Neolithic tools found in the Kathmandu Valley indicate that people were living in the Himalayan region in the distant past, although their culture and artifacts are only slowly being explored. Written references to this region appeared only by the first millennium B.C. During that period, political or social groupings in Nepal became known in north India. The Mahabharata and other legendary Indian histories mention the Kiratas (Roberts JM, History of the World), who still inhabited eastern Nepal in 1991.
Some legendary sources from the Kathmandu Valley also describe the Kiratas as early rulers there, taking over from earlier Gopals or Abhiras, both of whom may have been cowherding tribes. These sources agree that an original population, probably of Tibeto-Burman ethnicity, lived in Nepal 2,500 years ago, inhabiting small settlements with a relatively low degree of political centralization.
Monumental changes occurred when groups of tribes calling themselves the Arya migrated into northwest India between 2000 B.C. And 1500 B.C. By the first millennium B.C., their culture had spread throughout northern India. Their many small kingdoms were constantly at war amid the dynamic religious and cultural environment of early Hinduism (Shrestha History of Ancient and Medieval Nepal). By 500 B.C., a cosmopolitan society was growing around urban sites linked by trade routes that stretched throughout South Asia and beyond.
On the edges of the Gangetic Plain, in the Tarai Region, smaller kingdoms or confederations of tribes grew up, responding to dangers from larger kingdoms and opportunities for trade. It is probable that slow and steady migration of Khasa (Majumdar, History of India) peoples speaking Indo-Aryan languages was occurring in western Nepal during this period; this movement of peoples would continue, in fact, until modern times and expand to include the eastern Tarai as well (Majumdar).
One of the early confederations of the Tarai was the Sakya clan, whose seat apparently was Kapilavastu, near Nepal's presentday border with India. Their most renowned son was Siddhartha Gautama (ca. 563-483 B.C.), a prince who rejected the world to search for the meaning of existence and became known as the Buddha, or the Enlightened One.
The earliest stories of his life recount his wanderings in the area stretching from the Tarai to Banaras on the Ganges River and into modern Bihar State in India, where he found enlightenment at Gaya -- still the site of one of the greatest Buddhist shrines. After his death and cremation, his ashes were distributed among some of the major kingdoms and confederations and were enshrined under mounds of earth or stone called stupas. Certainly, his religion was known at a very early date in Nepal through the Buddha's ministry and the activities of his disciples (Shrestha).
The political struggles and urbanization of north India culminated in the great Mauryan Empire, which at its height under Ashoka (reigned 268-31 B.C.) covered almost all of South Asia and stretched into Afghanistan in the west. There is no proof that Nepal was ever included in the empire, although records of Ashoka are located at Lumbini, the Buddha's birthplace, in the Tarai. But the empire had important cultural and political consequences for Nepal. First, Ashoka himself embraced Buddhism, and during his time the religion must have become established in the Kathmandu Valley and throughout much of Nepal.
Ashoka was known as a great builder of stupas, and his archaic style is preserved in four mounds on the outskirts of Patan (now often referred to as Lalitpur), which were locally called Ashok stupas, and possibly in the Svayambhunath (or Swayambhunath) stupa. Second, along with religion came an entire cultural style centered on the king as the upholder of dharma, or the cosmic law of the universe. This political concept of the king as the righteous center of the political system had a powerful impact on all later South Asian governments and continued to play a major role in modern Nepal.
The Mauryan Empire declined after the second century B.C., and north India entered a period of political disunity. The extended urban and commercial systems expanded to include much of Inner Asia, however, and close contacts were maintained with European merchants. Nepal was apparently a distant part of this commercial network because even Ptolemy and other Greek writers of the second century knew of the Kiratas as a people who lived near China. The Gupta emperors united North India again in the fourth century.
