Introduction to the Legal System of Malla Dynasty

The Legal System of Malla Dynasty in Nepal was remarkably distinctive and intricate compared to previous legal systems. They implemented unique judicial and legal practices, ensuring efficient and practical judicial administration.

Under the reign of the Malla kings, there were notable champions of justice who actively advocated for the preservation of a fair, impartial, and unbiased legal system. Among these kings were Jayastithi Malla, Mahendra Malla, and Pratap Malla.

The Legal System of Malla Dynasty drew its sources from various foundations. Primarily, it relied on the Dharma Shastras, laws practiced by society, and laws that emerged out of necessity.

However, the underlying basis for all these laws could be found in the Vedas, Smritis, and Dharmashastras. The Malla Dynasty gave prominence to specific Smritis, such as Manu Smriti, Yagyavalkya Smriti, and Brihaspati Smriti.

The legal framework of the Malla Dynasty stood out for its exceptional characteristics and complexity.

The Malla kings played an instrumental role in upholding justice and promoting a legal system that upheld truth and fairness. They aimed to instill Justice by promoting Scripture and Law-based Uniform Judgements.

Crime and Punishment in Malla Dynasty

Types of Crimes

The Malla Dynasty in Nepal categorized crimes into two types based on their severity: Five Heinous Crimes and Other Crimes.

The Five Heinous Crimes, also known as Panchakhat or Pancha Mahapatak, were considered extremely serious offenses. They were regarded as dangerous both from a religious and political standpoint, often carrying the punishment of death. These crimes encompassed five primary types, namely:

  1. Murder of Kin
  2. Murder of Child
  3. Murder of Female
  4. Murder of Brahmin
  5. Kidnapping

Interestingly, these crimes were seen more as a form of divine retribution rather than an official source of punishment. It was believed that the sins committed through these crimes were so grave that they could lead to a condemned life.

As a result, those who failed to fulfill their duties were often burdened with the sins associated with these crimes.

Apart from the Five Heinous Crimes, the Malla Dynasty also had laws dealing with Civil Crimes, which entailed punishments in the form of fines.

These crimes primarily revolved around marriage, particularly when a person from a higher caste married someone from a lower caste.

However, in the strictest sense, crimes referred to those acts that were considered offenses under criminal law. These were actions condemned by both the state and society, and typically inflicted harm upon individuals, such as murder, theft, and kidnapping.

Such crimes constituted the majority of the laws within the legal system of Malla Dynasty.

Division of Punishment

During the reign of the Malla Dynasty, a set of eight different punishments were prescribed for various crimes. These punishments aimed to establish order and deter individuals from engaging in unlawful activities.

Bak Danda (Counselling): Offenders would receive guidance and advice from authorities, emphasizing the importance of adhering to societal norms and laws. This was prevalent in crimes of a Simple Nature such as the Theft of inexpensive objects. It aimed to prevent further transgressions by such Individuals.

Dhik Danda (Public Reproach or Defamation): Wrongdoers faced public humiliation and shame as a means of retribution. This punishment aimed to publicly disgrace individuals, discouraging them from repeating their offenses. As the Malla Society was Mechanical and tightly bonded, Public Reproach conferred much shame upon the Offender.

Fine: Offenders were required to pay a monetary penalty as compensation for their actions. It was quite problematic as the Punishment imposed a financial burden on wrongdoers. It could also deter them from engaging in illegal behavior.

Imprisonment: In this case, Offenders were incarcerated for a specified period as a consequence of their crimes. This was quite rare during the Malla Dynasty due to the lack of Infrastructure and the disadvantages garnered by the State because of such Punishment.

Organ Deformation: In severe cases, the punishment involved causing physical disfigurement or damage to specific body parts.

Organ Mutilation: Certain offenses warranted the deliberate removal or mutilation of specific body parts. It was a heinous and inhuman process of punishing the offender, borderline to Barbaric Tribal Practices, and was removed within the 19th Century.

Death Penalty: The most severe punishment was capital punishment, where offenders were sentenced to death. Death Penalty was widely used in the Malla Dynasty. Although the exact process of the Death Penalty is unknown, it is known that Heinous Deaths were quite rare. 

Caste Abolition: Offenders from higher social castes faced the loss of their privileged status within society. The Punishment stripped individuals of their social standing and privileges, serving as a strong deterrent for those belonging to higher castes. It was prominent in Heinous Crimes as Brahmins weren’t given Death Penalty.

Laws of Malla Dynasty

Housing Laws

The Griya Nirnaya highlights the significance of houses in cities, roads, and streets. The type of houses constructed and their respective neighborhoods were determined by the caste system.

  1. Caste played a role in determining the type of houses and their locations. Brahmins and individuals belonging to the higher castes, such as the Newars, were required to build their houses near the King’s Palace. Those from other castes were subject to punishment if found residing in these areas.
  2. Big businessmen were also permitted to build houses near the King’s Palace. However, their houses had to be constructed using bricks and have special waterproof rooftops called Ghingti.
  3. Lower castes were confined to living in grouped areas, similar to ghettos, and were expected to build houses without good rooftops.

Caste Laws

The Jaat Laws emphasized the importance of maintaining an occupational structure, which had disappeared in Nepal. This structure, known as Varna Vyavastha, assigned individuals to their ancestral occupations. The absence of such a structure was referred to as Dharmasankar.

