Gorkha State: The Making of Modern Nepal

The making of modern Nepal begins with the story of founding of the Gorkha state. The Gorkha story begins in 1559 with a prince named Dravya Shah. He was the second son of a nearby kingdom and established a small area in the rugged hills, calling it “Gorkha”. Over time, Gorkha slowly expanded by taking over nearby lands and making alliances.

In 1743, a young king named Prithvi Narayan Shah came into the picture. He had big plans for his kingdom. He targeted the wealthy Kathmandu Valley, which was divided into many smaller kingdoms. Through clever tactics and strong military campaigns, he conquered each kingdom one by one. But unlike previous conquerors, King Prithvi didn’t just take over lands. He appreciated their culture and, in a bold move, moved his capital to Kathmandu in 1769. This marked the birth of Nepal from the Gorkha state.

Prithvinarayan Shah Gorkha State - King of Nepal
Statute of King Prithvinarayan Shah || Image credit: District Coordination Committee Office, Gorkha

Although Nepal was founded through conquest, it thrived under Prithvi’s idea of unity and making smart alliances. The Gorkha legacy lives on not only in Nepal’s name but also in its resilience and the ambition of its founding king.

The Shah Dynasty in Gorkha State – An Overview:

Though different genealogies have described the ancient history of the Shah Dynasty in different ways on the basis of the Gorkha royal Dynasty, it is understood to have relationships with the Sisaudiya Rajputs of Chittaude, India as different evidences are available to this date. Following the fall of Chittaude to the Muslim attack, the rulers of Chittaude also fled to here and there. Some years later, following the fall of Chittor, Bhupal of this royal dynasty is regarded to have settled first in Ridi of Nepal, and later in Bhirkot.

These two sons of Bhupal: Hariharsimha and Ajayasimha established their independent States in the mountain area for the first time since arriving here. These two brothers assumed an honorary title akin to the titles assumed by the then rulers of Indian States. They were also known by the name, Khanchakhan and Michakhan in history. In the Dynasty of last Ajayasimgh were Vichitrakhan, Kulmandal and the like.

The information on assumption of the title by Kulmandal from Bahadur Shah of Delhi is mentioned in the genealogy. As such this royal dynasty is believed to have used the title Shah with their name from the time of Kulmandan. Since the throne of Lumjung had remained vacant during the time of Kulmandan Shah, his son Yashobramha Shaha was enthroned as the King of Lumjung. Yashobramha Shah had two sons, the eldest being Narahari Shah and the youngest DrabyaShah.

The younger son of Yasobramha Shah, Drabya Shah, conquered Gorkha and established his State. Though the State of Gorkha belonged to the group of 24 States, it has its own existence and importance. Initially, the Khadkas ruled over Gorkha. Gorkha developed as the Shah Dynasty State after Drabya Shah, the son of the Lamjung King, Yasobramha Shah, acceded to the Gorkha throne in 1616 BS (1559 AD).

The Founding of the Gorkha State:

Drabya Shah came into contact with the Gorkhali people in a situation when the elite of Gorkha were angered by the racial discrimination, suppression and religious license of the Khandka King, who had been ruling Gorkha before the establishment of the Shah dynasty, and wanted to depose the Khadkas and make a very competent person King of Gorkha.

Impressed by the brilliant personality of Drabya Shah, the people of Gorkha made preparations to make him the King. During that time, the Magars with the surname “Ghale” were reigning over a place called Lig- Lig. There, it was customary to crown the person who would come first in a race held each year on the occasion of Vijaya Dashami. While Drabya Shah was present to observe the race, he made sudden attack and established ascendancy over the State. Immediately after achieving success over Lig-Lig, Drabya Shah attacked Gorkha but the people of Gorkha strongly opposed him.

Drabya Shah was forced to retreat to Lig-Lig having failed to win the war even after 15 days of attempt. Since Drabya Shah was a highly ambitious person, the first defeat could not suppress his enthusiasm. Persons like Bhagiratha pant, Ganesh Pandey, Sarbeswor Khanal, Gangaram Rana, Gajaman Bhattarai, Keshav Bohra, Murali Khawas were encouraging his enthusiasm.

