The Gurkhas, Eden Vansittart

Vansittart, Eden, The Gurkhas, Anmol Publications, New Delhi, India, Reprint 1993
Book review by Dr. Govind Prasad Thapa

The Western division is inhabited by Doti and other non-Gurkha tribes and until the close of the last century was divided in, 22 separate principalities which were collectively called the Baisi Raj and were all tributary to the Raja of ‘Yumila’-Jumla.

Baisi is derived from Bais (twenty two). The names of these principalities were-
Jumla, Jagwikot, Chain, Acham, Rugham, Musikot, Roalpa, Mallijanta, Balhang, Daelekh, Darimeka, Doti, Sallyan, Bamphi, Mellianta, Jehari, Kalagaon, Goriakot, Gutam, Gajur, Jajarkot, Bilaspur.(p. 3)

Baisi is derived from Bais (twenty two). The names of these principalities were-
Jumla, Jagwikot, Chain, Acham, Rugham, Musikot, Roalpa, Mallijanta, Balhang, Daelekh, Darimeka, Doti, Sallyan, Bamphi, Mellianta, Jehari, Kalagaon, Goriakot, Gutam, Gajur, Jajarkot, Bilaspur.(p. 3)  

Towards the close of the last century the Central Division included in its limits, besides the Kingdom of Gurkha proper, 24 other independent principalities, collectively called the Chaubisia Raj, or ‘country of the 24 kings’. These principalities were called- 

Lamzung, Tanhung, Golkot, Malibam, Sathung, Garhun, Rising, Ghiring, Deorali, Palpa, Pokhra, Bhirkot, Butwal, Gulmi, Nuwakeot, Kashi, Isma, Dharkot, Musikot, Argha, Pyung, Latahung, Kaikho, Piuthan. Previous to the conquest of the western hill by Gurkhas, Jumla was the chief of the 46 principalities into which the country between the Kali and the province of Gurkha proper was divided, and all of which were nominally tributary to the Raja of Jumla.(p. 4)  

This book introduces Nepal-its geography, people, economy, culture and history. It also tells about the recruitment of Gorkhas into British army. The author lists the races of aboriginal stock of Nepal—”The aboriginal stock of Nepal is most undoubtedly Mongolian. This fact is inscribed in very plain characters, in their faces, forms, and languages. Amongst the aborigines of Nepal must be counted the Magars, Gurungs, Newars, Sunwars, Khambus, Yakhas, Yakthumbas, Limbus, Murmis, and Lepchas. (p.6) 

……The most ancient records would seem to prove that Nepal was originally inhabited by Mongolians. Probably from one of the great waves of Mongolian conquest, which spread through the breadth of Asia from east to west, some side wave was washed over the bleak snows of the mighty Himalayas into the fertile plains and valleys of Nepal. Finding here a cool and bracing climate and fertile soil, this mass of Mongolians settled down and adopted the country as their own. But again, the southern boundary of Nepal rested on India, from whence continual streamlets of natives were finding their way into Nepal. (p. 8-9)  

….In the Saka year 811, and Nepal Sambat 9(AD 889) on the 7th Sravara Sudi, a Saturday, Nanya, Deva Raja came from the south Karnataki country and entered Nepal. He brought with him the Saka Sahkala era and introduced it. Amongst the troops that there with him were Newars, from a country called Nayeva, who were Brahmaputra Chattris and Achars. He defeated the Malla Rajas, and established his court at Bhaktapur or Bhatgaon, he ruled over it as well as over Lalitapattan (present Patan), and Kantipur or Katmandu, and established a dynasty, which lasted about 220 years and gave six kings. The sixth and last king of this dynasty, by name Hari Deva, had at this time (about 1100 AD) a Magar in his service, who through the machinations of the ministers, was dismissed. This man returned to his home and praised Nepal as having houses with golden roofs and golden pranalis or dharas. The Magar Raja, by name Mukunda Sena, a brave and powerful monarch, having heard of this, came to Nepal from the west with a large number of mounted troops, and subdued Hari Deva, the son of Rama Sinha Deva. Of the Nepalese troops some were slain and others fled. Great confusion reigned in the three cities. The victorious soldiers broke and disfigured the images of the gods and sent the Bhairava, in front of Machindranatha, to their own country, Palpa and Botwal. With this Raja the Khas and Magar castes came to Nepal. These men having no mercy, committed great sins, and the southern face of Pashupati showed its frightful teeth, and sent a goddess named Maha-mari (pestilence) who, within a forthnight, cleared the country of the troops of Mukunda Sena. The Raja alone escaped to the east in disguise. On his way back to his own country he arrived at Devighat and died there.(pp. 15-16)  

