kathmandu: durbar square

Friday, January 18:  Under ominous skies, we enter Durbar Square at the southwestern end.  Listed as one of the eight Cultural World Heritage site by UNESCO, Kathmandu Durbar Square is a cluster of ancient temples, palaces, courtyards and streets that date back from the 12th to the 18th centuries. The square is known to be the social, religious and urban focal point of Kathmandu.

The first building we come to is Kasthamandap, an ancient open pagoda-roofed pavilion said to be Kathmandu’s oldest building and one of the oldest wooden buildings in the world.  The name of Kathmandu probably came from this building.  Buddhi tells me it was built in the 12th century from the wood of a single tree.  It has been renovated several times since 1630.  According to Rough Guide to Nepal, it used to serve as a rest house along the Tibet trade route.  It was probably the center of early Kathmandu.

the outside of Kasthamandap

the outside of Kasthamandap

Kasthamandap - one of the oldest wooden buildings in the world

Kasthamandap – one of the oldest wooden buildings in the world

On our way to the Kumari Chowk, we pass the 17th century Trailokya Mohan, a three-roofed pagoda dedicated to Narayan, the Nepali name for Vishnu.

Trailokya Mohan Narayan Temple stands behind the domed pavilion in Durbar Square

Trailokya Mohan Narayan Temple stands behind the domed pavilion in Durbar Square

Trailokya Mohan Narayan Temple

Trailokya Mohan Narayan Temple

North of the Trailokya Mohan sits the 17th-century Maju Dewal atop a pyramid of 9 stepped levels.

Maju Dewal atop at 9-step pyramid

Maju Dewal atop at 9-step pyramid

We then go to Kumari Chowk, where we hope to get a glimpse of Kathmandu’s Raj Kumari, the most important of a dozen or so “living goddesses” in Kathmandu Valley.

The Kumari is a prepubescent girl who is worshipped as the living incarnation of the goddess Taleju.   Apparently the last Malla King of Kathmandu, the weak Jaya Prakash, lusted after Taleju.  Offended, she told the king that he should select a virgin girl in whom the goddess could dwell.  The Kumari is considered a Hindu goddess, but she is chosen from the Buddhist Shakya clan of goldsmiths.  Elders interview Shakya girls between the ages of 3 and 5 and base their decision on whether she has 32 auspicious signs: a neck like a conch shell, a body like a Banyan Tree, etc.  (Rough Guide to Nepal).

Kumari Chowk: the top center window is where the Kumari finally appears for a showing

Kumari Chowk: the top center window is where the Kumari finally appears for a showing

The young goddess lives a cloistered life inside the Kumari Chowk and is only carried outside on her throne during certain festivals.  Her feet are never allowed to touch the ground.  The goddess’s spirit is said to flow out of her with her first menstruation, at which time she is retired with a modest pension.  Apparently, it’s hard for the Kumari to find a husband since legend has it that the Kumari’s husband will die young.

the exquisitely carved windows and doors of Kumari Chowk

the exquisitely carved windows and doors of Kumari Chowk

The Kumari courtyard is decorated with intricately carved windows and doorways.  We are told upon our arrival into the courtyard that she is having something to eat, but we wait for a bit and she finally shows her face at the window, dressed in an auspicious red-colored coat, her eyes heavily made up.  The current Kumari has been in place since 2008, since she was 3 years old, meaning she is currently about 8 years old.  Sadly, it’s strictly forbidden to photograph the Kumari.

Kumari Chowk

Kumari Chowk

me under the window where the Kumari appears

me under the window where the Kumari appears

Walking along, we come to another area chock full of temples — and pigeons.  We see a column topped with a gilded statue of King Pratap Malla.  East of this column is the 16th century pagoda-style Jagannath Mandir.  The struts supporting the lower roof of the temple contain numerous erotic carvings, quite common in Nepali temples.  Other smaller temples surround the Jagannath Mandir.  Cows lounge in the square among the pigeons, and a solitary monk stands silently, not moving, accepting donations in a bowl.  Buddhi tells me that monks don’t ever ask people for money, but just stand silently in the belief that people will give them alms.

Column of King Pratap Malla and the Jagannath Mandir

Column of King Pratap Malla and the Jagannath Mandir

a monk stands silently seeking alms in front of Jagannath Mandir

a monk stands silently seeking alms in front of Jagannath Mandir

cows and pigeons in the square

cows and pigeons in the square

 

one of the many temples in this complex

one of the many temples in this complex

The 17th century octagonal Chasin Dega is dedicated to Krishna the flute player.

Chasin Dega

Chasin Dega

North of the Pratap Malla column is the rotund image of Kala Bhairab (Black Bhairab) dancing on the corpse of a demon.  It’s carved from a single twelve-foot slab of stone.  Legend has it that anyone who tells a lie in front of it will vomit blood and die (Rough Guide to Nepal).

