Nepal, a country tugged between India and Tibet is a melting pot of Hinduism and Buddhism. The Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was born in Lumbini, Nepal about 2600 years ago. Some of the Buddhist shrines in Nepal dates back before the Beginning of Common Era. History of Hinduism in Nepal can be traced back to the beginning of Nepal nation. The oldest temple in Nepal is Changunarayan, which is dedicated to Hindu God Narayan (Vishnu), and it dates back to 5th century.
There are over 1200 ancient Buddhist temples and 2000 ancient Hindu temples in Nepal. Most of the ancient Hindu and Buddhist temples are UNESCO World Heritage Site of Cultural Importance. Many ancient relics have been discovered that provide strong proofs that the Buddha was born in Lumbini, Nepal. In Lumbini, you can see the remnants of ancient temples, monasteries, the Buddha’s birth-spot and other ancient relics.
Origin of Hinduism in Nepal
Nepal has largely remained a Hindu kingdom during the written history of 15 hundred years. Some historians believe that in the beginning Nepal was a Buddhist country. However, the name Nepal comes from a Hindu savant called Ne who had lived in ancient Nepal, which meant the Kathmandu Valley in the antiquity. Nepal literally means “the land protected by Ne.”
The Kirat is the first dynasty to rule Nepal. Kirateshor Mahadev, the patron deity of Kirat dynasty is also a Hindu God Shiva. This suggests that foundation of Hinduism in Nepal is as old as the country itself. Kirat dynasty ruled Nepal since the beginning of common era and until 4th century AD.
The Lichhivi dynasty is the second ruling dynasty in Nepal. During Lichhivi dynasty, many Buddhist and Hindu temples were built, which suggest that in the ancient times, the people of Nepal did not segregate Buddhism and Hinduism. Harisiddhi dance-drama is the oldest surviving cultural tradition in Nepal. It is believed to be at least two thousand years old. Harisiddhi dance-drama is a performance that comprise the elements of both Buddhism and Hinduism. Lichhivi dynasty ruled until the 10th century.
Evolution of Religious Tolerance in Nepal
The Malla Dynasty, the third ruling dynasty, is the Golden Period of Nepal, not only because it gave birth to the present cultural set up of the country, but also because it promoted religious freedom. The Malla rulers welcomed Muslims people, who came for business, and the Capuchins, who were in Kathmandu Valley for missionary works. The Malla kings were Hindus but they practiced Buddhism. The Malla dynasty continued until 17th century.
Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism peacefully co-existed during the Malla Dynasty. Unfortunately, with the rise of Shah, religious freedom ended. Prithivi Narayan Shah banished Christian preaches and Christians converts from the country and his successors persecuted Christians. The shah dynasty began in 1789 with the conquering of Kathmandu valley by Prithivi Narayan until the down fall of Gynandra Shah in 2006.
During the Shah dynasty, a ruling clan called Rana evolved. The Ranas were the defacto rulers of Nepal for 104 years. The Rana era began in 1847 and ended in 1951. The Ranas were even more hostile against the Buddhist. It is believed Kakra Vihar, the ancient Buddhist Monastery in Surkhet, was destroyed during the Rana rule.
Buddhism in Nepal
Buddhism originated in Nepal, however, it was lost until 8th century. Buddhism was rediscovered by the Mallas and it flourished during the Malla dynasty. However, when the modern era started in Nepal, Buddhism again went back to abyss.
Buddhism gained state’s acceptance only during King Mahendra’s rule (1954-1971). Since he had banned party politics and Nepal was criticized by the Western world, he wanted promote Nepal in a different way. He promoted Nepal as the birthplace of Buddha. King Mahendra promoted Buddhism, but he also promulgated Nepal as a Hindu Kingdom in written form, in the constitution. Before that, Nepal was unofficially Hindu country.
During King Mahendra’s rule and his son Birendra’s rule,Nepal was still apathetic towards Christians and Muslims. After the 1990 people’s resistance, the new constitution accepted different religions and culture. However, Nepal was still a Hindu kingdom. Nepal was a Hindu kingdom as long as the Shah dynasty existed. In 2006, there was another massive people demonstration, which ended monarchy and Hindu state. Nepal was announced a secular republic.
Founding of modern Nepal had nothing to do with religion, however, the Shahs, the decedents of unifier of modern Nepal reined the country in the name of Hinduism. Some Hindus are still vouching for monarchy. Even the Hindu political party in India had originally vouched for continuance of Hindu Kingdom in Nepal. Interestingly, Nepal was not officially called Hindu country until 1960. When king Mahendra banished political parties and banned party politics, he established authoritarian regime and named Nepal a Hindu kingdom.
Secularism in Nepal
The year 2006 knocked every traditional notion in Nepal. Nepal is now a secular country and a republic. Even though Nepal is a secular state, there are people who still want Nepal to become a Hindu state, some people have problem with the word secular. Thus, according to a recent agreement, Nepal is neither Hindu nation, not a secular state, Nepal is religiously neutral state.
Even though Nepal is no more Hindu nation, cow, which is highly revered animal for the Hindus, is a national animal. As a national animal, cow is protected. Killing cow or eating beef is punishable by law. For Hindus cow stands as a source of life and divine mother. People from other religions, particularly Christians and Muslims, have objected cow as a national animal. They say if Nepal is no more Hindu state, why cow revered by Hindus is a national animal. If Nepal is no more Hindu nation, they must be allowed to kill cow and eat beef.
Religion is a delicate matter in Nepal. More than 80 percent people in Nepal are Hindus, thus, the government cannot anger the majority by agreeing to minority. Muslims consists of about 6 percent and Christians consist of 3 percent of the total population.
Since we believe in democracy, the rule of majority, there is nothing wrong when the government protects Hindu interest. We are a democracy, which means we care about minority, thus, the government respects and safeguards other religions.