Drabya Shah’s soldiers along with the Thapas, Bhusals, Maskeys, and Ranas attacked the palace of Gorkha King putting it under seize by surrounding it. After the Khadka King met this death at the hands of Drabya Shah, Drabya Shah became the King of Gorkha on 25th Bhadra 1616 BS.

The Kings before Prithvinarayan Shah:

Gorkha State in Nepal

Events During Nepal’s Unification Campaign:

Following the ascension to the throne by the Khetriya King Drabya Shah, the son of Yasobramha Shah of Lamjung, Gorkha evolved as the State of the Shah dynasty. Since Gorkha had become more powerful and organized than the Sen States of the east, Malla States of Kathmandu, the 22 States and 24 States, after the founding of Gorkha State, it conducted the unification campaign successfully.

Even though some States were more powerful than the Gorkhas, they had been enmeshed in the Medieval politics of entering into alliances with other states Gorkha had been indulging in diplomatic maneuvers (stratagems) since the beginning. Glorious Kings like Drabya Shah, Ram Shah, Narbhupal Shah and Prithvi Narayan Shah ruled over Gorkha. Though the attempts at Nepal’s unification had been made in the Medieval Nepal, it was concluded only after the inception of modern Nepal.

Friendly Relations Established Between Lamjung and Bhaktapur:

Before attacking the Kathmandu Valley, Prithvinarayan Shah signed a friendship treaty with Lamjung. The Treaty that was signed in 1740 AD prescribed non-aggression between one another, and to fight unitedely against any country that attacked them. It was due to the success of Prithvi Narayan Shah to conduct friendship treaty with neighboring enemy States that the plan for invading the Valley moved very well.

Likewise, Prithvi Narayan Shah established friendly relations with another neighbor in 1741AD by keeping close intimacy with Virnarsimha Malla, the son of Bhaktapur’s King Ranajeet Malla.

The Attack on Nuwakot and Victory:

Prithvinarayan Shah attacked Nuwakot in 1743 AD. At that time, Nuwakot was under Jayaprakash Malla, the King of Kathmandu, and it was due to the better and more modern weapons of Nuwakot that attack by Prithvi Narayana Shah on Nuwakot was foiled.

Nuwakot Palace Gorkha State
Nuwakot Palace || Photo Credit: Dipak Koirala

For the second time on 25 September 1744 AD, the Gorkha soldiers crossed over the Trishuli river early in the morning, and attacked Nuwakot’s highest point, Mahamandal from two sides and brought Nuwakot under control. In course of this, Prithvi Narayan Shah also won over Belkot.

Attempt to Embargo the Kathmandu Valley:

Instead of attempting a direct attack on Valley, efforts were made to surround it from all sides. In course of this, Gorkha had to fight with the States of Kathmandu Valley and Lamjung. After the plan of Prithvinarayan Shah to impose an embargo on Kathmandu Valley from the north-west and south almost succeeded, it was necessary to place an embargo from the east of Valley as well.

In course of this, Haribamsa Upadhayay, Kalidas Khadka and Ramkrisna Kunwar attacked seven villages of Dhulikhel, Kadpu, Chaukot, Panauti, Banepa, Nala, Sanga and achieved victory on 23 October 1763. On 2 November 1763, Pharping came under Gorkha control without a battle. Kathmandu Valley was now surrounded on all sides. Prithvinarayan Shah surrounded Kathmandu Valley and totally banned the entry of salt, cotton, food grain and other goods into the Valley.

The Battle of Sihranchok Gadhi:

In May 1755 AD, the unified army of 24 States crossed over the Chepe river and attacked the Sihranchokgadhi in Gorkha. Under the leadership of Kalu Pandey, the Gorkha Army marched towards Sihranchok to resist the invaders. There was fierce fighting between the soldiers of two sides. The casualties on both sides were many. Finally, the victory was on Gorkha’s side.

