Durbar Square, Kathmandu
Kathmandu's Durbar Square is the largest of the palace squares in the three royal cities and is designated by UNESCO as a protected cultural asset. The old palace alone covers an area three times the size of the precincts in Bhaktapur and Patan. Also on Durbar Square are some 50 temples and monuments of varying shapes, sizes, styles and faiths.Kathmandu became an independent city-kingdom at the time of King Ratna Malla who, in 1501, erected a temple to Taleju in the Tana Deval temple precinct.
The square is dominated by the Kasthamandapa, a spacious hall-temple without rival in Kathmandu. Relatively unadorned with carving the building impresses by its compactness and simplicity. Balconies encircle each story, protected by the heavy widely jutting roofs. The interior of the building is open, with rows of timber supports.According to legend Kalpa Vriksha, the heavenly wishing tree, came down to Earth in human form to participate in the Matsyendranath Jatra Festival. He was recognized by a Tantric priest who pleaded with him to build a monastery from the wood of the tree. The result was the Kasthamandapa ("House of Wood"), from which Kathmandu takes its name.The Kasthamandapa is often identified with an important monastery of which there is mention as early as the 8th c. From the 11th c. it was used as an assembly house, perhaps for legislative or consultative meetings between the rajas of the 12 Kathmandu districts (toles). In the 14th c. the building became a shrine to Goraknath administered by the Natha sect.Goraknath was a great teacher belonging to the Natha sect in medieval Nepal. He is said to have been a cowherd whose destiny it was to care for a crippled prince whom he came across abandoned in the forest. His 12 years of selfless devotion were the equal of the highest form of yogic discipline and thus earned him immortality.
In the forecourt of Hanuman Dhoka stands an image of Hanuman, the monkey god, which has stood there since the 1670s.
Kumari Bahal is the residence of the living goddess of Nepal, the Royal Kumari.
Beyond the modest single-story buildings seen ahead on entering Nasal Chowk lies the smaller Mul Chowk, its true splendor only revealed when once inside. Fine carvings embellish the entrance and small windows. The carved roof struts portray the eighteen-armed Mahashamardini. On the south side of the court is a shrine dedicated to Taleju, its doorway flanked by statues of the goddesses Ganga and Jamuna.As the occasional abode of the goddess Taleju the court is barred to visitors, though it is often possible to peep in through the gate. The Chowk is opened to Hindus once a year when, on the ninth day of the Dasain Festival, hundreds of buffaloes and goats are sacrificed to the goddess.Part of what is probably the oldest surviving wing of the palace, Mul Chowk was built in 1564 and altered early in the 18th c. at the time of Bhaskara Malla.
Shiva Parvati Mandir
The long low building on the northern side of Durbar Square contains a shrine to Shiva and Parvati, figures of whom can be seen gazing down from an upper window posed like a normal couple. The lower part of the façade is embellished for almost its whole length with a five-bayed carved wooden screen. This somewhat unusual building is believed to date from the time of Bahadur Shah, son of Prithvi Narayan Shah. It is probably a reconstruction, the stepped platform on which it stands being considerably older than the temple itself. The platform bears an inscription in Nepalese from the reign of Lakshmi Narashima Malla (1620-41), the earliest such inscription known.
Ashok Binayak Shrine
Despite its modest appearance the small Ashok Binayak Temple behind the Kasthamandapa is the principal shrine to Ganesh in the Kathmandu Valley. Rites performed here are an important part of the coronation ceremony. The temple is thought to have been founded by Gundakama Deva in the 10th c., at the same time as the nearby Madu Hiti Fountain. The present structure however dates only from the mid 19th c. The stone image of Ganesh stands beneath a golden replica of the ashok tree which once shaded the shrine and eventually gave it its name.
Towers at the four corners of Lohan Chowk symbolize the valley's former city-kingdoms, by which they are said to have been endowed. They were built after Prithvi Narayan Shah had unified Nepal and chose Kathmandu as his capital. Each tower has a distinctive shape, the Kirtipur Tower in the north-west corner being domed, the Bhaktapur Tower in the north-east corner octagonal, and the Lalitpur (Patan) Tower in the south-east corner square. Symbolizing Kathmandu the Basantpur Tower in the south-west corner is tallest as well as being most splendid of all.
The Jagannath Temple, recognized as the finest of the group near Hanuman Dhoka, is entered via three gates with elaborate triple frames. Exquisite wood-carvings embellish the doors, windows and roof struts, depicting a panoply of gods from the Hindu pantheon. There are also some little erotic scenes. Originally dedicated to Vishnu the shrine was later re-dedicated to Jagannath.
Next door to the house of the Royal Kumari is the Sikhamu Bahal, the courtyard of which contains a number of votive stupas. The actual shrine was rebuilt in 1982. From the 16th c. to the 19th c. Sikhamu Bahal performed an important role; during this period a large number of Buddhist texts were produced, the manuscripts being copied here in the bahal.References to the priests of the Sikhamu Bahal abound in inscriptions found throughout the valley. It was they who officiated at important ceremonies such as the dedication of bahals, stupas and images. The Raj Guru is still chosen from among their number today.The tradition of the Raj Guru may have its origin in Thakuri times when the valley's rulers were themselves sympathetic to Buddhism. Even under the Mallas the Raj Guru continued to hold a special position as astrologer and adviser to the king. Among his responsibilities today is the selection of the Royal Kumari. He is priest of the Kumari Bahal and head of Nepal's Buddhist community. He alone is qualified to perform certain rituals.
