Nepal has a proud history of never having been colonized by external forces, unlike many other nations of the world, including its two closest neighbors, China and India. This proximity between such large countries also meant that Nepal has enjoyed a geographical advantage by being a neutral route between the two, a route utilized through the ages by traders, travelers, and pilgrims. This gave Nepal a measure of prosperity and self sufficiency in the days of yore. However, with modernity came modern needs, and it is as clear as day that today Nepal is completely at the mercy of outsiders when it comes to fulfilling its energy needs, without which there is total collapse not only of progress and prosperity, but even of conducting everyday life.
In this background, it would be interesting to revisit this small nation’s history if only to indulge in a bit of nostalgia. Though Nepal’s modern history begins in the 18th century, its recorded history begins in the 7th or 8th century B.C., with the coming of the Kiratis, a Mongoloid people, from the east to Kathmandu Valley, which they ruled. The first of the 29 Kirati kings was King Yalambar, whose name is mentioned in the Mahabharata. In the 6th century, a momentous event occurred in the country. A prince was born in Kapilvastu, near Lumbini, in the southwest terai. He was Siddhartha Gautama, who in young manhood, renounced all he had, including his family and his title, to embark on a path of meditation that led him become the Buddha, ‘The Enlightened One’.
The religion he created, Buddhism, however, declined down the ages, with Hinduism reasserting itself along with the coming of the Licchavis from north India. These new arrivals, in A.D. 300, overthrew the Kiratis, who returned to the east. The Licchavis were culturally progressive, and between the 4th and 8th centuries, they introduced and established many cultural aspects to life in Kathmandu Valley. One of the oldest testimonies to their cultural brilliance is the Changu Narayan Temple, located north of Bhaktapur, where one will find many fine examples of wood, stone, and metal craft, aside from architecture. The Licchavis are also credited with making many of the original stupas of Swoyambhunath and Boudhanath.
In A.D. 602, the first Thakuri king, Ansuverma, came to power, and he was as astute a ruler as one would find anywhere. To ensure consolidation of his power in the north and south, he married his sister to a prince of India, and his daughter, Bhrikuti, to King Songsten Gompo of Tibet. In the 10th century, King Gunakamadeva found Kantipur (later, Kathmandu). Around A.D. 1200, the valley saw the emergence of the first of the Malla kings, whose dynasty carried on for the next 550 years, a period of progress and prosperity in all spheres. The valley was united by King Jayashithi Malla (A.D. 1382-1395), who then codified the laws.
However, in A.D. 1482, after the death of King Yaksha Malla, his sons divided the valley among themselves into three kingdoms: Kathmandu (Kantipur), Bhaktapur (Bhadgaon), and Patan (Lalitpur). The rest of the country, as it was then, consisted of about 50 independent states scattered from Palpa to Jumla, as well as two semi-independent states, that is, Pharping and Banepa. The three kingdoms of the valley competed with each other for excellence, and this was manifested most obviously in the building of temples and monuments. King Pratap Malla (1641-74) of Kantipur stands out, specially, in this regard, with Hanuman Dhoka Palace and Rani Pokhari being two of his most famous creations.
King Jaya Prakash Malla, in 1750, built the Kumari (Living Goddess) Temple, and not long after, another grand example of Newari architecture was built in Bhaktapur, that is, the famous Nayatpola Temple. Doubtless, the Malla era gave birth to most of the artistic and architectural wonders that define Kathmandu Valley today, with some of them being listed as world heritage site monument zones by UNESCO in the 1990s. Many of the valley’s festivals, too, originated during the Malla period, two well known examples being the vibrant chariot festivals of Indra Jatra and Machhendranath. Indeed, the Malla period was a golden period in Nepal’s history, or more precisely, in the history of Kathmandu Valley. However, all that was to change soon with the arrival of King Prithvi Narayan Shah of Gorkha.