Kathmandu School of Law (KSL), Nepal
INFLUENCE OF HINDU RELIGION IN FRAMING OF
NEPALESE LEGAL SYSTEM
LL.M. 1st Year
Human Rights and Gender Justice Program
Subject: Comparative legal System
Every country possesses a particular system of laws which comprises constitutional law,
civil law, criminal law, procedural law and many other branches of law. 1 The history of
legal system is considered as old as the emergence of human civilization. 2 Principle of
natural law and natural balance is inseparable part of law. So people might have started to
find out laws from the very beginning of the emergence of humanity. Human developed
several rules, values, codes which they thought just and reasonable. In this process,
human developed several rules for their benefit, comfort and safety.
The places like Peking, Java, Sindh, and Mesopotamia are considered as the important
places for human civilization. We find racial differences between the people in those
different places. In this context we can imagine that people might have developed
different rules and laws as per their different geographical and social context. There
might not have any planning for developing those rules but rather it was developed for
the comfort, safety and to regulate the way of living of the people.
Rule of conduct emerged in those places where the human civilization emerged. Structure
of human civilization, climate and nature played vital role in framing rules and laws. 3
From the history of human civilization, we can see that nature has played important role
for the framing of legal system. For example, it is said that, people living in the Sindh and
the Ganga Valley had to bear disaster of flood yearly. Several lives and property were
affected by this. Because of this phenomenon, civilians of the Sindh and the Ganga began
to think that rivers are more powerful than men. They were convinced that all these
disasters are because of the anger of the river. Then people started to worship rivers so
that she would not be angry and make damage. ‘Fear’ played important role for the
emergence of religious faith and practice. In this process people started to follow
religious beliefs and practices as per their faith but later on, religion was developed as a
powerful institution and several rules developed through it.
In the previous era of human civilization, religion was the law and legal systems emerged
after and under the religious faiths, principles and doctrines. However this is not the
universally accepted principle. This issue will be discussed later in separate topic.
History of Nepal remained dark for very long period and so did the Nepalese Legal
system. Punitive system, administrative system, judicial system, tax system etc. of Nepal
can be considered as Nepalese legal system. Although there are dissimilarities on the date
and the history of formation of the country ‘Nepal’, there are lots of similarities between
historians and writers that Gopal Dynasty, Mahishpal Dynasty, Kirat Dynasty, Lichhavi
Dynasty, Malla Dynasty and Shah Dynasty ruled over Nepal respectively. All the rulers
except Kirats were Hindus. So, it is said that Nepalese Legal System is framed by Hindu
Dr. Gopal Sharma, Outline of Major Systems of the World ,1st Ed. (2052)Bhrikuti Pustak Bhandar, pg.1
Bishal Khanal, Major Legal Systems of the World, 2nd Ed.( 2054) Bhrikuti Books pg. 1
Religion. Before going to the main context of this paper it is necessary to give a short
introduction to the history of formation of ‘Nepal’ , ‘Hindus’ and basic notion of ‘Hindu
Religion’ and relationship between law and dharma. These issues have been dealt in
chapter II, III and IV. Chapter V deals about the contribution of Lichhavis, Mallas and
early Shah Rulers. The final chapter is the conclusion.
The main objective of this paper is to give description on influence of Hindu religion in
framing of Nepalese legal system. It further tries to give short introduction on basic
notion of Hindu religion and Nepal’s brief legal history.
2. BRIEF HISTORY ON FORMATION OF NEPAL
It is necessary to give a brief introduction to the history on formation of Nepal to clear
the influence on Hindu legal system in Nepal. Different historians have different views
on the history of formation of Nepal. Among several historians, Daniel Wright has given
introduction of Nepal from mythological period of the history, extending through the
Satya, Treta, Dwapar and Kali Yuga or ages. 4 The same thing can be found in several
other books of history of Nepal. Dr. Jagadish Regmi, in his book writes ‘Nepal’s history
can be classified as 5 :
• Initial Period - Gopal, Mahishpal and Kirat Dynasty
• Ancient Period – Since the starting of A.D. to 879 A.D. Lichhabis were the rulers.
