Introduction to Legal System of Lichhavi Dynasty

The Legal System of the Licchavi Dynasty was based on nearly a dozen Quasi-Judicial and Judicial Tribunals, the Dharmashatras and Decrees issued by the King in Inscriptions.

Consequently, their legal codes were rooted in Hinduism and drew from the vast domain of Hindu knowledge.

During the Lichhavi Dynasty, judicial administration was organized into Gram, Tala, and Drang for the purpose of decentralization. Additionally, other administrative units known as Addas served similar purposes.

The central administration included entities such as Kuther, Sulli, Ligwal, Mapchowk, Bhattadikharan, Purvadhikaran, Paschimadikaran, and Paramasan, which further blurred the distinction between administration and judicial organs.

Judicial administration was integrated within the broader framework of governance.

The King held the power of Danda, which extended over the entire nation. To exercise punishment, the King relied on the Dandanayak or Sarva Dandanayak.

These individuals possessed extensive knowledge of Dharmashastras and were highly educated. Furthermore, the Pratihar or Mahapratihar played a crucial role in dispensing justice.

They acted as intermediaries between the King and the people, enabling individuals to report injustices to the Mahapratihar, who would then relay the complaints to the King.

The role of the Pratihar or Mahapratihar persisted even during the reign of the Shah Dynasty in Nepal and encompassed responsibilities such as inspecting deceased bodies. These figures held significant authority.

Another essential component of the justice administration system was the Grampanchali or Pancha Sabha. They were responsible for resolving local disputes and cases.

If they were unable to reach a resolution, the matter was escalated to the King’s Paramasana, as documented in the Naxal Abilekh.

Lichhavi Laws

The official language of the Lichhavi Kings was Sanskrit, and their official codes of justice were derived from the Shastras and Dharmashastras. In cases where the Dharmashastras did not provide sufficient guidance, the King would issue Rajagya Sanad.

King Manadev-I was particularly renowned for his fair and just dispensation of justice, with King Amshuverma and King Narendradeva also making notable contributions to the legal and judicial development of Nepal.

The use of Manusmriti, Yamasmriti, Brihaspatismriti, and Shukrasmriti is evident from an inscription found in Hadigaon.

Additionally, highly educated Brahmins and their assembly were called upon to handle cases when the Kings were unable to do so due to various circumstances.

These Brahmins were expected to conduct thorough and impartial investigations, ensuring their judgments were lawful and unbiased.


Punishments during the Lichhavi Dynasty were determined based on several factors, including the severity of the crime, the intent of the offender, the timing and location of the incident, the social standing of the accused, the nature of the offense, and the prevailing economic conditions.

Unlike modern times, where compensation and imprisonment are the primary forms of punishment, the Lichhavi Period employed four distinct types of punishment.

The first form was Bhakdanda, which involved scolding the offender. This was employed for minor offenses, aiming to guide the criminal towards better behavior and prevent further transgressions.

The second form was Dhikdanda, which involved publicly shaming the offender to discourage them from repeating their actions. Dhikdanda aimed to evoke a sense of guilt in the criminal.

The third form was Arthadanda, which can be likened to contemporary financial compensation.

The purpose of Arthadanda was to instill fear regarding the offender’s future and their ability to lead a prosperous life, without necessarily focusing on reformation.

The fourth and most severe form of punishment was Badhdanda, which involved organ mutilation and the death penalty. Inscriptions such as Yangalhiti and Brihngareshwor highlight that theft, looting, killing, treason, and misbehavior with married females were strictly punished during the Lichhavi Dynasty.

Furthermore, the families of the criminals were also subject to punishment. However, over time, the Lichhavi Kings began to relax the severity of punishments, moving away from the principle of punishing the entire family.

This practice was ultimately ended by Ram Shah and replaced with the principle of “Jasko Paap Usko Gardan” (the sinner shall bear the consequences alone). The measurement system was also regularly reviewed every six months to ensure accuracy and fairness.

Judicial Administration and Rules

Mapchowk Tribunal

During the Lichhavi Period, the Mapchowk Tribunal held significant importance in judicial administration. An inscription found in Mali Gaon indicates that Mapchowk was responsible for handling marriage and divorce cases, and it operated under a strict set of punishments outlined in the inscription.

Rules on Marriage

According to the inscription, a woman had the right to divorce and remarry if she was dissatisfied with her husband sexually or in any other way. The conditions under which a woman could divorce and remarry were as follows:

  • Death of the husband
  • The disappearance of the husband
  • Husband becoming a saint or sage
  • No children

However, there was a condition for these divorces. If a woman remarried but did not give birth to a child, she would be punished or fined. If a woman married multiple husbands and failed to bear children, she would also face a penalty.

On the other hand, men were allowed to have multiple wives without facing punishment, except in the case of Jari. Jari referred to running away with a married woman while her husband was alive and well.

It was considered one of the Panchakhad or Five Great Crimes in ancient Nepal. Even maintaining a secret relationship with a woman was punishable by law. In summary, men had more freedom in their actions, except for engaging in Jari and having mistresses.

Marriage and Sexual Relations among Different Castes

The Lichhavi Dynasty implemented a strict social hierarchy known as Varna Vyavastha, as established by the Dharmashastras. Society was divided into four classes: Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra.

According to the rules of Varna Vyavastha, individuals were expected to marry within their own caste. For example, a Vaishya male could only marry a Vaishya female. Deviations from this system were strictly punishable.

Sexual misconduct with a woman from the same caste resulted in Uttam Sahas or a relatively mild punishment. Sexual misconduct or marriage between a higher-class male and a lower-class female, known as Anulom, was considered more severe and carried a medium punishment, or Madhyam Sahas.

Sexual misconduct or marriage between a lower-class male and a higher-class female, known as Pratilom, was considered the most severe, and male offenders could face the death penalty.

Females, on the other hand, had their organs mutilated as they were not subject to the death penalty during that era.

Shulli Tribunal

The Shulli Tribunal played a key role in the judicial administration during the Lichhavi Dynasty. It primarily dealt with cases related to the Pancha-Aparadh or Five Great Crimes and also served as a venue for capturing criminals.

An inscription by Basantadeva (506-532 C.E.) in Balambu mentions that even the officers of the court could be punished if they mishandled such cases.

Therefore, the Pancha-Aparadh cases were treated seriously, as they constituted a significant source of income for the kings. Local governments were not authorized to decide cases related to the Pancha-Aparadh.

As discussed earlier, financial compensation, known as Dandakunda, was the designated punishment for such cases, and only the central government had the authority to impose it.

Ligwal Tribunal

While not primarily a judicial tribunal, Ligwal served as a department responsible for transportation and infrastructure in Nepal during the Lichhavi Dynasty.

It oversaw the maintenance of water pipes, taps, irrigation systems, water tunnels (kulo), and transportation networks. Any cases or irregularities concerning these facilities fell under the jurisdiction of the Ligwal Tribunal.

Bhatta Tribunal

The Bhatta Tribunal primarily dealt with religious cases and conflicts within the Kathmandu Valley. Since Bhattas (learned individuals well-versed in Dharmashastras) held significant knowledge of religious matters, they were entrusted with these responsibilities.

Over time, Bhattas also became the priests of Pashupatinath. The Bhatta Tribunal handled conflicts arising from Hinduism, Buddhism, and other religious traditions.

Additionally, it investigated cases related to Varna Vyavastha, which required individuals to follow the profession designated for their caste. Cases of disobedience to these rules were also under the jurisdiction of the Bhatta Tribunal.

The tribunal imposed taxes on the alleged offenders, which formed part of the Dandakunda and Sins. Essentially, individuals had to pay the Bhatta Tribunal as a form of penance for their crimes against the state and gods.

West Tribunal and East Tribunal

Due to Nepal’s vast borders and landmass during the Lichhavi Dynasty, separate tribunals were established for the west (Paschim Tribunal) and east (Purva Tribunal) regions.

An inscription in Deu-Patan by Amshuverma states that the Paschimadhikaran (West Tribunal) handled cases related to Dharma (religion) and religious purposes. The West Tribunal also oversaw the maintenance and cleaning of temples.

Both the West Tribunal and East Tribunal were held in high regard, as mentioned in subsequent inscriptions. The Panchaliks, who were responsible for governance, managed these tribunals.

Paramasan or Antarasan

Paramasan refers to the seat of the king and also served as a quasi-judicial court. The Paramasan decided cases that could not be resolved by local bodies or other administrative entities.

It also presided over cases from the Bhatta Tribunal and other tribunals. When the other tribunals were closed, the Paramasan assumed responsibility for those cases. Similar to the Supreme Court, the Paramasan served as the final dispenser of justice and reviewed cases.

It functioned as a judicial assembly or Nyaya Sabha, and Dwarik or Pratihar informed the judicial assembly about cases that occurred throughout the country. This judicial assembly was also known as the Dharmadhikaran or Dharma Tribunal because it relied on Dharmashastras to administer justice and discuss the economic conditions of the country.

It could also be referred to as the National Assembly. The Chinese traveler Huang Huen Tshe mentioned the existence of this judicial assembly during the reign of King Narendradeva.

Duties of the National Assembly

The National Assembly held important responsibilities during the Lichhavi period, ensuring fair and impartial proceedings.

The decision-making process was guided by the principles outlined in Shukraniti, considering the prevailing societal norms, traditions, and the expertise of wise individuals.

Membership in the National Assembly was reserved for impartial individuals who possessed knowledge of Dharmashastras, Vedas, and truthfulness.

The Assembly was tasked with resolving disputes that remained unresolved at the local Panchayat level, as mentioned in the Narayansthan inscription.

It also had jurisdiction over conflicts arising between local Panchayats, particularly in cases of border disputes and similar matters.

Local or Gram Panchayats

Given the limitations of central government intervention in every administrative matter and minor issue, Local Panchayats were empowered to address local disputes. However, they were not authorized to handle cases of large-scale crimes and Pancha Aparadh.

These crimes were subject to the jurisdiction of specific villages designated to handle Pancha Aparadh cases.

The Shivadeva inscription in Mangal Bazaar explicitly states that Ligwal and Sulli did not impede Mangal Bazaar‘s authority in deciding Pancha Aparadh cases. The Local Panchayats were administered by Panchas, who were appointed by the kings.

Their responsibilities included adjudicating cases, administering punishments, providing water supply and tunnels to villagers, and overseeing the construction and maintenance of religious temples.

While the Kathmandu Valley and nearby Saat Gaon had a hierarchical structure comprising Gram, Tala, and Drang, other regions primarily had Local Gram Panchayats.

Legal Procedures

Cases Handled Under Kathmandu Valley

In the context of the Kathmandu Valley, the judicial administration involved several steps. Firstly, Gram Panchali or Local Panchayats addressed cases at the grassroots level. Subsequently, the matters were escalated to the Tala, overseen by the Talaswami.

If the case remained unresolved, it moved on to the Drang level. Eventually, the case was registered with Dwarik or Mahapratihar. Finally, the case reached the Antarasana stage for a final decision.

Cases Handled under Eastern and Western Regions

Similar to the process in the Kathmandu Valley, the judicial administration in the Eastern and Western regions involved multiple stages. The initial step involved Gram Panchali or Local Panchayats.

If the dispute remained unresolved, it was elevated to the East or West Tribunal, depending on the respective region. From there, the case was registered with Dwarik or Mahapratihar, as indicated in the Narayanchaur inscription.

Lastly, the case reached the Antarasana stage for a final resolution. An inscription in Khopashi confirms that direct access to the king for dispute resolution was prohibited, highlighting the establishment of a strict hierarchical structure within the judicial administration.

Criminal Justice System

The Lichhavi criminal justice system involved stringent measures once charges were finalized and guilt was proven. Convicted individuals who attempted to flee faced harsher punishments.

Witness testimony held significant importance, and any attempts to manipulate or coerce witnesses into providing false testimony were subject to punishment. The Narayanchowk inscription emphasized that unjust rulings or forceful acceptance of decisions were also penalized.

The satisfaction of both parties involved was a crucial factor in finalizing a decision.


The Lichhavi period witnessed an extensive and hierarchical judicial administration system. Notably, educated judges and lawful Dharmashastras played a pivotal role.

The system exhibited a decentralized approach to justice, with the division of cases and an investigative justice system in place. Punishments were categorized based on various factors.