Tuesday, January 22: At the Potter’s Square, or Kumale Tol, we find potters giving shape and size to lumps of clay. They make earthenware ranging from such household goods as pots, jars, stovepipes and disposable yogurt pots to cheap souvenirs such as animals and birds. As pottery in Bhaktapur is a family job, we can see entire families contributing to the work. Because this square caters to tourists, the potters have the incentive to continue to work with traditional methods, using hand-powered wheels or forming clay by hand.
Tuesday, January 22: Taumadhi Tol is the center of Newari culture in Bhaktapur. It’s a lively square that contains two of Bhaktapur’s most distinctive pagodas.
The graceful, five-tiered Nyatapola is Nepal’s tallest and most classically proportioned pagoda, and it dominates Bhaktapur. Since the pagoda was completed in 1702, all but priests have been barred from the sanctuary. Apparently, this is because its tantric goddess, Siddhi Lakshmi, is so obscure, that she has no devotees. Rather than being named for its goddess, it’s named for its architectural shape: in Newari, nyata means “five-stepped” and pola means “roof.” On the steep stairs going up the pagoda are five pairs of guardians: Malla wrestlers, elephants, lions, griffins and two minor goddesses. Each pair is supposed to be ten times as strong as the pair below (Lonely Planet Nepal).
I climb up the steep and narrow-depth stairs, and the view from the top is dizzying. Coming back down is quite scary as the stairway is precipitous and has no handrails. I look down on the square below and see the more squat pagoda: Bhairabnath Mandir.
The other pagoda on the east side of the square is the thick-set Bhairabnath Mandir. Leaning against its north wall are stacked solid wood wheels used on chariots during the Nepali New Year’s celebration called Bisket Jatra. According to Highland Asia Travel: Nepali New Year and Bisket Jatra, the legend goes that every man who married the Bhaktapur Princess died the night of the honeymoon, so no one dared to marry the Bhaktapur Princess again. Finally, there was a brave prince who vowed to solved the mystery. He married the princess and he stayed awake the night of their honeymoon. As the princess fell asleep, two giant serpents crawled out of the two nostrils of the princess. The prince quickly took out his sword and chopped the snake heads off. The next morning, the two serpents were publicly displayed on a pole. Even today, in the traditional ceremony of Bisket Jatra, serpents are carried in the form of long ribbons.
Tuesday, January 22: Batu takes me to a courtyard that I later write in my notes is a Buddhist monastery, home to the Bhaktapur Kumari. Apparently, the Kumari of Bhaktapur has greater freedom than her cohorts in Kathmandu and Patan. She can leave the house, play with friends, and visit school with other children. A Kumari is believed to be the goddess Taleju incarnate until she menstruates, at which time the goddess is believed to leave her body. Kumari means “virgin” in Sanskrit (Wikipedia).
According to , Wikipedia: Kumari (children), eligible girls are Buddhists from the Newar Shakya caste (Buddha’s clan of origin) of silver and goldsmiths. She must be in excellent health, never have shed blood or been afflicted by any diseases, be without blemish and must not have yet lost any teeth. Girls who pass these basic eligibility requirements are examined for the ‘thirty-two perfections’ of a goddess. Some of these are poetically listed as such:
- A neck like a conch shell
- A body like a banyan tree
- Eyelashes like a cow
- Thighs like a deer
- Chest like a lion
- Voice soft and clear as a duck’s
In addition to this, her hair and eyes should be very black, she should have dainty hands and feet, small and well-recessed sexual organs and a set of twenty teeth.
The girl is also observed for signs of serenity and fearlessness (after all, she is to be the vessel of the fierce goddess Durga) and her horoscope is examined to ensure that it is complementary to the King’s. It is important that there not be any conflicts as she must confirm the King’s legitimacy each year of her divinity. Her family is also scrutinized to ensure its piety and devotion to the King.
However, as the king, Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev, was stripped of his title and duties in 2008, I’m not sure how they determine compatibility with “the King.” (!)