• Medieval Period – A.D. 870-1482 ; Mallas were the rulers, and
• Modern Period – Starting of Shahs after Mallas since 1482 A.D.
There are several stories and arguments on the emergence of ‘Nepal’. Hindus give its
credit to Ne muni while the Buddhists give credit to Manjushri. In epoch ‘Himbatkhanda’
it is complied that during 14-15th century Ne muni son of Marichi prayed to Goddess and
as per her wish and order, he established a county, which began to called as Nepal. The
same thing is found in Pashupati Puran 6 . Prof. Dhundi Raj Bhandari writes7 that the
country began to call Nepal because of Tibetan and Newar people. He further writes
Tibetan people say ‘Nepa’ for the Himalayas. Newars also call the Himalayas as ‘Nepa’.
In Tibetan language ‘Ne’ denotes center and ‘Pa’ denotes country. It can be interpreted
that Nepal is in the center of other countries and further, Kathmandu is in the center. A
similarity between the historians is found on the facts about the dynasties ruled in Nepal.
As per them, Kaliyuga started in the dense forest lied in the bottom of Himalaya (Nepal
Valley) where Gopal Dynasty emerged and ruled. Eight Gopal Kings ruled up to 505
years and 3 months. Mahishpal defeated Gopals and started their reign. Three Kings ruled
for 161 years and 2 months. Then Kirats defeated Mahispals and thirty-two Kirat Kings
ruled for 1977years and 8 months. This is the initial period and the history of formation
Daniel Wright, History of Nepal, Adarsha Enterprises (2000) pg. 77
Dr. Jagadish Regmi, Nepal Ko Bidhanik Parampara, Tanneri Prakashan (1979) pg. 1-4
Ibid. pg 7
Prof. Dhundi Raj Bhandari, Critical History of Nepal, Babu Sapra Sharma (2027) pg 1
of Nepal. However written and codified evidence of Nepal’s history is found only after
Now the matter of discussion is what the territory of Nepal was. Chinese visitor Hansen
described in his visit diary that Nepal had the territory of 4000 Li (3 Li = 1 mile).8 In his
book he further writes Lichhavi King Narendra Dev had 7000 horse rider warriors which
might be not necessary for small valley of Kathmandu, if it was called Nepal. In
‘Rajtarangini’ it is described that Nepal’s King Arimunda had imprisoned the King
Jayapid of Kashmir in the bank of Kaligandaki River. He was said to rule Pashupatinath
and Bajrayogini. During early 12th century of B.S., King Shankar Dev had extended his
territory up to Lumjunj. 9 World dictionary published in 1811, Nepal’s territory has been
shown extended to Sikhim, Kumaou, Gardhwal, and Simla. But after Sugouli Treaty
between East India Company and Nepal, Nepal lost its territory and narrowed down only
from Mechi to Mahakali. 10
From this above discussion now we can explain that Nepalese law is applied within this
territory and to the people of this territory.
3. BASIC NOTION OF HINDUISM AND HINDUS
The word ‘Hindu’ is not found in Veda, Smriti and Sutra so it is quite difficult to find out
prehistor y of this word. 11 Archeological excavations on the leadership of Sir John
Marshall and Mr. Rakhal Das Banarjee in 1921 in Larkana district of Indu (sindu) and
Montgomery district of west Panjab (which are both now in Pakistan) found two very
ancient graves Harappa and Mohonjodaro. Due to this exploration a very ancient
civilizations among the world’s anc ient civilization was found. According to most of the
scholars the civilization of Hadappa and Mohanjodaro is during 2300 B.C to 1500 B.C
which we call or know as ‘civilization of Indus Valley’.
