Shah Dynasty

Introduction to Shah Dynasty

Shah Dynasty was the last ruling Dynasty of Nepal. They ruled Nepal from 1769 A.D. to 2008 A.D. The Shah modernized Nepal and brought radical changes in the Political Landscape of Nepal. Nepal transitioned from a Traditional Aristocratic Nation to a Modern Democratic Constitutional Monarchy. The Unification of Nepal, the Rise of the Rana Regime, the People’s Movement, and the Transition to Constitutional Monarchy were the major Political Events of the Shah Dynasty.

Rise and Origin of the Shah Dynasty in Nepal

The Shah Dynasty was the most dominant dynasty of modern Nepal, ruling for more than 200 years. Its origin is said to have been in India itself, as a branch of the Rajput Dynasty of the Chittaud Kingdom in India. After a conflict with the Muslim Emperor, one of them was killed, but the youngest, Mamtha Ranaji Rao’s son, Bhupal Ranaji Rao, arrived at Bhirkot and unified the surrounding areas.

The youngest son of Bhupalji, Michha Khan, reigned over Nuwakot. After seven generations, King Kulmandan Khan, a descendant of Michha Khan, sent his son Yasobikram Shah to Lamjung following the assassination of his eldest son. Yasobikram Shah became the King of Lamjung, while his eldest son, Narahari Shah, ruled Lamjung, and his younger son, Drabya Shah, sought to become a king. With the assistance of aristocratic families from Gorkha, he was able to conquer the Kingdom of Ligligkot.

After a second attempt, he managed to kill the Khadka King of Gorkha, ultimately becoming the King of Gorkha himself in 1559 A.D. In this manner, the Ranajis of Chittaud, Rajasthan adopted, survived, and defeated to become the King of Gorkha by 1559 A.D., changing the course of history itself.

Important Shah Kings of Gorkha

Ram Shah

Ram Shah, ruling Gorkha from 1606 A.D. to 1633 A.D., is one of the greatest kings of Gorkha. He was the son of King Purna Shah and the Brother of Chatra Shah. Known for his legal, judicial, economic, and administrative progress and reforms in Gorkha, he was also famous for the acclaimed “26 Thithi’s.” He was a just and benevolent king with a vision for a Greater Gorkha. Additionally, he was a scholarly and educated king who expanded Gorkha to include lands such as Barpak, Khari, and Salyankot. Ram Shah engaged in several wars with Lamjung and Palpa and maintained excellent relations with Bhaktapur and Patan.

Ram Shah brought changes to the royal administration, introducing posts such as Khajanchi, Kapardar, and Chautariya. He established Cha Thar Ghar (Pande, Panth, Aryal, Khanal, Rana, and Bohara) and implemented economic reforms by standardizing various measurement systems. Laws on money lending and land ownership were also introduced, and trade and commerce were highly regulated during his reign. Judicial reforms were prioritized, ensuring public hearings, witness and evidence proceedings, prosecution transparency, etc.

Ram Shah also introduced religious and social reforms in Nepal, establishing several temples and statues. Environmental laws and regulations on social usage were prevalent during his reign.

King Prithvi Narayan Shah

Prithvi Narayan Shah, the founder of modern Nepal, was born in 1723 A.D. He exhibited kingly qualities such as bravery, wisdom, courage, and leadership, cementing himself as a legitimate king. He was nearly married to Indra Kumari of the Kingdom of Makwanpur but eventually married Narendra Rajya Laxmi from Kasi. In 1741 A.D., he visited Bhaktapur and returned to Gorkha after the death of his father, Narbhupal Shah, in 1742 A.D., and was crowned king at the age of 20.

Prithvi Narayan Shah was a great military strategist who identified the external threats facing Gorkha and desired to unify the various small kingdoms of Nepal under one rule. After two failed attempts, he managed to conquer Nuwakot in 1744 A.D. by disguising themselves as farmers. In 1762 A.D., he mobilized his army to defeat the Sen Kingdom of Makwanpur, successfully conquering it. He also attacked Kirtipur three times, eventually defeating it after a 6-month blockade.

He defeated Kathmandu and Patan in 1768 A.D. and Bhadgaon in 1769 A.D. While he failed to significantly conquer Western Nepal, he managed to defeat the Eastern Kingdoms of Vijayapur and Pallo Limbuwan before his death.

Prithvi Narayan Shah‘s greatest contribution was the unification of Nepal. He also pronounced the Dibya Upadesh, which acted as guidance for Nepal’s foreign policy, patriotism, culture, nationalism, economy, and much more. Justice and law were highly prioritized by Prithvi Narayan Shah, who believed that Nepal should adapt a balanced foreign policy and ban foreign traders from the country.

