Lichhavi Dynasty

Introduction to Lichhavi Dynasty

Lichhavi Dynasty ruled Nepal from approx. 300 A.D. to 750 A.D. During this period, they introduced Golden Age in the History of Nepal with significant Cultural, Architectural, Political, and Economic Developments. They established Hinduism and Buddhism in Nepal and had a significant impact in shaping the Nepali Society. The Most Famous Kings of the Lichhavi Dynasty include King Manadeva, King Amshuverma, and King Narendradeva.

Rise and Origin of the Lichhavi Dynasty

The Lichhavi Dynasty’s primary branch ruled the Vaishali Kingdom of Indian Sub–Continent. They came to Nepal during the 1st or 2nd Century A.D. Some historians believe that the instability in the Indian Sub-Continent during the 1st Century B.C. led to the fall of the Vaishali Kingdom in India and the migration of the Lichhavis to Nepal. The Kirat Dynasty, existing in Nepal at that time, welcomed the Lichhavis with open arms.

Despite a warm welcome, the Lichhavis unitedly conducted an uprising and removed the Kirats from power. Subsequently, the Lichhavi Dynasty took control of Nepal. The exact historical facts before 464 A.D. are highly debated and uncertain, making it challenging to determine the First King of the Lichhavi Dynasty.

Historians have presented different claims about the First King of the Lichhavi Dynasty. William Kirkpatrick suggests Nevesit held this position, while Gopal Raja Bansawali mentions Supushpa as the First King. However, the consensus among historians leans toward King Jayadeva First as the First King of the Lichhavi Dynasty.

Despite this, there are no concrete facts to prove his reign. Some argue that he was king nearly 300 years before Manadeva, while others believe he ruled around 300 A.D., 150 years before Manadeva.

Important Kings of the Lichhavi Dynasty

King Manadeva

King Manadeva reigned over Nepal from 464 A.D. to 505 A.D. and ruled for 41 years as the First Factual King of Nepal. He is renowned for his contributions to Nepal in various endeavors. Initially, he quelled revolting factions in both Eastern and Western Nepal. Subsequently, he constructed the famous ancient royal palace named Managriha. Additionally, he minted coins named Mananka, featuring his Queen’s portrait.

Under his rule, numerous temples, shrines, and Buddhist Vihars were built, with Mana Vihar being the most famous among them. Furthermore, he actively promoted Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Buddhism in Nepal. Lastly, he ensured Nepal’s independence, strength, and economic prosperity during his reign, earning him the distinction of being one of the greatest kings of the Lichhavi Dynasty.

King Shivadeva I

King Shivadeva I held the throne of Nepal from 590 A.D. to 604 A.D. His reign witnessed the rise of Amsuverma and significant developments within the Lichhavi Branch of Nepal, making it independent from the Gupta of Nepal.

By 592 A.D., he ousted Bhaum Gupta from power and assumed the title of Lichhavikulketu, symbolizing his representation of the Lichhavi Dynasty. Moreover, he implemented stringent laws concerning the utilization of natural resources, especially the forests of Nepal.

He introduced reforms in the Guthi Lands of Nepal, accompanied by strong punitive consequences. Embracing religious secularism, he actively built temples and Vihars in Nepal. Another noteworthy aspect of his rule was the policy of tax exemption in Nepal. As a result, he earned great respect as one of the highly esteemed kings of the Lichhavi Dynasty.

King Amshuverma

Amshuverma served as the King of Nepal from 605 A.D. to 621 A.D. He gradually ascended to power, attaining the titles of Samanta, Maha Samanta, and ultimately Maharajadhiraja of Nepal. He was known for maintaining neutral yet profitable foreign relations with China, Tibet, and the Indian Kingdoms of that time. Notably, he constructed the Kailashkut Bhawan, the official residence of the Lichhavi Kings after Narendradeva.

