Unification of Nepal – by King Prithivi Narayan Shah

Nepal was unified by King Prithvi Narayan Shah of Gorkha kingdom in the mid-eighteenth century by winning over other kingdoms and moving his capital to Kathmandu.

King Prithvi Narayan Shah

King Prithvi Narayan Shah (1723–1775) was born in the Shah dynasty of Gorkha on 11 January 1723 (27 Poush 1779 BS) After the death of Narabhupal Shah on 25 Chaitra he became the king of Gorkha. He ascended to the throne of Gorkha kingdom on 3 April 1743. He was interested in politics and diplomacy and had interests in both visiting and conquering other countries since his days as prince. He decided to enlarge his kingdom, which was confined to the small Gorkha region of present-day Nepal and had an area of just 2,500 square km. He defeated major principalities in wars and unified them under his rule starting from the 1740s, and eventually moved his Gorkha Kingdom‘s capital from Gorkha region to Kathmandu in 1769. While he was successful at conquering the Kathmandu valley and the Sen kingdoms further east, his efforts were limited in the west of his homeland. He then attacked and absorbed dozens of other small principalities and gave a new name “Nepal” to his Gorkha kingdom. He conquered some of the 22 principalities or kingdoms, known as the (thebaise raj-ya, and some of the 24 kingdoms (the chaubasi raj-ya), which were two sets of allies west of the King’s homeland of Gorkha, in what is now called western Nepal.

Soon after he ascended the throne of the Gorkha Kingdom, Shah tricked his way into the royal household of Bhaktapur for a number of months. He wanted the rich agricultural soil of the valley, and the strategic point of the Kathmandu valley as a transit point for expanding trade with both Tibet and India. Then he planned the conquest of the valley. To this end, he decided first to capture Nuwakot, which belonged to the state of Kantipur, as a strategic point. He also foresaw that taking over Nuwakot would significantly strengthen the position of his Gorkha nation and weaken the states occupying the Kathmandu Valley. Nuwakot held strategic importance, as there was already a fort there, and it had remained as connecting the valley and Tibet.

Nuwakot

Prithivi Narayan was a very ambitious king. Along with the invasion of the Gorkha he wanted to protect it from the Gorkha troops, so he started to unify the small kingdoms into a single country. One year after becoming King, in 1744 CE, he attacked Nuwakot, but was repelled because the Gorkha army was not well equipped. In addition, conflicts of interest between the Pandeys and Basnets – two important warrior clans in the Gorkha palace – arose to add domestic political tension. Shah then made Kalu Pande “Mul Kaji” (equivalent to Prime Minister) of his state and thus strengthened his domestic political position. Almost a year later, on 2 October 1744, he attacked Nuwakot again and won, thus expanding the bounds of his Gorkha state.

Kazi Kalu Pande was a wise, brave and far-sighted statesman. The King had great trust in him. It was Kalu Pande who advised the king to maintain peace and friendship with the neighbouring kingdoms. He was afraid that the neighbouring kings might attack Gorkha while the King was away on his invasion campaign. Prithvi thus sent Kalu Pande to hold talks with the king of Lamjung. Kalu Pande had a cordial talk with the king of Lamjung at the basin of the river Chepe. Kalu Pande’s diplomacy succeeded in creating an alliance between Gorkha and Lamjung, two traditional enemies. After that, Gorkha made an alliance with Kaski, Tanahun and Palpa.

