You Are Here: Home - - History Writing In Nepal by Dr. Dinesh C.Regmi

The modern concept of history, however, does not limit itself to collecting facts and assembling them in a chronological order. The collection of materials is to be made from a quite reasonable and dependable source before a historian establishes a historical fact which is useful for the past of which he is writing. A modern historian uses reasonable facts along with logical interpretation. Understanding of the life and problems of the people in the past is the main objective of history.


The first account of Nepal’s past and contemporary politics and commercial potentialities was published in England by Colonel Kirkpatrick in 1811, who had headed a commercial (and political) mission of the British East India Company in 1792. His book included geography, mode of production, and military strategy that was badly needed to imperialists before they could take further action against a country, hitherto unknown.

Nepal, after the conquest of Kathmandu Valley by Gorkhalis in 1768-69, was in the process of political unification at that time. The Kingdom included whole of the eastern Terai, eastern and central inner Tarai in addition to the eastern hill region extending up to the Tista river and western hill region up to Jajarkot in 1775, when Prithvi Narayan Shah died. Its frontier reached as far as Kumaun across the Mahakali river in the west in 1790. Since his successors were either short-lived or weak or even infant, the State authority was vested on Regents who were engaged in palace intrigues. There was the British Residency in Kathmandu since 1791 to report the palace affairs, follow the orders of its superiors from India and to interfere in domestic affairs from time to time. These facts and events have been unilaterally interpreted in the Europeans’ works of the nineteenth century.

Both Nepal and the East India Company were expanding their territories in order to gain political and economic power. In 1808, the Gorkhali army had crossed the Jamuna river and reached Kangra where their common interests clashed. While fighting against the native rulers there Nepal had to face the force of the East India Company during 1814-16, just three years after the publication of Kirkpatrick’s work. Consequently, Nepal had to sign the Sagauli Treaty that led to the loss of the hot territory in the western Tarai that was subjugated earlier from the native rulers and to permit the British Residency to run in Kathmandu.

Nevertheless, the ruling elite tried but failed from time and again to expel the British Residency out of Nepal. The British attitude towards Nepal can well be understood by the reply of General Ochterlony that "You (Nepal) must take either a Resident or war" on to the complaint of the discourtesy shown to Nepali king by the Resident.

Kirkpatrick was followed by Francis Hamilton in 1819, two years after the Sugauli Treaty was signed. Since Nepal had already lost the western Tarai, Hamilton concentrated his account on the hill principalities such as the Baisi and Chaubisi in the west and the Sen principality in the east. Other prominent Western authors on Nepal of that century included Resident B. H. Hodgson (between1830 and l880), Assistant Resident H. A. Oldfield (1880) and Daniel Wright (1877). Their objectives of writing history based on their own observation and convenient interpretation especially for the contemporary period could be understood. The contributions made by these writers to developing the relations between Nepal and the East India Company which ultimately determined the course of history of Nepal during that period are quite obvious. As to the account of ancient past they initiated the practice of using the Vamshavalis, which persisted among the historians.

In India, a number of theses on Indian history were published by the British historians till the nineteenth century concluding that the Indians did not have a sense of nationality and political speculation. Indian scholars accepted all this as a challenge of the imperialist ideology and attempted to falsify that by writing history in the line of nationalist ideology. The publication of the Arthashastra of Kautalya in 1909 and the Hindu Polity by K. P. Jayaswal in l924 led this ideology to its zenith.

No wonder if the Indian scholars since the twentieth century had been expressing their own nationalistic views while referring to the history of such frontier states as Nepal. K. P. Jayaswal (1936), R.G. Basak (1934) R.C. Majumdar (between 1931 and 1959) and others were the Indian historians who commented on Nepali history particularly in its ancient phase without exploring the local material available to them. However, the only European historian of the time (l905-8) was Sylvain Levi who explored materials also from Tibet and interpreted that it was not India but Tibet which exerted political influences on Nepal from time to time in ancient period.

The Nepalis came forward to write their own history only after 1951. This was undoubtedly a remarkable time for the discovery of source materials, including inscriptions and documents of different historical periods. The Itihas Samshodhan Mandal not only made attempts to interpret original source materials but also pinpointed errors committed by former history writers in date, names and personal relationship.

In spite of all this, predilection for national pride and glory of the past reflects on various history books by Nepali writers. They still use the medieval Vamshavalis in order to show the antiquity of Indo-Aryan culture in Kathmandu Valley. One wonders how an archaeologist reacts if a noted historian claims to write an "authentic history of the pre-and proto historic period"...even in the absence of archaeological exploration by taking help ‘of Vamsavali’ and declares: "when epigraphy fails, Vamsavali prevails in Nepal." There is no evidence that there existed any oral literature that might have been transmitted from generation to generation in Nepal. In fact, one does not find any material culture or dependable primary evidence of the period prior to the fifth century AD.


However, a few publications since 1970s have shown a commendable change in the trend of history writing in Nepal. These include collections of ancient inscriptions and medieval documents with valuable comments, and some volumes of economic, social and paleographic history. Let us hope that the new approach to the history must continue.



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