Their capital was the old Mauryan center of Pataliputra (presentday Patna in Bihar State), during what Indian writers often describe as a golden age of artistic and cultural creativity. The greatest conqueror of this dynasty was Samudragupta (reigned ca. 353-73), who claimed that the "lord of Nepal" paid him taxes and tribute and obeyed his commands. It still is impossible to tell who this lord may have been, what area he ruled, and if he was really a subordinate of the Guptas. Some of the earliest examples of Nepalese art show that the culture of north India during Gupta times exercised a decisive influence on Nepali language, religion, and artistic expression.
Nepal has been a kingdom for at least 1,500 years. During most of that period, the Kathmandu Valley has been Nepal's political, economic, and cultural center. The valley's fertile soil supported thriving village farming communities, and its location along trans-Himalayan trade routes allowed merchants and rulers alike to profit. Since the fourth century, the people of the Kathmandu Valley have developed a unique variant of South Asian civilization based on Buddhism and Hinduism but influenced as well by the cultures of local Newar citizens and neighboring Tibetans. One of the major themes in the history of Nepal has been the transmission of influences from both the north and the south into an original culture. During its entire history, Nepal has been able to continue this process while remaining independent.
The long-term trend in Nepal has been the gradual development of multiple centers of power and civilization and their progressive incorporation into a varied but eventually united nation. The Licchavi (fourth to eighth centuries) and Malla (twelfth to eighteenth centuries) kings may have claimed that they were overlords of the area that is present-day Nepal, but rarely did their effective influence extend far beyond the Kathmandu Valley. By the sixteenth century, there were dozens of kingdoms in the smaller valleys and hills throughout the Himalayan region.
It was the destiny of Gorkha, one of these small kingdoms, to conquer its neighbors and finally unite the entire nation in the late eighteenth century. The energy generated from this union drove the armies of Nepal to conquer territories far to the west and to the east, as well as to challenge the Chinese in Tibet and the British in India. Wars with these huge empires checked Nepalese ambitions, however, and fixed the boundaries of the mountain kingdom. Nepal in the late twentieth century was still surrounded by giants and still in the process of integrating its many localized economies and cultures into a nation state based on the ancient center of the Kathmandu Valley.
FACTS ABOUT ANCIENT NEPAL
Officially KINGDOM OF NEPAL, Nepali NEPAL ADHIRAJYA, landlocked country of southern Asia, bordered on the north by Chinese Tibet and the Himalayas and bounded by India to the east, south, and west. It covers an area of 56,827 square miles (147,181 square km).
The capital is Katmandu. Nepal extends for about 500 miles (800 km) from southeast to northwest and for about 90 to 150 miles (140 to 240 km) from north to south. It contains some of the most rugged and difficult mountainous terrain in the world. As a result of years of geographic and self-imposed isolation, Nepal is one of the least-developed nations of the world
The early settlement of Nepal was accomplished by large-scale emigrations of Mongoloid groups from Tibet and of Indo-Aryan peoples from northern India. Nepalese of Indo-Aryan ancestry constitutes the great majority of the total population. Tibeto-Nepalese peoples form a significant minority of the country's population. Nepali, a derivative of Sanskrit, is the official language; Newari, a language of the Tibeto-Burman family, and numerous other main languages are also spoken. Some nine-tenths of the population is Hindu, and a small minority is Buddhist.
The cultural heritage of Nepal, particularly contributions made by the Newar people of the Katmandu valley to sculpture, painting, and architecture, is a source of great pride. Hindu religious themes are reflected in sculpture, architecture, and drama. Music and dance are favorite pastimes. Drums and wind instruments required in religious ceremonies have been preserved from ancient times. Devotional songs with folk and classical elements are an important feature of most religious and family occasions.
Buddhist and Brahmanic Hindu versions of Newar legends dominate the early history of Nepal. The ancient Indian classics contain references to the Nepal valley and lower hill areas. During the 3rd century BC, the emperor of India, Ashoka, supposedly visited Nepal.
During the Licchavi dynasty in the 4th or 5th century AD, commerce through the Himalayan passes transformed the…