Conquest of Nuwakot

Gorkha was now made secure from all sides. Both Prithvi and Kalu Pande thought that it was the right time to invade Nuwakot. Under the command of Prithvi himself, the Gorkha troops attacked Nuwakot from three sides on 26 September 1744 CE. A troop under the command of Kalu Pandey ascended the hill from the north through Gerkhu. The second troop took the Dharma Pani route under the command of Kirti Mahodam Shah. A third troop, under the command of Prithvi himself, attacked from the front. Shankermani Rana, the commander of the Nuwakot army, was killed in the battlefield and his troops fled to Belkot. Thus, Nuwakot fell into the hands of Prithvi. Then Prithvi attacked Belkot. Kalu Pandey was not in favour of the hasty action, but Prithvi, encouraged by his conquest of Nuwakot, gallantly attacked Belkot. The Gorkha troops suffered a heavy loss in this battle. At last, the Gorkha troops won a victory over Belkot. Jayanta Rana, who had been the commander of the Gorkha army during the reign of Narabhupal Shah, was the commander of the Malla troops installed at Belkot. It is said that Prithvi ordered his soldiers to skin the living body of Jayanta Rana. He was said to have treated Jayanta Rana in that manner to show the fate of a betrayer of Gorkha. After the conquest of Nuwakot, Prithvi Narayan Shah began to control all the areas around the valley. He captured Naddum, Mahadev Pokhari, Dahachowk, Ippa, Malta, Siranchowk etc. He planned to impose an economic blockade on the Kathmandu valley.

Annexation of Tanahun

Meeting with a Yogi (sage): There is a story of a sage who came to Gorkha from Benaras. Prithvi Narayan Shah welcomed him and looked after him properly. The sage was pleased with the king and told him to ask for a boon. The king asked for the whole kingdom of Nepal. The sage said, “This will be granted when you meet me in Benaras”. After some time, Prithvi went to Benaras and met the sage. The sage was again pleased with the king and said, “Your desire will be fulfilled. I hereby give you the whole kingdom of Nepal”. When Prithvi solicited the sage to take something in return for his offer as `Guru Bheti’, the saga said, “When you have become the king of the whole of Nepal, you must provide the necessary facilities for the pilgrims to Gosainthan”. Prithvi readily promised to do so, and returned to Nepal. But after establishing his sovereignty over the whole kingdom of Nepal, Prithvi forgot his promise. Then the sage again came to Nepal to remind Prithvi of his promise. Prithvi then set aside the revenue from the Dhading district to provide facilities for pilgrims to Gosainthan.

Invasion of Kirtipur

After capturing Lamjung, Tanahun and other neighbouring territories, Prithvi Narayan Shah marched with his troops for the conquest of the valley. He first captured Farping, Bandegaon, Sunagaon, Khokana and other villages. Veteran leaders and warriors like Kalu Pande, Dalajit Shah, Dalamardan Shah, Tularam Pande and Bir Bhadra accompanied him. The Gorkha troops violently attacked Kirtipur. After a terrible fight for six hours, the Gorkha troops got a severe blow from the hands of the combined forces of Kirtipuris and Jaya Prakash’s army. Prithvi Narayan Shah himself had a narrow escape. The brave 44 years old Kalu Pandey and four hundred Gorkhali troops were killed in the battle of Balkhu (Kirtipur). The Gorkha troops suffered a heavy loss and the surviving soldiers, along with the king, had to retreat back to Nuwakot.

Victory over the Muslim Forces

To defend the aggression of the Gorkhas, the king of Makawanpur, Digbandan Sen, appealed for help to Mir Kasim, the Muslim king of Bengal. Mir Kasim was preparing to wage war against the East India company. At that time, Mir Kasim was in need of friends, he also wanted desperately to test his newly organized army. So he accepted the request of Digbandan Sen and he sent his 2,000 soldiers under the command of Gurgin Khan in 1763 CE. The Gorkhas defeated the well-equipped army of Gurgin Khan. The Muslim troops fled from the battlefield and the Gorkhas captured their arms and ammunition. This victory over the Muslims raised the moral of the Gorkhas and discouraged the native states of India from interfering in the affairs of the Gorkhas.

