ANCIENT NEPAL, ca. 500 B.C.-A.D. 700
Early Influences on Nepal
Neolithic tools found in the Kathmandu Valley indicate that people were living in the Himalayan region in the distant past, although their culture and artifacts are only slowly being explored. Written references to this region appeared only by the first millennium B.C. During that period, political or social groupings in Nepal became known in north India. The Mahabharata and other legendary Indian histories mention the Kiratas (see Glossary), who still inhabited eastern Nepal in 1991. Some legendary sources from the Kathmandu Valley also describe the Kiratas as early rulers there, taking over from earlier Gopals or Abhiras, both of whom may have been cowherding tribes. These sources agree that an original population, probably of Tibeto-Burman ethnicity, lived in Nepal 2,500 years ago, inhabiting small settlements with a relatively low degree of political centralization.
Monumental changes occurred when groups of tribes calling themselves the Arya migrated into northwest India between 2000 B.C. and 1500 B.C. By the first millennium B.C., their culture had spread throughout northern India. Their many small kingdoms were constantly at war amid the dynamic religious and cultural environment of early Hinduism. By 500 B.C., a cosmopolitan society was growing around urban sites linked by trade routes that stretched throughout South Asia and beyond. On the edges of the Gangetic Plain, in the Tarai Region, smaller kingdoms or confederations of tribes grew up, responding to dangers from larger kingdoms and opportunities for trade. It is probable that slow and steady migration of Khasa (see Glossary) peoples speaking Indo-Aryan languages was occurring in western Nepal during this period; this movement of peoples would continue, in fact, until modern times and expand to include the eastern Tarai as well.
One of the early confederations of the Tarai was the Sakya clan, whose seat apparently was Kapilavastu, near Nepal's presentday border with India. Their most renowned son was Siddhartha Gautama (ca. 563-483 B.C.), a prince who rejected the world to search for the meaning of existence and became known as the Buddha, or the Enlightened One. The earliest stories of his life recount his wanderings in the area stretching from the Tarai to Banaras on the Ganges River and into modern Bihar State in India, where he found enlightenment at Gaya -- still the site of one of the greatest Buddhist shrines. After his death and cremation, his ashes were distributed among some of the major kingdoms and confederations and were enshrined under mounds of earth or stone called stupas. Certainly, his religion was known at a very early date in Nepal through the Buddha's ministry and the activities of his disciples.
A term applied to the peoples and languages in the western parts of Nepal, closely related to the cultures of northern India.
A Tibeto-Burman ethnic group inhabiting eastern Nepal since before the Licchavi Dynasty, just prior to and during the early years of the Christian era.