The Malla Kings

Nepal Table of Contents

Beginning in the early twelfth century, leading notables in Nepal began to appear with names ending in the term malla, (wrestler in Sanskrit), indicating a person of great strength and power. Arimalla (reigned 1200-16) was the first king to be so called, and the practice of adopting such a name was followed regularly by rulers in Nepal until the eighteenth century. (The names of the Malla kings were also represented as, for example, Ari Malla.) This long Malla period witnessed the continued importance of the Kathmandu Valley as a political, cultural, and economic center of Nepal. Other areas also began to emerge as significant centers in their own right, increasingly connected to the Kathmandu Valley.

The time of the earlier Malla kings was not one of consolidation but was instead a period of upheaval in and around Nepal. In the twelfth century, Muslim Turks set up a powerful kingdom in India at Delhi, and in the thirteenth century they expanded their control over most of northern India. During this process, all of the regional kingdoms in India underwent a major reshuffling and considerable fighting before they eventually fell under Delhi's control. This process resulted in an increasing militarization of Nepal's neighbors and sections of Nepal as well. For example, in western Nepal, around Dullu in the Jumla Valley, an alternative seat of political and military power grew up around a separate dynasty of Mallas (who were not related to the Mallas of the Kathmandu Valley), who reigned until the fourteenth century. These Khasa kings expanded into parts of western Tibet and sent raiding expeditions into the Kathmandu Valley between 1275 and 1335. In 1312 the Khasa king, Ripumalla, visited Lumbini and had his own inscription carved on Ashoka's pillar. He then entered the Kathmandu Valley to worship publicly at Matsyendranath, Pashupatinath, and Svayambhunath. These acts were all public announcements of his overlordship in Nepal and signified the temporary breakdown of royal power within the valley. At the same time, the rulers in Tirhut to the south led raids into the valley until they were in turn overrun by agents of the Delhi Sultanate. The worst blow came in 1345-46, when Sultan Shams ud-din Ilyas of Bengal led a major pillaging expedition into the Kathmandu Valley, resulting in the devastation of all major shrines. In fact, none of the existing buildings in the valley proper dates from before this raid.

The early Malla period, a time of continuing trade and the reintroduction of Nepalese coinage, saw the steady growth of the small towns that became Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhadgaon. Royal pretenders in Patan and Bhadgaon struggled with their main rivals, the lords of Banepa in the east, relying on the populations of their towns as their power bases. The citizens of Bhadgaon viewed Devaladevi as the legitimate, independent queen. The betrothal in 1354 of her granddaughter to Jayasthitimalla, a man of obscure but apparently high birth, eventually led to the reunification of the land and a lessening of strife among the towns.

By 1370 Jayasthitimalla controlled Patan, and in 1374 his forces defeated those in Banepa and Pharping. He then took full control of the country from 1382 until 1395, reigning in Bhadgaon as the husband of the queen and in Patan with full regal titles. His authority was not absolute because the lords of Banepa were able to pass themselves off as kings to ambassadors of the Chinese Ming emperor who traveled to Nepal during this time. Nevertheless, Jayasthitimalla united the entire valley and its environs under his sole rule, an accomplishment still remembered with pride by Nepalese, particularly Newars. The first comprehensive codification of law in Nepal, based on the dharma of ancient religious textbooks, is ascribed to Jayasthitimalla. This legendary compilation of traditions was seen as the source of legal reforms during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

After the death of Jayasthitimalla, his sons divided the kingdom and ruled collegially, until Jayajyotirmalla, the last surviving son, ruled on his own from 1408 to 1428. His son, Yakshamalla (reigned ca. 1428-82), represented the high point of the Mallas as rulers of a united Nepal. Under his rule, a military raid was launched against the plains to the south, a very rare event in Nepalese history. Yakshamalla built the Mul Chok in 1455, which remains the oldest palace section in Bhadgaon. The struggles among the landed aristocracy and leading town families (pradhan), especially acute in Patan, were controlled during his reign. Outlying areas such as Banepa and Pharping were semi-independent but acknowledged the leadership of the king. Newari appeared more often as the language of choice in official documents. The royal family began to accept Manesvari (also known as Taleju), a manifestation of Shiva's consort, as their personal deity.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress