The Kathmandu valley is made up of three historic cities: Kathmandu, Patan (Lalitpur) and Bhaktapur. Kathmandu, a city filled with medieval temples, palaces and modern high rise structures, is a fusion of the old and the new. With a rich past and a history that speaks of gods and goddesses mingling with mere mortals, one can find a story behind every temple, monument, locality or festival. The valley of Kathmandu abounds in tales and legends, stories that have been handed down from generation to generation. Though an outsider may find these tales far fetched, yet it is the belief and faith of the people that has kept the cultural heritage of this ancient valley alive and breathing. Here are some of the popular myths and legends that surround the three medieval cities.
When Kathmandu was a lake………..
According to a popular legend the valley of Kathmandu was once a lake. There were lotuses floating around this big lake. Once, the Boddhisattva Manjushri saw a bright flame coming out of a lotus that seemed to be planted in a hill. He wanted to have a closer look, so with a strike from his sword of wisdom he cut a gorge near Chobar hill. The water from the lake drained out of this gorge and the valley of Kathmandu came into being. Chobar with its famous gorge is situated 9kms South-west of Kathmandu.
The bright flame and the lotus turned into the Swayambhunath stupa. The shrine is holy to both Hindus and Buddhists. This is the one of the UNESCO cultural heritage site.
It lies 3-kms west of Kathmandu City and is situated on a hillock about 77meters above the valley. It is believed that the followers of Manjushri established a city near the Swayambhunath known as Manjupatan.
According to another legend, it was Lord Krishna who slashed through the gorge with a powerful thunderbolt to drain the waters that submerged the valley of Kathmandu.
The story of Kasthamandap, the wooden building, Kathmandu is named after……
Once, the celestial tree Kalpavriksha came in human form to the city to witness a festival. A learned tantric saw through his disguise and bound him with a spell which he was prepared to break if Kalpavriksha provided wood from the celestial tree to build a large building. Kalpavriksha accepted and the wood was provided. A huge three tier wooden building was built from the wood. The wooden structure stands to this day with an image of Gorakhnath at the centre of the ground floor. Named Kasthamandap, the building is said to be constructed out of a single tree. The city of Kathmandu is named after this wooden building. Kasthamandap stands in the Kathmandu Durbar Square, located at the centre of the city.
The House of the Living goddess (Kumari Bahal)……..
Legend has it that the Goddess Taleju used to visit the king in human form at night to advice him and to play dice. One night the king, Jaya Prakash Malla, looked at the goddess lustfully. Enraged the goddess announced that she would never come to him again. She predicted that both the end of his reign and the fall of his dynasty were at hand. When the king begged for forgiveness, the goddess at last made a concession. The king was to select a virgin child from a Newari caste, proclaim her the living goddess Kumari and worship her, for in this child she herself would manifest.
The Kumari is selected from the Newari caste of Sakya goldsmiths who are Buddhists. She must have the thirty-two virtues, among which is an unblemished body, the voice of a bird, and the neck of a duck. She must never cry or show fear. To test her courage the child is shut in a room where severed heads of sacrificed animals are placed. The one that emerges without a trace of fear is the chosen one. Her horoscope must match that of the king in every detail. She must also not bleed. As soon as she bleeds during puberty or due to an injury the goddess is believed to leave her body and the child is relieved of her duties as a living goddess and the search for another goddess begins.
The Living goddess is housed in a building overlooking the Hanumandhoka palace and the Taleju temple, at the Kathmandu Durbar Square. The entrance to the building is guarded by large stone lions. If one is lucky, one can get the darshan of the Kumari as she looks out from the window of the second floor. During the Kumari Jatra, which coincides with the Indra Jatra celebrations, the king comes to receive tika from the Kumari. The king offers a gold coin and touches the feet of Kumari while seeking her blessings.
Where the Divine couple Dwell…………
While taking a walk across Kathmandu Durbar Square you will come across the statue of a couple looking out from the first floor window of an ancient house. The couple is none other than the divine couple Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati. In the days of yore, it is said that Lord Shiva visited Kathmandu to see the divine dances performed during the festivals. Later on he was accompanied by Goddess Parvati in his daily jaunts. It was King Rana Bahadur Shah who decided to have a house built for the divine couple. The house, which is elaborately decorated, lies on a raised plinth which has a grandstand view of the old palace square. The images of Shiva and Parvati rest on a window rail looking out over the passing scene.
The Golden doorway to the Hanuman Dhoka Palace…..
In the middle of Kathmandu Durbar Square is the imposing Hanuman Dhoka palace. Once the royal quarters of the Malla kings and the Shah rulers, the palace now houses a museum. A kneeling figure of Hanuman guards the palace’s golden gate. The idol was built during the time of King Pratap Malla in 1672. A scarlet cloth covers his head and eyes to prevent him from seeing the erotic carvings on the nearby Jagganath temple. The golden doorway to the palace is guarded by the figures of Shiva and Shakti astride two lions.
Taleju Bhawani, the Temple dedicated to the royal goddess………..