Important Shah Kings of Nepal

Tribhuvan Bikram Shah

Tribhuvan Bikram Shah was the first democratic King of Nepal, ruling from 1911 A.D. to 1953 A.D. He ascended to the throne at the age of five and passed away in 1953 A.D. Known as the Father of Nepal, he played a crucial role in ending the Rana Regime and establishing democracy in the country.

Tribhuvan Bikram Shah made multiple attempts to oust the Ranas and covertly supported various democratic parties in Nepal. At one point, he planned to leave for Palpa to initiate a democratic revolution, but due to India’s intervention, he sought refuge there until an agreement was reached with Mohan Shumsher to end the Rana Regime.

He promulgated the Nepal Government Interim Act, 1951 A.D., and the Delhi Accord was completed with his and India’s consent. Additionally, he introduced multiple political and civil rights in Nepal and adopted the Indian system of governance through the legislature, executive, and judiciary.

Mahendra Bikram Shah

Mahendra Bikram Shah, the eldest son of King Tribhuvan and Queen Kanti Rajya Laxmi, was born in 1920 A.D. He ruled Nepal from 1955 A.D. until his untimely death in 1972 A.D. Often considered one of the greatest kings of Nepal, he made vast contributions in various areas such as policy, education, politics, administration, culture, and more.

In 1960 A.D., Mahendra conducted a royal coup and gained de facto control over Nepal. He promoted nationalism by advocating the policy of “One Desh, One Vesh, and One Raja” (One Nation, One Dress, and One King) and adhered to the principles of Panchasheel while adopting a non-aligned foreign policy. He prohibited foreigners from purchasing land in Nepal and made the Nepali language the official language.

Mahendra focused on numerous development activities and brought significant progress to Nepal’s infrastructure. He established various government-run corporations and institutions related to agriculture and forests. He also conducted tourism reforms, improved political and social reforms, and divided the country into 14 administrative zones and 75 districts. Mahendra introduced the Muluki Ain in 2020 A.D. to bring and promulgate new laws in Nepal, among other reforms and developments.

Birendra Bikram Shah

Birendra Bikram Shah, born in 1945 A.D., ruled as the King of Nepal from 1972 A.D. to 2001 A.D. He is one of the most adored kings of the Shah Dynasty. Birendra further streamlined Nepal’s administrative system and was renowned for his initiatives in foreign policy. He declared Nepal as a Zone of Peace and transformed it into a constitutional monarchy.

Birendra introduced policies aimed at connecting rural areas with airports and building roads, leading to the construction of several airports in Nepal. He also focused on promoting agriculture, resulting in an increase in agricultural lands and workforce.

Politically, he held a referendum in 2037 A.D. to choose between multi-party democracy or the Panchayat System. Despite the People’s Movement I, he accepted constitutional monarchy in Nepal and preferred the path of non-violence. Socially, Birendra ensured continuity in the education system and aimed to preserve Nepali culture. He also strengthened Nepal’s diplomatic relations with foreign nations and established several national parks and protected areas.

Important Rana Prime Ministers of Nepal

Jung Bahadur Rana

Jung Bahadur Rana was born in 1817 A.D. and was bestowed with the title of Rana, becoming the reigning Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief. His rise to power was primarily after the Kot Parva, Bhandarkhal Parva, and Alau Parva incidents. During the Kot Parva, the Pandey families were killed. In the Bhandarkhal Parva, also known as the Basnet Festival, the Basnet family was executed after the plot of the Queen was discovered.

Then, during the Alau Parva, the self-exiled Rajendra Bikram Shah was captured. After these events, Jung Bahadur received the Lalmohar’s title twice in 1849 A.D., 1856 A.D., and 1857 A.D. He also visited Britain in 1850 A.D. and returned in 1851 A.D.

Jung Bahadur played an integral role in structuring Nepal after its unification. First, he published the Muluki Ain in 1853 A.D., which acted as the unified law of the country. It covered various aspects of Nepalese law based on Hindu Dharmashastras. He modernized the administration of Nepal and aimed to stop the practice of Sati, reduce gambling, abolish slavery, and regulate labor.

He also promoted English education and reformed the marriage customs of Nepal. Moreover, he brought reforms in the health and postal service of Nepal, taking the first steps towards modernization by introducing various departments and posts within the country.

Bir Shumsher

Bir Shumsher, born in 1852 A.D., was the eldest son of Dhir Shumsher. He served as the Prime Minister of Nepal from 1885 A.D. to 1901 A.D. After the 42 Saal Parva, the sons of Dhir Shumsher assassinated Ranoddip Singh and their cousin, Jagat Jung Rana, the son of Jung Bahadur. Bir Shumsher is famous for constructing the Singha Durbar and developing some roads and bridges.

