May 8, 2007

Kathmandu History

Kathmandu History

The valley's visible history is inextricably entangled with the Malla kings. It was during their reign, particularly in the 1600s and 1700s that many of the valley's finest temples and palaces were built. Competition between the cities was intense and an architectural innovation in one place would inevitably be copied throughout the valley.

The unification of Nepal in 1768 by Gorkha's King Prithvi Narayan Shah signalled the end of the Kathmandu Valley's fragmentation. Nepali, an Indo-European language spoken by the Khas of western Nepal, replaced Newari as the country's language of administration. In 1816 the Shahs closed the borders of Nepal and kept the country isolated until the mid 20th century. In 1846 a bloody massacre of Kathmandu's 100 most powerful men, held in the very public forum of Durbar Square, ended the Shah dynasty and installed the Ranas.

The Ranas weren't too taken with the Shahs' policy of isolation, and the first Rana maharaja set off for Europe with a huge entourage, visiting Queen Victoria and causing quite a stir in stuffy old England. The Ranas were so impressed with European architecture that they began introducing neo-classical buildings into their own cities, including the 1904 Singha Durbar. The Ranas began dressing like European royalty, and imported all the latest inventions which, strangely enough, never found their way beyond the royal compounds into the homes of ordinary folk. During this period of royal extranvance, the majority of people in Kathmandu became much poorer and the Hindu caste system became much more rigid - on the other hand, human sacrifice, slavery and sati were abolished.

On 15 January 1934 a huge earthquake struck the Kathmandu Valley, killing 4296 people and destroying many of Kathmandu's temples and palaces. Inspired by the independence movement in India, Nepalis began a political upheaval - an alliance was formed between the ousted Shahs, the army's Gurkha regiments and the dissatisfied poorer extended families of the Rana clan. In November 1950 they revolted. King Tribhuvan, a Shah, was anointed ruler in 1951 and struck up a government comprised of Ranas and members of the newly formed Nepali Congress Party. Power, of course, remained with only one party - the king's. After months of uprisings, the Nepali people were finally granted democracy in 1989.

In 1956, the first motorable road linked Kathmandu with India. Ten years later another highway opened, and in 1974 international air services began. Foreign aid began pouring in from the 1960s, bringing with it foreign aid workers and new prosperity for the city. Kathmandu's population tripled in 20 years, and the city sprawled, as modern houses sprang up to meet the needs of ex-pats and immigrants poured in from the country. In the 60s, the tourists also started flooding in, looking for cheap living and eastern answers to the questions of life. Freak St became the centre of the action, as the hippies set up a huge market for every type of drug, every hybrid philosophy and any kind of pie you could imagine. Kathmandu was transformed into a tourist Mecca, and the jumping-off point for the new trekking industry.

Bhaktapur [Back to Top]

Bhaktapur Darbur SqaureBhaktapur means "the city of devotes" in the Sanskrit language. It is also known as Bhadgaon and was founded by in 889 AD by King Anand Dev. Today it covers an area of four square miles and is flanked by Khasa Khusung and Hanumante Rivers. The palace complex in the middle of the city portrays the prosperity of the Malla years and the details at which the craftspeople then worked. The Palace of Fifty-five Windows stands in the square and it was home to many kings of Bhaktapur. They even ruled over Kathmandu and Patan from the twelfth century to the 14th century. The massive gate to the square was made by King Bhupatindra Malla (1696 to 1722) who took pride in his own engineering and building skills. His skills must have been impressive indeed as the gate, though it looks small now, was among the biggest in the valley and daunted many an enemy. It is sturdy even now and stands firmly. Among the other monuments in Bhaktapur are the big bell, the Golden Gate, the five-tiered temple of Nyatapola, the Bhairab Temple, and the Dattatreya Square with its woodcarving and metalwork museums. Surrounded by beautiful farming area, the traveler to Bhaktapur will easily fall in love with the city. Bhaktapur is perhaps the most popular of the three Newar towns of the Kathmandu Valley. Newar art and architecture here rival the best craftsmanship of the Malla period (from the 12th to the 18th century). Though a massive earthquake of 1934 destroyed many temples, bahals (monastery courtyards), and residences, the city is still a living proof of the highest craft standards in this part of the world. As the visitor wanders through narrow brick paved streets, many alleys will show hidden
shrines and statues. Clay craftmanship as well as cloth weaving is still practiced here very much as in the past. Fourteen kilometers east of Kathmandu, this peaceful, conservative town stands in sharp contrast to the bustle of its two adjacent cities.