The most majestic temple at the Durbar Square in Kathmandu is the one dedicated to the patron goddess of the royal house, Taleju Bhawani. When it was built, the Malla king ordered that no other building in Kathmandu should rise higher than its gilded roofs. It was raised on several receding brick plinths, to attain its imposing height. Only royalty is allowed to worship at the temple, except during the festival of Dassain when its doors are thrown open for the public to pay respects to the goddess and offer sacrifices.
The Holiest of shrine, Pashupatinath…………
At the present place where the temple of Pashupati rests, there used to be a mound. A cow frequented this mound and offered her milk there. A cowherd noticed this strange occurrence and out of curiosity, dug at this spot. As he began digging a great light poured out. The light had come out from a linga with faces of Shiva carved on four sides. The people built a shrine to shelter this linga. This shrine came to be known as Pashupatinath, dedicated to Lord Shiva in his incarnation as Pashupatinath, the protector of animals. Thus no animal is sacrificed within the temple. Situated 5-kms east of Kathmandu, and lying on the banks of the holy river Bagmati, the two tiered pagoda temple with heavily gilded roofs includes many small temples, dharamshalas, bathing and burning ghats (where the last rites for the dead are performed). The ornate silver doors of the temple are closed to non-Hindus. But one can clearly see the temple and rituals being performed from the eastern bank of the Bagmati River. The temple is listed in the UNESCO world Heritage Monument list. The temple comes alive during Maha Shivratri, the night of Lord Shiva, which falls in the month February/March. Thousands of pilgrims flock to the temple to celebrate the night dedicated to Lord Shiva. Another festival that is celebrated at Pashupatinath is Teej. This festival is celebrated in the month of Bhadra (August/September). On this day women observe a fast and pray to Lord Shiva for the long, healthy and prosperous life of their husbands. From dawn, a long line of women dressed colorfully in red saris and green pote (glass beads), carrying an offering to Lord Shiva can be seen. Many of them dance and sing in groups while waiting for their turn to worship at the shrine.
Boudhanath, the Stupa of a Million Dewdrops………
Once, a king who ruled over Kathmandu constructed a pool near his palace with three stone fountains. But no water gushed out of the fountains. He consulted his oracles who advised him that a man possessing the thirty-two virtues should be sacrificed at the spot. The king summoned his son and told him to go to the spring at dawn and severe the head of a shrouded person he would find sleeping there. The prince did as he was told and water gushed out from the fountains. But to his dismay he found that the shrouded person he had killed was his own father. Driven by his grief he left the palace and led the life of an ascetic. A terrible drought plagued the kingdom. The prince had a visitation from goddess Bajra Yogini who ordered him to build a shrine to Buddha. She told him to release a white bird and at the place where the bird lands to build the shrine. He began the construction work but since there was no water to mix the clay and sand, large sheets were spread upon the ground each night to be saturated with dew. When wrung out, the sheets provided the necessary water. This was carried on for twelve long years, when at last the stupa of a million dewdrops stood completed at last. The huge white dome of the Boudhanath rests upon three enormous tiers. The Stupa of Bouddhnath lies 8-kms east of Kathmandu. This is the one of the UNESCO cultural heritage sites of Nepal.
Akash Bhairav, the temple of the Kirat King slain during the epic battle of Mahabharata………….
The Kirats are the first documented rulers of the Kathmandu Valley. The remains of their palace are said to be in Patan near Hiranyavarna Mahavihara (called “Patukodon”).
The first and best remembered king was Yalambar. Legend has it that when Yalamber heard about the great battle that was fought in the distant plains of Kurukshetra, he too wanted to participate in this battle. So donning a fierce and silver mask of Bhairab, the Lord of Terror, he went with his army. At the battle field he was met by Lord Krishna who asked him whose side he was on. He replied that he would take the side of the losing army. Lord Krishna fearing that the fearsome warrior would join the Kauravas, decapitated his head with such force that it flew past the Himalayas to Kathmandu and rested at the place where the Akash Bhairab temple now stands. The temple, a three storey structure now stands in the busy square of Indra Chowk. The mask of Bhairab is taken
The Temple Forbidden to Nepali royalty …….
A farmer while tilling his field struck his plough under a rock. He tried to chip at the rock to free his plough, but to his horror blood began to ooze from the rock. As he cleared the soil away, he uncovered the great stone image reclining amidst coiled serpents. Water began to rise from the earth until it seemed the huge image floated on the surface of the pond. People flocked to worship this strange god that had risen from the ground. In the 17th century King Pratap Malla, the ruler of Kantipur (present day Kathmandu) dreamed that if he or any of his descendants gazed upon the face of the reclining Vishnu, they would die. Thus to this day no royal monarch is allowed to visit this place. This temple lies about 8-kms north of Kathmandu, at the bottom of Shivapuri hill and is known as Bouddhanilkantha.
