After the downfall of Soma dynasty, the Lichchhavi period began in the history of Nepal. During the time of Gautama Buddha, the kings of Lichchhavi dynasty were ruling over Baisali (Muzaffarpur, in modern Bihar). Baisali had a partly democratic form of government. According to the inscriptionf of Jaya Dev II, Supushpa was the founder of Lichchhavi dynasty. But he was defeated by Ajatsatru, the powerful Magadha King, in the 5th century B.C. Ajatsatru's descendents came over to Nepal and established their domain. when the kings of Kushan dynasty became powerful in India, the Lichchhavis migrated to Nepal. The 24th descedant of King Supushpa, Jaya Dev II, re-estabslished the rule of Lichchhavis in Nepal.
Brisha Dev was another powerful king of the Lichchhavis who extended his territory far and wide. Chandra Gupta I, the Indian emperor, was alarmed of the rise of Brisha Dev. He preserved the sovereignty of India by his wide political tact. He visited Nepal and married Kumara Devi, the daughter of Brisha Dev. Kumara Devi gave birth to emperor Samundra Gupta. Some historians are of the opinion that it was Bhasker Verma, not Brisha Dev who was the father of Kumara Devi. Another famous Lichchhavi ruler was Haridutta. He built four Narayan temples - Changunarayan, Vishankhunarayan, Sikhanarayan, and Ichankhunarayan. He also built Budhanilkantha. He made Vaishnavism the Royal cult of Nepal.
Mana Deva was the most famous king among the Lichchhavi rulers. Historians differ about the period of his rule. However, according to the inscriptions of Changunarayan temple, Mana Deva ruled Nepal from 464 A.D. to 505 A.D.
Mana Deva was the son of Dharma Deva. He was brave and courageous. He had acquired good skill in the art of warfare. He was a lover of art and architecture as well. While he was a mere child Dharma Deva died. His mother Rajyavati was about to immolate herself on the funeral pyre along with her dead husband (to become a satee), but at the request of Mana Deva she lived to nurture and inculcate good qualities in him.
Mana Deva was only a little boy when he ascended the throne. Taking this advantage, the Thakuri governors of the eastern provinces rebelled and tried to be independent. But he amassed his troops and suppressed the rebellion. Then he marched towards the west and occupied many provinces. With the help of his maternal uncle he invaded Mallapur, across the Gandaki river and annexed it to his kingdom. Thus his kingdom was extended up to the Himalayas in the north, the other side of the Gandaki in the west, the Koshi, in the south.
Mana Deva and his mother Rajyavati performed many religious sacrifices, gave gifts to Brahmans and worshipped Changu Narayan. Mana Deva was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu. He also respected Buddhism. He built many Vihars and stupas in different parts of the country. He erected an image of Tribikram Narayan at Lazimpat. He built a famous royal palace that was called 'Mangriha' at Gokarna from where the administration of the country was conducted. He also built the shrine of Changunarayan, and renovated the Chakra Mahavihar. He minted coins in his name for the first time in the history of Nepal, and named them 'Mananka'. He was a bold, handsome, strong and a liberal king. He was a wise administrator and the chief patron, guardian and great supporter of his people. He is considered to be the first king of Nepal having historical authenticity.
According to the inscription of Jaya Dev II, after Mana Deva, Mahideva and Basanta Deva became the king of Nepal. A few generations after Basantadeva, Shiva Deva I, ascended the throne of Nepal. According to Jagadish Chandra Regmi, Shiva Deva was the son of Mana Deva II.
Shivadeva was another illustrious ruler of the Lichchhavi dynasty. He ascended the throne in about 588 A.D. From the very beginning of his rule, he placed Amshuverma in charge of the entire administration of the country. Shiva Deva I was impressed by Amshuverma's heroism and administrative ability. So, he gave his daughter in marriage to Amshuverma and made him 'Mahasamanta'. Then the dual administration was held for some time.
During the reign of Shivadeva, Amshuverma was the de-facto ruler. At the death of Shivadeva in 605 A.D. he became the sole sovereign and adopted the title of king. He belonged to the Thakuri clan and thus he established the Thakuri dynasty in Nepal. He built 'Kailashkut Bhavan' at Devapattan and transferred the seat of government from Mangriha to Kailashkut. He also minted coins in his name.