His coins, named Sri Amsu, bore the title of Kalahabhimani, signifying his challenge to Laxmi. Amshuverma implemented the Policy of Decentralization in Nepal and actively promoted Buddhism and Shaivism. His reign also witnessed the creation of a famous Treatise on Grammar. In modern times, Amshuverma remains one of the most cherished and popular kings of Nepal.

King Narendradeva

King Narendradeva reigned over Nepal from 643 A.D. to 679 A.D. and revitalized the Lichhavi Glory of Nepal. After his father Udayadeva’s removal from the throne, Narendradeva sought asylum in Tibet. He later returned to Nepal and reclaimed the throne in 643 A.D., ushering in an era of prosperity and development. Under his rule, Nepal became a prominent center for trade between Tibet and the Indian Kingdoms.

Narendradeva extended assistance to Chinese envoys and facilitated the export of goods like paper, musk, orpiments, and blankets to India. Through diplomatic efforts, he conducted marriages as well. He minted coins and achieved political stability in Nepal by ousting the Gupta rulers. His reign laid the foundation for nearly a century of prosperity in Nepal, lasting from 643 A.D. to 750 A.D.

King Shivadeva Second

King Shivadeva Second governed Nepal from 680 A.D. to 705 A.D. He was the youngest son of King Narendradeva and married Vatsadevi, the granddaughter of Magadh King Adityasen. He is renowned for his victory in the Nepal-Tibet War of 705 A.D. Shivadeva upheld the social and cultural traditions of Hinduism, enforcing Varna Vyavastha strictly.

He engaged in diplomatic endeavors with the Magadha Dynasty and Kosala Dynasty, cementing Nepal as a significant power. Additionally, he made substantial donations to Pashupatinath and enacted several laws to regulate the economy and environment of Nepal.

King Jayadeva Second

King Jayadeva Second ruled as the Lichhavi King from 710 A.D. to 733 A.D., the last great Lichhavi King of Nepal. He married Princess Rajyamati of the Kosala Dynasty. His reign witnessed religious reforms in Nepal, generous donations including a large golden lotus to Pashupatinath, and flourishing economic ties with India, China, and Tibet.

Jayadeva Second promoted agriculture and animal husbandry in Nepal. Notably, he reformed the judicial system by delegating the judicial authority of Panchali to the King’s Inner Court if appealed. Furthermore, he authored the genealogy of the Lichhavi Dynasty, which serves as a significant piece of evidence regarding the Lichhavi Dynasty’s history. Although not as famous, he holds a special place among historians and is often credited as the Historian King of the Lichhavi Dynasty.

Major Political Events of the Lichhavi Dynasty

Conquest of Manadeva

The conquest of King Manadeva has been exclusively recorded in the Changunarayan Inscription. King Manadeva ascended to the throne at a young age, which presented him with significant challenges. The Feudal Lords of the Eastern and Western Regions of Nepal are said to have revolted against him, as mentioned in the Changunarayan Inscription.

To address these challenges, he assembled his armies and marched East, compelling the Eastern Feudal Lords to accept his rule. Subsequently, he traveled to the West with his Maternal Uncle and a large army, including elephants. A war erupted against the Feudal Lords of Mallapuri beyond the Gandaki River. The Mallapuri Feudal Lords were defeated, and Manadeva was recognized as the rightful heir to the throne.

Rise of Bhaum Gupta

Bhaum Gupta served as the Co-Ruler and Powerful De-Facto Minister of Nepal from 557 A.D. to 590 A.D. Holding the ancient Powerful Posts of Sarvadandanayak and Mahapratihar, he acted as the De-Facto Ruler during the reign of Three Kings. However, historians assert that he was eventually ousted by Amshuverma and King Shivadeva.

The details of the Rise of Bhaum Gupta are not well known, as they are not mentioned in the Inscriptions. During his reign, he claimed the Divine Title of Paramdaivat, underscoring his authority within Nepal. Nevertheless, his power gradually waned after the rise of Shivadeva First and Amshuverma, and it was ultimately restored to the rightful Lichhavi King, Shivadeva.

