Prithvi Narayan Shah: The Great Gorkha Emperor

When I was a young boy my father used to talk to me about various…

When I was a young boy my father used to talk to me about various historical events and what shaped our history. That gave me great insight about our history and taught me to ‘think’. History enables us to understand how the world worked then and how it works now.

Those conversations about military, religion or economy enabled me to contemplate on the experiences that unfolded in my life as I grew up. My father taught me that civilizations are not just about the wealth they create but are remembered for the acts of valour of countless soldiers,and the wisdom of its learned men. Knowledge and strength is what determines the rise and fall of any civilization.

One such great man from the Indian subcontinent was King Prithvi Narayan Shah, one of the great kings whose life could be a source of inspiration for young men across Nepal and India.

Born in Gorkha, Nepal, from a young age, Prithvi Narayan Shah took an interest in the affairs of his father’s state. He soon began taking keen interest in his father’s political plans. His father King Nara Bhupal Shah, was a devout Hindu.

It’s said at age 20, Prithvi Narayan Shah Set out on his mission to fullfill the dream of his father. Like Maharana Pratrap and Chhatrapati Shivaji, Prithvi Narayan Shah fought the enemy at an early age and had to earn his place in history through his own effort.Hedevoted his youth to fight for the country and defend its honour and glory.

Prithvi Narayan Shah entered the political stage at the most crucial point of history. The eighteenth century was the time when Hindus were engaged in a final phase of the epic war for liberation from the Muslim rule.

Peshwa Baji Rao I riding a horse

In 1751–52, the Ahamdiya treaty was signed between the Marathas and Mughals, when Balaji Bajirao was the Peshwa. This treaty gave the Marathas control over large parts of India from their capital at Pune and Mughal rule was restricted only to Delhi where they remained the nominal heads of Delhi.

Marathas were straining to expand their area of control towards the Northwest of India up to Afghanistan. By 1760 Maratha Hindu power had reached its zenith. The rule of Islamic invaders over the Indian sub continent was facing an existential crisis.

In 1757, Durrani Ahmad Shah,the ruler of Afghanistan received an appeal from Islamic cleric Shah Waliullah of Delhi to save the Muslim rule from coming to an end in India. Shah Waliullah, a devoted Wahabi, urged Durrani to invade India and confront the Hindu confederacy.

Apart from Durrani, the Mughals reached out to the Rohillas and Nawab of  Lucknow to assist them in driving out ‘infidel’ Hindu Maratha confederacy from Delhi and re-establish pure Islamic rule across the Indian subcontinent.

On 14 January 1761 in the third battle of Panipat, the Maratha army lost the battle which halted the imperial expansion of Hindu rule on the Indian sub continent. This was a turning point of our history. The Hindu Kingdoms of Himalaya were small principalities vulnerable to foreign Muslim invaders looking for plundering our land and destroying our temples.

Thus Prithvi Narayan Shah and his Hindu Gorkha warriors rose from the humble land of Gorkha to unite and build a kingdom that was never defeated by the Muslim rulers of India.

Neither were the British able to colonize the land of Nepal nor has China been able expand its territorial ambition on to Nepal at any point of time.

Prithvi Narayan Shah’s dream was to win Nuwakot first, partially because his father had earlier lost the battle for Nuwakot and secondly it was strategic to establish his control over the Himalayan principalities.

At the age of twenty, King Prithvi Narayan Shah’s reign began with an immediate militaristic defeat; his invasion of Nuwakot in 1743 CE failed, but he never gave up. He successfully conquered Nuwakot in a subsequent attack in 1744 CE. He never looked back after this.

Prithvi Narayan Shah also occupied the Kuti Pass in 1756 CE, stopping the pass’s trade and communication with Tibet. Prithvi Narayan Shah ended relations with the Mughals in India which was at war with the Hindus. Prithvi Narayan Shah’s imperial policy of no compromise with Muslim invaders found resonance in the policy of Nepal till the end of monarchy in 2008.

Prithivi Narayan Shah was convinced that British forces would slowly approach Nepal. He therefore believed that 50 small principalities would very easily be conquered by the British as part of a plan to colonize Nepal.

And so, the unification campaign, which he began, was very ambitious, especially as he was the King of a small kingdom. King Prithivi Narayan Shah was able to successfully unify Nepal and a unified Nepal made it difficult for the British colonial forces to colonize Nepal. Prithvi Nārāyaṇ sealed his border and maintained peaceful but distant relations with the British, refusing to trade with them.

As a king, Prithvi Narayan Shah valued his people and Hindu culture. His brave Gorkhas did not just forge a kingdom but saved the Vedic culture from the onslaught of Muslim invaders and later from British colonial forces.

He laid the foundation for world’s only Hindu Nation state, a nation that would play a vital role in the First World War and the World War II and a Nation that will remain independent in a world were very few nations would be free from the hands of colonizing powers.

The Gorkha Military came to be known as a great fighting force, and Gorkhas played a significant role in various military operations. The Nepal army is one of the few professional forces in Asia. Like the Indian Army, honour, courage and character define them. It is said that the history of Nepal is the history of its Army and the foundation of this great army was laid by king Prithvi Narayan Shah.

Prithvi Nārāyaṇ Shah died at early age of 52.

Upon his death, he was succeeded by his son, Pratāp Singh Shah. Like Chanakya, King Prithivi Narayan Shah had laid out his ideas on imperial policy in his Divya Upadesh. He laid out nine principles, many of which are unknown or abstruse now.

Prithvi Narayan Shah said that “Nepal is a small yam between two stones.” This indicates Nepal’s location between the large powers of China and the then Muslim-ruled India at that time. His advice is relevant even in today’s geopolitical context for the strategic policymakers of Nepal and India.

For today’s youth it’s very important to remember who we are and where have we come from, our common history and our Vedic culture, traditions and our values. We should remember each sacrifice our forefathers made to get us our rightful place in the world.

The legacy of legendary kings like Prithvi Narayan Shah, Jung Bahadur Rana, Maharana Pratrap, Chhatrapati Shivaji and Peshwas should never be forgotten by our youth. Our sages and soldiers devoted their life to protect our Vedic civilization for us. Now it’s our responsibility to preserve it for the future generations.

The youth of Nepal and India need to work together for a strong and prosperous Nepal and India.There are forces who are working to create discontent and disharmony among our people. We need to recognize that and shouldn’t play in to their hand.

Let me end with a quote from the poem Horatius To every man upon this earth Death cometh soon or late. And how can man die better than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods”.