Amshuverma was endowed with all the kingly qualities and virtues. He was a just, impartial and an able administrator. He was a true servant of the people without any political bias. According to some inscriptions, King Shiva Deva used to say that Amshuverma was a man of universal fame and he always destroyed his enemies by his heroic nature. Some other inscriptions tell us that he had a great personality, who dispelled darkness by the light of his glory. Hiuen Tseng writes about him as a man of high accomplishments and great glory. He himself was a learned man and respected scholar. He had written a book on Grammar in Sanskrit. The great grammarian Chandraverma, a scholar of Nalanda University, was patronized by him. He followed Shaivism but was tolerant towards all other religions. He can rightly be compared with the Emperor Asoka of India as regards his political outlook and impartial feelings without any religious prejudices. For the development of economic condition of the people he paid great attention to the improvement of trade and commerce of the country. Nepal had trade relations with India, Tibet and China and it became the thoroughfare of India's trade with China and vice versa. He gave equal importance to industrial advancement and agricultural prosperity. He made every effort to help the people by providing canals to irrigate the fields. He levied water tax, land tax, defence tax and luxury tax. He used the income from these sources for the development works of the country. He did not use it for his personal pleasure and luxury.
During the reign of Amshuverma, Harshverdhana of India and Srong Tsang Gampo of Tibet were trying to extend their territories. Keeping Harshaverdhana at arms length he made a metrimonial alliance with Tibet. He gave his daughter Bhrikuti in marriage to the Tibetan King Srong Tsang Gampo. He also gave his sister Bhoga Devi in marriage to an Indian King Shur Sen. With all this political sagacity and far-sightedness, Amshuverma maintained the sovereignty and independence of the country.
Hiun-Tseng was a Buddhist monk of China. In about 630 A.D. he visited India via Tashkent to study Buddhism. He stayed in India for 14 years and visited Varanasi, Gaya, Kushinagar Kapilvastu and Lumbini. Though he did not visit Kathmandu Valley, he visited Lumbini in about 637 A.D. He prepared a detailed account about Indian culture, civilization and the successful administration of Harshaverdhana. He also noted down a brief account about Nepal. He described Nepal in the following way :
This country, Nipolo is surrounded by snow-clad mountains, of an area of 4,000 Lee (Chinese scale which is equivalent to 1067 km). The area of the capital is 20 Lee (about 6 km) Food and fruits are found in abundance. Copper, Yak and Mingming (Chinese name of a bird) are also found here. Copper coins are used in trade. The people of this land do not speak the truth. They are not dependable and trustworthy people. They have ill manners. They are not educated but highly skilled in art and architecture. Their appearance is not attractive and they do not look friendly. Apart from Buddhism, there are also people following other religions. Buddhist stupas and Hindu temples are constructed side by side. About 2,000 Buddhist monks have been studying here about Hinayan and Mahayan of Buddhism. The regining king is of the Lichchhavi dynasty. He possesses a wide variety of knowledge. He has a noble character. He has faith in Buddhism. Recently, Anchufabo (Amshuverma) was ruling the country. His glory and greatness is renowned. He has composed a book of Grammer. He respects learned and talented people.
Hiuen-Tseng also mentioned an oil line to the south-east of the capital. This source of oil was again metnioned by other Chinese travellers who visited Nepal during the reign of Narendra Deva.
After the death of Amshuverma, Usay Dev I, son of Shivadeva, ascended the throne. He was dethroned by his younger brother, Dhurba Dev. He went to Tibet and took shelter under Srong Tsang Gampo. Jisnu Gupta, chief of the Avir dynasty, helped Dhruba Dev to acquire the throne. Now Jisnu Gupta bacame powerful. Dhurba Dev ruled from Mangriha and Jisnu Gupta from Kailashkut Bhavan. The administrative authority was in the hands of Jisnu Gupta. Kailashkut Bhavan was the adminitrative centre of the country. Thus, there was a dual government. Eventually, Jisnu Gupta became the de-facto ruler. He minted coins in his name as Amshuverma had done, and declared himself the king of Nepal. After Dhurba Dev, a descendant of Amshuverma was placed on the throne. But again Jisnu Gupta's son Bishnu Gupta became the real ruler.