Latin and Greeks used ‘Indo’ & ‘Indus’ instead of Sindu, which refers Asia- the bank of
Sindu River. In the ancient language of Iran, Avestan, we can find Hindu in the place of
Sindu. In Iranian language, ‘sa-sha’ tone or pronounce is used as ‘ha’. For example ,
saptaha (week) as Hapta. Later on, the people who lived in that certain territory practiced
and followed a separate religion, started to known as ‘Hindu’. 12 So, historians believe that
the word ‘Hindu’ came from Iranian language.
Hinduism, Hindu Religion or Hindutwa can be identified as follows:
• Hindus are basically guided by the Vedas, the main source of knowledge of
Hindus, which is considered the oldest scripture in the world. It is said that Veda
has neither beginning nor ending as the gravity of the earth.
Supra Note 7 at page 1-2
Gynendra Bahadur Shrestha, Hindu Jurisprudence and Nepalese Legal System, Pairabi Prakashan(2054 )
.Rajib Kumar (Ed),World Famous Religion, Doctrines and Sects, 2nd ed. Pustak Mahal Delhi (1988) pg.
• Hindus worship various Gods and Goddess (33,0000000). Hindus have both
materialistic and spiritual aspect.
• Hindus worship statues of Gods and Goddesses. They also worship nature,
selected animals, and materials as God.
• Hindus does not believe only one philosophical concept.
• It does not subscribe to any one dogma.
• It does not follow one set of religious rites or performances.
• Hindus believe in birth, re-birth and reincarnation as a reward or punishment of
the acts (karma) in the previous life. 13
• Hindus believe that soul is immortal and there is chain of bir th and rebirth till the
chain is broken by attaining salvation. The body is however mortal. The present
body is a consequence of the ‘deed’ (karma) of the past. The happiness or
pleasure or suffering in the life is determined by karma which the person did in
the past life and the sufferings and the pleasure in the future life shall be
determined by karma in the present life. 14
• Attaining salvation is the ultimate goal of Hindus.
• Hindus believe in pap and dharma. To behave or to do karma what is acceptable
is ‘dharma’ and do what is unacceptable and condemnable is ‘pap’. So, the rules
of ethics, morality or law are therefore intrinsically connected with regulation of
deed of human being in present. 15
Hinduism is a great philosophy. It needs a depth study to understand Hinduism. The
above mentioned are only brief synopsis of the religion.
4. THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN LAW AND DHARMA
The human nature is more complex than the other species because of its wide
consciousness, high wisdom, extensive social nature and unlimited selfishness and self-
conceit. Many experiments and complicated research work have been conducted from the
very beginning of human existence to make human community more stable and
integrated. If man’s conduct is not regulated, the society no l nger remains inhabitable
and human existence is jeopardized in many ways. Keeping this view human being has
laid down many rules and regulations to control the behavior of the people. As far as
people’s personal conduct is concerned it is regulated to a great extent by religious law
and social customs. Social laws have ever been as effective in human society as religious
injunctions framed by the ancient spiritual masters as well as the priests. 16
Observing the inherent qualities of both the social laws and Dharma, religious dexterity
many similarities can be discerned. First of all, the objectives of both are equal, that is, to
maintain order and peace in the society. Order and peace brings happiness and happiness
Yubaraj Sangroula, ‘Basic Notion of Hindu Religion’ (unpublished).
K.R. Dahal, ‘Relationship between Law and Dharma’ The message Enlightened, vol. 1 No.1July 2000
is the justice in real sense. Devoid of happiness no society can ever remain in peace and
right condition. Dharma, however, talks about wider happiness in human life directly
moving a step further ahead of law. 17
Secondly, the nature of both is same. Both laid down in rules. Such rules are found ed on
the basic motto “ought to do” and “ought not to do” with a view to attain supreme
benefaction. Fear of punishment is another character, which can be found in both as a
necessary element. On this point, however a line of fine difference can be drawn. That is
to say, Dharma shows a fear of long enduring suffering as chastisement for vices from
this lifetime to the after life, whereas, the social laws uphold the view of punishment in
this mortal life alone. However, both set forth the threats of punishme nt and, thereby, try
to regulate human behavior.18
Thirdly, both Dharma and law emerge from the selfsame source, in the sense that both
are laid down and controlled by certain super power. Of course, the terms used for this
power may be different in different parts of the world. Dharma may somewhere be
named as the power of nature and somewhere as God power, but essentially it is the
same. Similarly, the laws, which are social, are governed basically by the sovereign
political power. Whether divine or sovereign, both the powers basically compel human
beings to obey and follow them. It is hard to deny them, since they are in support of total
The harnessing of a legal concept to the powerful machine of religious aspiration is a
shrewd approach, though one would hardly say it invariably a spontaneous, move.
