Prithvi Jayanti is also known as the Nepal Ekikaran Diwas (National Unification Day) or Rashtriya Ekata Diwas (National Unity Day). Prithvi Jayanti is an observance that is celebrated annually on 11 January to commemorate the birth of King Prithvi Narayan Shah who unified Nepal hence the first King of Nepal. Before unification, Nepal was divided into multiple small kingdoms and each of them had kings of their own and Prithivi Shah was the King of Gorkha Kingdom, now a district in Western Nepal.
As a part of celebrations, people take out street parades, garland the statues and photos of Prithvi Narayan Shah, and sing and share glories about his mission of unified Nepal.
Early Life of Prithvi Narayan Shah
Maharajdhiraj Prithvi Narayan Shah was born on Thursday 11 January 1723 (Bikram Sambat 27 Poush 1779) as a prince in the Gorkha Kingdom. He was the first child of King Nara Bhupal Shah and Queen Kausalyavati. Although he was born to Kausalyavati, Prithvi was raised by Chandra Pravawati, the first wife of his father. His siblings were Bisaul Budana Devi, Padma Kumari Devi, Dala Mardan Shah, Prithvi Pal Shah
Prithvi Narayan’s great grandfather was Prithvi Pati Shah who was the longest-serving king of then Gorkha Kingdom. His grandfather was Bir Bhadra Shah who remained succeeding reign until father Nara Bhupal Shah succeed him.
Prithvi Narayan Shah was first married to Indra Kumari Devi, the Makawanpur Princess in February 1738. During the wedding ceremony, a trivial yet unknown conflict arose between the two kingdoms hence Prithvi Narayan returned home leaving his 14-year-old bride behind. Indra Kumari was the daughter of Makawanpur King Hem Karna Sen.
Later, he was married to Narendra Rajya Lakshmi Devi. They had two sons together, Crown Prince Pratap Singh Shah and Bahadur Shah.
Gorkha Durbar and Guru Gorakhnath
Gorkha Durbar, the Palace of Prithvi Narayan is a fort, a palace, and a temple is fortified as one is perched atop knife-edge ridge at an altitude of 1000m. The king was born here, and that part of the palace is called “Dhuni Pati”.
The Gorkha Durbar is a religious site, therefore entering with leather shoes and belts on is strictly prohibited like at any other Hindu Temple in Nepal. The main entrance is through the western gate that opens to a terrace in front of the Kalika Temple, Goddess Kali’s temple. Only Brahmin priests and the king can enter the temple while visitors are permitted into terraces and the courtyard. The Durbar is exemplary of the Newar architecture like elaborated carvings of peacocks, demons, and serpents, throughout. Exit is through the northern gate, the former Royal Guest House which has erotic roof struts and the crocodile carvings on the window frames.
Down from there is a life-size orange statue of Hanuman, the monkey god. and inscribed Standing Stones on the left of the exit doorway of the Gorkha Durbar are installed opposite of Hanuman. The stone walkway leading to a rocky bluff has a large chautara, the stone resting platform. The hilltop of that rocky bluff has Siddha Paila and serves the view of Trishuli Valley and Annapurna and Manaslu ranges.
Gorkha Durbar was built by King Ram Shah in the 1600s. Ram Shah, the 6th predecessor of Prithvi Narayan Shah, was a great ruler and reformer of his time. The man of conscience was mostly known for his social, economic, judicial, and administrative reforms. Ram introduced a standard measurement system, fixed rate of courts, established and developed trade with neighboring kingdoms, and also carried religious reforms. He was known for his just and fair ruling across the mid-hills around the Gorkha Kingdom, so for this, people in his times said “न्याय नपाए गोर्खा जानु” (Nyaya napaye Gorkha jaanu), literally “if you are deprived of justice, go to Gorkha”.
This 16th-century palace’s main structure miraculously survived the 2015 earthquake, but the internal damage was extensive, and the repairs are still underway. Since Gorkha Durbar is an ancient home of Shah King the annual and biggest festival Dashain would not officially begin until “Fulpati” is brought to Kathmandu from Gorkha. Gorkha is also considered a place where the famous British Gurkha Battalion was established.
The town is also famous for its shrine of Guru Gorakhnath, the patron saint of the region.
Gorakhnath was a great Shivaite sage connected to many wondrous legends. Legend has it that, Guru Gorkhanath was meditating in a cave below the Gorkha Durbar, when the child Prithvi Narayan Shah, the fated first king of undivided Nepal, interrupted his meditation. The sage rose to meet the boy and regurgitated in his hands, commanding the boy to consume it. The disgusted young prince tossed it away immediately and while doing it he splashed some on his feet. Guru Gorakhnath said, had he eaten as commanded, Prithvi Narayan could have conquered the world. But since sacred vomit touched his feet, the land he stepped his blessed feet on would be his. And the prophecy came true for the King.
The grand Tallo Durbar of Prithvi Narayan Shah in Gorkha built in 1835 is now an exquisite museum. The Gorkha museum has 12 sectioned rooms that house historical documents and information and was opened to the public in 2008.
