Between about 400 and 800AD, Nepal's present capital Kathmandu was ruled by the Licchavi kingdom. Archaeological evidence for this period mainly consists of stonework inscriptions, reckoned on two separate, consecutive eras. The former, Åsaka era has an epoch corresponding to 78AD, whereas the latter AmÌ£Å>uvarmÄ or MÄnadeva era reckons from 576AD.
Whilst most such inscriptions list the dates and commissioners of stonework construction, some communicate royal edicts, religious mantras or historical notes. It is through the corroboration of local myths with such evidence that a people prior to the Licchavi have been identified, known as the KirÄta. Of these people very little is known.
Modern Nepal was created in the latter half of the 18th century when Prithvi Narayan Shah, the ruler of the small principality of Gorkha, formed a unified country from a number of independent hill states. The country was frequently called the Gorkha Kingdom, the source of the term "Gurkha" used for Nepali soldiers.
After 1800, the heirs of Prithvi Narayan Shah proved unable to maintain firm political control over Nepal. A period of internal turmoil followed, heightened by Nepal's defeat in a war with the British from 1814 to 1816. Stability was restored after 1846 when the Rana family gained power, entrenched itself through hereditary prime ministers, and reduced the monarch to a figurehead. The Rana regime, a tightly centralized autocracy, pursued a policy of isolating Nepal from external influences. This policy helped Nepal maintain its national independence during the colonial era, but it also impeded the country's economic development.
In 1950, King Tribhuvan, a direct descendant of Prithvi Narayan Shah, fled his "palace prison" to newly independent India, touching off an armed revolt against the Rana administration. This allowed the return of the Shah family to power and, eventually, the appointment of a non-Rana as prime minister. A period of quasiconstitutional rule followed, during which the monarch, assisted by the leaders of fledgling political parties, governed the country. During the 1950s, efforts were made to frame a constitution for Nepal that would establish a representative form of government, based on a British model.
In early 1959, King Mahendra issued a new constitution, and the first democratic elections for a national assembly were held. The Nepali Congress Party, a moderate socialist group, gained a substantial victory in the election. Its leader, B.P. Koirala, formed a government and served as prime minister.
Declaring parliamentary democracy a failure 18 months later, King Mahendra dismissed the Koirala government and promulgated a new constitution on December 16, 1962. The new constitution established a "partyless" system of panchayats (councils) which King Mahendra considered to be a democratic form of government closer to Nepalese traditions. As a pyramidal structure progressing from village assemblies to a Rastriya Panchayat (National Parliament), the panchayat system enshrined the absolute power of the monarchy and kept the King as head of state with sole authority over all governmental institutions, including the Cabinet (Council of Ministers) and the Parliament.
King Mahendra was succeeded by his 27 year-old son, King Birendra, in 1972. Amid student demonstrations and anti-regime activities in 1979, King Birendra called for a national referendum to decide on the nature of Nepal's government--either the continuation of the panchayat system with democratic reforms or the establishment of a multiparty system. The referendum was held in May 1980, and the panchayat system won a narrow victory. The king carried out the promised reforms, including selection of the prime minister by the Rastriya Panchayat.
People in rural areas had expected that their interests would be better represented after the adoption of parliamentary democracy in 1990. When promised land reforms failed to appear, people in some districts started to organize to enact their own land reform, and to gain some power over their lives in the face of usurious landlords. However, this movement was repressed by the Nepali government, in "Operation Romeo" and "Operation Kilo Sera II" which took the lives of many of the leading activists of the struggle. As a result, many witnesses to this repression became radicalized.
February 12, 1996 saw the launch of the Maoist "People's War" -- an insurgency with the stated goal of overthrowing the existing monarchic/parliamentary state and establishing a communist republic, or a Maoist "people's democracy". (The term, as with "People's War", is in quotes because the validity of the concept would be challenged by some.)
Led by Dr. Baburam Bhattarai and Pushpa Kamal Dahal (also known as "Prachanda"), the insurgency began in five districts in Nepal: Rolpa, Rukum, Jajarkot, Gorkha, and Sindhuli. The Maoists have declared the existence of a provisional "people's government" at the district level in several locations.
In June 2001 Crown Prince Dipendra went on a shooting-spree assassinating 11 members of the royal family including King Birendra and Queen Aiswary before shooting himself. Due to his survival he temporarily became king before dying of his wounds resulting in Prince Gyanedra (Birendra's brother) inheriting the throne.