Shakya clan

Shakya clan
- Kashinath Tamot

There were 16 Mahājanapada("great village") in the first millennium before Christ in northern region of India and western Tarai of Nepal. Among them four Magadha, Koshal, Vamsa and Avanti were kingdoms. Remaining twelve were Republic, namely: Kashi, Anga, Vajji (Vaishali), Malla, Cedi, Kuru, Pancala, Matsya, Shurasena, Assaka, Gandhara and Kamboja. Among them clans of Shakyas, Koliyas as well as Videhas were in Nepal Terai. If we try to find etymologies of place names of South Asian countries, we find one of system of topographical names originated from the abundance of any trees and plant of the place. Thus, we find names of Shakya, Koliya and Maurya from Shaka 'teak tree', Koli 'Jujube tree' and Mura "a fragrant plant" ( Apte,1986) Shakya, Maurya are adjectival forms of them and they are known in Pali as Sakiya, Koliya and Mauriya, These city-states, seems to be established in 700 BC . In course of time, Shakya became synonym to Shakya Republic, inhabitant of the Shakya country. After Buddha (BC 624-544/someone follows Buddha's life time as BC 563-483) took birth in the clan, Shakya became again synonym to Buddha. People used Shakya as relating to Buddhism also. Compound words with the word Shakya became popular to glorify the clan.

The word Shakya was used for the first time in Ashokan Pillar inscription of Lumbini, established when Emperor Ashok (BC 273-232) came to Lumbini on the 20th year of his coronation (BC 249). There it is inscribed:

.....hida budhe jāte sakyamuniti..........
(Here Shakyamuni Buddha was born.)

Siddharha was born at Lumbini on the way to his mother's country Devadaha, another minor Shakya state of the time. He was a prince of the Head of the Shakya state-Shuddhodana. He married own maternal elder Uncle Suprabuddha Shakya's daughter-Yashodhara from Devadaha. Shakya capital was in Kapilavastu (Tilaurakot) named after the sage Kapila, the preceptor of Shakyas. The state was destroyed by the king Bidudabha/Virudhaka of Koshal in BC 546, two years before Buddha liberated from existence (Pradhan 1983:57) Licchavi republic was ended by the emperor of Magadh-Ajatashatru (BC 551-519) (Mahajan 1973:2). Lord Buddha was born at Lumbini in Shakya state, enlightened at Uruvela in Magadh kingdom, preached first at Mṛgadāvana in Kashi and liberated from existence at Kushinara in Malla Republic.

It is seen from inscription of ancient Nepal (185-879) that people migrated to Kathmandu valley since Buddha’s time to early centuries of AD from Buddhist region of south western Nepal Terai and northern India. Record from inscriptions like words of Varman, Gupta, Vṛjikarathyā, Mallapurī, Koligrāma, Licchavivaṃśa proves this ideology. There are 15 percent inscriptions estimated related to Buddhism and several compounds words with Shakya are recorded in ancient inscriptions: Śākyamuni (AD 605-621), Śākyayati (n.d.), Śākyabhiksu (n.d.), Śākyabhikṣuni (AD 691). Ancient period of Nepalese history is also called Licchavi period, named after migrated people from Vajji/Vaishali of modern Mujaffarpur district, Bihar state of northern India.

Shakyas are supposed to be of higher caste in Newar community. They strongly believe in Triratna (three jewels): Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. They made hundreds of Buddhists monasteries in Nepalmandal. Besides, being Buddhist layman, they worked as priest being Vajracharya, upgraded Shakyas, having Vajra initiation. These people made Nepalmandal a centre of Mahayan Buddhism creating Sanskrit Buddhist literature like Navagrantha ("nine treaties"). Shakyamuni is considered seventh and present one among seven human Buddhas. It is in tradition in Kathmandu valley as mentioned in Sugatāvadana. The earliest Newari document of AD 1114 on palm leaf is about regulations of the associations of Maṇidharajīva Mahāvihāra. In early modern Nepalese history (1768-1846), it is seen that Shakyas were named Vandya "venerable" (Nepali Bāṃdā, Newari Bare). B.H.Hodgson’s residency pundit Amritananda Vandya and his younger brother litterateur of Nepali, pundit Sundarananda Banda were famous in their time.

Though Mahayana Buddhism, Vajrayana in particular, flourished in ancient and medieval period of Nepalese history in Nepalmandal, Shakyamuni Buddha was one of seven or five Buddhas of them. Shakyas were and are leading Buddhist laymen in all time. Theravadin Buddhism, which follows singly Shakyamuni Buddha, entered Nepal from Srilanka in last century and now it has been one of the three sects of Buddhism in Nepal. Dharmodaya Sabha, the National Buddhist Association of Nepal has managed to be chairperson of the Association by turn of Theravadin, Vajrayani and Himalayan (Tibetan) Buddhism. Now a day’s Shakyas of Kathmandu valley are famous for their Buddhist art creation.


Apte, V.S., 1986
The practical Sanskrit–English Dictionary. Reprint. Kyoto: Risen Book Company.

Mahajan, Vidhyadhar, 1973
Prācīna bhārata kā itihāsa (History of Ancient India). Fourth edition. Delhi: S.Chanda and Company.

Pradhan, Bhuvan Lal, 1985
Buddhadharma ra Śākyaharu (Buddhism and Shakyas). Kathmandu: Yuva Bauddha Samuha, B.S. 2529.

Tamot, Kashinath, 1985
"Nepālbhāṣāyā vikāsay mūla bauddhatay dena". (Contribution of aboriginal Buddhist in the development of Newari language). Nhasalā: No.15 (NS 1105), pp. 45-65.

Memory Note:
1. This write up was prepared for Mr. Ma Weiguang of China, former cultural secretary of Nepal and India. This was written on the request of Prof. Ballabh Mani Dahal (1934-2003) and sent to Ma Weiguang through e-mail of June 28, 2002.
2. Mr. Weiguang replied in e-mail of July 8, 2002 as below:
Thank you very much for your write up to me, which is high scholarly value and so useful to my research work needed. These themes are neglected and confused in Chinese research circle, even big scholars cannot tell clearly. Your write up will contribute to make a clear picture of the Sino- Nepalese cultural exchanges in history.