Patan [Back to Top]

Patan Durbar SquareThe ancient city is situated on the southern bank of the river Bagmati and is about five kms southeast of Kathmandu. The city is full of Buddhist monuments and Hindu temples with fine bronze gateways, guardian deities and wonderful carvings. Noted for its craftsmen and metal workers, it is known as the city of artists. Patan is the oldest of the three ancient city-kingdoms of the Kathmandu valley which once ruled by the mallas. Patan is still populated mostly by Newars, two-thirds of them being Buddhist. As in Kathmandu and Bhaktapur, a fusion prevails between Hinduism and Buddhism. Also, as in those cities, Patan has a Durbar Square and a labyrinth of winding lanes. The square boasts of many famous sites and unique architecture. Krishna Mandir in the Patan Durbar Square was built to honor an incarnation of Vishnu. Krishna fought by the side of the Pandavs in the Mahabharat war to assure that truth would prevail. This temple is the best example of stone architecture in Nepal. Scenes from the Mahabharat, Asia's greatest mythological war, are carved on the temple's wall. The Bhimsen Temple which honors Bhim - great wrestler, brother of the Pandavs, and a deity to Nepalese businessmen - contains fine samples of metal craft. The best place, however, to see metal sculpture is the Hiranya Varna Mahabihar, the "Golden Temple". It is a Newar monastery which contains wall painting , fourteenth century statues, and scriptures. Other sites including the Mahabouddha Temple and Uku Bahal are only a few minutes walk away from the square. The streets in this area are home to metal sculptors of the present day. Many more temples dedicated to Ganesh, the elephant-headed god, Shiva, Narsingha, Taleju, and others are situated in the Patan Durbar Square.

Pashupatinath [Back to Top]

PashupatinathPashupatinath is Nepal's holiest Hindu Pilgrimage site (followed by the remote Muktinath in the Himalaya). Like Varanasi in India - although on a much smaller scale - it is a time-warp of temples, cremation ghats, ritual bathers and bearded, half-naked sadhus (religious mendicants). Dedicated to Lord Shiva (one of the Hindu trinity), the shrines and temples of Pashupatinath straddle the now-polluted Bagmati river which, like the Ganges, is considered sacred by the faithful. To die and to be cremated here is to be released from samsara (the cycle of rebirth in this world). This wooded ravine near the golf course and airport is considered to be one of the abodes of Lord Shiva who is the patron deity (in one of his more benign forms) of Nepal. Pashupati is another name for Shiva and means 'Lord of the Animals'.

Swayambhu [Back to Top]

SwayambhuThe history of the Valley, according to the legends, begins with Swayambhu, or "the self-existent". In times uncharted by history, Bodhisattva Manjusri came across a beautiful lake during his travel. He saw a lotus that emitted brilliant light at the lake's center, so he cut a gorge in a southern hill and drained the waters to worship the lotus. Men settled on the bed of the lake and called it the Kathmandu Valley. From then on, the hilltop of the Self-existent Lord has been a holy place. Swayambhu's light was covered in time because few could bear its intensity. By the thirteenth century, after many layers were added to the original structure that enveloped the Lord's power, a dome-like shape had been acquried. The stupas central mast was damaged and replaced at that time. Peripheral sources of power were discovered on the hilltop as well and stupas, temples, and resthouses were built to honor them. Image of important deities, both Buddhist and Hindu, were also installed. Today, age-old statues and shrines dot the stupa complex. Behind the hilltop is a temple dedicated to Manjusri of Saraswati - the goddess of learning. Swayambhu is the best place to observe the religious harmoney in Nepal. The stupa is among the most ancient in this part of the world, and its worshippers are diverse from Newar nuns, Tibetan monks, and Brahmin priests to lay Buddhists and Hindus. The largest image of the Sakyamuni Buddha in Nepal is in a monastery next to the stupa. Other monasteries here have huge prayer wheels, fine Buddhist paintings. Swayambhu is a major landmark of the Valley and looks like a beacon below the Nagarjun hill. It provides an excellent view of the Kathmandu Valley.

