In early and late Vedic period, Aryans moved slowly towards Kosala (Ayodhya) and Videha (Mithila) after conquering the aboriginals. The entire region is also referred as “east of Aryavrata” and corresponds to central and eastern Uttar Pradesh, north Bihar and Terai belt of Nepal. The famous epic Ramayana refers about Prince Rama of Kosala going into matrimonial alliance with Princess Sita of Mithila and therefore indicating towards good settlement of Indo-Aryans by 1500-1200 BC in these regions. Even before the arrival of these Vedic – Aryans, the hilly areas of the north were already populated by Khasa tribes who are classified as pre-Vedic Aryans. The tribes got control over these regions by defeating Kirata people of the Mongoloid race. Slowly Khasas were influenced by the Kirata culture and became culturally different than Vedic Aryans of the latter lot. It, therefore, led to their classification as degraded Kshatriyas by orthodox Aryans of Kuru-Panchala [1]. With the arrival of Vedic Aryans and much celebrated Ikshvaku Kshatriyas, good advancement was seen in Vedic culture in the entire stretch spread from Kosala to Mithila. On the political front, the entire region saw the emergence and coexistence of monarchs such as Kasi, Kosala and Magadha with small republics known as Sangha or Gana. The details of the republics are preserved in the Buddhist and Jain texts. It consisted the Shakyas of Kapilvastu, the Mallas of Pava and Kusinara, the Koliyas of Ramagrama, the Mauriyas of Pipphalivana, the Bulis of Allakapa, the Lichchhavis of Vaishali, the Videhas of Mithila, the Kalingas of Resaputta and the Bhaggas of Sumsumara hill. The republics derived their name after the epithet of ruling tribe. In all republics, the Mallas were earlier monarchy and formed one of the Solasa Mahajanpada of ancient India. They shifted to the democratic way sometime during the lifetime of Gautam Buddha with twin capitals at Pava and Kusinara. Further, the first five republics listed above existed on the territories that can be roughly given as the early Gorakhpur province of British India including some Terai belt of Nepal. In all republics of ancient India, the Lichchhavis of Vaishali has been credited for introducing the advanced style of democratic governance in the subcontinent. On the social front, some of these republics were responsible for bringing major revolutions in human evolution process with respect to changes in its social and religious behaviors after birth of Buddha, Mahavira in it and support given to their cult.

2.1. The Videhas of Mithila

The etymology of word Videha is related to King Videha Madhava, who settled in the area when Aryans moved further east to Kosala in the early Vedic period. The capital of Videhas was Mithila. According to Bhavisya Purana, the capital was named after King Mithi who founded the beautiful city near Tirhut, a piece of land named so as it is surrounded by three rivers namely Gandak, Kosi and Ganga. Since Mithi founded the city, he was famously known as Janaka and his dynasty as Janaka Dynasty. Contrary to this, Mahagovinda Suttanta of the Digha Nikaya traces the foundation of the city from Govinda. Videha was one of the strongest and earliest settlements of Aryans in the eastern region. It is therefore featured in folk tales of Ramayana, Mahabharata and in Brahmna texts too. Ramayana refers about the country when Rama entered into matrimonial alliance with Vaidehi (Sita / Maithili), the daughter of Raja Seeradhwaja who was 21st Janaka of Mithila. Mahabharata mentions about the country when Videha prince participated in the swayamvara of Draupadi and when Bhima conquered them during Rajasuya yajna of Yudhisthra. Buddhist texts refer them as one of the eight important clans forming Vajjian confederacy. Jaina texts hold the place as the birthplace of Vardhmana Mahavira as he has been referred as ‘a Videha, son of Videhadatta, a native of Videha, a prince of Videha….’. According to the texts, Mahavira spent his first thirty years in Videha till his parents died.