He introduced administrative progress in Nepal by creating the first police force and establishing the Court of Final Appeal. The Bir Hospital, one of the most popular hospitals in Nepal, was also built during his tenure. Additionally, he implemented social, economic, and other reforms that solidified his importance as a Prime Minister during the Rana Regime.

Chandra Shumsher

Chandra Shumsher served as the Rana Prime Minister of Nepal from 1901 A.D. to 1929 A.D. He was credited with various reforms within Nepal, including the abolition of slavery and conducting a treaty with Britain that recognized Nepal as independent. He also abolished the Sati system and the slavery system, compensating for the loss of slaves to their owners and preventing slavery entirely.

Chandra Shumsher was known for his significant administrative reforms. He established new addas and khanas to fulfill his desires, such as the Khadga Nissan Adda, Shresta Kaushal Adda, and Bijjli Goshwara Adda to meet the demands of the Kathmandu Valley. He replaced Taksar and Dhansar and established the Bhardari Court as the final appellate court. Later, the Bintipatra Niksari Adda was formed as well.

Though not to a large extent, Chandra Shumsher opened nearly 10 schools in Nepal and encouraged students to pursue bachelor’s and master’s degrees. His several reforms cemented him as one of the greatest Rana Prime Ministers of Nepal.

Important Political Events in Nepal

Bhardari Politics

After the death of Prithvi Narayan Shah, the Nepalese aristocracy remained divided until the rise of Jung Bahadur. Three major families played significant roles in Bhardari Politics: the Pande Family, Thapa Family, and the Basnet Family. The Poudyal Family and other minor families, such as Kunwars, also meddled in Nepalese politics during the reign of the Shah Kings.

Ultimately, Bhimsen Thapa secured his authority for nearly 30 years through the First Bhandarkhal Parva. However, after him, much instability arose, culminating in the Kot Parva and the rise of Jung Bahadur. With the advent of democracy, political parties dominated Nepal, and Bhardari Politics significantly decreased.

Rise of Ranas: Five Parvas

The Ranas, initially known as Kunwars, came to power through five important Parvas in Nepal. The Kot Parva, the first of the five, occurred due to the death of Gagan Singh Khawas, a confidante of the Queen. In the subsequent assembly, Jung Bahadur, his brothers, and guards killed Prime Minister Phatte Jung Shah and most of the Pande family, along with more than 30 important courtiers. Jung Bahadur was then made Commander-in-Chief and later Prime Minister of Nepal.

The Queen proposed a plan to remove Surendra from the position of Crown Prince and replace him with Jung Bahadur. Jung Bahadur refused the proposal, which led the Queen to plot his assassination. However, Jung Bahadur discovered the conspiracy and killed most of the Basnet family, who were involved in the plot.

Jung Bahadur informed King Rajendra about the events, resulting in the Queen’s exile. Rajendra also accompanied her on a pilgrimage but was incited by his supporters to wage a battle against Jung Bahadur. Jung Bahadur gave an ultimatum for Rajendra to return, but his small army was defeated, and the ex-king was captured in an event known as Alau Parva.

Nearly three decades later, the sons of Jagat Jung conspired with the sons of Surendra to assassinate Prime Minister Ranoddip Singh. However, Dhir Shumsher learned of the conspiracy and removed Jagat Jung from the line of succession, while the other conspirators were sent to prison in India. This event, known as the 38 Saal Parva, removed the Jung family from power and established the Shumsher family as the heirs to the position of Prime Minister.

Four years later, under the leadership of Bir Shumsher, the Shumsher family assassinated Ranoddip Singh and Jagat Jung, establishing Bir Shumsher, the eldest son of Dhir Shumsher, in power. This event, known as the 42 Saal Parva, solidified the Shumsher family’s position as the de facto rulers of Nepal. They ruled as Prime Ministers for nearly seven decades until the Revolution of 51 and the abdication of Tribhuvan led to their immediate downfall.

Revolution of 51

The Revolution of 51 was a major cause that led to the end of the Rana regime. Led by the Nepali Congress under the command of Matrika Prasad Koirala, the revolution captured major places such as Biratnagar, Butwal, Birgunj, and almost all of the eastern regions of Nepal. This revolution prompted Mohan Shumsher, the last Rana Prime Minister, to negotiate with the Indian government and King Tribhuvan regarding his power and the Rana regime as a whole.

B.P. Koirala represented the revolutionaries during the negotiations in Delhi. The Revolution of 51 led to the establishment of Radio Nepal, Nepal Police, and other initiatives by the revolutionaries. It also introduced democracy in Nepal.

The Coup of 60

On Poush 1, 2017 B.S., King Mahendra invoked Article 55 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal, 1959 A.D., and conducted a coup. He declared the end of democratic institutions and political parties. On Poush 22, he announced Nepal’s transition into a Partyless-Panchayat System.

