Durbar Square, Bhaktapur
As with the palaces of Kathmandu and Patan, Durbar Square in Bhaktapur is on the list of UNESCO world cultural heritage sites.The fortress-like palace, standing on the highest point of the plateau, probably dates back to the time of Yaksha Malla. The oldest part of the palace is thought to be Mul Chowk, built in the 14th c. as the abode of the goddess Taleju.
Sundhoka & Golden Gate
Linking the two blocks which comprise the actual palace building is Sundhoka (Golden Gate), a small entrance portal giving access to Kumari Chowk and the Taleju Mandir.Bhaktapur's Taleju Temple is single-storied and, in contrast to those at Kathmandu and Patan, distinguished not by its size and height but by the richness of its ornamentation. The gate boasts some of the most beautiful gilded copper-work in the Kathmandu Valley. On either side of the door frame can be seen a doorkeeper, a vase symbolizing good fortune, and figures of Bhairava, Bhagawati, Ganesh, Kumari and Kali. Above the door is a tympanum-like structure in the center of which appears ten-armed Taleju flanked by Shri and Lakshmi on a crocodile and a tortoise. The detailing is almost delicate and the various elements blend beautifully to form a harmonious whole. An inscription records that the Golden Gate was built in 1753 by Jaya Ranajit Malla following a successful campaign of conquest against Dudhkosi and Tolkha.
Bhupatindra Malla's Column
In line with the Golden Gate stands Bhupatindra Malla's Column, also dating from the time of Jaya Ranajit Malla. The two structures have more than orientation in common, each having a connection with the Taleju Mandir built under Jaya Ranajit's predecessor Bhupatindra. The column is topped by a statue of the temple's founder while the gate serves as a entrance to the temple at the palace front. In comparison with similar columns in Kathmandu and Patan, Bhupatindra Malla's Column is distinctly short. A legend tells how this came about:King Jaya Ranajit Malla, eager to erect a column to match those of Kathmandu and Patan, was unable to do so for lack of experienced craftsmen. He therefore sought the aid of King Jaya Prakasha Malla of Kathmandu. Craftsmen were duly dispatched to Bhaktapur but with secret instructions to sabotage the column. When first erected it toppled over and broke into three pieces, much to the anger of the King of Bhaktapur. Whether this was due to sabotage or just bad luck, the column was pieced together and erected anew, this time successfully.
The Taleju Bell, seen next to Bhupatindra Malla's Column, dates from the reign of Jaya Ranajit Malla. He commissioned it in 1737 as a mark of his veneration for the goddess.
Mul Chowk & Kumari Chowk
At one time the vast palace precinct is reputed to have comprised 99 courtyards. Six of these survive, though for security and religious reasons the majority are closed to visitors. From Sundhoka a path winds round Bhairava Chowk to a carved wooden entrance gate, the only access to Mul Chowk. This oldest and most central of the palace courts is dedicated to the goddess Taleju.With a little persuasion visitors may be allowed to look into the court, catching a glimpse of the main temple, to the left, together with statues of Ganga and Jamuna, even more ornate than their counterparts in Patan. On the far (west) side is a triple temple portal, the central opening giving access not to the devotional images but into Kumari Chowk. Both Mul Chowk and Kumari Chowk are considered pearls of Nepalese architecture to embellish which was one of the noblest obligations of the king. Viewed from the outside the buildings appear modest, revealing little of the splendors within.With their decline the abodes of the kings fell into disrepair; but the abodes of gods are preserved for as long as people believe in them. Here the elaborately carved roof struts, the murals and the bronze figures present an almost complete pantheon, serving to glorify the deity of the court and providing a unique setting for rituals and ceremonies.
A door in the north-east corner of the outer court leads through to the bathing basin of the Malla kings, the Nagh Pokhari, constructed at the beginning of the 17th c. by Jagatir Malla. Following the conquest of Bhaktapur, Pratapa Malla carried off the Naga head as a trophy to Kathmandu. Jitamitra Malla restored the basin, re-erecting the wooden posts embellished with the gilded head of the snake god Vasuki. Once surrounded by elegant buildings the courtyard now ekes out a forgotten existence. The water, brought from the mountains via an 11 km (7 mi.) long conduit, flowed from the tap over which the golden Naga maintains its watch.
Palace of the 55 Windows
To the right of the Golden Gate stands the three-storied Palace of the 55 Windows, built in 1697 by Bhupatindra Malla. Exquisite wood carving embellishes the doors and windows on the lower floors. In the upper story is the hall, originally with 55 arched windows, from which the palace takes its name. Bhupatindra had a glass pane from India set in one of the windows, causing much wonderment at the time. The wing was completely rebuilt after the 1934 earthquake and only 53 of the 55 windows remain.