Narendra Dev was the son of Uday Dev II. Uday Dev had to take shelter under the Tibetan King Srong-Tsang-Gompo. Narendra Dev, with Tibetan aid took revenge against the enemy of his father and restored his ancestral throne by defeating Bishnu Gupta. Thus, he ended the double rule and became the 7th king of the Lichchhavi dynasty. He ascended the throne in about 640 A.D. He was a wise and good ruler. He always wished to see his people happy and prosperous. He was a man much given to sensual pleasure. He always wore Jewelled earrings in his ears. He loved flowers and variety of perfume. It was he who brought the patron deity Machchhendranath from Kamrup(Assam, in India). A Chinese Mission visited Nepal for the first time during his rule in about 643 A.D. Again, in 647 A.D., a second Chinese Mission under the leadership of Wang Hiun Tse visited Nepal. This Mission highly praised the development of Nepalese art and architecture. Narendra Dev also sent a Mission to China with presents and messages of good will.
Narendra Dev was a pleasure-loving king. He found pleasure in decorating himself, his palace and his people. The people wore earplugs of bamboo and bone. They used utensils of copper. They wore long and loose garments covering the whole body. The people were skilled in dramas and playing musical instruments. They worshipped Panchayan i.e., five Gods- Ganesh, Shiva, Bishnu, the Sun God and Goddess Durga. The houses were made of wood, decorated with carving and paintings. The pictures of gods and goddesses and of different animals were carved on the walls of the houses. Thus, the rule of Narendra Dev proved to be much advanced in all fields, particularly in art and architecture. He died in 683 A.D.
After the death of Narendra Dev, his son Shivadeva II ruled from 684 to 705 A.D. He married Betsa Devi, the daughter of king Bhogaverma of Magadha. Due to this matrimonial relation, he maintained a very good relationship with the powerful Magadha kingdom of India.
After Shivadeva II, Jaya Deva II ascended the throne. He married Rajyavati, the daughter of King Harsha Dev of Koshal. He was a learned man and a great poet. When his mother Betsa Devi offered a silver lotus to Pashupatinath he composed a hymn and inscribed the same on a stone behind the huge brass image of Nandi (bull) in front of the temple of Pashupatinath. During his rule Tibet made an unsuccessful attempt to invade Nepal, but was defeated at the hands of the Nepalese. The Tibetan king was killed in the confrontation. Jaya Deva II ruled in Nepal till 729 A.D.
Aramudi was also known as Baradeva. He made Lalitpatan (Patan) his capital, He was a brave and clever king. According to Kalhan's 'Rajtarangini' King Vanayaditya Vinayaditya was a powerful king of Kashmir from 770 A.D. to 800 A.D. He conquered many principalities of India and then advanced to occupy Nepal in 782 A.D. When the troops of Jayapid reached the Kaligandaki river ( near Ridi, in Palpa), Armudi's troops attacked the enemies. Jayapid ordered the Kashmiri troops to cross the river. At that time, the water in the river was only knee-deep. But when the invaders stepped into the river, the Nepalese troops let out the water that was harnessed by a dam. Suddenly, the river was flooded and the enemies were swept away. Jayapid, the king himself was arrested and imprisoned. Later on, when Dev Sharma the minister of Jayapid, heard this news he came to Nepal and met the king. He organized the successful escape of the king at the cost of his own life. It is said that he committed suicide and king Jayapida Vinayaditya crossed the river with the help of Dev Sharma's dead body and reached Kashmir with great difficulty.