Rise of Amshuverma

The Rise of Amshuverma remains one of the most revered yet hidden aspects of Nepali History. In fact, according to historians, Shivadeva was either the Brother-in-Law or Uncle-in-Law of Amshuverma. Initially, with the assistance of Commander-in-Chief Kulpradir and Amshuverma, King Shivadeva removed Bhaum Gupta from Power by 590 A.D. Amshuverma was then granted the Title of Samanta, indicating that he was already one of the most powerful men in Nepal.

Subsequently, by 605 A.D., he claimed the Title of Mahasamanta, solidifying his De-Facto Power over Nepal. Towards the end of his reign in 621 A.D., he took on the Epithet of Maharajadhiraja, becoming the First Non-Lichhavi King of Nepal to actually claim the Title of King. The Reign of Amshuverma is marked from 605 A.D., coinciding with his claim of Mahasamanta and the removal of Shivadeva’s name from the Inscriptions.

Rise of the Imperial Guptas of Nepal

Following the end of Amshuverma’s reign in 621 A.D., King Udayadeva ascended the throne of Nepal. However, the descendants of Bhaum Gupta, namely Jisnu Gupta, began to wield considerable authority over Nepal. By 624 A.D., Jisnu Gupta had removed King Udayadeva from Power and appointed his brother Dhruvadeva as the King of Nepal.

Following Dhruvadeva’s reign, Bhimarjunadeva assumed the throne. Jisnu Gupta ruled Nepal from 624 A.D. to 633 A.D., after which his son Vishnu Gupta claimed De-Facto Power, adopting King-like Epithets. He co-ruled Nepal with Bhimarjunadeva from 633 A.D. to 642 A.D., until Narendradeva, the son of Udayadeva, returned from Exile to reclaim the throne of Nepal.

Return of Narendradeva

According to the typical narrative, Udayadeva sought asylum in Tibet, accompanied by his son Narendradeva. The Tibetan King, possibly Songstem Gampo, granted them asylum. However, Udayadeva died in Tibet, prompting Narendradeva to seek revenge. The King of Tibet provided Narendradeva with an army, which he used to reclaim his ancestral throne in Nepal by 643 A.D. Some accounts also state that he sent his eldest son, Skandadeva, on a voyage over Tibet and China to commemorate his reign.

Lichhavi Administration

The administration of the Lichhavi Dynasty was well-structured and had a hierarchical system centered around the King. Various administrative posts, tribunals, and other assemblies were established to maintain the reign of the Lichhavi Dynasty over Nepal.

Administrative Posts

At the center, the Lichhavi King ruled over Nepal with absolute divine authority. However, they were often overshadowed by powerful co-rulers. The King held the titles of Rajadhiraja and Parambhattaraka and was responsible for overseeing the economy, defense, administration, and other activities of Nepal. Below the King was the King’s Assembly named Paramasan or Antarasan, which was headed by the King and consisted of several essential administrators of Nepal. This assembly addressed legal and financial matters and also handled judicial cases.

The King was assisted by the Prime Minister equivalent, Mahapratihar, who served as the intermediary between the King and the People. The post of Mahapratihar was often accompanied by Sarvadandanayak. As both posts were sometimes conferred to the same person, they assisted in the political decisions of the King, administered punishments, and maintained coordination among the courtiers and officers of the court.

The primary military officer of Nepal, also known as the Commander-In-Chief, was called Mahabaladakshya. They oversaw the military administration, war, and defense of Lichhavi-era Nepal.

Lastly, the Crown Prince acted as the Dutak. The official decisions of the King were conveyed to the citizens through the mediation of Dutak. The King entrusted this task to close family members or highly trusted officials.

Other posts also existed in the Lichhavi Dynasty. Pratihars traveled throughout Nepal to respective Grams and provided any urgent information to the Royal Palace. Dandanayaks were responsible for the administration of duty and punishment throughout the state. Chat Bhats were granted the authority to collect land revenue from Grams and Villages of Nepal.