Anyway law and dharma are separate things and should be taken into account
However it is unjust to say that law and Dharma are unrelated. They both have
interrelationship. Many legal systems of the world are based on religious system and they
are also named according to the religious forms with which they are influenced. As the
society has grown more complex, and science and technology has advanced considerable
changes are brought in such religious legal systems. However, those changes are also
made in accordance with the main system and they have not formed certain independent
status. From social and political point of view law and dharma both are found walking
hand in hand. The y both are promoting the same view of welfare, justice and rights.
Dharma consists of philosophy of life, human understanding and div ine realization,
which can be perceived better if the social, ethical and moral laws are followed well.
They are interconne cted and reciprocal to each other. One cannot stand without the other.
Law and Dharma is found used as synonyms in ancient Hindu society and also being
used as synonym in orthodox Muslim community. If law and Dharma were same, then
Supra note 16
J. Duncan M. Derrett, An Introduction to Legal Systems, Universal Law Publishing co. Pvt. Ltd.(1969)
why do we have both la w and dharma? As we discussed, it is not the same, law emerged
5. CONTRIBUTIONS OF THE RULERS OF NEPAL IN FRAMING
OF NEPALESE LEGAL SYSTEM
There are not any certain evidences to prove the development of the institutiona lized
legal system in Nepal. Even though, we can say that Kirati legal system was the first legal
As per the historians, Nepal has the history since Satya, Treta, Dwapar, and Kali Yuga.
Satya Yuga lasted 1,728,000 years; Treta Yuga lasted 1,296,000 years; Dwapar Yuga
lasted 834,000 years and Kali Yuga will last for 432,000 years. Kirats came into Nepal at
the 15,000th year of the Dwapar Yuga, and they ruled over the country for 10,000 years.
After this the Kali Yuga commenced.21 From this we can say that Kirats were the first to
rule over Nepal. However, they were not Hindus and ruled, governed or regulated
through ‘Mundhum’ holy and perfect scripture of Kirats; a religious scripture of Limbus.
But in some books it is found that Gopals were the first to rule over Nepal and they were
Hindus.22 However, the written, codified and proved history starts only after Lichhavis.
Kirats were before Lichhavis to rule over Nepal. They had Mundhum as main source of
knowledge and principle of guidance. Mundhum is f und divided into two parts; (a)
Dhunsap (b) Pesap
Dhunsap is considered as old as the earth. Pesap is found in written form. It is also
divided into four groups. (a) Soksok (b) Yehang (c) Sajji and (d) Sap
Among them Yehang was promulgated by King Yehang as a social law for the first time.
It was the law to regulate Kirat society. This social law included the law of marriage and
the law of birth and death. 23
Lichhavi period starts from 4th A.D. Lichhavi legal and judicial system was governed and
regulated by Manusmirits, Yamasmiriti, Brihaspatismiriti, Naradsmiriti and many other
smirities and various other religious scriptures. Those smirities were developed through
Veda. Lichhavis were Hindus. Kings were liable only towards God. It was necessary for
the Kings to be religious and well-known of judicial and punitive system. Law and
Dharma was synonyms. Political, judicial, punitive, administrative, tax system were
regulated by the ancient scripts and writings of ancient religious philosophers like
Yagnabalkya, Manu, Narad etc. who were Hindus. Lichhavis ruled since the starting of
A.D. to 879 A.D. So, they left great impact on Nepalese society. Nepali society became
Supra note 4 at page 106
Supra note 5 at page 4
Supra note 11 at page 166-172
very common with Hindu rules, regulations and traditions. They contributed a lot for
framing Nepalese legal system according to Hindu religion.
