Reign of Sthitimalla

Sthitimalla was the greatest ruler of the Malla Dynasty of medieval Nepal. Although his ancestral origins are obscure, he ascended to the Malla throne and secured the kingdom after a long and extremely turbulent period lasting nearly eight decades.

Summary of Event

Malla rule began in the Kathmandu Valley at the beginning of the twelfth century when a king named Ari Malla Ari Malla came to the throne after a long transitional period of chaos and strife. The ancestry of the Mallas in Nepal has not been clearly established, but they may have originated in north India. The word malla means wrestler and, by extension, one who is able to grapple with adversaries; it has been postulated that its use as a name suggested the strength of the ruler and eventually was employed as the family name for the powerful clan. It is not known if the first Malla ruler acquired the throne through conquest or by some other means, but the beginning of Ari Malla’s reign can be dated to October, 1200. By taking various titles as noted in inscriptions, he consolidated a somewhat tentative authority in the region with the Malla seat of power at Bhadgaon (modern Bhaktapur) in the Tripura Palace. [kw]Reign of Sthitimalla (1382-1395)
[kw]Sthitimalla, Reign of (1382-1395)
Malla Dynasty
India;1382-1395: Reign of Sthitimalla[2980]
Government and politics;1382-1395: Reign of Sthitimalla[2980]
Ari Malla

He was followed by his son Abhaya Malla Abhaya Malla (r. 1216-1255), whose turbulent reign was challenged and subjected to raids from Doyas, a neighboring people, and weakened by natural disasters. In 1255, the country was so devastated by plague and earthquakes that one-third of the population perished. Abhaya’s son Jayadeva Malla Jayadeva Malla (r. 1255-1258) also ruled a kingdom made insecure by various disasters and severe internal dissension. Both of Jayadeva’s sons died in childhood. Although a number of kings followed throughout the remainder of the thirteenth and much of the fourteenth centuries, Malla rule was insecure and often threatened by external forces. One disaster of great importance was the devastating raid of Sultan Shams-ud-din Ilyas Shams-ud-din Ilyas of Bengal in 1345-1346 in which all of the major shrines of the Kathmandu Valley were looted and burned. The years following the raid were a time of terrible upheaval in Nepal. The prestige and power of the monarchy was seriously curtailed, and the population suffered terribly. It was not until an unknown noble named Jayasthiti married a Malla princess and began to assert authority in the Kathmandu Valley that peace and stability gradually were restored to the region.

The lineage of Jayasthiti, later called Sthitimalla, is not clearly known and is debated among scholars. Some have connected him to the line of Harisimha of Tirhut (Mithila, northern Bihar), an Indian kingdom bordering Nepal. Others argue that he was Malla royalty but was connected to a lateral branch of the family. There can be no doubt, however, that his authority on the throne resulted from his marriage in 1355 to an eight-year-old Malla princess named Rajalladevi Rajalladevi , the granddaughter of Rudramalla of Bhadgaon (1295-1326), the previous Malla king. Rajalladevi was under the guardianship of her grandmother, the regent Devaladevi Devaladevi (Malla regent queen) (d. 1366). An obscure king named Rajadeva and subsequently his son Arjunadeva (r. 1361-1370) nominally occupied the throne, but the real power seems to have been in the hands of the regent Devaladevi. It is recorded that the regent queen selected the husband of her ward and summoned Sthitimalla from somewhere south of Kathmandu Valley. Little more is certain other than Jayasthiti must have been of noble lineage to warrant the hand of the royal princess.

At first Jayasthiti played a nominal role in the politics of the day. His activities for many years after his marriage are undocumented. By 1372, Sthitimalla had become co-ruler with Arjunadeva Arjunadeva . Shortly thereafter, he had Arjunadeva imprisoned and eventually killed. Immediately after the demise of the co-ruler, on September 15, 1382, Sthitimalla officially was crowned king. There were some nobles who opposed his rule, but even those critics in due course succumbed to his intelligent leadership and administration.

Although some may have questioned his tactics in gaining the throne, he nonetheless brought much needed stability to the land after nearly a century of anarchy. Until Sthitimalla’s accession to the throne, Nepal had been divided into small independent and often warring kingdoms centering on important towns. The nobles of the autonomous states attempted to influence the politics of the Kathmandu Valley and sought to undermine the country’s stability. Certainly the biggest threat was the destabilization of the throne. Sthitimala, however, proved an able politician. Even as co-ruler he had brought under his control the aggressive nobles of the nearby city of Patan, and in 1374, his forces defeated the neighboring kingdoms of Banepa and Pharping, his two most belligerent opponents. He had full control of the country from 1382 until his death in 1395. Not only did Sthitimalla ensure internal peace, but also stability meant that the borders of Nepal were secure from the outside danger of invasion.

Jayasthiti Malla was a visionary ruler who sought to consolidate Nepali society through conquest and legislation. He introduced a program of social reforms, some of which were ceremonial in nature; for example, he determined the requirements of the cremation ceremony for a deceased king, which was to be attended by all subjects. With his advisers, he undertook the first comprehensive codification of law Laws and law codes;Nepal in Nepal that was based largely on the ancient Hindu laws set down by Manu. Traditionally, he is credited with obtaining the help of Brahmans from both north and south India in formulating a code of religious and social conduct. Although the caste system was known in Nepal from as early as the Licchavi Dynasty (fourth-ninth century), the king reformed the caste system Caste system;Nepal in a way that did not stress the traditional four varnas (castes), but classified people into sixty-four subcastes. In addition, he laid down detailed guidelines for marriage, dining, maintaining drinking water, and, in fact, all actions and interactions between the various groups. Jayasthiti also standardized weights and measures and introduced laws for the use of pasturelands and water for irrigation as well as for property rights and inheritance. He also introduced a penal code prescribing criminal offences to be punished by fines rather than inhumane treatment and abuse. Many of the laws introduced by Jayasthiti continue to be used today with little modification.

An ardent Hindu, Sthitimalla was a devotee of Viṣṇu (Vishnu), particularly in his avatar as Rama. He is renowned for staging several dramas based on the great Hindu epic, the Rāmāyaṇa
Rāmāyaṇa (Vālmīki)[Ramayana (Valmiki)] (c. 550 b.c.e., some material added later; English translation, 1870-1889). He was equally devoted to the god Śiva and was a patron of Śiva’s famous temple at Pasupatinath, and he undertook restoration of the sacred site after the Muslim destruction. He also restored the Great Stupa and Svayambunatha, a much-revered Buddhist holy site, after it too suffered ruin at the hands of the Muslims. An even-handed ruler, he maintained peaceful relations with the Buddhists, although he was directly or indirectly responsible for the increasing authority of Hinduism in Nepal. Religion;Nepal

Jayasthiti was particularly important in the evolution of the cult of the goddess in Nepal. A goddess known as Manesvari had been the patron deity of the earlier Licchavi kings and their successors. By the fourteenth century, a form of the goddess Durga called Taleju, or Taleju Bhavani, had been introduced into the Kathmandu Valley from northern India. The two goddesses, Manesvari and Taleju, fused to form what was to become the focus of a major cult in Nepal. Jayasthiti adopted Taleju as his tutelary goddess, and he inaugurated the use of Taleju’s name in the royal edicts and inscriptions. Taleju was the royal divinity, and as such, she has been worshiped by all the kings of Nepal until modern times.

Sthitimalla had three sons: Dharmamalla, Jyotimalla, and Kirtimalla. Many of the plays staged by Sthitimalla were performed as part of the celebration of the births or marriages of his sons. Sthitimalla died in 1395, and his sons ruled jointly and collegially thereafter for many years. Two of the sons died, and leaving Jyotimalla Jyotimalla (d. 1428) as the sole ruler of Nepal. Sthitmalla’s sons maintained the strong and peaceful kingdom that he had established.


King Sthitimalla of Bhadgoan was unquestionably one of the major figures in Nepal’s history. He also was the most important king of the Malla line. He began by asserting his rule from the small principality of Bhadgaon but eventually was able to bring under his control the kingdom of Patan and other parts of the Kathmandu Valley. In addition, he exerted considerable control over the rebellious neighboring states of Banepa and Pharping. By curbing the power of the antagonistic and manipulative nobles throughout the region, he was able to bring great stability and prosperity to Nepal. Whatever Sthitimalla’s obscure origins, most of the old Nepali aristocracy eventually rallied to his support. His profound and enduring influence is particularly evident in his reformation of the social and legal codes as well as the increased prominence of Hinduism in Nepal. Particularly important were his strong hand in reunification of central Nepal after nearly a century of chaos. In addition, his social reforms have had a lasting impact on Nepal’s society and culture.

Further Reading

  • Petech, Luciano. Mediaeval History of Nepal (c. 750-1482). Rome: Istituto Italiano Per Il Medio Ed Estremo Oriente, 1984. Provides known inscriptions of the period and a reconstruction the very fragmentary medieval period in Nepal. Bibliography.
  • Regmi, D. R. Medieval Nepal. Calcutta, India: Firma K. L. Mukhopadhyay, 1965. A carefully considered reconstruction of the period. The author offers several important interpretations of the remaining fragmentary evidence. Some inscriptions and a bibliography.
  • Shaha, Rishikesh. Ancient and Medieval Nepal. New Delhi, India: Manohar, 1997. An excellent short history that succeeds in clarifying its complex subject matter. Bibliography.
  • Slusser, Mary Shepherd. Nepal Mandala: A Cultural Study of the Kathmandu Valley. Kathmandu, Nepal: Mandala Book Store, 1998r. A superior and interesting work that recounts the fragmentary history of medieval Nepal in minute detail. Bibliography.