Numerous prominent political leaders were arrested, and the King established absolute rule, which lasted for 30 years. Meanwhile, the first elected government of Nepal under B.P. Koirala was still in operation. During this period, Nepal underwent significant advancements, transitioning from a traditional country to a modern nation.

People’s Movement-I

The People’s Movement First was launched by prominent political parties in Nepal to revolt against the Partyless-Panchayat System and establish a constitutional monarchy in the country. Following the 1980 A.D. referendum, which did not endorse a multiparty system, the Panchayat System was reformed, but political leaders remained dissatisfied.

Starting from 2046 B.S., the People’s Movement First took place for 49 days, with the aim to challenge King Birendra and the Panchayat System. Eventually, King Birendra conceded, and the Panchayat System came to an end. The Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal, 1990, was promulgated, and a constitutional monarchy was implemented, ensuring political and civil rights for citizens.

People’s Movement-II

The People’s Movement Second was initiated by political parties of Nepal against King Gyanendra. It was launched after the 12 Point Agreement united the parties with CPN Maoist. The political parties decided to campaign against King Gyanendra, who had assumed absolute power.

This movement lasted for a mere 19 days and resulted in Gyanendra conceding, promising to provide citizens with their rightful rights. The movement laid the foundation for declaring Nepal as a Federal Democratic Republic two years later and was instrumental in the creation of the Interim Constitution of Nepal, 2063, and the Constitution of Nepal, 2072.

Administration of the Shah Dynasty

The Administration of the Shah Dynasty, which spanned over 200 years, had its unique form that continuously evolved over time. The Aristocratic Court of Nepal transformed into a Democratic Multiparty System, progressing from an Absolute Monarchy to a Limited De-Jure Monarchy, and finally to a Constitutional Monarchy during these two centuries.

Nevertheless, the King was considered the divine authority and the true source of power. The King theoretically held absolute rights over every aspect of the state. After the King, Regents took charge, and as most Shah Kings were crowned at a young age, especially after the death of Pratap Singh Shah, Regents held considerable power.

Chautariya/Mukhtiyar/Prime Minister held one of the most important posts in the Administration of Nepal, if not the most important. They essentially controlled the King and the entire administration of Nepal. They had authority over the economy, finance, military matters, and various other aspects of the country.

The Prime Minister might have had Commander-In-Chief or Ministers under their command, and they were also considered highly powerful. However, they were obligated to obey the commands given by the King or the Prime Minister. Below the ministerial designations were rulers of local zones or administrative units.

This post included Kazi, Bada Hakim, CDO, and others, who had considerable control over their respective areas. Other lower government officers also existed, but their roles fluctuated over 200+ years. This was the primary structure of the administration of Nepal during the Shah Dynasty.

Shah Society and Economy

The society during the Shah Dynasty witnessed significant transformations, showing rare similarities and obvious differences. In the beginning, Nepal was a traditional Hindu society characterized by social cohesion and considerable isolation. Towards the end, it became a thriving tourist center and a soon-to-be cultural and development hub.

Traditional norms and values changed, with Western norms being slowly adopted, although traditional norms remained superior. The Nepali language became the official language after the rule of the Shah Dynasty, and the process of Nepalization occurred during this time. Nepal’s society modernized to a certain extent, and basic infrastructures saw significant development within these two centuries.

Citizens became more conscious and began exercising civil and political rights. The intellectual level of Nepal increased, with an openness to Western thinkers and a high priority on education and other reforms. Nepal’s unique culture slowly started to undergo changes after its contact with the British East India Company, leading to radical socio-economic, political, and various other changes.

Foreign Relations of Nepal during the Shah Dynasty

The Shah Kings always played an active role in shaping Nepal’s foreign policy. Prithvi Narayan Shah suggested adopting a neutral foreign policy, balancing relations between the Indian Subcontinent and China. Nepal fought several battles and wars against both Tibet and India. Later on, a British appeasement policy was applied after the rise of the Rana Regime. Nepal contributed troops to the First and Second World Wars.

After the end of the Rana Regime, B.P. Koirala took substantial steps to move away from India’s appeasement policy and started diplomatic relations with many countries. By the official end of the Shah Dynasty in 2008 A.D., Nepal had unofficial foreign relations with more than 100 countries worldwide. The last period of the Shah Dynasty saw increasing dependence on India for imports and other diplomatic channels.

Conclusion

The Shah Dynasty, which began by defeating the Malla Dynasty ended with Nepal being declared a Republic. It started with Bhardari Politics and Court Instability and ended with Political Parties and Political Instability. Various Constitutions were promulgated after the Rana Regime that institutionalized the Administration and Lehal System of Nepal as well.