The country of Videha was very much advanced in the Vedic culture. King Janaka received Brahmavidya (atmavidya) from sage Yagnavalkya; the author of Yagnavalkya Samhita. There were discussions held in the courts of Janaka about supreme Brahman and sages from Kuru-Panchalas and Madra countries used to participate. Satapatha Brahmna clearly directs that the great intellectual and spiritual lead offered by Samrat Janaka and sage Yagnavalkya has to be accepted by the inhabitants of Aryan occupied regions. The Kings of Videha participated in the Vedic yajnas and Jataka texts reveal about goat sacrifices during such yajnas. Till the time of Buddha, Videha rose as one of the important trading centers. It witnessed a republican form of government whose chief was called Raja. Chanakya of Mauryan Empire refers the country as part of the Vajjian confederacy whose members lived with the title Raja. The Videhas had their assembly point, Santhagara, where the head of each Kshatriya family met to decide on various social and political issues. The territory of Videha in present time can be given as northern Bihar and parts of southern Nepal. Its capital Mithila is now identified with Janakpur which is situated in southern Nepal and is 35 miles north-west of the city of Vaishali.

2.2 The Mallas of Kusinara and Pava

The literary meaning of “Mall / Malla” in Sanskrit is “wrestler”. In early Vedic sources, the word is used only in the sense of professional wrestlers and not for any tribe. It therefore indicates absence of any such tribe by that period. Based on the epic descriptions, it is claimed that this group of warrior Aryans arrived in the region after Videha lot of Aryans were already settled. They were known as Malla after the epithet of their King Chandraketu alias Malla. Valmiki Ramayana traces the origin of first Malla as the son of Lakshmana. According to commentary in it, the first ancestor of Lakshmana’s family was Ikshvaku. The 26th descendant of Ikshvaku was King Dashratha. He had four sons namely Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrughana. In the later part of life, Rama divided the entire kingdom in his sons and nephews. In the arrangement, the two sons of Bharata got the country of Gandhara situated on the banks of River Siddha. The elder son Taksha made capital as Takshshila [2]. The younger son Pushkara made capital as Pushkavali [3]. The territory of Satvato near River Yamuna, acquired by Shatrughana after defeating Lavanasura, was given to his two sons Subahu and Sharasene. Both made their capital as Madhuvan, now known as Mathura [4]. The eastern part of Kosala was given to Angad and Chandraketu, the two sons of Lakshmana. Angad got the place of Karupath which can be given as the eastern part of Basti and the western part of Gorakhpur district. The younger brother Chandraketu got the place of east of Karupath. He settled there with capital as Chandrakanta. As Chandraketu was a master in wrestling, he was given an epithet of ‘Malla’ by Lakshmana. Valmiki Ramayana, therefore, refers Chandrakanta as Malla – Rashtra or Malla – Bhumi too [5]. The two sons of Rama, Kush and Lava, were given the place of Kushavati and Sharavati respectively. Kushavati was located at the end of the eastern part of Karupath and now known as Kushinagar or Kasia. The place of Lava, Sharavati, was near to Kushavati but it cannot be located in present time. Although this arrangement ran for some time, Kush got the added responsibility of Ayodhya after death of Rama. For a few years, he ruled over Kosala from Kushavati but returned back with Lava on request of the people of Ayodhya. While Kush settled in Ayodhya, Lava settled near to it with capital at Sravasti. The development resulted in Chandraketu getting control over entire eastern part of Kosala. Now the territory under him also included eastern Gorakhpur, Kushinagar and part of Deoria district of Uttar Pradesh with River Sadanira (Big Gandak) forming its eastern boundary. Chandraketu later shifted his capital to Kusavati and his descendants ruled over the entire region for coming years.

Though legends relate Malla title to be originated from Chandraketu of Ramayana period but it is clear that the word was used for warrior Aryan population who migrated from Kosala and started ruling over the eastern part of Kosala in the early Vedic period. It is evident from Mahabharata (VI.9.46) which mentions Mallas as eastern tribes along with Angas, Vangas and Kalingas (the residents of Bengal and Orissa). It further mentions the country as Malla-rashtra (VI.9.34) and shows Bhima conquers the Malla King during Rajysuya yajna of Yudhisthra at Indraprashta (II.30.3). As they were conquered, the Malla King participated in the Mahabharata war from the Pandava’s side, though no casualty of either King or Prince is reported [6]. By the end of the late Vedic period, Malla territory rose to prominence as monarch. Buddhist text Anguttara Nikaya refers it as one of the Solasa Mahajanpada of ancient India. During the lifetime of Buddha, the country divided in two parts with capitals at Pava and Kusinara. The governance too shifted to republican way with Kshatriya assemblies (Santhagara) taking all social and political decisions. Buddhaghosa comments that the chief Mallas administered the state one by one and those who were free from such duties engaged in trade sometimes undertaking long caravan journeys. Mahaparinirvana Sutra records Buddha’s enumeration of different Kshatriya assemblies within the Malla territory. It is recorded that when Buddha arrived at Pava, the Mallas invited him to inaugurate their assembly hall named Ubbhataka (so called because of its height which was not long been built). On the other side, the Mallas of Kusinara were having their own Santhagara. In that Santhagara, the remains of Buddha were honored for seven days after the cremation. Also, it was the same assembly hall where the envoys of Magadha, Vaishali, Kapilvastu, Allakappa, Ramagama, Pava and Pipphalivana were received when they arrived to claim their shares in the relics of Buddha. Both branches of the Mallas occupied different geographical areas. Based on their location, they were also referred as ‘Higher (northern) Mallas’ and ‘Lower (southern) Mallas’. According to Sabha – Parva of Mahabharata, the Mallas near to Kosala were known as northern Mallas (of Pava) while those away from it and in the southern direction were known as southern Mallas (of Kusinara). Although the tribe had two major political centers at Pava and Kusinara, Jain texts Nirayavali Sutra and Kalpa Sutra talk about nine Malla republics in the same region indicating presence of smaller political centers. The nine Malla chiefs (navmallai) along with the nine Lichchhavi chiefs (navlichchhavi) are mentioned in Jain texts when they instituted the festival of lights to mark away the passing of Nigantha Nataputta (Mahavira) and also when they fought jointly with the Magadha Empire. It is also recorded that during the funeral of Buddha, who died just 2 years after Mahavira, only eight Malla chiefs (attha mallapamokha) intended to bear his corpse and only four Malla chiefs (chattaro mallapamokha) proceeded to set the funeral pyre. As there were total nine political centers, it is speculated that the Mallas of Pava had five chiefs while the Mallas of Kusinara had four chiefs. It is interesting to note that all Malla chiefs gave their last respect to Mahavira but only eight turned for Buddha. It therefore indicates possibility of that Malla chief, belonging to the Mallas of Pava, being non-follower of Buddha.

The relation between both branches of Mallas was not good. The separation within them was clear as both claimed the relics of Buddha and built stupa over it. A Buddhist tradition preserved in the Tibetan Dulva indicates that after the death of Buddha, the Mallas of Pava were the first to arrive at Kusinara with their troops and the words with which they demanded the relics were rude. Though there were differences, still they lived in peace. With the neighboring countries of Lichchhavis, Videhas and Nayas too, they were in good relation except few incidences. One such incidence is when Bandhula Malla along with his wife Mallika violated the Abhiseka – pokkharani of the Lichchhavis which resulted in some fighting. With the neighboring monarch of Kosala, the republic had some tension when King Pasenadi (Sanskrit -Prasenjit) treacherously killed Bandhula and his sons. Before it, Bandhula was appointed as General of Kosalan forces by Pasenadi himself due to their friendship which started while studying at Takshsila. After Bandhula, Pasenadi appointed the former’s nephew Digha-Karayana as new General of Kosalan forces. Digha-Karayana betrayed the king to avenge his uncle’s murder and offered the royal insignia to his son Vidudabha (Sanskrit - Virudhaka). Pasenadi fled and died at the gates of Rajgriha. It is suggested that some of the Mallas, in order to avenge the death of Bandhula, aligned themselves with the Vidudabha and achieved their purpose. The Nirayavalika and other Jaina sources inform that the Mallas along with the Lichchhavis aligned with the Vajjian confederacy under the leadership of King Cetaka of Vaishali against King Ajatshatru of monarchical Magadha. However, in the end, Ajatshatru won the battle and Mallas lost much of their power.

The ruling tribes of Malla are referred as Suryavanshi Kshatriyas with Vasetthas gotra in Buddhist and Brahmanic literatures. They find their mention as Mallas in Pali text, Mallai in Jain Text and Mallakas in Arthasastra by Chanakya where he refers them as people living with the title Raja. There is mention of nearly five hundred Malla Rajas (Santhagara members) during the Buddha Period [7]. The tribe had their major settlements at Aniruddhawa, Bhogagamanagara, Sathiawan, Anupia, Khukhundo, Kahaon and Bhagalpur other than Kusinara and Pava which were also their capitals [8]. 

1. Kusinara – The Mallas of Kusinara were known as ‘Kosinarka’ [9]. They are referred as Vasessthas by Aniruddha and Ananda in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra. The Kosinarka Mallas followed Buddhism at mass scale. Their Raja, Vajrapani Malla, fell on the ground instantly after hearing the death of Buddha and died on the spot [10]. Kusinara become a sacred place for all Buddhists after Buddha took his mahaparinirvana in 483 BC at Shalvan Upaavana situated on the banks of River Hirannavati (now a small stream called Hirakinari) [11]. In present time the place is known as Kushinagar / Kasia.

2. Pava – The Mallas of Pava were known as ‘Paveyyaka-Malla’. In the Sangiti Sutta of Digha Niakaya, Buddha addressed them as Vasessthas. Pava has been mentioned in detail in Jain KalpaSutra grantha as it is the same place where Mahavira died while dwelling in the palace of Sastipala Malla (Hastipala Malla). It is also the place where Buddha took his last meal at the house of Chund metalsmith. There is a non-agreement between historians on its location in present time. Some traced it as Padrauna, Sathiyaon Dih and Fazilnagar in Kushinagar district of Uttar Pradesh while others traced it as Pavapuri near Rajgriha, Patna of Bihar. Based on the initial works of historians, the accepted place by Jains is Pavapuri near Rajgriha. However later historical evidences do not justify its location to be there. According to Jaina Kalpasutra and Parisista-parvam, Mahavira attained nirvana in the courtyard of King Hastipala Malla of Pava. These Mallas became part of Vajji or Lichchhavi sangha of Vaishali while opposing to the autocratic government of Magadha. The Magadha territory existed in the south of the Ganges and present Pavapuri is too located on the south of Ganges. Therefore it is clear that the ancient Pava (of Malla tribe) and present Pavapuri are historically two different places. Further, the Buddhist texts Digha Nikaya and Majjihima Nikaya talk about the nirvana of Mahavira in Majjihima Pava which was three gavutas (approx. 10-20 Km) from Kusinara and falling near Shakya territory. It is also well recorded that the sick Buddha reached in the outskirts of Kusinara by evening after having his morning or last meal at the house of Chunda metalsmith of Pava. It therefore confirms that the distance between Pava and Kusinara was not long. Based on all these historical evidences, Pava can be traced to ‘Sathiyaon -Fazilnagar’ in Kusinagar district and it can be said that its correlation with Pavapuri of Bihar is due to wrong interpretation of the initial evidences.

3. Anupiya – It was one of the navmalliki situated to the east of Kapilvastu. Siddharth Gautama came first to Anupiya after crossing the Shakya border. In the Ambavana (mango grove) of Anupiya, which belonged to the Malla Rajas, he took his Pravajja. The Malla-Rajas later built a Vihara there for Buddha’s residence. Anupiya was also the birthplace of Dabba Mallaputra. In present time, historians trace it as ‘Devgaon and Deurawa’ village of Nepal [12].

4. Bhogagamanagara - It was another navmalliki of Malla republic situated on the route of Vaishali to Pava. According to Buddhist texts, the Buddha passed through Mandagama, Ambagama, Jambugama, Hatthigama and Bhogagamanagara while making his last journey from Vaishali to Pava. Based on the descriptions, the place has to be at the border of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states of India. The Baduraon village of Uttar Pradesh, famously referred as ‘Buddha Nagar’, is speculated to be ancient Bhogagamanagara [12]. 

5. Aniruddhawa - The place is traced in Kushinagar district of Uttar Pradesh with houses constructed over the site.

6. Khukhundo – Kahon - The town was situated on the route of Kusinara to Banaras. The villages were Brahmanical and the Chinese traveler Hwen Tswang mentions about the hospitality of Buddhist Brahmin [13].

Other than these places, the present Kakradih and Majhauli are also designated as two of the navmallikis related to the Mallas of Pava by historians like Rahul Sankrityayan, Dr. Rajbali Pandey and Buddhamitra T.M.B. due to the presence of strong Malla titled population. While Kakradih, famously referred as ‘Mallai Taluka’ from the time immemorial, is located on the south of the River Ghaghara (Sarayu) in Mau district of Uttar Pradesh, Majhauli is located in Deoria district in the same state. However the ancient name of both places in Buddhist texts cannot be traced. Based on these findings, the Malla territory is believed to be spread from Devgaon-Devurwa of Nepal in north till Mau district of Uttar Pradesh in south covering entire Maharajganj district, Sahjanwa, Barhalganj and border areas of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The main religion of the majority of the Mallas became Buddhism by the 5th century BC. It, therefore, led to their classification as ‘Vratya Kshatriyas’ in Manusmiriti. Some historians have traced the legacy of one section of Malla of Pava with the present Malla titled population of Kakradih (Natthapur). The legacy of majority Mallas including the Mallas of Kusinara have been traced to Sainthwar community which also carries the legacy of other republic Kshatriya tribes of that region. Opposite to these populations, the legacy of one Mall Raja of Pava, who was non-follower of Buddha, is traced with the Mallas of Majhauli who are also considered as the head of Bisen Kshatriyas.

2.3 The Lichchhavis of Vaishali - click here to read



[1] Bisht, N. S. & Bankoti, T. S. (2004). Encyclopaedic Ethnography of the Himalayan Tribes, p. 738. Delhi: Global Vision.
[2] Kapoor, S. (2004). A Dictionary of Hinduism, p. 394. New Delhi: Cosmo.
[3] Ghose, S. (2004). Legend of Ram: Antiquity to Janmabhoomi Debate, p. 70. New Delhi: Bibliophile South Asia & Promilla.
[4] Anthropoligical Survey of India. (1998). People of India: Rajasthan, Part 2, Vol. XXXVIII. p. 845. (K. S. Singh,  Eds.). Mumabi: Popular Prakashan.
[5]  Jain, K. C. (1972). Malwa through the Ages: From the Earliest Times to 1305 A.D., p. 2.
[6] Mittal, J. P. (2006). History of Ancient India: From 4250 BC to 637 AD, p. 586. New Delhi: Atlantic.
[7] Agnihotri, V. K. (2010). Indian History. (26th Ed.). p. A-171. Mumbai: Allied.
[8] Buddhamitra, T. M. B. (1999). Bhagwan Buddha ke samkalin anuyayi tatha Buddha Kendra, pp. 140-145,158. Gorakhpur: Rahul Sankrityayan Sansthan.
[9] Malalsekera, G. P. (2003). Dictionary of Pali Proper Names, p. 453. New Delhi: Asian educational Services.

[10] Buddhamitra, T. M. B. (1999). Bhagwan Buddha ke samkalin anuyayi tatha Buddha Kendra, p. 188.  Gorakhpur: Rahul Sankrityayan Sansthan.
[11] Goldberg, K. & Decary, M. (2012). Along the Path: The Meditator’s Companion to the Buddha’s land. Onalaska: Pariyatti.
[12] Buddhamitra, T. M. B. (1999). Bhagwan Buddha ke samkalin anuyayi tatha Buddha Kendra, p. 141-142.  Gorakhpur: Rahul Sankrityayan Sansthan.
[13] The ancient Geography of India, Vol I, pp 365, 1963 – By Sir Alexander Cunningham


Index   Chapter 1   Chapter 2   Chapter 3   Chapter 4   Chapter 5   Chapter 6   Chapter 7   Chapter 8   Chapter 9   Chapter 10

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