According to Hindu belief , the history of the development of Nepalese civilization and culture can be traced back to the Age of truth. King Manu, who is said to be the first King of the world ruled Nepal in the Age of Truth (Satya Yuga) and Nepal was known as the Land of Truth (Satyawati). It was called the land of solitary meditation and penance (Tapovan) in the Silver Age (Treta Yuga). Similarly, Nepal was known as the ladder of slavation (Muktisopan) in the Copper Age (Dwapar Yuga); and it is known as 'Nepal' in the Iron Age, i.e., the present age of science and technology (Kali Yuga). The kings of the Solar dynasty ruled Nepal in the Age of Truth. They contributed much to the development of the Nepalese civilization and culture. The fact that we still follow the Solar Calendar in celebrating festivals and ceremonies testifies to the rule of the Solar Dynasty kings in our country.
The country, full of great forests, was the chosen place for sages like Kanwa, Biswamitra, Agastya, Valmiki, Yajnavalkya and others. King Dushyanta of India married Shakuntala, the adopted daughter of Kanwa Rishi of Nepal. Their son Bharat ruled over here. Then Nepal was called Mahabharat, and the surrounding territories under the souverainty of King Bharat was called Bharat (now the other name of India).
The Mahabharat range stands to corroborate this belief of King Bharat's supremacy. There are several references in the religious books of Hindus about Nepal. Janak, the king of Janakpur was known widely for the administration of justice. Some people believe that the Ramayan was composed at the bank of the Saptagandaki. Veda Vyasa was born here. The Vyas Cave at Damauli (Vyasangar) signifies this belief. Similarly, Biratnagar, the kingdom of King Birat is also mentioned in the Mahabharata. All these references show that Nepal had developed long before Manjushri visited the Kathmandu Valley. It is mentioned in Swayambhu Puran that Manjushri came from China and managed to drain away the water of a big lake called Nagadaha and peopled the valley. He established a town called Manjupattan and installed Dharmakar, its king.
After that, the history of Nepal was more or less limited to the history of the Kathmandu Valley. Since then, Nepal has been ruled by the kings of various dynasties - the Ahirs or Gopala, the Kiratas, the Lichchhavis, the Mallas and the Shahs.
1. Long, long ago, the kings of the Gopala dynasty ruled over it. They were called 'Nepa', so, after the name of the dynasty who ruled over it, the country was named as 'Nepal'.
2. A sage called 'Ne' lived in penance on the confluence of the Bagmati and Bishnumati rivers. He was the sole advisor of the king. So, the word 'Nepal' was derived from the name of the sage 'Ne'.
3. 'Nepal' might also be derived from 'Newar', one of the ancient tribes living in Kathmandu valley.
4. In the Gandaki Mahatmya, it is mentioned that a king called 'Nepa' ruled over it. He conquered many kingdoms and established Shanker as his deity. He founded a country and called it 'Nepal', after his own name.
5. In the Tibetan language 'Ne' means 'home' and 'pal' means 'wool'. Sheep were reared in Kathmandu valley and much wool was produced. So, it was called the home of wool, i.e., Ne Pal.
6. In the Newari language 'Ne' means 'centre' and 'pa' means 'country'. So, 'Ne pa' means a country situated at the centre. Nepal is situated in between the two great countries, China and India. So, it was called a central country, i.e., Nepal.
7. In the Limbu dialect 'Ne' means 'plain area'. Kathmandu valley is a plain, so it was called 'Nepal'.
8. In the dialect of the Lepchas, 'Ne' means 'holy' and 'pal' means 'cave'. As it is a holy place - the centre of pilgrimage of Hindus and Buddhists, it was called a holy cave or Nepal.
9. In the language of the Tibeto-Burma people, 'Ne' means 'cattle' and 'pa' means 'people'. Kathmandu valley had a good grassland for cattle and the main occupation of the people was to rear animals. So, it was called the land of the people who reared animals, i.e., Nepal.
10. Thomas Young and Geroge Griharson, the two famous historians gave thier opinion that both the terms 'Nepal' and 'Newar' might be derived from the same root 'Nyarva'. In this way, Nyarva was turned into Newar and then to Nepal.
11. Kiratas, the earliest known inhabitants of this country, had a clan called 'Nepar' living in Kathmandu valley. So, Nepal might also be derived from Nepar.
There are no reliable written documents on the history of ancient Nepal. The people of that time had no historical sense. There had been the rise and fall of different dynasties all the time. The mode of administration, way of life, culture and civilization kept on changing from time to time. However, there are varieties of historical monuments, coins, temples, images of Gods and Goddesses, works of art, inscriptions, etc. which throw light on our past. They help us to draw the history of our country.
a. Chronicles: Chronicles (Bamsawalis) are one of the main historical
sources which throw light on ancient Nepal. The chronicles mostly complied
by Brahmins and Bajracharyas, deal with religious works of kings. Most
of the available chronicles were written in or about 1800 A.D.
The latest one was written by a Buddhist Monk of Patan during the regin of Rana Bahadur Shah. It was translated into English by Daniel Wright. A short history of the king, some important events related to the king, are mentioned inthis chronicle. But it does not contain anything about the culture, civilization and the life of the people.
b. Colophons : Colophons are the hand-written books (manuscripts) of ancient times. At the end of their manuscripts different writers have mentioned their names, the names of contemporary kings, and some of the main event. These have been of great to write our history.
c. Ancient Religious Texts : Great religious texts of the Hindus like the Puranas, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, etc. also help us to collect the historical facts of ancient Nepal. The marriage of Sita, the daughter of King Janak of Janakpur with Prince Ram of Ayodhya helped to exchange the culture of Nepal with India. The Kings of Nepal had participated in the great war of Mahabharata. The king of Nepal also took part in the Swayambara ceremony of Damayanti. Similarly, the king of Nepal offered gold, diamonds, herbs, animals and beautiful girls as gifts to King Yudhisthira of India in his Coronation Ceremony. Such accounts and other references have contributed much to the writing of the history of ancient Nepal.
d. Stone and Copper Inscriptions : Stone and Copper inscriptions of ancient times can also be a considerable help to write our history. The inscription written on stones and copper are found from the 5th century A.D. to 8th century A.D. in Sanskrit. The Lichchhavi inscriptions at the temple of Changunarayan and those of Lazimpat are such inscriptions. but the inscriptions after the rule of the Lichchhavi King Siva Deva are yet to be found. However, from the 14th century onward, from the rule of Malla King, Jaysthiti Malla, there are sufficient inscriptions in various places on the basis of which it is possible to write the history of ancient Nepal.
e. Ancient Buildings, Temples and Stupas : Ancient buildings, temples, stupas, statues and wooden and metal images are other reliable sources of the history of Nepal. They provide clear evidence of the excellence of the Nepalese arts and sculptures. They also tell us the names of artists and sculptors, and their patrons. The most important temples are of Changunarayan, Pashupatinath, Hanuman Dhoka. Krishna Mandir of Patan, the Nyatapol (five - storey) of Bhaktapur, Swayambhunath, Baudhnath, Mahabaudha, etc. These temples and the statues of the Malla kings are of great historical value.
f. Ancient Coins : Different kinds of coins on which names of the sun, the moon, horses, bulls, etc., are imprinted, have been found in different places. These coins throw light on the character, work, period of rule, tastes and religious temperament of the kings of that time.
g. Foreign Accounts : This history of Nepal has also come to light from the writings and accounts of foreigners and foreign travellers. It is mentioned in Arthasastra of Kautilya that Nepalese woollen blankets were of great demand in the Indian markets. Similarly, the Rajtarangini of Kalhan speaks about the Nepalese war. Again, the collective writings of the Chinese kings of the 'Ming' dynasty, the accounts of the Chinese travellers like Hieun Tseng, and the writings of Indian and European historians throw much light on the history of Nepal.
h. Archaelogical Findings : Ancient vessels, coins, utensils, images and stone-taps have been discovered from recent excavation works at Tilaurakot, Lumbini, Bishalnagar, Lazimpat and Ratna Park. They also are of great historical value. It is expected that new archaeological evidence will be discovered from time to time that will tell us more about our history.
There is no definite historical proof of this period. On the basis of legends, chronologies and folk-lores, a history is drawn on supposition. So, this period is called legendary period.
1. The Kathmandu Valley Kathmandu Valley consisted of a big lake called 'Nagadaha'. The lake was surrounded by hills on all sides and there was nothing but water in it. In ancient times, a sage called Bipaswi Buddha settled on Nagarjun hill, in the north - west corner of Nagadaha. On the full moon day of Chaitra, he sowed a lotus seed in the middle of the lake through divine inspiration.
After six months on the full moon day of Aswin, a lotus flower grew out of the seed and the image of Swayambhu appeared there throwing bright rays of light. Later on, Bishwabhu Buddha came with his disciples and settled on Fulchoki hill. He worshipped Lord Swayambhu with a hundred thousand flowers and taught his disciples how to drain out the water of the lake and went back.
