The Kirats were the aborigines of north-eastern Himalayas. According to Baburam Acharya, they came to Nepal in about 700 B.C. and ruled over it. They were short and had robust bodies, broad checks, flat noses, thin whiskers, and dark eyes. They were well trained in the art of warfare, and were very skillful archers. They were the ancestors of the present day Kiratas: - Kulung, Thulung and Yellung. Yalamber, the first Kirati king of Nepal belonged to the Yellung clan.
Altogether, there were 29 kings of this dynasty who ruled over Nepal for about 1225 years. According to the chronicle (Bamsavali) of Kirkpatrick, Kiratas ruled over Nepal from about 900 B.C. to 300 A.D. On the basis of the Puranas and other ancient religious texts, it is presumed that the Kiratas ruled in Nepal after Gopal and Mahipal. The first king of the Kiratas was Yalamber, who defeated Bhuvan Singh, the last king of Ahir dynasty and established Kirat rule in Nepal. He extended his kingdom as far as the Tista river in the east and the Trishuli in the west. It is said that during the battle of Mahabharata, Yalamber went to witness the battle with a view to take the side of the loosing party. Lord Krishna, knowing the intention of Yalamber and the strength and unity of the Kiratas, thought that the war would unnecessarily be prolonged if Yalamber sided with the Kauravas. So, by a clever stroke of diplomacy, Lord Krishna cut off Yalamber's head.
The 29 Kirat kings were as follows :
1. Yalamber 2. Pavi 3. Skandhar 4. Balamba, 5. Hriti, 6. Humati, 7. Jitedasti, 8. Galinja, 9. Pushka, 10. Suyarma, 11. Papa, 12. Bunka, 13. Swananda, 14. Sthunko, 15. Jinghri, 16. Nane, 17. Luka, 18. Thor, 19. Thoko, 20. Verma, 21. Guja, 22. Pushkar, 23. Keshu, 24. Suja, 25. Sansa, 26. Gunam 27. Khimbu, 28. Patuka, 29. Gasti.
During the region of 7th Kirati King Jitedasti, Gautama Buddha visited the Nepal Valley along with his disciples. He visited the shrines of Swayambhu and Guheswari and preached his doctrine. There are also references to the fact that Jitedasti fought in the battle of Mahabharata from the Pandava's side.
During the rule of Sthunko, the 14th king of the dynasty, about 250 B.C. the Indian Emperor Asoka came on a pilgrimage to Lumbini, in Nepal. To mark the birthplace of Gautama Buddha, Asoka got inscriptions engraved on rocks and set up a stone-pillar. In about 640 A.D., Hieun Tseng, a Chinsese traveller, visited this place. He has described that the stone-pillar was cracked due to thunder. The stone-pillar of Asoka was unknown until 1st December 1985 A.D. when Dr. Fuhrer engraved it. (Now His Majesty's Government of Nepal has set up a plan, 'Lumbini Development Project', to preserve this antiquity.) He also visited different parts of Nepal valley along with his daughter Charumati. To commemorate the visit, he got four stupas erected in four quarters and one in the central part of Lalitpattan, the modern Patan. They exist even to this day. Asoka's visit to Kathmandu is testified by the fact that he gave his daughter Charumati in marriage to Devapal, a Kshetriya Prince. She settled near Pashupati and founded a town called 'Devpatan' in memory of her husband Devapal. She also got a Vihar (nunnery) erected for herself which was called Charumati Vihar. The nunnery and its surroundings are now known as Chabahil. In this way, after the visit of Asoka, Buddhism flourished in the Nepal valley. Jainsim, another religious cult, contemporary of Buddhism, was founded by Mahavir Jain in India. Several disciples of Mahavir Jain preached the doctrines of Jainism in various parts of India. It is said that during the regin of Jinghri, the 15th Kirata king, one of the disciples of Mahavir Jain named Bhadrabahu entered Nepal in about 300 B.C. But his visit to Nepal was society and Buddhism was just being introduced. So, the Nepalese did not accept Jainism.
During the regime of Patuka, the 28th Kirati king, the Soma dynasty kings attacked Nepal several times. Patuka had to leave Gokarna because of the repeated attacks of the Soma dynasty kings from the west. So, he settled in Shankhamul and made it a beautiful town. there he built a palace which was known as the 'Patuko Palace'. Though nothing but a mound of the palace in ruins now exists, the place is still called Patuko. The last Kirati king was Gasti, who was defeated by Nimisha of the Soma dynasty and the Kirati rule came to an end. Thus, Nimisha became the first king of Soma dynasty.
During the rule of the Kiratas, Nepal made considerable progress in the field of art and architecture, trade and commerce. The Kiratis were not only good warriors but also good administrators. Men and women were treated equally. Criminals were given severe punishment. For the administration of justice, law-courts were established at several places-Kuther, Shuli, Lingual, Mapchok, etc.
Trade and commerce flourished under the Kiratas. Nepal had trade relations with Tibet, China and India. The exports of Nepal mainly consisted of wool, woollen goods, wood and herbs. Kautilya, in his 'Arthasastra', says that Nepali wollen blankets were very popular in the market of Magadha (Bihar in modern India). People took more interest in business than in agriculture. Because of its economic prosperity, people from different places, of different tribes and races came to Nepal and settled down. Thus, the people having different customs and practices all merged into a nation. This resulted in the development of a new culture of its own.
The cultural and religious life of the people was highly developed under the Kiratas, The main religion of the Kiratas was Hinduism. they worshipped Lord Shiva, serpents, trees, stones etc. The images of Kiratewar Mahadev and Birupakshya show the standard of architecture of the Kiratas. Buddhism also flourished under the Kiratas. The stupas, pagodas, and temples were all built on the model of Buddhist art.
The Kiratas developed a number of towns. The thickly populated centres were Malatirtha, Shankhamul, Thankot, Khopung (Bhaktapur), Khopase, Sanga, Teku, etc. Nepal exchanged its culture and civilization with India, Tibet and China. The introduced of Buddhism brought intellectual awakening among the people. In this way, the foundation of the vast structure of the Nepalese culture was laid down under the Kiratas. Indeed, this period can be regarded as the foreunner of the future development of the Nepalese society in all aspects.
The Soma dynasty had established a principality in the west while the Kirati kings were ruling over the Nepal valley. The Soma dynasty kings attacked Nepal several times during the region of Patuka, but they could not defeat him. The last Kirati King Gasti was comparatively weak, so he was defeated by Nimisha of the Soma dynasty. Thus, Nimisha became the first Soma dynasty king of Nepal in about 205 A.D. He built his palace in Godavari. It was from his time that the Godavari-Mela (fair) began to be held at Godavari, every twelve years. He also erected the four faced linga of Pashupatinath. He repaired the temple of Pashupatinath as well.
After Nimisha, Mitakshya, Kakaverma and Pashuprekshya Dev ruled over Nepal. Bhaskerverma was the fifth and last Soma dynasty king who ruled over Nepal during 280 to 305 A.D. It was he who led a military expedition and reached up to Rameswaram, the southern-most part of India. He gathered a vast treasure of wealth from this campaign. With this wealth he made a gold-plating roof on the temple of Pashupatinath and developed the economic condition of his kingdom. He filled Devapatan with his wealth and named it 'Swarnapuri'. He was childless, so he made Bhumi Verma, his heir, who was a Rajput Keshetriya of the Solar dynasty. Thus, the soma dynasty rule came to an end.