Conquest of Makawanpur

Makawanpur controlled the southern routes to the Kathmandu valley. Prithvi Narayan Shah thought to conquer and occupy it. Because of the growing power of the Gorkhas, Makawanpur was terrified and the king of Makawanpur had planned to join in an alliance with Jaya Prakash Malla to subdue the Gorkhas. When Prithvi Narayan Shah came to know this, he sent an army under the command of Kahar Simha Basnyat, Bansaraj Pande and Ram Krishna Kunwar. The Makawanpur forces were fefeated in the ten-hour battle and they surrendered before the gallant Gorkhas on 21 August 1762 CE. On the war, 100 Gorkhali and 400 Makawanpur soldiers were killed. Then the Gorkhas attacked and occupied Hariharpur, Timalkot and Sindhulikot. The Gorkhali troops arrested Digbandan Sen, the king of Makawanpur, on 13 February 1763 CE.

Victory over the British force

Jaya Prakash Malla of Kathmandu was alarmed at the growing power of Prithvi Narayan Shah. He sought help from the East India Company in order to defend his kingdom from the Gorkha aggression, just as the king of Makawanpur had appealed to Mir Kasim. The East India Company sent 2,400 soldiers in 1767 under the command of General Kinloch who tried to enter Nepal via Sindhuli. The 120 Gorkha soldiers under the leadership of Bir Bhadra Thapa and Kazi Bansa Raj Pande, attacked them in the hills above Sindhuli. The British soldiers were not aware of the techniques of hill warfare or the bravery of the Gorkhas. They could not fight against the Gorkhas and ran away from the battle-field. This time also, the Gorkhas captured a huge supply of ammunition and cannons which they used in future wars.

Kirtipur

Kalu Pandey employed a strategy involving a blockade of the Kathmandu Valley, and subsequently took over the surrounding settlements and strategic positions around the valley. In the next two years (during 1745-46) he captured Mahadevpokhari, Pharping, Chitlang, Dharmasthali, Naldrum, Siranchok and Shivapuri. He then focused his attention on Kirtipur and Makawanpur, two palaces which were also strategic military targets. Kirtipur was in an elevated position with a fort surrounded by walls and jungles, an ideal place to make inroads into the valley. Shah thought that if he could take over Kirtipur, occupying the rest of the valley would be much easier. On 4 December 1757 he made his first attack on Kirtipur. In this war he lost his strong general Kalu pandey which was a great loss for gorkha. Kalu Pandey had told him that it was not the right time to attack Kritpur. His body was buried in Kirtipur. Prithvi Narayan Shah himself was nearly killed in the battle. As a result, the Gorkha army, having lost a great deal of morale, was defeated. It is said that as revenge for his two earlier defeats, The Gorkha army was repelled again in August 1765.

After two defeats, the Gorkha army changed its strategy again and surrounded Kirtipur during the harvest season, effectively laying siege to the stronghold. The Gorkha army also took over the nearby Balaju fort. After several months of this blockade, the people of Kirtipur could not even get water to drink and were forced to surrender to the Gorkha army on 17 March 1766. This time the Gorkha army took over Kirtipur without a fight. Prithvi Narayan Shah had his army cut off the noses and lips of all the people of Kirtipur.

Diplomatic relations

Prithivi Narayan Shah made great efforts to have good relations with different states in order to make his unification campaign a success. As a representative of his father, he had a pact with Lamjung, the old age enemy. Later he himself signed a treaty with the King of Lamjung through the efforts sought be Kalu Pandey. Relations with the Malla Kingdoms was also important. Prithivi signed separate treaties with Kantipur and Bhaktapur, as follows:

  1. to circulate the currency of each state in both states.
  2. to carry on a joint trade with Tibet and share the income.
  3. to enjoy rights to depute a state representative to Tibet.
  4. to allow Kantipur to use the territory of Nuwakot for trade with Tibet.

Establishment of a united Kingdom of Nepal

After his conquest of the Kathmandu Valley, Prithvi Narayan Shah conquered other smaller territories south of the valley to keep other smaller fiefdoms near his Gurkha state out of the influence and control of British rule. After his kingdom spread from north to south, he made Kantipur the capital of expanded country which was known as Kingdom of Gorkha (Gorkha Samrajya). It was renamed as Kingdom of Nepal in 1930 by King Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah

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