2. Manjushri Bodhisattwa It is mentioned in the Swayambhu Puran that Manjushri came from China to worship the glowing flame of Lord Swayambhu. From the top of Mandapgiri (Nagarkot) he saw the flames constantly emanating from Swayambhu. Then he thought to drain out the water of Nagadaha. Placing his two Shaktis (powers) - 'Mokshyada' on Fulchoki and 'Barada' on Katwaldaha, he cut down the hill between them with his sword and let the water go out of it. A beautiful valley with good soil appeared and he asked his disciples to settle there. Then he worshipped Swayambhu and Guheswari. He made Dharmakar, one of his disciples, the ruler of the valley. He also founded a beautiful city and named it Manjupattan. Then, leaving his disciples, he went back to his country.
3. Krakuchanda Buddha Krakuchanda came from Kshamavati and lived in the forest near Guheswari along with his disciples. The forest was a beautiful place to live in. It was called Mrigasthali as the Gods and Goddesses visited this place in the form of deer to see Lord Swayambhu and Guheswari. It was also called Slesmantak because the Slesman tree grew there. Lord Shiva used to wander about this forest in the guise of a Kirat. A stone image of Lord Shiva is still found there which is known as Kirateswar.
King Dharmakar had no issue. So Dharmapal, one of the disciples of Krakuchanda succeeded him. Karkuchanda found that there was a scarcity of water in the valley. So, he prayed to Goddess Guheswari for it. The Goddess listened to his prayer and generated the river Bagmati from the north of Shivapur hill.
This place is now called Bagdwar, the source of the Bagmati river. Sudhanwa was another king, the descendant of Dharmapal. It is said that Sudhanwa participated in the Swayambara ceremony of Sita at Janakpur. During the ceremony he was killed by Kushadhoj, the brother of King Janak. Now Kushadhoj came to reign in Nepal. His descendants ruled over Nepal for many centuries.
4. Prachanda Dev At the end of the Dwapar Yuga, Kanakmuni Buddha from Shobhavati and Kashyap Buddha from Varanasi came to Nepal on a pilgrimage tour. When Kanakmuni went back to Gaud, he sent Prachanda Dev, the king of Gaud (Bengal) to Nepal to worship Swayambhu and Guheswari. He also advised the king to become the disciple of Gunakar, one of the disciples of Manjushri, Prachanda Dev, thus came to Nepal and became a monk. He was later known as 'Shantishri'. He covered the flaming image of Swayambhu and erected a stupa over it. He also made five penance groves, viz. Agnipur, Shantipur, Vayupur, Nagpur and Basupur.
The last king of Kushadhoj's dynasty died childless. So, Prachanda Dev's son Shakti Dev came from Gaud and made one of his relatives Gunakama Dev, the king of Nepal. It is said that there had been a great famine in Nepal during the region of Gunakama Dev. Then Shantishri (Prachanda Dev) with the help of the Nagas, got rid of the famine when they received plenty of rainfall. The last king of this dyansty was Simhaketu. During his region Nepal was quite developed in all aspects. Nepal had trade relations with India, Tibet and Sri Lanka. After Simhaketu, there was a long succession of kings. Dharmadutta came from south India, who peopled the country with the four castes of Hindus i.e., Brahman, Kshetriya, Vaishya and Sudra. It is also said that he built the temple of Pashupatinath.
5. The Gopal Dynasty There was a great earthquake and, as a result of earthquake, the temple of Pashupatinath and toppled down and debris had covered the flaming image. Then, Danasur (a demon) again filled the valley with water. So, Lord Krishna came to Nepal, killed Dansasur and married his daughter. He also drained out the water through the gorge of Chobar, and peopled the valley. A large number of cowherds had come along with Lord Krishna and they settled in Nepal.
Nemuni, who according to a legend, is considered to be the patron saint of Nepal, used to perform religious ceremonies at Teku, the confluence of the Bagmati and Bishnumati rivers. He selected a pious cowherd, Bhuktaman to be the first king in the line of the gopal (cowherd) dynasty. The Gopal dynasty ruled for 621 years. Yakshya Gupta was the last king of this dynasty. In course of time, pastoral disputes arose and this dynasty was replaced by the 'Ahirs' or 'Abhirs'. Ahir was another cowherd and shepherd race from India. Three kings of this dynasty ruled over Nepal. They were Badasimha, Jaymati Simha and Bhuban Simha. The Gopal and Ahir dynasties are supposed to be the beginning of the historical dynasty in Nepal. Bhuban Simha was defeated by Yalamber, the chief of the Kiratas, who invaded Nepal from the east and became the first Kirat king of Nepal.