The foundation of modern Nepal, which until 2007 was styled as the 'only Hindu kingdom (of the world)', goes back to the middle of the 18th century when Pṛthvīnārāyaṇa Śāha, King of Gorkha, started expanding his dominion. Conquering many petty states, such as the rich Malla kingdoms of Kathmandu Valley in 1768/69, the Shah kings soon ruled over a large territory, which subsequently developed into a national state.
This project aims at understanding developments the formation of the Himalayan state entailed, such as the restructuring of social institutions or the expansion of Hindu rule. Research is based on a corpus of documents available in public and private archives of the Kathmandu Valley. Among the documents, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, particular attention is given to those relating to religious institutions (such as edicts, land grants, contracts, foundation charters, and letters) and to legal and administrative practice (such as court decisions on moral conduct, or caste regulations). Many files held by the National Archives and other governmental institutions were microfilmed by the German Oriental Society (Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft), but only some of them have so far been edited, translated, or studied.
With research units in Heidelberg and Patan, the project will systematically study and selectively edit and translate this unique textual corpus, which forms the basis for the still largely unexplored history of Nepal’s many religious institutions and sites, and of its jurisprudence system as well. The centrepiece of the academic endeavour is an open access digital database, which will unite references to both published and unpublished documents and will enable complex searches within the data sets. Apart from the development of this database, of a pioneering character for research in South Asian documents, the Nepalese case-study will connect to wider scholarly discussions, such as the legitimation and affirmation of rulership, political unification and nation building, the importance of textualization and codification of law, and the development of elite cultures in the 19th century.