Area Laws

The Kshetra Nirnaya outlined the necessity and division of lands based on their productivity.

  1. The land was categorized into Abbal, Doyam, Sim, and Chahar based on their productivity.
  2. Ksetrakars were responsible for measuring and dividing the lands accordingly.
  3. Takshakars were assigned the task of measuring houses.
  4. The maintenance and division of irrigation tunnels and facilities were also mentioned.

Laws of the Malla Kings of Nepal

Nyayabikashini

The Nyayabikashini introduced reforms in land measurement, irrigation, and agriculture during the reign of Jayastithi Malla. Strict rules and regulations were established to combat theft, incest, and other crimes. Jayastithi Malla also ensured that each of the four varnas or classes had its own set of rules and regulations, including those related to house construction.

According to the Gopalraja Bansawali, the Pashupatinath Temple was subjected to looting during Jayastithi Malla’s reign. Jayastithi Malla derived these laws based on Dharmashastras and Smritis. As a result, theft was abolished in the Kathmandu Valley, as documented in the Gopalraja Bansawali.

Laws of Mahendra Malla

The Laws of Mahendra Malla were instituted with the absence of concrete evidence regarding their date of enactment. These Laws are reputed to have been promulgated after the conference of fourteen Toles, with the presence of twenty-six Toles’ inhabitants.

The need for these Laws is said to have been to mitigate the effects of famine and hailstones on the populace. Thus, the assembly of these individuals was prompted by some natural catastrophes that might have occurred in the Kathmandu Valley at that time.

These Laws prescribed normative behaviors for living in society, dispensing justice, regulating the weaving of clothes, collecting wood, and determining the appropriate time to eat food.

The renowned maxim of Mahendra Malla, “I always take food only after receiving word that everyone in the kingdom has had their meal,” has come to epitomize his commitment to ensuring the welfare of his people.

Laws of Pratap Malla

Pratap Malla, an influential figure in Nepal, implemented several legal reforms during his reign. One prevalent practice at the time was taking an oath by touching the deity Kal Bhairav.

However, due to numerous unfortunate incidents resulting from the perceived “religious” power of Kal Vairav, this practice was eventually discontinued. Pratap Malla firmly believed that a case would only arise when someone failed to adhere to dharma, the righteous path.

Consequently, he introduced a new procedure whereby judges were required to take an oath before Kotlingeshwor, pledging to deliver fair and just judgments. During this solemn oath-taking ceremony, the Stone of Justice was touched as a symbolic gesture.

Due to Pratap Malla’s significant contributions to the legal system, he earned the enduring title of ‘Dharmaraj Nepaleshwor,’ signifying his role as the righteous king upholding the principles of dharma

Judicial Administration

Case Procedure

During the Lichhavi period, the local governing body, known as the Gram or Local Body, was administered by a council called Panchayat or Pancha Valadmi. These council members were referred to as Panchaliks. One of their primary responsibilities was to resolve disputes and handle local cases within the community.

If any dissatisfaction or opposition arose regarding the decisions made by the Panchayat, citizens had the right to appeal to the central court of the King through a process called Praman or Pratihars.

The Praman, acting as intermediaries, would carefully evaluate the case and present it before the King for further consideration. To facilitate efficient communication and expedite the delivery of justice, Chadidars or Daudahas, who were messengers, were also present in this system.

This approach established a hierarchical structure within the judicial system of Nepal, with different levels of authority and decision-making. It provided a mechanism for the citizens residing outside of Kathmandu, referred to as Janapadas, to seek justice and resolution for their legal matters.

Kotling

Kotling Court, situated in Kathmandu near Hanuman Dhoka Palace, had jurisdiction over civil cases concerning society. It served as an appellate court for dissatisfied individuals seeking a review.

Presided over by Karmadakshya or Nyayakari, the court enforced punishments, and heard cases based on the king’s orders and Dharma Shastras. Established during King Pratap Malla’s reign, it played a vital role in dispensing fair justice and reducing the king’s workload.

Itachapali

Itachapali Court, established during the Malla Dynasty, was a respected criminal court responsible for hearing and delivering justice in criminal cases. It had jurisdiction over crimes such as treason, murder, and theft.

Dissatisfied individuals could appeal to Itachapali for a review, and the court would give a final verdict based on Dharma Shastras. It also protected case files and acted as an appellate court. The court’s officers had specific roles, and a wise Brahmin served as the Justice Giver.

Other Tribunals

The King, Mulami, and Other Administrative Positions also dealt with the Law and Legal Provisions of Nepal. Importantly, Rajguru and Dharmadhikari were known to have contributed to the Legal System of Nepal in the Malla Dynasty.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Legal System of Malla Dynasty in Nepal was characterized by its distinctive features and intricate nature. It drew its sources from a combination of Dharma Shastras, societal laws, and the Vedas, Smritis, and Dharmashastras. The Malla kings played a crucial role in upholding justice and promoting a legal system that prioritized fairness and truth.

The judicial administration of the Malla Dynasty involved a hierarchical structure, with local bodies and councils responsible for resolving disputes at the community level. Dissatisfied individuals had the right to appeal to central courts, such as Kotling and Itachapali, which served as appellate courts for civil and criminal cases, respectively.

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