Tana Devi Temple
Before the Taleju Mandir could be built the goddess Tana Devi had first to be placated. She had been deity of the ruling house in Thakuri times and was naturally angered when the Malla kings chose to honor Taleju with so magnificent a temple.The shrine to Tana Devi is located north-east of the Taleju Mandir, in a small precinct entered from Bazaar Street. The temple was built by Ratna Malla in 1501. The goddess is worshipped in conjunction with Taleju, principal family deity of the Malla kings. Ritual offerings (pujas) are made here every fourteenth day of the lunar calendar. On the ninth day of the Dasain Festival the goddess's sword is displayed.
Trailokya Mohan Narayan Mandir
The small three-storied Trailokya Mohan Narayan Temple, built in 1680 by Prithvi Bendra Malla, is the oldest temple in the group adjacent to the south-west corner of the palace. Although badly damaged in the 1934 earthquake it was possible to rebuild it using mainly original parts. Among them were the carved timber roof struts portraying the incarnations of Vishnu.The figure of Garuda - a faithful copy of the 8th c. Garuda in Narayanhiti - was placed in front of the temple in 1690. An inscription records it was erected by Riddhi Lakshmi, widow of King Bhupalendra, his son Bhupalendra (still a minor) and the then Prime Minister Lakshmi Narayan Joshi.
Relief of Kala Bhairava
Entering the square from Bazaar Street, a huge stone relief of Kala Bhairava is seen ahead. Carved from a single piece of stone the ferocious six-armed Bhairava is depicted crushing the demon Vetala underfoot. In his right hand he holds a kapala (a skull cup) while his left hand displays the vyakhyana mudra (thumb as ring finger). The Nepalis come here to settle disputes, believing that anyone who tells lies in front of Kala Bhairava will spit blood. To appease the terrifying god hundreds of buffaloes are sacrificed during the Dasain Festival. The relief was originally endowed by Pratapa Malla.
Between the Lalitpur and Basantpur Towers can be seen the magnificently carved façade of the three-storied Vilas Mandir, of a richness truly befitting a Temple of Luxury. The beauty of the temple today is owed as much to restorers as to its original builders. In the 1970s it was on the verge of collapse and was only saved by a UNESCO-backed program. In the course of the painstakingly detailed restoration more than 20,000 pieces of wood were dismantled, numbered, cleaned of several layers of paint and dirt, and reassembled. The results show the timber in its original unpainted state, its loveliness more than justifying the effort and expense.
Kavindrapur, the building on the east side of the square, is particularly associated with Pratapa Malla. As well as being a temple to Narashima it is the home of the Narashima dancers, who keep up a tradition instituted by the King. In addition to some 17th c. images the shrine contains a copy of the Nrityanatha, the original of which was commissioned by Pratapa Malla for Nasal Chowk. Delightful carvings adorn the roof struts and windows. On the ground floor fruit and vegetable sellers have their stalls.
Squeezed between two streets at the southern end of the square stands the rectangular Simla Sattal, traditionally said to have been built from heavenly wood left over when the Kasthamandapa was completed. Its date, 1863, refers presumably to its reconstruction, during which a figure of Garuda Narayan was discovered and erected inside. Balconies run around the upper floors. In 1929 strange-looking griffins were added at the corners. The residential-style building also contains a little shrine to Harikrishna. Bhajans are sung in the open ground floor hall.
Agam Chen Pagoda
The triple roofs rising above the gate into Nasal Chowk belong to the Agam Chen Pagoda, dedicated to the Malla family deity. Since access was barred to all but the royal family, the shrine was situated on the second floor. Despite widespread alterations to the palace façade during the reign of Jung Bahadur, elements of the old Malla palace have been preserved, among them the Agam Chem Pagoda with its delightful wood-carvings.
A century after completion of the great shrine to Taleju, a temple was built by Shivasimha Malla honoring the Mallas' other family deity, Degutale. It resembles Taleju's shrine but with a tower-like base in place of the stepped platform. The worship of Degutale has its origins in a nature cult, the images being pieces of rock which the Newaris set up and worshipped.
Mask of Shveta Bhairava
The gilded mask of the Shveta (White) Bhairava occupies a niche just to the west of the Degutale Temple. Appropriately - given the angrily distorted features of the god - the carved trellis-work screen seems to offer protection. The image was erected in 1795 by Rana Bahadur Shah who commissioned the large Taleju clock at the same time.
The Mahendreshvara Temple and the Jagannath Temple were both built shortly after the Taleju Mandir, by King Mahendra Malla. As its name implies, the Mahendreshvara Mandir, dedicated to Shiva in the form of Pashupati, is also a memorial to its founder. It was destroyed during the 1934 earthquake and rebuilt, though in a simpler style.