The history of medieval period of Nepal starts after the commencement of Nepal Sambat
in 20 October 879 A.D. by King Raghav Dev. Mallas defeated Lichhavis and started their
reign in Nepal. Malla Kings were highly follower of Hindu religion. Dharmasastras were
the medium or means for the state regulation. In reality, Dharmasastras were laws, rules
and regulations of the state. Those dharmasastras were smirits derived and developed
from Vedas and the writings of Hindu philosophers. Law and dharma was synonyms. The
difference in Malla reign than Lichhavi is Malla Kings themselves developed some rules,
regulations based on Vedas, Smirits and other religious philosophies and writings. Mallas
were fundamental and orthodox Hindu. They were so religious that one of the Malla
Kings of Jumla, Prithvi Pal Malla liked to called himself ‘Dharmapal’. [‘Dharma keeper’
or ‘ruler according to dharma’] 24
Malla Kings ruled in Karnali region (Jumla), Kathmandu Valley and also in other
regions. Several small states with different names existed at that time but in most states
the rulers were Mallas. Among several Malla Kings Aditya Malla of Karnali region had
made some laws but King Jayasthiti Malla of Kathmandu valley is considered the most
important person. He promulgated several rules and regulations; he introduced a system
of the standard weights and measures and laid down rules for the use of pastures and the
use of water for irrigation purposes. 25 Besides several of his work ‘Manab Nyaya Sastra’
(Code of Human Justice), the first codified law in Nepal was promulgated. It was
promulgated during 14th Century. It was a comprehensive codification of substantive and
procedural rules. It was a collection of localized customs and ethical principles laid down
by series of Hindu religious scriptures. It was divided into 17 parts, including rules of
marriage, relations between husband and wife, the partition of property etc.
Manab Nyaya Sastra was based on Hindu religion, belief, and practice. Class division in
Hinduism was based on the division of Labour, however the practice had been changed
and it then became the segregation between the persons on the basis of caste. It was so
deep rooted that the punishment system and social rules and regulations were based on
Mallas ruled until the last of 15th Century of B.S. Because of ruling for very long time all
over Nepal according to Hindu religion, tradition, values and practice, hinduization was
assimilated in every part of people's life in the territory of Nepal. However, several
people of other religion were also there in Nepal but they were tried to mainstream into
Hindu religion. Acculturation also took place because of state policy and state law
according to Hindu religion. Nepalese legal system principally shaped according to
Hindu religion in medieval period of Nepal’s history.
Supra Note 11 at pg. 199-214
Rishkesh Shah, Ancient and Medieval Nepal, Manahor (1997), pg.57
During 15th Century, the rulers of Chhittau (India) escaped from the attack of Muslim
Kings and scattered in several regions and places. Among them, King Bhupal came in
Nepal with his sons Harihar and Ajaya Singh and started to live in Ridhi and Bhirkot.
Later Kulmandan Sing was born out of Ajay Singh who got the designation ‘Shah’ from
emperor of Delhi. After this, the royal family began to use ‘Shah’ after their name.
The throne of Lamjunj was empty during the period of Kulmandan Shah. On the request
of the people of that area, Yesho Brahma Shah, the younger son of Kulmandan Shah, was
made King of Lamjunj.
Yekshya Malla had occupied Gorkha and Lamjung during 15th Century but later with the
fragmentation of Malla state, Gorkha became independent state and the Shahs began to
It is controversial to opine that Shah Kings adopted Hindu religion only after coming in
Nepal. Anyway, as Shahs emerged as the ruler of Nepal, they were Hindus. 26
Among the Kings of Shah Dynasty, King Ram Shah, King Prithvi Narayan Shah
contributed a lot for the development of legal system of Nepal. They made several rules
and regulations for social welfare and justice. The punitive system was according to the
caste of the offender. So, the legal system of that time was also influenced by Hindu
religion and practice.
