“I had been for several years a traveller in the Himalaya, before I could get rid of that tyranny of the senses, which so strongly impresses almost all beholders of this stupendous scenery with the conviction that the mighty maze is quite without a plan”
So…here I am, three weeks into a part time Masters in South Asian area studies at SOAS, and it seems (at the moment at least!) a good idea to try and combine my photos with some of the material I’m beginning to (un)cover about Nepal. Starting with a bit of background….and stuff I’ve been writing.
But first a disclaimer: None of what follows is a ‘right’ or definitive account. It is simply a distillation of what I have read or written to date in relation to my course. Clearly despite my two years of living in Nepal, the academic journey I am on is beginning at ‘ground zero’. It’s therefore a work in progress….with gaps!
The historical lineage of present day Nepal is marked by the movement and migration of different cultures into the area. Over the centuries Tibeto-Burman ethnic groups such as Limbu and Gurung from across the Himalayan region, and Bahun and Chhetri from the west served to ensure that different communities, each with its own language, religion and culture, settled in different parts of Nepal. Thus a culture heavily influenced by Indian Hinduism from the south and Tibetan Buddhism from the north nevertheless provided the basis for a Nepali social structure that was traditional in nature.
Academics make the case for a national caste system legitimising a separate political identity for Nepal, as territorial unification in 1789 required the bringing together of a society comprising of three culturally distinct caste hierarchies; culturally distinct Tibeto-Burman peoples and people of Tibetan ethnicity on the northern border. It may be argued that such a national caste system contributed to Nepal’s unification and the creation of a coherent legal framework which enabled accommodation of disparate non-Hindu groups within a system which still ensured the cultural dominance of Hindu groups. To this end state policies have influenced ethnicity within Nepal, as different groups have chosen to identify with particular ethnicities in order to secure economic advantage or enhanced status.
The commonly held view is that the notion of a nation-state of Nepal began to emerge from the mid 18th Century as a result of the activities of Prithvi Narayan Shah, ruler of the Kingdom of Gorkha. From 1742, the time of Prithvi Narayan’s accession to the throne, until 1814 the Shah dynasty by marriage, diplomacy, and conquest succeeded in annexing to Gorkha a number of surrounding kingdoms.
At the turn of the nineteenth century three different indigenous concepts were central to the Nepalese understanding of their polity. These were the possessions (muluk) of the king, the realm (desa), and the countries (also desa or des) of a people. Each of these concepts specified a different relationship between ruler, land, and people, and each was legitimated with reference to a different kind of authority: proprietary, ritual, or ancestral. When the East India Company gained politico-economic control of the Ganges basin, the Nepalese found that they had to accommodate themselves to a powerful neighbor with alien views on the structure and boundary of the polity. In order to preserve its political autonomy on the subcontinent, the Nepalese government began to reconceive the nature of its polity from a foreign point of view.
To be continued….