There was peace and prosperity in the kingdom of Nepal during the rule of the Lichchhavis. Before the rule of Lichchhavis, Nepal could not develop its culture, religion, economic condition and administrative system, and lacked a skillful ruler. But, when the Lichchhavi period began in Nepal there was a great change in the political condition and economic system of the country. The Lichchhavi rulers were perfect in good administration. They built 'Man Griha' and 'Kailashkut Bhavan' as adminitrative centres. The Lichchhavi kings extended the boundry of Nepal and maintained good relationships with India, China and Tibet. The important achievements of the Lichchhavis can be discussed under the following heads :
a. Administration : For the efficient administration of the country the Lichchhavis set up a council of ministers headed by Mahasamanta. For administrative conveniencec, the kingdom was divided into provinces, districts and villages. There were law-courts to administer justice. There were local bodies called the 'Panchali' to settle minor disputes and to carry out the public utility services. There were edifices like Mangriha and Kailaskut Bhavan from where the whole kingdom was administered. The administrative power was not centralized but was passed on to the local bodies, associations and assemblies of the People.
The Lichchhavis had a well organized army. It consisted of the infantry, cavalry and elephant-riders. Proper training was given to the army from time to time. During war, the king himself led the army.
b. Foreign Policy: The Lichchhavis maintained a good relationship with the neighbouring countries. Nepal had trade relations with India, Tibet and China. Nepal also had become the thoroughfare between India and China. The marriage of Bhrikuti and Srong Tsang Gampo resulted in a good relationship between Nepal and Tibet. Nepal adopted a non-aligned foreign policy and maintained friendship with her neighbouring countries : specially India, China and Tibet.
c. Social Condition : Though the Lichchhavis were Hindus and there was a caste system in the society, other classes of people were not neglected. There were Ahirs, Kiratas, Thakuris and Bhutias. There was inter-marriage among different classes of people. People gave co-operation to one another and developed the sense of nationality. National unity was not hampered because of the difference of caste, creed and dynasty. They had a great respect, faith and love for the king, whose main function was to establish peace and order in the country. The king was also responsible for the development of the kingdom. People lived simple and pious lives. Ornaments, house decoration and entertainments formed part of the daily life of the people.
d. Economic Condition : The main source of income of the government was taxation. The merchants had to pay custom duty for the imported and exported goods. The vanquished countries had to pay tribute and war indemnity. The cultivators had to pay land revenue. The main occupation of the people was trade and commerce. Nepalese art and handicraft goods and other cottage industry products were exported to Tibet, India and China. Some roads were paved with bricks. Horses, mules and elephants were the means of transport. In the hills, people carried goods on their backs. People wore ornaments of gold, silver and copper. In this way, Nepal had a sound economic condition under the Lichchhavis.
e. Judicial System : There were law courts to administer justice. Learned men were consulted to make laws. Punishments were inflicted according to the gravity of the offence. There were different forms of punishments. But most of them were of reformative type. Thieves, robbers, murderers and rebels were punished severely. The local bodies like the Panchali also administered justice in the adjudication of local petty cases.
f. Religion : There was religious toleration. Even in the same family people worshipped different deities. The Lichchhavi rulers were the followers of Hinduism, but they never hated Buddhism. However, when Shankaracharya III came from India, he suppressed Buddhist and preached Hinduism. It is said that he forced the Buddhist monks and nuns to get married and live together. He is also said to have burnt 84,000 books on Buddhism. Despite these facts, the Nepalese people retained Buddhism. Both Hinduism and Buddhism flourished in Nepal under the Lichchhavis and there existed a mutual good will and understading among the followers of the two religions.
g. Literature, Art and Architecture : Sankrit was the official language. Sone of the Lichchhavi kings were scholars; Amshuverma had composed a grammar in Sankrit and Jaya Deva had wrtten poems in Sanskrit. Threre was a great development of art and architecture as well. Fine architectural structures like Mangriha, Kailashkut Bhavan , the temple of Pashupatinath, Changunarayan, Bhadradivas, etc. testify this. Similarly, the images of Tribikram Narayan, Dhumbarahi, and the metal works and crafts speak of the excellence of Nepalese art in the Lichchhavi period.
In this way, Nepal made all-round development under the Lichchhavis. The Nepalese civilization and culture was spread over to India, Tibet and China. The Nepalese society was also influenced to some extent by other cultures and civilizations. For the efficient administration, peace and harmony, the development of art and architecture and friendly relations with neighbouring countries the Lichchhavi period has been called the 'Golden Age' in the history of Nepal.