On the left of the Golden Gate there used to be a second building with low stories and heavily carved window frames and struts supporting its widely jutting roof. This was demolished in the mid 19th c. and replaced by the present hall. Only the portal with its decorative stone figures survives from Jitamitra Malla's time. The pair of lions were already there in 1697 when, as in Kathmandu, guardian gods were added in the form of statues of Hanuman and Narashima.The doorway is now the entrance to the Nepalese National Gallery, which contains a collection of more than 200 paintings from the 14th-20th c. Among items of particular note is the Yoga Purusha illustrating the chakras of the human body, a favorite subject for imitation by modern thangka painters. The priceless old thangkas on display highlight the poor quality of those sold in souvenir shops.
Durga and Bhairava
Long vanished are the palace wings west of the National Gallery. Of the one-time "summerhouse" of the queens only the imposing gatekeepers, Durga and Bhairab, have survived. Carved in 1701 they look no less fearsome today. Durga, brandishing an array of weapons and symbols, needs only one of her eighteen arms to slay the demon. Bhairab has to be content with twelve arms, but her necklace of skulls is every bit as impressive as her companion's. The sculptor is said to have had his hands cut off after completing his work, to prevent his genius serving others.
Bansi Narayan Mandir
Of the group of temples on the west side of the square, dedicated to four major places of Hindu pilgrimage, Bansi Narayan Mandir is the most noteworthy. The two-storied pagoda at the entrance to Durbar Square boasts fine wood-carvings on the doors, windows and roof struts. Most are portrayals of Vishnu in his many incarnations. An inscription refers to the introduction of the Guthi system in 1757 by Ranjit Malla.
Beyond Bansi Narayan Mandir, the smaller shikhara-style Durga Mandir is interesting for its unusual combination of brick, terracotta, stone and wood. Elaborately carved stone columns embellish each of the temple's four entrances while above the portico rises a shrine-like pavilion.
The temple in the center of Durbar Square is dedicated to Vatsala, a terrifying female deity to whom, in the pre-Malla era, even human sacrifices were made. Set on a triple-tiered platform the shikhara (5 temple tower in the North Indian style) is surrounded by a colonnade of 14 octagonal columns topped by eight small pavilions. Vatsala, portrayed in the pavilion above the main entrance, is a form of Durga, as is the eight-armed Mahishamardini at the temple door. The temple's principal devotional image is a yantra or magic diagram. Vatsala Shikhara was built in the late 17th c. during the reign of Jagat Prakasha Malla. The king was something of a poet, as was his contemporary Pratapa Malla of Kathmandu, and some of his poems are carved in stone on the floor of the temple.
Closing the vista on the east side of Durbar Square, and separating it from the open space beyond, is the late 17th c. Siddhilakshmi Bhagwati Temple, another shikhara. The steeply stepped platform once boasted a substantial "guard" of horses, hippopotamuses, lions and camels as well as a pair of human figures dressed in the fashion of the day. A stone relief in front of the shrine depicts the mother deities.
The Chyasalin Mandap, situated between the Vatsala and Siddhilakshmi Temples, is a fine example of the work of the Bhaktapur Development Project. Destroyed by the 1934 earthquake the octagonal pagoda, originally built in the mid 18th c., was restored to its former splendor in 1990 and is once again one of the most beautiful temples in Durbar Square. Some of the old fabric was salvaged and used in the reconstruction but much new material was needed too. Unobtrusive steel reinforcement now protects the building against future earthquakes. The first floor has resumed its role as a favorite vantage point from which, in the old days, the nobility would watch festivals and ceremonies taking place in the Square.
Fasi Dega Mandir
The white Fasi Dega Mandir can hardly avoid appearing puny, being totally out of proportion to the massive stepped platform on which it was erected following the destruction in 1934. The huge base, with its five tiers and stairway guarded by three differing pairs of animals, conveys some idea of the monumental scale of the original.
Pashupatinath Mandir was constructed in the 15th c. during the reign of Yaksha Malla. Until this replica was built in Durbar Square, thus lightening his daily ritual, the King had journeyed every morning to the Pashupatinath Temple in Deopatan. The principal image - a black stone lingam with five faces - is modeled on the one in Pashupatinath itself. The plain triple door frames were installed during restoration following the 1934 earthquake (further renovation in 1968). The more ancient of the roof struts depict Shiva and characters from the Ramayana. There are some erotic scenes.
Catur Varna Mahavihara
The Catur Varna Mahavihara or Tadhunchen Bahal is situated close to Durbar Square and separated from it only by a row of old dharamsalas (now occupied by souvenir shops). This old monastery is one of the few Buddhist monuments in Bhaktapur. First established in the reign of King Raya Malla (1482-1505), the complex of buildings seen today dates from the time of King Jagat Prakasha Malla (1644-73). The Kumari cult was introduced here from Kathmandu by King Ranajita Malla (1722-68).Note in particular the unusual wood-carvings in the courtyard, graphically illustrating the torments of the damned.