Vivaswan Kumar, March 30, 2009
Historians agree that ´Madhesh´ is a morphological derivative of Madhyadesh (Sanskrit for `the Middle Country´) or Majjhimadesh (Pali for ´the Middle Country´) and means the same — the Middle Country. The region of Madhyadesh has been well defined in ancient texts. For example, Manusmirti (circa 1500 BC, 2/21) defines Madhyadesh as the land between Himvat (Himalaya) and Vindhya Mountains and to the east of the river Vinasana (invisible Saraswati) and to the west of Prayag.
Around 500 BC, at the time of Buddha, the Buddhist texts calls this ´Middle Country´ Majjhimadesh in Pali language and defines the region in canonical texts Vinaya Pitaka as extended “in the east to the town of Kajangala, beyond which was Mahāsāla; on the south-east to the river Salalavatī; on the south west to the town of Satakannika; on the west to the Brahmin village of Thūna; on the north to the Usiraddhaja Mountain.” At the time of Buddha, the eastern limit of the Middle Country had extended nearly 400 miles eastward of Prayaga which was its eastern most point in the Manu’s time (Bhandarkar, 1918). According to Pali canon, the Majjhimadesh was “three hundred yojanas in length, two hundred and fifty in breadth, and nine hundred in circumference” and it contained fourteen out of the sixteen Mahājanapadas (Kāsī, Kosala, Anga, Magadha, Vajji, Mallā, Cetiya, Vamsā, Kuru, Pañcāla, Macchā, Sūrasena, Assaka, Avantī). This land of the Middle country was ruled by several great dynasties in ancient and medieval times.
Upon the arrival of Islamic rulers from the Mid East, they also called the plains of “undulating former marshland” of the Middle Country as ´Terai´, a word derived from Persian (तराई / ترائی ´wetland´ from تر ´wet´ ), meaning “moist land” (Encyclopedia Britannica). The British missionaries and the East India Company who came after Mughals also refer this region of Madhyadesh with this name or its variants. However they also continued to use Madhyades as well, for example, see Martin (1838), Elliot (1849), Muir (1873). At the later stage of British Raj, the northern part of Madhyadesh was ruled by Sen and other kingdoms as suzerainty states and paid taxes to Nawabs and the East India Company.
With the state expansion initiated by Gurkha ruler Prithvi Narayan Shah in the late 18th century, Gurkhas got hold of many parts of the Madhesh (Madhyadesh) and took many from Nawabs and the East India Company by paying tax or through treaties. The part of Madhesh present today in Nepal is a result of memorandum of 1816 and treaty of 1860 with the East India Company. Through the memorandum of 8 December 1816, the Company government handed the region between west of Koshi and east to Rapti river to Nepal instead of paying two hundred thousands rupees per year as agreed previously on Gurkhas´ request for supporting living cost of their employees. The region west of Rapti and east of Mahakali came through the treaty of 1860 as a reward to Gurkhas for their support to the East India Company for suppressing Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 to 1859 and is also called Naya Muluk (New Region).
With this annexation, the annexed region continued to be called ´Madhesh´. For example, a letter written by King Prithvi Narayan Shah to Bhagavanta Nath mentions, “…The boundaries have been extended to the Kankai River in the Madhesh and the Hasabharyakhola and the Tamor River in the hills.” Similarly, in the royal order issued by Prithivi Narayan Shah on 23 September 1761 to Jaisis all over the kingdom says: “In Nepal too, all castes own Birta lands: in the Madhesh region, the Bhot region, Jumla, Kumaun and Doti too, all castes own Birta lands.”
On the annexed land of Madhesh, Gurkhas continued to levy tax and started “land management” and administration by establishing administrative units like “Madhesh Bandobast Adda” (Madhesh Administration Office), “Madhesh Pahila Phat” (Madhesh Audit Department) and “Madhesh Report Niksari” throughout the Madhesh, from east to the west.
Not only in the administrative and historical documents, but even all literatures of Nepal show that writers and poets preferred to use the term Madhesh for this region. Even academic text books of Nepal from primary schools to colleges, and scholarly writings mentioned three divisions of Nepal as: Hyund-des (Bhot/Himal), Pahad-des (Parvat/Pahad) and Madhes/Mades (Terai).
Recently certain parties, for example federal maps proposed by Maoists, are categorising only Eastern Tarai region as Madhesh and calling western Tarai as Tharuwan/Tharuhat (to appease some groups). However this categorisation is baseless. It is well known and recorded fact that all the plain part of Nepal from east to west has been called and administered as Madhesh and all historical documents show this fact. For example, Muluki Ain (Civil Codes), different laws and regulations including Birta Confiscation Act, royal orders and other administrative and historical documents prove that whole Tarai (plain) region of Nepal was administered as Madhesh. Moreover, the administrative units for Madhesh like Madhesh Bandobast Adda (Madhesh Administration Office), Madhesh Pahila Phant (Madhesh Audit Department), Madhesh Report Niksari were opened and operating in the whole region from the east to the west of Nepal. Not only up to the Mahakali river in the west, but the plain region beyond that, as far as up to Kumaon and Garhwal, was also called Madhesh and ruled as such, as historical documents show. For example, the royal order issued in June 1805 says: “… Because Ranabir has behaved in an improper way, we hereby appoint you three brothers [Dhaukal Khatri, Surabir Khatri, and Ranabir Khatri] to replace him as Subbas for one-third of the territories of Garh in the Madhesh, the hills, and the Bhot.” This shows that the whole Terai region, from the east to the west, has always been in Madhesh.
Therefore, whether it´s ancient, medieval or modern times, the whole Terai (plain) region belongs to Madhesh.
(This article uses excerpts from another article by the same author—”Tharus are more Madheshi than others”. The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .)