December 3, 2017


[Nowadays, Magarāt doesn’t practically exist in Nepal’s political or administrative structure or physical map either. There is no archaeological or epigraphical evidence that would attest Magarāt’s system of governance, military and boundary with other states at that time etc. The history of Magarāt remains basically in popular beliefs.  But we can certainly find, Magarāt  being mentioned in different history books.]

By B K Rana

WELCOME : Banner reading Sena and Saru dynasty's Kalānkī Kūlpūjā 
(Guardian deity worship)  2070 Bikram Sambat (2014)
The Magarāt[1], in the western hills and plains in the country, tentatively spanning from today’s Marshyāṇdī east to Bherī river in the west[2], was the traditional homeland of Magar people before the unification of Nepal. There is no well-attested written history of Magarāt as of today. King Prithvinārāyanā Shah (1723 –1775) of Gorkha is written to have himself said in his Divẏōpadeshā[3]  as - “Magarātko rajā mai hūm” - literally -  ‘I am the king of Magarāt’[4]  and  it probably  is the first written reference of Magarāt in the history of Nepal.

Nowadays, Magarāt doesn’t practically exist in Nepal’s political or administrative structure or physical map either. There is no archaeological or epigraphical evidence that would attest Magarāt’s system of governance, military and boundary with other states at that time etc. The history of Magarāt remains basically in popular beliefs.  But we can certainly find, Magarāt  being mentioned in different history books.

In January 1983, I was returning Kathmandu from Nawalparasi via ‘Kihun Thum’ in Tanahu district west Nepal and while having my lunch at a small hotel there and on being told to look towards the horizon southwest; I saw - ‘Rishing and Ghiring’ hills of the ‘Bāra Magarāt’ that day under the clear blue sky. The hotel manager had told so as I had asked him if he had heard of ‘Rishing and Ghiring’ at all.  The  ‘Bāra Magarāt’ literally meant, in those days - pretty much a confederation of twelve ‘petty states’ in the western hills of Nepal. Those ‘petty states’ of Magarāt hadn’t developed as much as a nation state. It’s therefore there is no well recorded history on them.

In the Himalayas, the ‘Kirāta Prādeshā’ or Kirāta[5] region has remained as the homeland of the Kirātas: today’s Sunuwar, Rai and Limbu people primarily - from the Vedic period. The both words - Kirāta  and Magarāt - suggest some place, country or region in our discussion here. The Kirātas come in the Vedas, Ramāyāna, Mahābhārata and Purans etc. but no mentioning at all of the  Magarāt can be found in any such literatures.

When did Magarāt come into existence ?

‘Magwār Vishāyā’ – literally ‘Magwār (Magar) district’
I am unsure whether Magarāt  had well existed as early as 999 AD (i.e. Bikram Sambat 1055) as there is a reference for ‘Gandīgulma’ which definitively is Gulmī of the 'Bara Magarāt' and today’s also. And, ‘Magwār Vishāyā’ – literally ‘Magwār (Magar) district’ – also existed in around 1101 AD (i.e Bikram Sambat 1157) as it is so written in the earliest copperplate of Nepal (please see picture). Again we find yet another reference for the ‘petty state of Lamjūng’ in Asthāshahashrīkā Prāgyāpāramitā - a Bouddha treatise copied by Gangā Rama Rānāk (historians believe him a ‘Rana Magar’ but which I doubt) - (Bajracharya  2064 BS : 8, 30 and 36). The book was deposited at the Ngor Lamasery, Xigaze in Tibet. The lamasery was burnt down in 1960. There is no mentioning of Magarāt at all in any of these historical records. We may therefore make a guess Magarāt  came into existence much later in the medieval period of Nepalese history with the gradual decline of Sena dynasty of Palpa.

Bara Magarāt the original seat of Magars

It looks like until the end of 17th century, the ‘Bāra Magrāt[6] was homeland of the Magars - it is still today so to say.  It consisted of twelve (bāra) different petty states of the Magar people. They were : 1) Sathung, 2) Paiyung, 3) Bhirkot, 4) Dhor, 5) Garhung, 6) Rising, 7) Ghiring, 8) Gulmi, 9) Argha, 10) Khachi, 11) Musikot and 12) Isma. 