The Treaty Between Kathmandu State and Gorkha State:

Though Kerung and Kuti, the mountain pass through which business with Tibet was done, had been under Gorkha’s control, Gorkha had not been able to take much advantage of trade with Tibet. It was necessary to have a treaty with Kathmandu in order to sow discord among the Kings of Kathmandu Valley. Therefore, a treaty with Kantipur was signed prescribing for the two countries to take advantage of trade with Tibet in 1758 AD.

The Victory over Makawanpur:

Gorkha made victory over Makawanpur in the night of 9th Bhadra 1819 BS. At that time, Allauddin Khijali, the Sultan of Delhi had attacked Chittaud of India. Finally, after accepting defeat, the Rajput Kings went into hiding in the Himalayan caves with their remaining troops.

Makwanpur Gadhi Sen State Fort
Makwanpur: The Gadhi Sen State Fort

Second Attack of 24 States:

The King of Makawanpur, Digbandhan Sen was kept under house arrest in Gorkha. While Kathmandu was put under economic embargo from four sides and people were in panic, the 24 States united themselves to wage a war against Gorkha. The unified army of 24 States attacked Harni, Bhirkot, Dhulakot, Deurali, which were under the control of Gorkha. The unified army of 24 States could not resist the counter attack made by the advancing army. They dispersed in panic leaving the battle field.

Victory over Kirtipur in Kathmandu Valley:

After the Gorkha army seized Pharping, Bode and Khokana, they attacked Kirtipur in 1757 AD. The Gorkha army had to face a bad defeat from the counter attack of Jayaprakash Malla and the people of Kirtipur. The commander, Kalu Pandey of the Gorkha army died in this battle.

The soldiers of the Gorkhas like Jeewan Thapa and Laata Khattri also died. It was very difficult to save the life of Prithvinarayan Shah. Following this war, Gorkha attacked Makawanpur on 9th Bhadra 1819. In the meantime, Prithvi Narayan Shah foiled the attack by the Muslim army of Gurjin Khan. This success enhanced the enthusiasm and spirit of his forces.

Kirtipur City Gorkha State
Kirtipur City as seen from Chobhar || Photo credit: Wikipedia

Some guns, artilleries; etc. of the defeated Muslim Army had come in their hands. On 4th Aswin 1821 BS, the Gorkha army attacked Kirtipur for the Second time under the command of Surpratap Shah. In this war, the eye of Surpratap Shah was damaged. Daljeet Shah was wounded and many Gorkha soldiers were killed. Those who survived reached Dahachok. On 3rd Chaitra 1822 BS, Gorkha made its surprise third attack on Kirtipur and won over it.

Victory over Kathmandu State:

After the victory over Kirtipur, Prithvi Narayan Shah made a plan to attack the Kathmandu State. The Gorkha army attacked Kathmandu Valley from three sides namely, Bimsensthan, Tundikhel, and Nardevi on Bhadrasukla Chaturdashi, Sunday (during Indra Jatra), 1825 BS, and won Over Kathmandu.

Kathmandu Valley
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Victory Over Lalitpur in Kathmandu Valley:

In the course of gaining victory over Lalitpur, Shreeharsha Pandey was sent to Patan as the messenger. Acting on the messages received through the messenger, the Pradhan (Chief Ruler) of Patan accepted the rule of Prithvi Narayan Shah and surrendered. Thus, the Gorkha State army attacked and captured Lalitpur on 6th October 1768.

Patan Durbar Square in Kathmandu Valley
Patan Durbar Square in Lalitpu, Kathmandu Valley || Photo Credit: unsplash.com

Victory Over Bhaktapur State in Kathmandu Valley:

After the Gorkha State captured Kathmandu and Lalitpur, the two Kings, Jayaprakash Malla and Tejnarsimha Malla went into the refuge of Ranjeet Malla, the King of Bhaktapur. Prithvi Narayan Shah asked the King of Bhaktapur to hand them over to him; saying that it would not be a humanitarian act to deal with a refugee who have come for life, Ranjeet Malla did not accept the request of Gorkha.

As a result, Gorkha army attacked Bhaktapur on the day of Kartikshukla Dwadasti in 1826 BS. Finally, the three Kings of the Valley surrendered.

Photo Credit: Paul Smit

Summarized texts from Government of Nepal official document.

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