When the conversations of Nepali elders turn towards the never-ending stories of corruption in the country, they utter a bleak phrase. “Sati le saraapeko desh ma yestai huncha.”
The saying comes with a sense of utter despair for the nation’s future; it implies, even to the youngest minds overhearing it, that no matter what we do, the country of Nepal is doomed from the start.
This dismal saying is often uttered in contexts when honorable and honest people get the worse end of the stick, struggling against Nepal’s perverse bureaucracy. But what exactly is the origin of this saying? After all, it implies that a supernatural curse dooms the entire country of Nepal.
Well, the origin story of this depressing Nepali saying doesn’t go back to some mythological era of gods and avatars. The curse, it is said, was articulated by a woman living just a few hundred years ago in the ancient city of Kantipur.
This incident took place in the 17th century, during the reign of King Laxmi Narsimha Malla. The era was one of peace and prosperity and allowed for the construction of many heritage landmarks that we are familiar with today. King Laxmi Narsimha himself is credited with the construction of Kasthamandap, while his son, Pratap Malla, built many of the heritage structures in Kathmandu like Rani Pokhari and Hanuman Dhoka.
King Laxmi Narsimha Malla was a just king who was genuinely invested in his citizens’ betterment. His reign was further supported by some significant victories over regions in Tibet that opened the way for greater economic prosperity.
There was one man in particular who was greatly responsible for the success of the Tibet missions. His name was Kaji Bhim Malla, and he was an intelligent commander with an excellent mind for business. He was also a true patriot, taking his governmental duties to heart.
Kaji Bhim had brought several Tibetan villages under the rule of Kathmandu, making them pay taxes to the kingdom. He also opened many shops in Tibet that would bring in a substantial amount of foreign income to the nation.
However, as it is now, adversaries within the palace began to grow resentful of Kaji Bhim’s accomplishments. They feared that his achievements may have given him greater leverage with the king. So, they began to sow falsehoods about him in King Laxmi Narsimha’s ears. While this was happening, Kaji Bhim continued to be busy serving the nation of Tibet.
Over time, the king believed that Kaji Bhim was looking to usurp his seat. So he resolved to appropriately punish the kaji for having undue ambitions when he returned home.
And no sooner than the kaji had come back home, he was accused of conspiring against the king and quickly put to death.
However, this was far from the end of the matter for the king. Kaji Bhim wasn’t just an upstanding government employee; he was also the king’s brother-in-law, married to his sister. Once the kaji was put to death, tradition decreed that his wife, the king’s sister, would have to give up her life on her husband’s funeral pyre.
As she was preparing to give up her life as a sati, she cursed the entire nation of Nepal, proclaiming that no reasonable man would ever find happiness in this wretched country.
She also cursed the country’s rulers, saying, “May no one who lives in this durbar ever gain wisdom.”
Not too long after Kaji Bhim was put to death, King Laxmi Narsimha came to understand that he had gotten an innocent person killed. It is said that the guilt of having killed an innocent patriot and also his sister eventually drove the king mad.
The insane king was appropriately replaced by his son, Pratap Malla, who continued the prosperity reign by building many iconic structures in Kathmandu. However, the curse uttered by Kaji Bhim’s wife, it seems, continues to plague Nepal to this day.