After I return home, when I try to identify exactly what the name of this courtyard/temple is, I’m not sure after all that this place is really the Kumari’s home. I can’t find information or pictures anywhere online or elsewhere to verify this. So. I will say this: I think this MIGHT be the place where the Bhaktapur Kumari lives. I never see the girl here, as I did in Kathmandu, so I have no proof. Oh well. At least I love the red prayer wheel, and the other little prayer wheels lined up along the exit corridor.
Here is the mystery place, unidentified and open to your imaginative interpretation.
In the courtyard, some TV celebrity (also unidentified) is being filmed by a man who looks like a professional camera-man. The celebrity, wearing traditional Nepali costume, tells us he is doing a special for Nepali television. However, I don’t write down what he says, so I forget now what the program was about. Oh well. Here he is, whoever he is and whatever he is doing.
Tuesday, January 22: Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square has two claims to fame: 1) It was listed a World Heritage Site in 1979 and 2) it was used in the filming of ancient flashback scenes in the 1995 film Little Buddha. It lacks the architectural harmony of Kathmandu’s Durbar Square due to a 1934 earthquake that destroyed several of its temples. It also has never served as a commercial or social focal point to Bhaktapur, according to Rough Guide to Nepal. However, it is the main square of the city and is a mixture of stone art, metal art, wood carving, and terracotta art and architectural showpieces, according to Bhaktapur Municipality.
The Royal Palace is said to have once had 99 chowks (courtyards), but since the 1934 earthquake and resulting demotions and renovations, it now has only five. This palace was built during the reign of King Yakshay Malla in AD 1427 and was subsequently remodeled by King Bhupatindra Malla in the late seventeenth century, when the eastern wing, known as Panchapanna Jhyale Durbar (“Palace of Fifty-Five Windows”), was built. It was home to royalty until 1769.
The Golden Gate, or Sun Dhoka, is said to be the most beautiful and richly molded specimen of gilt copper repoussé in the entire world. Repoussé is a metalworking technique in which a malleable metal is shaped by hammering from the reverse side to create a design in low relief (Wikipedia). The door is embellished with monsters and mythical creatures of amazing intricacy. The Golden Gate was erected by King Ranjit Malla and is the entrance to the main courtyard of the Palace of Fifty-Five windows.
Turning back from the Golden Gate a doorway on the left leads through to Naga Pokhari, or “Snake Pond.” This is an early 16th century royal bathing tank. The waterspout is covered in thirsty animals in gilt copper, overlooked by two gilt nag figures standing clear of the water.
The 15th century Pashupati Mandir is the oldest structure in the square. The temple holds a copy of the Pashupatinath linga, a complex symbol of Hinduism associated with Shiva, representing energy and strength. Its roof is embellished with wildly erotic carvings.
Next door stands the 18th century shikhara-style stone Vatsala Durga was built by King Jagat Prakash Malla in 1672. Shikhara refers to a rising-tower Hindu architectural style, which translates literally to, and resembles, a “mountain peak.” (Wikipedia/Lonely Planet Nepal).
The Chyasin Mandap, erected in 1990 to replace an 18th century temple destroyed in the earthquake, is known as the Pavilion of the Eight Corners.
On the west side of the square, we see a school group clustered on the steps of an unnamed building.
And then we wander around and check out other interesting things in the square.
We leave Durbar Square and go in search of the Kumari’s house.
Tuesday, January 22: Straightaway upon entering Bhaktapur, Batu takes me to a small temple hidden away in a small square. Since it takes me awhile to get used to his thick Nepali accent, and even when I do get used to it I can still barely understand much of what he says, whatever he tells me about this little hidden temple is lost. Usually after returning home I can somehow piece together the names of the places I saw, either by looking at a map or matching a description in a guidebook with what I saw. In this case, I know nothing. But. Here it is anyway. 🙂
We leave the temple and proceed down narrow winding lanes to Durbar Square….