Neolithic tools found in the Kathmandu Valley indicate that people have been living in the Himalayan region for at least eleven thousand years. The oldest population layer is believed to be represented by the Kusunda people. Which, according to Hogdson in 1847, were the earliest inhabitants and probably of proto-Australoid origin.
Nepal is first mentioned in the late Vedic Atharvaveda Pariśiṣṭa as a place exporting blankets and in the post-Vedic Atharvashirsha Upanishad. In Samudragupta's Allahabad Pillar it is mentioned as a bordering country. The Skanda Purana has a separate chapter known as "Nepal Mahatmya" that explains in more details about the beauty and power of Nepal. Nepal is also mentioned in Hindu texts such as the Narayana Puja.
Tibeto-Burman-speaking people probably lived in Nepal 2500 years ago. However, there is no archaeologic evidence of the Gopal Bansa or Kirati rulers, only mention by the later Licchavi and Malla eras. The first inhabitants of Nepal were properly of Dravidian origin whose history predates the onset of the Bronze Age in South Asia (around 3300 BCE), before the coming of other ethnic groups like the Tibeto-Burmans and Indo-Aryans from across the border.
Around 500 BCE, small kingdoms and confederations of clans arose in the southern regions of Nepal. From one of these, the Shakya polity, arose a prince who later renounced his status to lead an ascetic life, founded Buddhism, and came to be known as Gautama Buddha (traditionally dated 563–483 BCE).
By 250 BCE, the southern regions came under the influence of the Maurya Empire of North India and parts of Nepal later on became a nominal vassal state under the Gupta Empire in the fourth century CE. Beginning in the third century CE, the Licchavi Kingdom governed the Kathmandu Valley and the region surrounding central Nepal.
There is a quite detailed description of the kingdom of Nepal in the account of the renowned Chinese Buddhist pilgrim monk Xuanzang, dating from c. 645 CE. Stone inscriptions in the Kathmandu Valley are important sources for the history of Nepal.
The Licchavi dynasty went into decline in the late eighth century, probably due to the Tibetan Empire, and was followed by a Newar or Thakuri era, from 879 CE (Nepal Sambat 1), although the extent of their control over the present-day country is uncertain. In the eleventh century it seems to have included the Pokhara area. By the late eleventh century, southern Nepal came under the influence of the Chalukya dynasty of South India. Under the Chalukyas, Nepal's religious establishment changed as the kings patronised Hinduism instead of the Buddhism prevailing at that time.
Tara, ca. 13th century, Nepal, Walters Art Museum
Basantpur royal complex
In the early 12th century, leaders emerged in far western Nepal whose names ended with the Sanskrit suffix malla ("wrestler"). These kings consolidated their power and ruled over the next 200 years, until the kingdom splintered into two dozen petty states. Another Malla dynasty beginning with Jayasthiti emerged in the Kathmandu valley in the late 14th century, and much of central Nepal again came under a unified rule. In 1482 the realm was divided into three kingdoms: Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur.
Kingdom of Nepal (1768–2008)
Main article: Kingdom of Nepal
King Tribhuvan giving an audience to British general Claude Auchinleck at the royal palace in Kathmandu, 1945
Elvis Presley with King Mahendra and Queen Ratna of Nepal in 1960
Prime Minister of Israel David Ben Gurion and Prime Minister of Nepal B. P. Koirala
In the mid-18th century, Prithvi Narayan Shah, a Gorkha king, set out to put together what would become present-day Nepal. He embarked on his mission by securing the neutrality of the bordering mountain kingdoms. After several bloody battles and sieges, notably the Battle of Kirtipur, he managed to conquer the Kathmandu Valley in 1769. A detailed account of Prithvi Narayan Shah's victory was written by Father Giuseppe, an eyewitness to the war
The Gorkha dominion reached its height when the North Indian territories of the Kumaon and Garhwal Kingdoms in the west to Sikkim in the east came under Nepal rule. At its maximum extent, Greater Nepal extended from the Teesta River in the east, to Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, across the Sutlej in the west as well as further south into the Terai plains and north of the Himalayas than at present. A dispute with Tibet over the control of mountain passes and inner Tingri valleys of Tibet forced the Qing Emperor of China to start the Sino-Nepali War compelling the Nepali to retreat and pay heavy reparations to Peking.
