The long-ago fight for Kirant identity

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the eastern Himalayan region was a hotbed of conflict as the indigenous communities pitched themselves against Tibetan Buddhist and Gorkhali hegemony. Hitherto unstudied manuscripts afford a new understanding of these rivalries, and of the life and work of a man who laid the ground for a Kirant revival.

[*Research assistance for this article by Sonam Rinchen Lepcha, and previous translation work by Imansing Chemjong and Bairagi Kainla.]

Historians today are convinced that a widespread cultural conflict took place in the eastern Himalayan region between the indigenous inhabitants – called the Kirant – and the Tibetan migrant population, reaching a climax during the 18th and 19th centuries. Another wave of political and cultural conflict, between Gorkhali and Kirant ideals, surfaced in the Kirant region of present-day Nepal during the last quarter of the 18th century. A collection of manuscripts from the 18th and 19th centuries, till now unpublished and unstudied by historians, have made possible a new understanding of this conflict. These historical sources are among those collected by Brian Houghton Hodgson – a British diplomat and self-trained Orientalist appointed to the Kathmandu court during the second quarter of the 19th century – and his principal research aide, the Newar scholar Khardar Jitmohan.

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Himal Southasian