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Home Bot CategoriesPeopleHerstory DEVALA DEVI: THE WOMAN BEHIND THE RISE OF ONE OF NEPAL’S GREATEST KING, JAYASTHITI MALLA

DEVALA DEVI: THE WOMAN BEHIND THE RISE OF ONE OF NEPAL’S GREATEST KING, JAYASTHITI MALLA

by Shaguni Singh Sakya

Every impactful event has several contributing factors. The stars have to align, fate has to knock at the right moment, and most importantly human efforts have to be consistent to make things click. Yet, we often only learn about the person leading upfront, the contributors behind the scenes slowly forgotten with the passage of time as historians seldom give attention to elaborating their efforts. Women especially fall in this category. The inner dynamics that one hardly gets to learn about is where most women’s roles lie be it in a palace or in a commoner’s house.

Devala Devi. How many Nepalis have even heard of her? Some of us who have managed to study history beyond school books may have. But most of us are victims to the faulty education system of the Panchayat era that literally erased history before Prithvi Narayan Shah. Thanks to the state sanctioned history, the 2000-year-old evidential history of this country has been fading and the knowledge of women in Nepali history especially is disappearing.

Devala Devi was the wife of King Harshinga Deva of Simraongadh who died while escaping an attack of tribal fiefdoms. Devala Devi and her son Jagat Singh managed to escape to Bhaktapur and took refuge at the Bhaktapur palace under the protection of King Rudra Malla.

Rudra Malla too died soon after without a male heir. After his death, his infant daughter Nayak Devi was declared heir to the throne. The young queen was married to a prince from Benaras but he too died. Devala Devi seized the opportunity to marry her son Jagat Singh to the widowed queen, and thus became a part of the Bhaktapur royal family. Nayak Devi later gave birth to a daughter, Rajala Devi, who became full claimant to the throne.

One woman’s calculated efforts led to the 400-year-old Malla dynasty that bestowed upon us much of our culture, art, architecture, traditions, customs, and catapulted Nepal to becoming an economic power house as a trading hub between Tibet in the North and India in the South.

Having a son who was the prince’s consort and an infant grand daughter who was heir apparent, the future of the kingdom was fragile with no strong leadership. Nepal with its many small warring kingdoms was in constant strife. Moreover in 1349, the first Muslim invasion by Shamsuddin Ilyas, the Sultan of Bengal, took place. Kathmandu Valley was brutally attacked, looted and destroyed. The city was ransacked, people were displaced from their homes, and temples and monuments were plundered including Swoyambhunath and Pashupatinath. It is believed that the Sultan’s invasion which lasted seven days has been the only foreign invasion in Kathmandu.

Amidst all this chaos, Devala Devi sought to find a leader who had the right traits to bring stability to the nation. Jayasthiti Malla, a man of noble but obscure birth from Tirhut (present day Terai), was brought to Bhaktapur by Devala Devi. Observing his insightful and dynamic personality, and given the urgent need to help the kingdom stabilise, Devala Devi betrothed her infant granddaughter at the age of eight to Jayasthiti Malla in 1354. This union eventually led to the formation of a strong dynasty and unification of the Kathmandu valley.

The reign of King Jayasthiti Malla saw stability in Nepal after nearly 300 years since the downfall of the Licchavi dynasty. The Malla dynasty – which had begun with King Ari Malla in the 1200s – saw unification and strength under the reign of Jayasthiti Malla. The King was initially regent of Bhaktapur upon the death of Devala Devi in 1366, and then King of Kathmandu valley and its environs from 1382-1395.

One woman’s calculated efforts led to the 400-year-old Malla dynasty that bestowed upon us much of our culture, art, architecture, traditions, customs, and catapulted Nepal to becoming an economic power house as a trading hub between Tibet in the North and India in the South. The customs and rituals established then are still prevalent among citizens of the valley, as is the economy.

Sitting behind a veil, she was like a queen without a throne; cautiously and prudently ruling from behind. She is believed to have dominated court politics alongside chief minister Anaekarama for nearly 25 years. She ruled in the worst of times when Kathmandu went through numerous internal wars among different tribes, major palace intrigues, and a Muslim invasion. With all the years of understanding court psychology, she made judicious choice of navigating the complications of giving the throne to a non-royal.

Devala Devi placed her bets on Jayashiti Malla and it paid well as he not only unified the valley and its environs but also established a strong administration, rebuilt the destruction after the invasion, and bought peace to the land.

Would we have seen the birth of a glorious dynasty had it not been for the efforts of Devala Devi? What she did required tremendous calculation and assessment. This is the intangible history in which women usually play a big role – lesser known actions and orchestrations that are mostly forgotten.

Taking calculated risks that shape a nation’s future is seldom thought to be the domain of women. The far-sightedness, prudent scheming and craft required are often overlooked. All of these tactful maneuverings by women is also what creates history or more aptly, “herstory”

*There is no record of a picture or statue of Devala Devi. Writings about her are limited. Historical reference for this article has been drawn from “Medieval Nepal,” vol 1 – Dilli Raman Regmi.

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