Rivalry between Kingdom of Nepal and the East India Company over the annexation of minor states bordering Nepal eventually led to the Anglo-Nepali War (1815–16). At first the British underestimated the Nepali and were soundly defeated until committing more military resources than they had anticipated needing. They were greatly impressed by the valour and competence of their adversaries. Thus began the reputation of Gurkhas as fierce and ruthless soldiers. The war ended in the Sugauli Treaty, under which Nepal ceded recently captured portions of Sikkim and lands in Terai as well as the right to recruit soldiers. Madhesis, having supported the East India Company during the war, had their lands gifted to Nepali.
Factionalism inside the royal family led to a period of instability. In 1846 a plot was discovered revealing that the reigning queen had planned to overthrow Jung Bahadur Kunwar, a fast-rising military leader. This led to the Kot massacre; armed clashes between military personnel and administrators loyal to the queen led to the execution of several hundred princes and chieftains around the country. Jung Bahadur Kunwar emerged victorious and founded the Rana dynasty, later known as Jung Bahadur Rana. The king was made a titular figure, and the post of Prime Minister was made powerful and hereditary. The Ranas were staunchly pro-British and assisted them during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (and later in both World Wars). Some parts of the Terai region populated with non-Nepali peoples were gifted to Nepal by the British as a friendly gesture because of her military help to sustain British control in India during the rebellion. In 1923, the United Kingdom and Nepal formally signed an agreement of friendship that superseded the Sugauli Treaty of 1816.
Slavery was abolished in Nepal in 1924. Nevertheless, debt bondage even involving debtors' children has been a persistent social problem in the Terai. Rana rule was marked by tyranny, debauchery, economic exploitation and religious persecution.
In the late 1940s, newly emerging pro-democracy movements and political parties in Nepal were critical of the Rana autocracy. Meanwhile, with the invasion of Tibet by China in the 1950s, India sought to counterbalance the perceived military threat from its northern neighbour by taking pre-emptive steps to assert more influence in Nepal. India sponsored both King Tribhuvan (ruled 1911–55) as Nepal's new ruler in 1951 and a new government, mostly comprising the Nepali Congress, thus terminating Rana hegemony in the kingdom.
After years of power wrangling between the king and the government, King Mahendra (ruled 1955–72) scrapped the democratic experiment in 1959, and a "partyless" Panchayat system was made to govern Nepal until 1989, when the "Jan Andolan" (People's Movement) forced King Birendra (ruled 1972–2001) to accept constitutional reforms and to establish a multiparty parliament that took seat in May 1991. In 1991–92, Bhutan expelled roughly 100,000 Bhutanese citizens of Nepali descent, most of whom have been living in seven refugee camps in eastern Nepal ever since.
In 1996, the Communist Party of Nepal started a violent bid to replace the royal parliamentary system with a people's republic. This led to the long Nepali Civil War and more than 12,000 deaths.
On 1 June 2001, there was a massacre in the royal palace. King Birendra, Queen Aishwarya and seven other members of the royal family were killed. The alleged perpetrator was Crown Prince Dipendra, who allegedly committed suicide (he died three days later) shortly thereafter. This outburst was alleged to have been Dipendra's response to his parents' refusal to accept his choice of wife. Nevertheless, there is speculation and doubts among Nepali citizens about who was responsible.
Following the carnage, King Birendra's brother Gyanendra inherited the throne. On 1 February 2005, King Gyanendra dismissed the entire government and assumed full executive powers to quash the violent Maoist movement, but this initiative was unsuccessful because a stalemate had developed in which the Maoists were firmly entrenched in large expanses of countryside but could not yet dislodge the military from numerous towns and the largest cities. In September 2005, the Maoists declared a three-month unilateral ceasefire to negotiate.
In response to the 2006 democracy movement, King Gyanendra agreed to relinquish sovereign power to the people. On 24 April 2006 the dissolved House of Representatives was reinstated. Using its newly acquired sovereign authority, on 18 May 2006 the House of Representatives unanimously voted to curtail the power of the king and declared Nepal a secular state, ending its time-honoured official status as a Hindu Kingdom. On 28 December 2007, a bill was passed in parliament to amend Article 159 of the constitution – replacing "Provisions regarding the King" by "Provisions of the Head of the State" – declaring Nepal a federal republic, and thereby abolishing the monarchy. The bill came into force on 28 May 2008.