Relation and touch with British contributed significantly to promulgate new laws
according to the changed society. Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa and Janga Bahadur
Rana palyed important role in formulation of modern laws. However, there was no
compiled law in Nepal before 1910 B.S. (1853) till the reign of King Surendra Brikram
Shah. The order or directives or Sanad Sawal (executive orders), issued by the rulers
were deemed as law. In 1910 B.S. a Country Code (Mulaki Ain) or Act was prepared with
the help of religious priest and learned persons of Sanskrit and enforced.
Although a new codified Act was promulgated, it was not a secular law rather it was a
religious law. This Act was prepared being based on religious customs, social traditions
and other customary traditions prevailed at that time. As any law is made on the basis of
social and political environment of that particular time, this Act was also influenced by
social and religious values and practices as well as the political system of that time.
Hinduism was deliberately chosen as the basis of society that reinforced traditional
societal system based on caste hierarchy and male dominance. 27
Mulaki Ain of 1910 continued until 1963. So, Nepalese legal system is completely shaped
according to Hindu religion.
Nepal’s history is considered very old. From the very beginning of human civilization in
Nepal people's behavior and conducts were regulated by Veda. Every dynasty ruled over
Nepal was Hindus, except Kirats. However, Hindus also believe and respect
‘Kirateshower’ as their God. The practices of Kirats and Hindus are similar but perhaps
because of their different language they might have been considered different.
Dr. Tirtha Prasad Mishra and Dr. Pesal Dahal, Simple Glimpse on the History of Nepal, M.K Publishers
and Distributors,(2048)pg. 27
Geeta Pathak Sangroula, ‘Influence of Hindu religion in Mulaki Ain’ ( unpublis hed)
After Kirats, Hindus were in the throne of Nepal for 1700 years. They ruled according to
Hindu religious scriptures, traditions, values and practices. There was never a secular law
in Nepal until 1963. Even today several laws of Nepal are found adopted patriarchal
Hindu value. King is considered as God even today. Several religious practices are based
on Hindu religion, and government holidays are formulated according to Hindu religion.
From above mentioned information of the history and the facts, conclusion can be made
that Nepalese legal system is considerably developed and influenced by Hindu religion.
One can claim that there is nothing except than the influence of Hindu religion in framing
of Nepalese legal system in Nepal.
S.N Name of Writer, Name of book, writing Publisher Year
1. Bishal Khanal Major Legal Systems of the Bhrikuti Books 2nd Ed. 2054
2. Daniel Wright History of Nepal Adarsha 2000
3. Prof. Dhundi Raj Critical History of Nepal Babu Sapra 2027
4. Geeta Pathak “Influence of Hindu religion in ( unpublished)
Sangroula Mulaki Ain”
5. Dr. Gopal Sharma Outline of Major Legal Systems Bhrikuti Pustak 1st Ed. 2052
of the World Bhandar
6. GynendraBahadur Hindu Jurisprudence and Pairabi 2054
Shrestha Nepalese Legal System Prakashan
7. Dr. Jagadish Nepal Ko Bidhanik Parampara Tanneri 1979
8. J.Duncan M. An Introduction to Legal Systems Universal Law 1969
Derrett Publishing co.
9. K.R. Dahal ‘Relationship between Law and Budhanilkantha Vol. 1 No.1
Dharma’ The message Ashram July 2000
10. Rajib Kumar(Ed) World Famous Religion, Pustak Mahal 2nd.Ed
Doctrines and Sects Delhi 1988
11. Rishkesh Shah Ancient and Medieval Nepal Manahor 1997
12. Dr. Tirtha Prasad Simple Glimpse on the History of M.K Publishers 2048
Mishra and Dr. Nepal and Distributors
13. Yubaraj Basic Notion of Hindu Religion’ (unpublished).