Historical artifacts such as the weapons used during Nepal’s unification, utensils of that period, mannequins of many indigenous tribes wearing their ethnic clothes and ornaments, oil paintings of that era, and musical instruments are some of the many collections that visitors can enjoy seeing.
There are also portraits of kings of the Shah Dynasty from Drabya Shah, Prithivi Narayan to the last king of Nepal, Gyanendra Shah.
Prithvi Narayan on Unification Mission
Attack on Nuwakot
To continue father Nara Bhupal’s dream of unifying Nepal, Prithvi Narayan Shah in 1743 attacked the neighboring kingdom Nuwakot. Gurkha soldiers famously called “the Gorkhalis” were badly defeated in this first Battle because they were poorly equipped.
Prithvi Narayan Shah then went to Varanasi, India collected the necessary weapons, and attacked Nuwakot for the second time in 1744 under the command of Kalu Pandey. Kalu Pandey, a wise, brave, and farsighted statesman was the commander of the Gorkhali forces during the Expansion Campaign of Nepal. This time the Gorkhalis were well-armed youths between the ages of 12 and 20 and the number of soldiers exceeded 1000.
Nuwakot was invaded thusly.
Kalu Pandey suggested that King maintained an amicable relationship with neighboring kingdoms to omit the chances of them attacking Gorkha while Gorkhalis were away on their unification mission. In the process, Kalu Pandey held talks with the king of Lamjung and successfully created an alliance between Gorkha and Lamjung, the two traditional enemies.
Similarly, Gorkha also made an alliance with Kaski, Tanahun, and Palpa kingdoms.
The First Attack on Kirtipur
With the intention of capturing kingdoms bordering Kantipur (now Kathmandu) Prithivi Narayan Shah first invaded Farping, Bandegaon, Sunagaon, Khokana, and other villages. And on 4 December 1757, the king attacked Kirtipur with 1200 soldiers. During the six-hour battle with Kirtipur backed by Kathmandu’s Jaya Prakash’s army, on either side of Balkhu River, King lost the battle, many Gorkhalis plus Kalu Pandey, his main man.
Kalu Pandey had actually warned that it was not the right time to attack Kirtipur but Prithvi Narayan Shah had ignored it. As a consequence, the King himself was almost killed in the battle.
Victory over Makawanpur
The Battle of Makwanpur was fought on 21 August 1762 at the Makawanpur Gadhi. Digvandan Sen, King of Makawanpur surrendered at the end of the eight-hour-long battle. Gorkha lost 60 Gorkhalis while Makawanpur lost 400 of theirs.
The Second Attack on Kirtipur
As a second attempt, in August 1764, Gorkha attacked Kirtipur, under the leadership of Sur Pratap Shah, Daljit Shah, and Shri Harsh Pant at night. This time Kirtipur alone defeated Gorkhalis breaking into the Kingdom through the Gopura fort. In this battle, Sur Pratap was struck in his eye by an arrow, therefore troops were forced to retreat back to Nuwakot once again.
The Third Attack on Kirtipur
For the third time, the king of Gorkha sent his army to attack Kirtipur, again under the command of Sur Pratap. After two consecutive defeats, the Gorkhalis had changed its strategy and surrounded Kirtipur during the harvest season, effectively laying siege to the stronghold. The Gorkhalis took over the nearby Balaju fort to create the commodities blockade for several months. The food and water-deprived people of Kirtipur were coaxed into surrender on 17 March 1766.
This time Prithvi Narayan Shah took over Kirtipur without a fight.
Victory Over English Forces
Having captured Kirtipur, the Gorkhalis were now going to attack Kantipur. King Jaya Prakash Malla, having no way out, sought help from the British East India Company.
British East India Company dispatched a large force of 2400 soldiers under the command of captain Kinloch to help the Malla King. Prithvi Narayan Shah fully aware of the plot sent 500 soldiers under the command of Bir Bhadra Upadhyaya and Banshu Gurung as a counterattack. Later it was reinforced by another force comprising 700 soldiers led by Bansh Raj Pandey and Shree Harsha Panta. English forces were attacked in Sindhuli and badly defeated.
Victory Over The Three Malla Kings
Kathmandu Valley was divided into the three Malla kingdoms namely Kantipur, Lalitpur, and Bhadgaon; Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur as they are called now.
Encouraged by their victory over Kirtipur, the Gorkhalis surrounded the Basantapur Palace of Kantipur from three sides on the midnight of 28 September 1768. Jaya Prakash Malla along with his people was celebrating the Indra Jatra festival. The attack was sudden, helpless Jaya Prakash fled to take refuge at neighboring Malla Kingdom, Lalitpur, therefore Kantipur’s force surrendered without any resistance.
When Lalitpur was captured on 9 Oct 1768, Tej Narsingh Malla, the Lalitpur King also took asylum at Bhadgaon ruled by King Ranjit Malla. After 3 days of battle, on 16 Nov 1769, the Gorkhali captured Bhadgaon also.
By annexing the last three Kingdoms, Prithvi Narayan Shah finally unified and made a country and called it “Nepal”.