Preferred Citation: Levy, Robert I. Mesocosm: Hinduism and the Organization of a Traditional Newar City in Nepal. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1990 1990.

Chapter Three Nepal, the Kathmandu Valley, and Some History

Jayasthiti Malla and the Ordering of Bhaktapur

In 1355 A.D. , shortly after the Muslim invasion of Nepal, Jayasthiti Malla, "a figure of obscure lineage and controversy with regard to his status as a sovereign ruler" (Hasrat 1970, xli), married the granddaughter of Rudramalla, a powerful Bhaktapur noble. After a period of shifting rulers and alliances he eventually emerged as the paramount ruler of Nepal, beginning his de jure reign in 1382.[25] "To Jayasthiti Malla goes the credit of saving the kingdom from the throes of disintegration and confusion. He curbed the activities of the feudal lords, brought the component units of the kingdom into submission, and with a strong hand, restored order" (Hasrat 1970, xlii).

Jayasthiti Malla was credited by some of the later chronicles—and by the present people of Bhaktapur—with the establishment of many of the laws and customs of Bhaktapur, particularly those involving caste regulations, with standardizing weights and measures, with establishing an order. Let us review some of the achievements traditionally ascribed to him. "Each caste [in Bhaktapur now] followed its own customs. To the low castes dwellings, dress and ornaments were assigned, according to certain rules. No sleeves were allowed to the coats of Kasais [butchers].[26] No caps, coats, shoes, nor gold ornaments were permitted to Podhyas [untouchables]. Kasais, Podhyas, and Kulus were not


allowed to have houses roofed with tiles, and they were obliged to show proper respect to the people of castes higher than their own" ("Wright's chronicle," Wright 1972, 182f.). The chronicles credit Jayasthiti Malla with dividing the people into a large number of "castes" (sixty-four in some accounts, thirty-six in others). "The four highest castes [here varna[*] is meant; see chap. 5] were prohibited from drinking water from the hands of low caste people, such as Podhyas or Charmakaras. If a woman of a high caste had intercourse with a man of a lower caste, she was degraded to the caste of her seducer" (Wright 1972, 186f.). According to the Padmagiri chronicle, "He constituted a fine for all such persons as follow the profession of others, as if a blacksmith follow the profession of goldsmith, he shall be fined" (Hasrat 1970, 56).

"He ordered that all the four castes of his subjects should attend the dead bodies of the Kings to the burning-ghats, and that the instrumental music of the Dipaka Raga should be performed while the dead bodies were being burned. . . . He constituted for each of the 36 tribes a separate masan or place for burning their dead and the corpses were decreed to be conveyed by four men proceeded by musicians" (Wright 1972, 182). Jyasthithi Malla classified houses and lands and standardized a system of measurement. "To the four principal castes, viz., the Brahman, Kshatri, Vaisya, and Sudra, were given the rules of Bastuprakaran and Asta-barga for building houses" (Wright 1972, 184). He changed the criminal laws. Previously criminals had been punished "with blows and reprimands, but this Raja imposed fines, according to the degree of the crimes" (Wright 1972, 182).

Jayasthiti Malla "made poor wretched people happy by conferring on them lands and houses, according to caste" (Wright 1972, 187). This particular aspect of reordering may explain, in part, reports of one set of laws that seem to run counter to the rigid codifying of social hierarchy and custom generally attributed to him. That is, Jayasthiti Malla "made many laws regarding the rights of property in houses, lands, and birtas[27] that hereafter became saleable" (Wright 1972, 182). Or as Padmagiri's chronicle has it, "He allowed his subjects to sell or mortgage their hereditary landed property whenever occasion required it." One may assume that this increased negotiability of property rights had something to do with the reforming of the status system and facilitated the economic base of the new regulations.[28]

A manuscript in the Hodgson Collection (vol. 11, n.d.) collected between 1820 and 1844 entitled "Institutes of Nepal Proper under


the Newars or the Jayasthiti Paddhati" includes detailed regulations for the "four varna[*] s and thirty-six jat s" on rites of passage, and detailed regulations on such matters as payments to various specialists. It includes fines and punishments of various kinds, including those for illicit sexual intercourse. It prescribes the functions and some of the internal regulations (particularly the periods of pollution for birth and death, and whether they must purify themselves or be purified by a 'barber") of various groups, beginning with the lowest and ascending through the hierarchy.

Moreover, along with all this, it is said of Jayasthiti Malla in the chronicles that he built and repaired, established and consecrated temples and images of the gods. As the Wright Chronicle sums it up, "Thus Raja Jayasthiti Malla divided the people into castes and made regulations for them. He also made laws about houses and lands, and fostered the Hindu religion in Nepal, thereby making himself famous" (Wright 1972, 187).

Jayasthiti Malla came to represent to Newars the Hindu ordering of Bhaktapur, an order built on an ancient plan. "In making laws about houses, lands, castes, and dead bodies, he was assisted by his five pandits. . . . Such laws were formerly in existence, but having fallen into disuse through lapse of time, they were again compiled from Shastras and brought into use" (Wright 1972, 183f.). Certainly, as D. R. Regmi argues (1965-1966, part I, p. 367), he built on preexisting hierarchical structures of some kind and on preexisting principles and forms of Hindu and Newar order. As Slusser notes, already during the Licchavi period "society [had been] hierarchically stratified by caste, and occupations were not only caste-determined but enforced through a special office." (1982, 38). During Jayasthiti Malla's reign (Slusser 1982, 59):

New concepts of administration, nascent in the early Malla years, became clearly established. . . . But he cannot be credited with introducing the caste system into Nepal, nor with single-handedly infusing hierarchy into Nepalese society, two deeds on which his fame popularly rests. The Indian caste system was in effect in the Nepal Valley from at least the beginning of the Licchavi Period, as inscriptions attest. Similarly, the complex system of subcastes that ordain Valley social behavior must be viewed as the product of centuries, of gradual accretion, not a sudden imposition by law. Significantly, Sthitimalla's own annals make no mention of these undertakings. . . . Nonetheless, Sthitimalla may well have codified the particular social patterns that had developed by his time, and thus given established local custom the force of law.


Jayasthiti Malla revivified, extended, and codified an order that built on preexisting forms and forced them into Hindu ideals of the proper form for a little kingdom, a city-state. Subsequent developments of this order must have been retrospectively credited to him, validated by his name. This order was the mesocosmic order of the Newar cities, which was to last in Bhaktapur for some 600 years.

Chapter Three Nepal, the Kathmandu Valley, and Some History

Preferred Citation: Levy, Robert I. Mesocosm: Hinduism and the Organization of a Traditional Newar City in Nepal. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1990 1990.