Various honorary titles, such as Samanta and Mahasamanta, were claimed by highly powerful people during the reign of the Lichhavi Dynasty.

Administrative Tribunals

The Lichhavi Dynasty inherited most of the administrative tribunals and offices from the Kirat Dynasty. The Kuther Tribunal was responsible for land revenue and taxes. They also registered lands, conducted development activities, and handled cases related to the lands. The Sulli Tribunal served as the criminal court of the Lichhavis, with jurisdiction over judicial and legal matters of ancient Nepal. It focused on Pancha Aparadha, the Five Heinous Crimes, such as theft, treason, and homicide.

The Ligwal Tribunal looked after irrigation, water management, and activities related to the civilians, maintaining the connection between the government and the people. The Mapchowk Tribunal dealt with marriage, divorce, its rules, regulations, and punishments, and they enforced the law with strictness.

The Lichhavis also introduced unique administrative offices during their reign in Nepal. The Bhattadhikaran, where the Brahmins were seated, looked after cases related to Varna Vyavastha and the enforcement of religion and caste system. The Paschimadhikaran, situated at the western gate of the Royal Palace, served as an intermediary for the people located west of the Royal Palace and was known for religious activities. Similarly, the Purvadhikaran connected the people in the east of the Palace to the government.

This was the overall structure of the Lichhavi Administration. It was divided into Gram, Tala, and Drang based on the population of the areas and the trade that occurred there.

Legal System of the Lichhavi Dynasty

Although the Lichhavi Dynasty didn’t have a separate legal entity, various tribunals and posts existed to address the legal and judicial issues that regularly arose at the time. The Local Legal System of the Lichhavi Dynasty consisted of The Panchali, a group of five leaders of a village, served as the first instance administrative body. If individuals were dissatisfied, they could go to Talaswami or any Drang to review the case.

Even after that, Sulli and Mapchowk handled the majority of cases at the center. If the individual wasn’t satisfied with the decision of the administrative tribunals, they could finally review the case at Antarasan/Paramasan, which acted as the last court of appeal in Nepal. The punishment was generally enforced by the King through Mahapratihar.

Bhakdanda, Dhikdanda, Arthadanda, and Badhdanda were the four types of punishment prevalent in the Lichhavi Dynasty based on the magnitude and gravity of the crime.

The Lichhavi Society was strongly structured because of the Varna Vyavastha, and any retaliation against the system was dealt with strict laws and punishment. The laws are said to have been derived from the leading Dharmashastras at the time, such as Manu Smriti, Shukra Niti, Yagyabalkya Smriti, and Yama Smriti, and were enforced by the Royal Brahmins.

Also, marriage and the marriage of different classes or Varnas were dealt with heinous punishment. Due to the Varna Vyavastha, individuals were expected to marry within their own Varna or caste. Sexual misconduct or marriage between different classes could result in organ mutilation, exile, confiscation of property, and even death.

The legal system of the Lichhavi Dynasty was made just and fair according to historians. Although some obvious problems existed, witness testimony was given importance, unjust rulings were reviewed and even penalized, and both parties were left satisfied at the end of the decision.

Foreign Relations of the Lichhavi Dynasty

Indo-Nepal Relations

The Lichhavi Kings arrived in Nepal from the Indian Plains. The Allahabad Pillar Inscription mentions that Nepal was under the Suzerainty of the Guptas and referred to as a vassal state. Trade and cultural relations were established between India and Nepal even at that time, and by the reign of King Manadeva, Nepal had become sufficiently powerful politically and economically.

The lineage of Lichhavi Kings was actively connected with Indian kingdoms. Queen Rajyavati is said to have also had connections with the Indian kingdoms, although there is no proof. Nonetheless, marriage played an important role in Indo-Nepal relations during the Lichhavi Dynasty.

Amshuverma’s sister, Bhoga Devi, was married to Sur Sen. King Shivadeva II of Nepal was married to Vatsadevi, the granddaughter of the Magadha Empire. Nepalese also engaged in rigorous trade with India, and the traders were known as Sarthabaha’s.

Sino-Nepal Relations

The Sino-Nepal relations between Tibet, China, and Nepal were the most intimate during the Lichhavi Dynasty. Military cooperation, diplomacy, and trade were the most important dimensions between the neighboring countries. The account of Hiuen Tsang, a Buddhist monk from China, mentioned that Nepal was known for the trade of red copper, yaks, and rare birds. It also mentions a famous King Amshuverma, who was renowned for his knowledge and composed a linguistic work named Sabdavidya.

Moreover, Nepal, according to some historians, was dependent on Tibet. This viewpoint was commonly put forth by Sylvain Levi. It is supported by the narrative that Narendradeva sought asylum in Tibet and then returned to Nepal. He supposedly sent envoys to China under Skandadeva, the son of Narendradeva. Narendradeva also assisted Chinese Envoys Wang Xuance to defeat the new ruler of the Pushyabhuti Empire.

Lichhavi Society

The Lichhavi Society was a diverse Hindu society based on Varna Vyavastha. The Varnashram System was divided into Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras. They wore simple clothes with ornaments such as Patuka, crystals, and pearls. Clothes often determined their financial status. Additionally, Kathmandu was known for dancing, singing, playing musical instruments, and bullfighting, etc.

Education and literature flourished in both men and women in Lichhavi Society. Vedic sciences and Smritis were taught, and education was also dependent on economic and political superiority. The kings and the courtiers of the period were educated.

In a purely societal basis, the Joint Family System existed. The society was primarily patriarchal in nature, with men dominating the political system of Nepal. The primary source of social unity was the Guthi System, as various Guthis were established in Nepal. Pradeep Guthi, Brahmin Guthi, Dhoop Guthi, etc., existed to represent the society.

Multiple festivals and sources of entertainment also existed in Lichhavi Society, such as Shasthi Puja, Dashami Puja, and Kailash Yatra, which were predominant at the time. The primary religions of Nepal during the Lichhavi Era were Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Pashupat, Shakta, and Mahayana Buddhism. These religions equally flourished, and ultimately, religious secularism prevailed over Nepal. Shaivism dominated the politics of Nepal after the reign of Amshuverma.

The position of women in the Lichhavi Dynasty was not as strong as that of men. However, there were notable women who made significant contributions to society. Rajyavati, Bhogini, Kshemsundari, Vijayavati, etc., were the most prominent females at the time. Polygamy was common at the time, and women had high privileges but also high restrictions.

Lichhavi Economy

The Lichhavi Dynasty is often considered the Golden Age in the History of Nepal because of its economic and social development. The pillars of economic growth were based on agriculture, animal husbandry, and trade. In the Lichhavi Economy, permanent agricultural practices were predominant with the farming of various crops.

Animal husbandry was also dominant. Taxes were levied on income, property, and trade, with special emphasis on land and agriculture. The surplus of agricultural products was traded with exchangeable goods in the international market. Both internal and external trade flourished, and various currencies of gold, silver, and trade were introduced, such as Mananka, Gunanka, etc.

The government levied taxes on trade and various other products such as oil tax, nail tax, onion tax, etc. The collective three taxes were known as Bhag, Bhog, and Kar, collectively called Trikar. Iron, leather, wood, musk, and copper utensils were the prominent exports of Nepal.

Conclusion

To Conclude, The Lichhavi despite ruling Nepal actively for a short period of time managed to transform it Culturally, Socially, and Economically. The Kings of the Lichhavi Dynasty were wise and learned. Although Powerful Ministers emerged time and again, the Lichhavi Kings were still the True Source of Power at the time. the Administration was also well-managed and structured and the Lichhavi Economy flourished at the time.