by the mid 18th century approximately 50% of the crop was paid in tax to the royal house, which was then used to cover the cost of administration.
The highest rank outside the Royal family was that of “Kaji”, an early form of the king’s minister and part of his inner circle at the court. The early Shah days, until King Prithvi Narayan Shah had no more than four Kaji´s, usually two. Their positions were at the king’s favour and wish, allowing them a status, closeness to the court and free from manual labour. In return their wealth and status depended on their loyalty and usefulness to the king, this was the early nobility. If they fell out of favour, it was often to return to the land to farm it. The Kaji held a military role as well, as a commander of the military, reinforcing a military rank to civil duties as tax collector and Lord of an area under the King, he was the King´s man and often the closest a commoner could come to the king.
Images: The People of India
edited: J.F. Watson & J.W. Kaye.
London, India Museum, 1868.
Image of Liglig Kot: wondersandmarvels.com
Regarding Caste and discrimination -
"Democracy is firmly established in our country. We respect the fundamentals of freedom and responsibility. Strange race theories have no a base. We think of ourselves as without prejudice and tolerant.
But it is not so easy. Prejudice does not need any rational theory for it to take a hold. It has a much simpler origin.
Prejudice always has its root in daily life. It grows in the workplace and in the neighbourhood. It is a channel for our own failures and disappointments. Most of all it is an expression of ignorance and fear. It is based on an ignorance about other people’s uniqueness, fear to lose a position, a social privilege and assumed superior right. A human’s skin colour, race, language and/or place of birth have nothing to do with human qualities. To grade people with such a measurement is the opposite of the principle of human equality. But is shamefully easy to adapt for the one who feels small – at work, in society, in the competition about a girl or a boy.
Therefore prejudice is always lurking around the corner, even in an enlightened society. It can come about from a word, an unthoughtful reply, from any minor thing. Perhaps the one saying it does not mean it as such. But for the one who receives it, it can make wounds that never heal. Most of us humans have a need to push others down. And then prejudice towards others – the foreigners, stranger/unknown – is used as a last resort."
- Olof Palme, Prime Minister of Sweden, 1982-86.
Original in Swedish:
Demokratin är fast förankrad här i landet. Vi respekterar de grundläggande fri- och rättigheterna. Grumliga rasteorier har aldrig funnit fotfäste. Vi betraktar oss gärna som fördomsfria och toleranta.
Men så enkelt är det ändå inte. Fördomen behöver inte förankras i någon vederstygglig teori. Den har ett mycket enklare ursprung.
Fördomen har alltid sin rot i vardagslivet. Den gror på arbetsplatsen och i grannkvarteret. Den är ett utlopp för egna misslyckanden och besvikelser. Den är framför allt ett uttryck för okunnighet och rädsla. Okunnighet om andra människors särart, rädsla för att förlora en position, ett socialt privilegium, en förhandsrätt. En människas hudfärg, ras, språk och födelseort har ju ingenting med mänskliga kvaliteter att göra. Att gradera människor med sådan måttstock står i bjärt kontrast till principen om människors lika värde. Men den är skamligt enkel att ta till för den som känner sig underlägsen – på arbetsplatsen, i sällskapslivet, i konkurrensen om flickan eller pojken.
Därför ligger fördomarna alltid på lur, även i ett upplyst samhälle. Den kan blossa ut i ett stickord, en obetänksam replik, en nedrighet i det lilla. Kanske menar den som handlar inte så illa. Men för den som träffas kan det riva upp sår som aldrig läks. De flesta av oss människor har ett behov av att hävda oss gentemot andra. Och då står fördomen mot den avvikande – utlänningen, främlingen – till förfogande som en sista skans.
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