Google’s ngram reveals a few historical facts about Nepal

Nepal in English books (1500-1790AD)Google’s ngram allows anyone to mine English textbooks scanned by Google to track dynamics of words in the Western world since 1500AD. I decided to spend this Sunday afternoon to mine English textbooks to learn about history of knowledge of Nepal in the West. It is apparent that India (1520AD) and China (1570) were known to the Western world at least 200 years before Nepal (not mentioned until 1680).

Father Guillespie (Read Father Guillespie’s account of Prithvi Narayan Shah’s acquisition of Lalitpur form 1795AD), probably one of the first to write about Nepal mentions a road via Macwanpur (Makwanpur) leads to Nepal, an “ancient and independent” country, from India. In his account he mentions that Nepal has three principle cities: Cathmanda (Kathmandu) which extends to Thibet(Tibet), Lelit Pattan which borders Macwanpur, and the third city of Bhatgan (Bhaktapur) which borders Ceratas (Kirantas). He also mentions Timi (Thimi) and Cipoli (Siphal may be??) as two small towns. Father Gillespie claims to have witnessed the defeat of the king of Patan,  Gainprejas  by Gorc’ha king Prithvi Narayan Shah. Gillespie writes that Gainprejas paid his soldiers by digging the Treasures of Tolu, which was possessed by Prithvi Narayan Shah upon winning the battle. He claims he saw the treasure that Shah acquired.

Gillespies appears to exaggerate and fantasize about Nepal and portray it as a barbaric and exotic nation. For example, Father Guillespie mentions two religions practiced in Nepal (Kathmandu valley): Baryesu, a religion of Tibetan origins whose practitioners “pluck out all the hair from their heads” and Hindu religion “practiced in its greatest purity” which was adulterated by Mohammedans in India. Hence, his account should not be taken as a historical fact; however it is fascinating to read a document about Nepal in English, from 1700s.  A few memorable mentions from Gillespie are Banga, a castle 3 miles west of Lelit Pattan (not sure if this castle still exists) and the statue of Budhanilkantha. Another book from 1750, Memoir of a Map of Hindoostan also mentions Srinagar, Nepal, and Morung  as countries indepent of Tibet. Hence, these two articles from 1700s appear to corroborate at lest two facts about Nepal:  existence of Limbuwan in the east of Bhaktapur and existence of Morong as a state described by Iman Singh Chemjong in Kirantkalin Vijaypurko Sankshipta Itihaasa (1975). Awesome!!!

Currently, there is a considerable debate on whether Prithvi Narayan Shah unified Nepal or expanded Gorkha and whether he should be viewed in a positive or a negative light. In A view of the rise, progress, and present state of the English Government in Bengal (1772) a Governor of Bengal writes that Rajah of Nepal repeatedly pressed the English to send military aid. This is the time Prithvi Narayan Shah attached Kathmandu valley which again corroborates Iman Singh Chemjong‘s description of Gorkhali attacks in the Valley (Kirantkalin Vijaypurko Sankshipta Itihaasa (1975)). Furthermore, the Governor writes of an “advantageous trade” with Nepal “by which a considerable quantity of gold, and many other valuables were imported. The Rajan being now dispossessed of his country…by the Rajah of Goercullah (Gorkha) the usual channel of commerce has in consequence been obstructed.” This suggests Prithvi Narayah Shah stopped export of riches of the Kathmandu to the English; hence those who view his capture of the valley negatively should reconsider their views.

In summary ngram can be a valuable tool for scholars, both in Nepal and in the West to study history of ancient Nepal. For example, Francis Hamilton’s  An account of the Kingdom of Nepal documents the details of Kirants in 1819 which is similar to Limbuwan’s history in Iman Singh Chemjong‘s  Kirantkalin Vijaypurko Sankshipta Itihaasa (1975). Also, there may be valuable old resources that have been masked by a surge of recent documents that may shed more light on history of Nepal.



Filed under My Life My Thoughts, Nepal

5 responses to “Google’s ngram reveals a few historical facts about Nepal

  1. WOW..nice work bro….i have following this blog since a long time and feel that your awesome blogging makes our country proud.

  2. Anubhab

    “Gillespies appears to exaggerate and fantasize about Nepal and portray it as a barbaric and exotic nation. …. Hence, his account should not be taken as a historical fact.” in my opinion, you are also assuming. you have not presented shred of “fact” to refute his account and to discredit his statements. you have so callously defended your opinion by simply stating that Mr. G’s accounts were mere fantasies.

    • Hi Anubhab,
      Sorry for this late response. I argue Gillespies statements are exaggerated for the following reasons:
      1) there is no historical evidence for “Treasures of Tolu.” If such a treasure truly existed, why were they never recorded in any historical documents from the Malla or Shah period? And where did they go since the capture of the valley?
      2) Baryesu and plucking hair from the heads: I am not familiar with any such religion or religious practices in the Kathmandu valley. I know people SHAVING their heads but never “plucking” their hairs.
      3) Hindu religion “practiced in its greatest purity” which was adulterated by Mohammedans in India: this is a blatant lie. Hinduism in Kathmandu has acquired so many dieties and customs of the Newar people in the Kathmandu valley that it is very different from Hinduism in India. In Kathmandu, people offer animal sacrifices to even god Ganesh, which is very specific to Nepal. Hence, from a purist Hindu perspective, Hinduism in Nepal is adulterated.

      Having said all these, you are right, I have no evidence to prove or disprove any of Gillespies arguments. All I am trying to do is highlight his account and hopefully someone in the historical community in Nepal will find it interesting to research his claims and put forward any evidence (or lack there of). Thank you much for your comment and I really appreciate it.


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