Kala Bhairab

Kala Bhairab

We come across what I think Buddhi says is a Buddhist Shrine.  However, I may be misinformed as it seems to have Hindu deities in it.  It looks a little squished by this banyan tree.

A shrine being squished by a tree

A shrine being squished by a tree

probably a Hindu shrine??

probably a Hindu shrine??

Here is a random building that I think looks interesting.  I’m sorry I don’t know what it is.

an unknown building that looks interesting.  Don't know what it is!

an unknown building that looks interesting. Don’t know what it is!

At Taleju Mandir, which sits atop a 12-tiered plinth, we can see Kathmandu’s largest temple, erected in the mid-16th century by King Mahendra Malla, who made a law that no building could exceed it in height.  This law was in force through the mid-20th century.  Taleju Bhawain is considered by Hindus to be a form of the mother goddess Durga, while Buddhist Newars consider her as one of the Taras, tantric female deities.

Taleju Mandir ~ Kathmandu's biggest temple

Taleju Mandir ~ Kathmandu’s biggest temple

Here is the Lion’s Gate to the temple.

Lion's Gate to Taleju Mandir

Lion’s Gate to Taleju Mandir

Finally, we go to the Old Royal Palace, usually called Hanuman Dhoka.  A statue of the monkey-god Hanuman stands outside, installed by the 17th century king, Pratap Malla, to ward off evil spirits.  The Hanuman idol is veiled to render his stare safe from mortals and he’s been anointed with mustard oil and vermilion paste (abhir) through the centuries.

the monkey god Hanuman

the monkey god Hanuman

We enter the courtyard through the brightly decorated Hanuman Dhoka (Hanuman Gate).

the entrance to the Old Royal Palace is through the Hanuman Dhoka (Hanuman Gate)

the entrance to the Old Royal Palace is through the Hanuman Dhoka (Hanuman Gate)

The large central courtyard inside, called the Nassal Chowk, was the setting for King Birendra’s coronation in 1975.  The brick wings of the southern and eastern walls date from the 16th century.

Nassal Chowk, the interior courtyard of the Old Royal Palace (Hanuman Dhoka)

Nassal Chowk, the interior courtyard of the Old Royal Palace (Hanuman Dhoka)

At the northeastern corner of the square is the round-roofed five-tiered pagoda-like turret, Panch Mukhi Hanuman Mandir: “Five-Faced Hanuman,” which supposedly has the faces of an ass, man-bird, man-lion, bird and monkey (Rough Guide to Nepal).

Panch Mukhi Hanuman Mandir - a five-tiered pagoda like turret

Panch Mukhi Hanuman Mandir – a five-tiered pagoda like turret

After this, it is starting to sprinkle and we hear claps of thunder.  We head back immediately to the car, where we hop in just in time.  As soon as we’re in the car, driving toward the great stupa of Boudha, it begins to pour.

just in time to get out of the rain!

just in time to get out of the rain!

Advertisements

10 comments on “kathmandu: durbar square

  1. Too rich! Love the shrine under the banyan – I’d guess it’s Hindu. I knew about Kumari, but did not know about all that incredible carving on those buildings, and the very ancient wood building; thanks for showing those.

    • I think you’re right, Lynn, it looks like a Hindu shrine for sure. I found the Kumari really interesting. I thought it was normal to have a sighting of her, but I found out later from my friend Mona Lisa that she lived in Kathmandu for 5 months and never was able to see her. She said it’s a very rare thing to see her! When I was there, she appeared soon after we arrived in the courtyard, so I figured it was a normal thing. Yes, the wood carvings are amazing!

  2. Don’t despair the overcast day, they just made the colors pop out!
    I really love seeing these pictures of Nepal! I had a reservation to go there in October of 1986, but as life intervenes in mysterious ways, found I was pregnant and would have been almost 9 months at the time of the trip so the trip didn’t happen, but my lovely daughter Leah did!

    • Thanks so much Carolyn! I’m glad you liked the pictures despite the cloudy day. Well, it’s a good thing your trip to Nepal fell through in 1986, because having your daughter was much more important!! But you know, it’s never too late. Now you can take your daughter with you! I saw lots of parents our age there preparing to go on treks with their grown children. I highly suggest going for 3 weeks to a month so you can do a trek though; other than than, what you’ll see in my week-long trip is about all you can see. A trek takes much longer, and sadly I didn’t have time for that!! 😦

  3. The poor Kumari – I didn’t know her story. You said you weren’t allowed to photograph her – what was she wearing?
    I was fascinated to see the photo of the shrine squashed under the banyan tree.

    • Yes, I feel sorry for the Kumari too, but I guess she does get to have playmates and she will have a modest pension for life. She was wearing a bright red coat, as it was quite chilly, and her eyes were heavily made up. She had her hair pulled back in a bun.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s