Both Thomas Smith and Brian H. Hodgson have this list of ‘Bara (Twelve) Magarāt’ and written also - “Bara Magarāt  is the original seat of Magars; their attachment to the house of Gorkha is but recent of no extraordinary or intimate nature and modern events have spread them to other parts of the country.” (Smith 1852: 135), (Hodgson – On the Military Tribes of Nepal -1874: 40)

Daniel Wright also has clearly written ‘Magrāt[7] (Wright 1877: 276) whereas William Kirkpatrick, Francis B. Hamilton and Rishikesh Shah have not mentioned anything about the Magarāt  but they have a list of ‘Chaubisi Rajyas’ - 24 principalities - in which the twelve different states of Bara Magrāt[8] are also mentioned (Kirkpatrick 1811: 284), (Hamilton 1819 :237-238), (Shah 1992:65).

Saru Magars and Sen Thakuris worship together their guardian deity in Paiyung

I have heard there are still some ruins of 'Magar kings' palaces' in  Rishing and Ghiring hills of Bara Magarāt. The ruins may be like that of Ligligkot ('Lingling' in Magar language - meaning afresh and all beautiful or like something crystal clear) in Gorkha. Both Liglig and Gorkha were not in ‘Bāra Magrāt’. Paiyung was another of ‘petty states’ of Bara Magarāt. It is nowadays in Parbat district, west Nepal.

The Sena Thakuris and Saru Magars heading to offer worship to their Kūl Devatā - guardian deity in Dharampani,  Paiyung  on Friday March 14, 2014  
(i.e. Falgun 30, 2070 Bikram Sambat).  The sacred thread bearers  are Sena Thakuris  here and 
non-bearers the Saru Magars.
Some western and also a few Nepali writers have written Mukunda Sena was a Magar king of Palpa. Most writers nowadays write  Sena kings of Palpa were Thakuri (Chhetri) kings. While still a student in 1983, I was on a visit to Argali, west Palpa district. I met there some elderly Magars who told they were the descendants of King Manī Mukūnda Sena.

Whether King Manī Mukūnda Sena of Palpa was a Magar or Thakuri, I do not have any preference here at all but historian Mohan Prasad Khanal has footnoted in his book a Newari text translated into Nepali which is very interesting  as - Mukūnda Sena rajāle .... yahā thaū thaūmā aāgo lagāudai aāye  ... yahā Nepālkā prajāharū sabai ... bhage  yahā Magarka rajā Mukūnda Senaka sabai sena jammā bhayar Itūmbahālmā sunako chhānā dekher yasāi thaūmā basaūn bhaner nabigarikan basye ."   

A working translation for this text into English would be - 'King Mukunda Sena torched different places and as scared as they were, all people fled (Kathmandu valley)... here the king of Magar - Mukunda Sena's army gathered around a temple in Itumbahal. The temple had golden roof but the army did no harm to it (Khanal 2061 BS:36)

(To be continued ...)


Bajracharya, Dhanavajra 2064 BS : Gopālarajvānshāvaliko Aitihāsik Vivechanā – Nepāl ra Asiyālī Anūsandhāna Kendrā, Tribhuvan Vishwāvidhyālayā, Kirtipur, Kathmandu.

Hamilton,  Francis Buchanan 1819 : An Account of the Kingdom of Nepal, And Of The Territories Annexed To This Dominion By The House Of Gorkha – Printed for Achibald Constable and Company, Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, And Brown; and Hurst, Robinson, And Company, 90, Cheapside, London.

Hasrat, Bikram Jit 1970: History of Nepal – as told by its own and contemporary chronicles – printed in India at the V. V. Research Institute Press by Dev Datta Shastri and published  by the editor at 5, Krishan Nagar, Hosiyarpur, Punjab, India.

Hodgson, Brian H. 1874: Languages, Literature, and Religion of Nepal and Tibet together with Geography, Ethnology, and Commerce of those Countries. London: Trubner & Co., 57 & 59 Ludgate Hill.

Kawakita, Jiro 1974 : The Hill Magars and their Neighbours. Hill Peoples Surrounding the Ganges Plain - Volume III- Tokyo University Press 3-27 Shinjuku,Shinjuku-ku Tokyo.

Khanal, Mohanprasad 2061: Senārājyāko Rajanaitik Itihās - Nepāl ra Asiyālī Anūsandhāna Kendrā, Tribhuvan Vishwāvidhyālayā, Kirtipur, Kathmandu.

Kirkpatrick, William 1811:  An Account of Kingdom of Nepaul, a mission to that country in the year 1793 – Printed for William Miller, Albemarle – Street, Cleveland-Row  London.

Pant, Mahes Raj & Sharma, Aishvarya Dhar 1977 : The Two Earliest Copper-plate Inscriptions from Nepal: Nepal Research Centre, Miscellaneous Papers No 12.

Shah, Rishikesh 1992: Ancient and Medieval Nepal - Manohar Publishers & Distributors, 753/23, Ansari Rd, Dariya Ganj, New Delhi, Delhi 110002, India.

Smith, Thomas 1994: The Nepal Years : Narrative of a Five Years’ Residence at Nepal from 1841 – 1845 - Mrs Rani Kapoor, Cosmo Publications for Genesis Publishing Pvt Ltd 24-B Ansari Road, Daryaganj New Delhi 110 002.

Wright, Daniel 1877:  History of Nepal, Translated from Parbatiya – Cambridge : At the University Press. London, Cambridge Warehouse, 17, Paternoster Row. Ambridge : Deighton, Bell, and Co.

[1] The Magar homeland in the western mid-hills of the country before the unification of Nepal.
[2]  Both Brian H Hodgson  and Thomas Smith have same political boundary  for Magarāt and have even same text in their books - word by word. Brian H Hodgson was appointed assistant British resident to Nepal in 1820 whereas Thomas Smith  was in Kathmandu five years from 1841 to 1845.
[3] Literally ‘divine instruction’ for  how to run state affairs. Nepal followed this 'divine teaching' until quite recently.
[4] As he is said to have said “Magarātko rajā mai hūm”- literally -  ‘I am the king of Magarāt’ – some scholars therefore believe  he was a Magar himself.
[5] A generally accepted theory is that the  Kirātas ‘derive their names from the corrupt form of the word Kiriath - meaning  a fort or town  in Moabite language of the Mediterranean region’. But how Kirātas went to India and the Himalayan region is exactly unknown (Hasrat 1970: XXIV 4). Similarly, there is no plausible explanation also for the word - Magarāt - how it came into currency  but we fully understand it comes  for the Magar people of Nepal.  I have briefly discussed the possibility of the word Magar in one of my articles already.
[6] There are some people nowadays from different quarters claiming ‘Athār Magarāt’ – a total of 18  Magarāt. Was there any ‘Athār Magarāt’,  really ? We do not know much about it, however, Jiro Kawakita has '18 Panthi Tshantial' i.e. '18 clans Chhyantal' and '14 thars Magar' (Kawakita 1974: 63). 'Tshantial' or Chhyantals assert nowadays they are not the Magars at all. We do not have 18 different 'petty state names' like in the 'Bara Mangrāt. I have not found anything written about the  '18 Magarāt' in any history books. 
[7] “The elder with his rani went, went to Ḍhōr, conquered Mangrāt and regained Garhōn, Sathun, Bhirkot and Ḍhōr.”
[8] Hamilton’s  ‘Chaubisi rajyas’ – 1) Piuthana 2) Malebum or Parbat 3) Galkot 4) Isma 5) Dhurkot 6)Argha 7)Khachi 8) Gulmi 9)Palpa 10) Garahang 11) Poin (Paiyung) 12) Satahung 13) Bhirkot 14) Nayakot (Nuwakot) 15) Kaski 16) Dhor 17) Gajarkot (Jajarkot) 18) Rising 19) Ghiring 20) Tanahung (Tanahu) 21)Lamjun (Lamjung) 22)Gorkha 23) Tarki 24) Musikot.