Social relations appear to be governed more by custom, than by the fixed rules, and superstition prevails so widely that the most ordinary occurrences of everyday life are referred to supernatural agency, frequently to the malevolent action of some demon. The writer writes that information on “Magars, Gurungs, and Thakurs are fairly complete and correct. The lists of Khas, Limbus, Rais, Sunuwars, and Murmis are undoubtedly incomplete, and perhaps in parts incorrect.” The writer has given chapter VI to details on Magars.  

The writer has argued that, “….the most ancient records would seem to prove that Nepal was originally inhabitated by Mongolians. Probably from one of the great waves of Mongolian conquest, which spread through the breadth of Asia from east to west, some side wave was washed over the bleaks snows of the mighty Himalayas into the fertile plains and valleys of Nepal…the northern wave, which originally peopled Nepal, probably consisted of a most uncivilized,, ignorant race with, perhaps, no religion at all. Those who came from south, on the other hand, were Hindus, whose religion, even then, was an old established one, and who were famous for their intelligence and civilization.

“Of very ancient Magar history we know nothing, and the first time that they came into prominence as a great power is about AD 1100, when we hear that Mukunda Sena, the Magar King of Palpa and Botwal, invaded and conquered the Nepal Valley, and committed terrible atrocities during the reign of Hari Deva, King of Nepal. The principal seat of Magars was most of the central and lower parts of the mountain between the Jingrak (Rapti) of Gorakhpur) and Marsiandi rivers. That they resided about Palpa from time immemorial is well-known. Doctor F Hamilton in his book published in 1819 says that the Magars, who resided to the west of the Gandak river, seem to have received the Rajputs princes with much cordiality. Until the arrival of the Rajputs and Brahmans, the hill tribes seem all to have eaten every kind of animal food, including the cow. Each tribe appears to have originally to have a priesthood and duties peculiar to itself, and to have worshipped chiefly ghosts.”

“The Magars have for many centuries more or less admitted the supremacy of the doctrines of the Brahmans, and consequently they have adopted many Rajput customs, ceremonies, and names. The Gurungs also, but to a very much lesser degree, have borrowed from the Rajputs, but this does not give either of two tribes any claim to any other descent than Mongolian.

“Owing to the geographical positions of the tract of country inhabited by the Magars, they were the first to receive immigrants from the plains of India, and thus conversions were more numerous amongst the Magars than any of the other hill tribes living further north or east. 

“….Hence we find Magars many high-born titles such as Surajvansi, Chandrvansi etc., etc., which undoubtedly never existed amongst the Magar themselves, but were introduced from India. Some of the Magars having been converted assumed the sacred thread, whilst others did not; hence we find Ghartis, Ranas, and Thapas, who appear as tribes belonging both to the Magars and to the Khas.” p.81

“Makwanpur originally formed part of the estate of the Ruler of Palpa. There is no doubt that Makunda Sen possessed very extensive dominions, but on his death he devided his kingdom amongst his four sons. To the youngest, Lohanga by name, Makwanpur was given, a mountain chief, by name Bajuhang Rai, joined Lohanga with all his Kirant troops, and they conquered all the petty independent principalities lying to the east of Makwanpur and took possession of Bissipur.”

Bajuhang was killed during these wars, and his son, relinquishing the title of Hang, in its stead took that of Chautaria, and all his successors assumed Hindu names.

