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State-building and the Formation of Political Knowledge in Nineteenth-Century Nepal

starting April 2018

Although Nepal in the 19th century is often portrayed as a remote and culturally isolated country whose political universe solely revolved around ideas of Hindu kingship, the acquisition of foreign political knowledge, especially on the colonial state in India and the Chinese empire, was a necessity for the consolidation of the newly formed Gorkhali state. The Kathmandu durbar not only maintained a ramified network of envoys stretching from Afghanistan to Burma which provided the government with reports on recent political affairs, but also sponsored the composition of a largely unexplored body of xenological literature which consists of compendia on foreign political, military and legal systems and of chronicles of British and Chinese monarchs. The existence of these texts strongly suggests that the intellectual history of political thought in 19th-century Nepal requires a reassessment from a transcultural angle. Therefore, this project aims at bringing this xenological political literature into conversation with contemporaneous texts composed in the tradition of classical Indic political reflection, especially from the literature on nīti (‘prudent policy) and rājadharma (‘royal duties’). It analyses the various and conflicting modes by which Nepal’s literati engaged with different governmental traditions in order to formulate their visions for the normative underpinnings of the Gorkhali polity and to intervene into their socio-political context.

 Picture: Iṃgalinstānakā Vādaśāhaharūko Vaṃśāvalī
(‘Chronicle of the Kings of England’)
c. 1830, Kathmandu, National Archives, Ms. No. 2/306, fol. 1r.

Simon Cubelic

Simon Cubelic studied Classical Indology and Political Science of South Asia at Heidelberg University from where he received his PhD in 2017. His dissertation is concerned with the law of obligations in Sarvoru Śarman‘s Vivādasārārṇava, a Sanskrit law text commissioned by the British colonial government of Bengal in 1789. From 2013 to 2016 he was part of the Cluster Project A 14 ‘Transcultural Legal Flows in 18th- and 19th-Century South Asia’. Since 2014 he has also been a research fellow at the research unit ‘Documents on the History of Religion and Law of Premoderrn Nepal’ of the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities. His research focuses on the intellectual history of legal and political thought in Sanskrit and Nepali, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries.