The story of Kazi Bhim Malla and his wife’s curse
“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” The famous proverb from 18th century English playwright William Congreve is a popular expression used to describe the anger of women. In the case of Nepal, a more appropriate cultural connotation would perhaps be: “Hell hath no fury like a woman’s curse” in reference to ‘Sati’s’ curse which pervades the Nepali psyche and our political and social milieu. Our belief in the curse is so deeply ingrained that every time there is a political dead-end or a national crisis, we resign to the line: “sati ley sarapey ko desh.” (This is a country cursed by Sati).
The curse exists as a perennial feature within the cosmologies of ancient civilisations – the curse of the Pharoahs is cast upon those who disturb the Pharoahs’ tomb; the curse of the Incas killed those who tried to loot Incan gold, and similarly, there exist many other such stories that form an intangible aspect of the psyche of a civilisation. So, in the case of Nepal, who was this woman whose curse has been so pervasive and why did she wreak such a powerful one upon Nepal?
Before the advent of freedom of speech, history was a one-sided affair. The ruling kings directed what should be written and many deserving persons did not get due recognition. Kazi Bhim Malla, the husband of ‘Sati’ is one such personality in the history of Nepal and his wife is paradoxically the most famous yet anonymous woman of this nation. She is just known as ‘Sati’ because she committed sati and cursed the nation before doing so. What was her name? How old was she? Did she have children? There is no record of her and yet her curse has been permeating this nation since her death.
Kazi Bhim Malla was a minister during the reign of King Laxmi Narsimha Malla (1620-1641) and his son, King Pratap Malla (1641-1674). A man of considerable accomplishment, his contribution to the nation as a minister is so far considered to be the best ever in Nepal. Bhim Malla secured a trade treaty that led to much prosperity in the nation. Nepali historians today say that no treaty in our history has been as favourable.
Bhim Malla led the war with Tibet and brought Kuti, a Tibetan village and Kyerong, a frontier pass that was a main link to Tibet, under Nepal’s control. Control over Kuti and Kyerong led to conditions that enabled strong growth of the Valley’s economy – the Nepali Mahendra malli was the only currency allowed for trade and the exchange rate in gold, silver and salt was set by Nepal. All traders from the south and the north had to pass through Kathmandu Valley and the city had become a booming economic hub like present day Dubai. Nepal reached a golden era of economic and cultural prosperity during Pratap Malla’s reign and 150 years further thanks to the treaty set by Kazi Bhim Malla.
Such were the Kazi’s achievements. However, some jealous officials persuaded King Pratap Malla that Bhim Malla was aiming to take his throne, and there upon the King put him to death. Distraught and utterly devastated, his wife on the pyre cursed the country with such vehemence saying, “May there never be ‘bibek’ (sound judgment) in this durbar.” It is believed that any wish or curse from a woman committing sati comes true. Her curse, from which Nepalis derive their resigned and karma fearing attitude, seems to affect the country till the present day.
The rulers upon knowing the truth later were so ashamed and guilty of their action, that they brushed it aside as much as possible and thus, there is hardly any historical information about Bhim Malla. But a contribution as magnanimous as his – though not honoured – has not been forgotten nor the ill fate of judging him wrongly. Our past economic stronghold in the region and our cultural and artistic flourishment that we still benefit from till today can be credited to the efforts of Bhim Malla.
After the takeover of the Shah dynasty, relations with Tibet took a downturn with the Sino Nepal war (1788-1792) over the case of minting low-quality coins for Tibet. After Nepal lost the war with Imperial Britain along with chunks of its land with the signing of the Sugauli Treaty (1814-1816), the British gained direct trade route to Tibet and Kathmandu’s status as a trade hub slowly collapsed.
It is so strange that the curse of a woman can so deeply affect the psycho-history of this country – a phenomenon not given much historical validation, but very much pervasive in affecting human behaviour and emotions till the present date. The story of Kazi Bhim Malla and wife holds deep sentiment of great injustice done upon a man whose good intentions were misconstrued, and of a wife who was so struck with grief that in her helpless last moments that she just cursed with all her might. The strong belief in the cursed fate of this nation stems from these very events, and perhaps unwittingly perpetuates the very cycle.
With history mostly revolving around men’s might, warfare and bravado, do we ever consider reading about women’s pain, grief and the outcome of such emotional suffering worthwhile? It is not considered worth analysing in conventional historical studies as there is no tangible evidence of its impact. The story of women’s emotions, at best, becomes classified as folklore.
One wonders, if history was written by women, how much importance would emotional intelligence, experience and strength be given in our cultural milieu? How would helpless ferocious cries of women be analysed to that of warring ferocity of men? Would emotional strength weigh as importantly as physical strength? And would a “curse” be given as much importance as a “conquest”?
Here again what is written in “history” often escapes the intangible nuances of “herstory.”
There is no picture or sculpture of Kazi Bhim Malla. The Bhulukha Dega temple in Yetkha Bahal is believed to have been built by Bhim Malla in memory of his father. There has been nothing built in later years to honour this great son of Nepal who should be credited much.
The Bhulukha Dega temple was recently renovated by the Kathmandu municipality but no trader family of Kathmandu who benefited for generations from his trade treaty contributed to it. Sadly, Bhim Malla, has been forgotten through the ages by a nation who thrives on history and heritage but has limited knowledge about it.
Dilli Raman Regmi, Medieval Nepal, Volume 1
Nepal: History of the Country and the People, Munshi Shew Shunker Singh & Pandit Shri Gunanand, translated by Daniel Wright
Anil Chitrakar, Temple Trade, ECS Nepal, August 2010, Issue 21