Bouddhanath [Back to Top]

Bouddhanath Bouddhanath is among the largest stupas in South Asia, and it has become the focal point of Tibetan Buddhism in Nepal. The white mound looms thirty-six meters overhead. The stupa is located on the ancient trade route to Tibet and Tibetan merchants rested and offered prayers here for many centuries. When refugees entered Nepal from Tibet in the 1950s, many of them decided to live around Bouddhanath. They established many gompas, and the "Little Tibet" of Nepal was born. This "Little Tibet" is still the best place in the Valley to observe Tibetan lifestyle. It is the biggest stupa in the Valley. The stupa, well known as Khasti, is also known as the World Heritage Site. It looms 36 meters high and presents one of the most fascinating specimens of stupa design. There are more than 45 Buddhist monasteries in the area. It lies about 6 km to the east of downtown Kathmandu. The Bouddha area Preservation & Development Committee runs an information center.

Budhanilkantha [Back to Top]

BudhanilkanthaSituated below Shivapuri hill at the northern end of the valley, Buddhanilkantha temple is 9 km from Kathmandu city. The temple consists of a pond in which lies a great stone figure of the Hindu god Vishnu reclining on the coils of a cosmic serpent. The huge statue of sleeping Vishnu is carved from the single block of black stone of a type not found in the valley. It is believed that ages before the two hardworking farmers (husband and wife) discovered the statue when they were ploughing their field.

Besides Budhanilkantha temple, there are other two sets of exactly similar, but smaller statues of 'sleeping Vishnu' in the Valley. One set is in the Balaju garden and the other is hidden in the old garden of Hanuman Dhoka Palace of Kathmandu city. A prophetic dream of King Pratap Malla generated the belief that the King of Nepal should never visit Buddhanilkantha temple on threat of death. He then built the similar statue in two places.

Hanuman Dhoka (Durbar Square) [Back to Top]

Hanuman Dhoka (Durbar Square)The Square is the complex of palaces, courtyards and temples that are built between the 12th and the 18th centuries by the ancient Malla Kings of Nepal. It is the social, religious and urban focal point of the city. Taleju Temple, Kal Bhairab (God of Destruction), Nautalle Durbar, Coronation Nasal Chowk, the Gaddi Baithak, the statue of King Pratap Malla, the Big Bell, Big Drum and the Jagnnath Temple are some of the interesting things to see in this Square.

An intriguing piece here is the 17th century stone inscription that is set into the wall of the palace with writings in 15 languages. It is believed that if anybody deciphers this entire inscription, the milk would flow from the spout, which lies just below the unscripted stonewall. Some people say that the inscription contains coded directions to a treasure King Pratap Malla has buried beneath Mohan chowk of Durbar Square.

There are several museums inside the palace building. There is an entrance fee of Rs. 250 for all the foreign visitors to visit all the museums of the palace building.

Kasthamandap [Back to Top]

KasthamandapKing Laxmi Narsingha Malla built this temple in the sixteenth century. It is said to be constructed from the wood of single tree. It is located near the temple of Kumari. Indeed the city of Kathmandu derives its name from this temple.
Behind Kasthamandap, there is a small but a very important temple of Ashok Vinayak, also known as Kathmandu Ganesh or Maru Ganesh.

Changu Narayan Temple [Back to Top]

Changu Narayan templeIt lies on a ridge over looking the Valley, about twelve-kilometer to the east of the city. It is dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu. The scared complex is a World Heritage Site. It has one of the finest and oldest specimens of pagoda architecture that is embellished with exquisite wood and stone carvings.