Lohanga now possessed a very extensive territory reaching from Mahananda in the east to Adiya on the west, and from Tibet to Julagar, near Purneah.

One of Lohanga’s successors was called Subha Sen, and two sons, who on their father’s death divided the kingdom. In 1774 the Gurkha’s overran the country. Vansittart..p99-100

Vansittart quotes Doctor F. Hamilton on Gurkha family: “In 1802 Doctor F. Hamilton writes: ‘The first persons of the Gurkha family, of whom I have heard, were two brothers, named Khancha and Mincha, words altogether barbarous, denoting their descent from a Magar family, and not from the Pamars, as they pretend'”.p.24

Vansittart claims that “Khancha was the founder of the imperial branch of the family, viz., they remained Magars. Mincha was the Chief of Nayakot, and adopted the Hindu rules of purity, and his descendants intermarried with the best families although not without creating disgust.” He further asserts that “Kulmandan, the son of Jagdeva, obtained sovereignty over Kaski, and having pleased the Mahomedan Emperor, received from him the title of Sah.”p. 24

…..The famous Prime Minister Bhim Sen was the descendant of a Magar Thapa, as was also General Amar Sing.(p. 67)  

To the north and to the west of Sallyan, numbers of Matwala Khas are to be found. They are rarely if ever found to the east of the Gandak  river. There can be no doubt that this race found its origin somewhere about Sallyan or perhaps still further west. The Matwala Khas is generally the progeny of a Khas of Western Nepal with a Magar woman of Western Nepal. If the woman happens to belong to the Rana clan of the Magar tribe, the progeny is then called a Bhat Rana. The Matwala Khas does not wear the thread. He eats and drinks and in every way assimilates himself with the Magars and Gurungs. He invariably claims to be a Magar. Amongst the Matwala Khas are to be found those who call themselves Bohra, Roka, Chohan, Jhankri, etc. These are easy to identify, but it is more difficult to find out a Matwala who calls himself a Thapa. His strong Magar appearance, his not wearing the thread, and his eating and drinking freely with the real Magars, all tend to prove him to be what he almost invariably claims to be, viz., a real Magar. The writer has found men in the ranks who for years had served as and been considered Magars, but who really were Matwala Khas. Some very excellent results are obtained amongst the Matwala Khas, although the greater proportion are coarse-bred and undesirable.(p. 70)  

Of very ancient Magar history we know nothing, and the first time that they came into prominence as a great power is about AD 1100, when hear that Mukunda Sena, the Magar King of Palpa and Botwal, invaded and conquered the Nepal Valley, and committed terrible atrocities during the reign of Hari Deva, King of Nepal. 

The principal seat of the Magars was most of the central and lower parts of the mountains between the Jhingrak ( Rapti of Gorakhpur) and Marsiangdi rivers. That they resided about Palpa from time immemorial is well known. Doctor F. Hamilton in book published in 1819 says that the Magars, who resided to the west of the Gandak River, seem to have received the Rajput princes with much cordiality. 

Until the arrival of Rajputs and Brahmans, the hill tribes seem all to have eaten every kind of animal food, including the cow. Each tribe appears originally to have had a priesthood and duties peculiar to itself, and to have worshipped chiefly ghosts. 

The Magars have for many centuries more or less admitted the supremacy of the doctrines of the Brahmans, and consequently they have adopted many Rajput customs, ceremonies, and names. The Gurungs also, but to a very much lesser degree, have borrowed from Rajputs, but this does not give either of these two tribes any claim to any other descent than Mongolian. 

Owing to the geographical position of the tract of country inhabited by the Magars, they were the first to receive immigrants from the plains of India, and thus conversions were more numerous amongst the Magars than any of the other tribes living further north or east.

At other place the writer claims that, “The famous Prime Minister Bhim Sen was the descendant of a Magar Thapa, as was also General Amar Sing.”p. 67

Though this book was written as guidebook for the purpose of British Officers who were engaged in the recruitment of Nepali, this book also covers information on many other aspects, history, culture, people, and geography of Nepal. So, this book will be very useful for the pursuit of further research on the people’s history of Nepal.

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