Dedicated to Shiva the large three-storied Maju Deval on its unusually high stepped base seems to dominate Durbar Square. It was built in 1692 by the mother of Bhupatindra Malla of Bhaktapur. Inside the temple there is a Shiva lingam. The small shikhara (temple tower in the North Indian style) at the foot of the steps honors Kam Dev, Shiva's shakti.
Pratapa Malla's Column
Between Degutale Mandir and Jagannath Mandir stands Pratapa Malla's Column. The king sits on a lion throne atop the lotus-shaped capital, his two wives one on either side. The King's five sons also appear, one at each corner and the fifth, the youngest son, in front. The column was erected on Durbar Square in 1670. Rival columns soon appeared in Patan and Bhaktapur.
Lakshmi Narayan Joshi wielded almost unlimited power in the kingdom during the regency of Riddhi Lakshmi, disposing of political rivals by intrigue and assassination. In 1691 he himself fell victim to an assassin. He founded the temple to Shiva known as the Jaisi Deval in south Kathmandu. The Shiva Mandir in Durbar Square is a replica of the Jaisi Deval and was built by Riddhi Lakshmi in 1690.
Construction of the huge three-tiered Taleju Mandir heralded a new phase in the architecture of the Kathmandu Valley. It was the first temple erected with more than two roofs and the first to be raised on a tall stepped platform. It is said that the mandir was built in the shape of a yantra on the advice of Taleju herself and that she appeared to the King at the dedication ceremony disguised as a bee.
In the mid 17th c., at the rear of the palace, Pratapa Malla created a garden. He called it Bhandarkal, possibly after a palace of which he had heard tell. Although its location remains unknown, the palace is said to have been seven-storied and to have possessed a statue of the Sleeping Vishnu, Jalashayana Narayan.
Pratapa Malla built a shrine to Jalashayana Narayan in the new garden, installing an image of the god asleep on a bed of snakes. The figure is one of four, or perhaps five, statues of Jalashayana Narayan originally located at the four points of the compass (and maybe the center) of an ancient valley kingdom, the capital of which was near Hadigaum. By thus moving the figure to his garden from the pool in Guaneshvara where it lay, Pratapa Malla made the palace the symbolic center of the valley.Apart from the one in the palace garden, two more of these statues survive, one being the Bala Nilkantha in Balaju, the other in Buddha Nilkantha at Narayanthan (the oldest known group of temples in the valley, dating from the first half of the 7th c.). Of the three, the one at Buddha Nilkantha is held to be the original and the others copies. Pratapa Malla was told in a dream that he and his successors must never set eyes on the original; otherwise, as incarnations of Vishnu, they would perish.
An octagonal temple on a stepped base, built in 1649 by Pratapa Malla, commemorates his first two wives who died in that year. It is dedicated to the flute-playing Krishna, here depicted in the company of Rukmini and Satya Bhama. The three figures are believed to have the features of the King and his wives.
The south-west wing of the palace, Gaddi Baithak, projecting into Basantpur Square, was built in 1908 after Jung Bahadur Rana's return from a visit to England. The vast Throne Room with its stucco-work, crystal chandeliers and wall-paintings in the European Historicist style is truly magnificent.
The Narayan Sattal, a two-storied meeting house with heavy-looking roofs, was probably constructed in the 16th c. It almost certainly started life as a hospice before a shrine to Narayan was installed. There are fine carvings on the windows and roof struts.
Nasal Chowk takes its name from the little statue of the dancing Krishna in the shrine on the east side of the court. In Malla times the podium in the center of the court was used for dancing displays. The Shah kings chose to be crowned in Nasal Chowk, a tradition which continues today.
Left of the entrance stands a black statue of Narashima with rich gold and silver mounts. In the form of Narashima, Vishnu appears as part-lion, part-man, tearing the entrails from a demon with his bare hands. The statue was commissioned in 1673 by Pratapa Malla who allegedly incurred the deity's wrath by dancing dressed as Narashima. Only after taking the advice of a priest and erecting this placatory image to the god was the King freed from the resulting afflictions.The open gallery on the left side once served as an audience chamber, its upholstered seats testifying to the opulence of palace furnishings at the time. The walls are hung with portraits of the entire Shah dynasty. Each wears the Sri Pech, the magnificent plume worn by the Shahs as a crown.Above the north-east corner rise the five circular roofs of the Panch Mukhi Hanuman Pagoda, dedicated to the five-faced monkey god. Hanuman's image was again commissioned by Pratapa Malla.
The rectangular Maru Tole adjoins the south-east corner of Durbar Square. Here the road which was once the old India-Tibet trade route intersects with others running north-south from Baleju to Kirtipur and west to Swayambhu.
Statue of Garuda
Opposite the entrance to the Tana Devi precinct is a statue of Garuda half sunk into the ground. Dating from the 6th c. it ranks as one of the oldest statues in the Kathmandu Valley and is thought to mark the site of an earlier shrine.
More Durbar Square Pictures