The temple of Changu Narayan, the most ancient in the valley…………
A brahmin used to frequent a shrine located on top of a hill. He discovered that someone stole the milk that he offered at the shrine. In order to catch the thief, one morning he hid behind a tree. After some time a young man came out of the camphor tree that grew near the shrine, and drank the milk. The angry Brahmin came out of his hiding place and struck a blow on the young man’s head. There was a deep gash on the man’s head, from where emerged the four-headed figure of Lord Vishnu. He thanked the Brahmin for freeing him from a powerful spell. From then on, the place is known as Changu Narayan. The temple of Changu Narayan is said to be the most ancient temple in the Kathmandu Valley. Although it was rebuilt in 1702, its origin goes back to the 4th Century. Located on the top of a hill that rises in the eastern part of the valley, it is 22 kilometers from Kathmandu. The temple is listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Monument List.
Indra Jatra, festival in honour of Lord Indra, the King of the heavens……….
Once Lord Indra came down from devlok(heaven) to Kathmandu disguised as a poor peasant, to gather parijat flowers for his mother. He was plucking the flowers from a garden when he was caught. People took him for a thief and had him bound. Meanwhile his white elephant wandered the streets of Kathmandu searching for him. His mother also got anxious when he did not return. So she too came down to Kathmandu to look for him. She discovered him at the city square where people had bound him up. When the people discovered that the person they had bound up was actually Indra, the Lord of Heaven they were very embarrassed. They sought his pardon and later on celebrated his visit to Kathmandu with feasts, processions, singing and dancing. To this day people of Kathmandu celebrate this occasion with a festival known as Indra Jatra during August/September. The festival lasts for eight days with singing, mask dancing and rejoicing. The chariot of Kumari – the Living Goddess is taken through the main streets of Kathmandu with much fanfare. On the first day, the King of Nepal also pays homage to Goddess Kumari. The crowd of excited people from performers to spectators engulfs the streets of Kathmandu during this festival. People get to enjoy various religious dances like the Devinach, Majipat Lakhe, Bhairav and Bhakku and Mahakali Nach. During the festival the chariots of Ganesh, Bhairav and Living Goddess Kumari are dragged on the streets of Kathmandu.
The inborn artists of Nepal also the original ethnical tribe of Kathmandu Valley, who are known for their love towards arts and carnivals, Newars are the accredited artists for the historic Newa architecture seen in and around various stupas, temples and courtyards of Kathmandu Valley and beyond.
The indigenous patterns of arts manifested in several wonderful monuments of Nepal, Newa Architecture is possibly the best artwork done in bricks incredibly blended with the unique style of woodcarving.The fascinating Newa Architecture inside Kathmandu can be observed in the Durbar Squares of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, temples like Pashupatinath and Nardevi among others and also in the palace of recently overthrown Royals of Nepal.
The glory of Newa Architecture has gone beyond the valley; Muktinath Temple in the foothill of Annapurna Region in Nepal is also the religious monument built in Newari Style.Centuries ago, few Nepalese artists including Araniko exported the unique Newa Architecture and the concept of stupas to few neighboring nations and hence, to see the monuments like of Nepal beyond Nepal is never a surprise.
The artwork in the temple beside Krishna Mandir in Patan Durbar Square
The guards of Patan Durbar Square
The woodcarving of the protectors; Gods and Goddess
Every bit of Patan Durbar Square is artistic
Every part of the Newa Architecture either in the whole building or in the part of it, a long and careful work manifests specific meaning and holds special significance. While exploring around Patan Durbar Square, I fell in love with the Newari Architecture. Every corner of this UNESCO World Heritage was tantalizing me, with its unparallel beauty, designed and engraved skillfully in the wood.
I saw an exemplary woodcarving that had iconographic and decorative motifs. I was even more captivated with the artistic windows, columns and the struts- a lot of incredible woodwork that definitely required a huge passion towards arts, immense creativity and hell of a hard work. I mean who would put so much effort and wait for years just for the house they built to live in.
Definitely, the kings- kings of petty kingdoms inside Nepal during medieval and ancient ages were in the state of Art War. As a result, so many artistically opulent monuments were built and undoubtedly, the creators of these arts were the indigenous artists of the Valley- the Newars.
The perfect example of woodcarving- Patan Durbar Square
Hard rocks carved into beautiful statues: Patan Museum
One more symbol of perfectionist inside Patan Museum
Birds, birds and Gods- Patan Durbar Square
Visiting inside the Museum of Patan Durbar Square explains why the place is much more than the monuments. The architectural idea of the door or the window looked like an individual building with freestanding columns that supported the roof like structure lying atop a large and artistic base like of a building. The window had a very small ventilation that connected inside to the outside world, however very well represented a concept of decoration and the function. Artistic wooden struts supported the building firmly and the columns on the ground floor arcades of temples, palaces and shelters were equally decorated in their every corner.
The rectangular or the square bahals surrounded the entire monuments with the chaityas (a praying place) and wells at its center in most of the monuments. The entire floor was exquisite; either wooden or paved with stone or bricks. The corridors as if maze from one room to other and the narrow wooden ladders up and down the floors- everything represented the elegance of medieval Nepal. The iconographic and decorative motifs over spilt.
The water tap in the middle of courtyard crafted so beautifully had golden color mouth and the Goddess boarded over it. The tap surrounded by the artistically carved idols of serpents and different deities had a mini- Krishna Temple right over it. Moreover, the statues of stones, metals and woods of different eras are very well preserved and have an easy access for thorough exploration.
History, culture and devotion spills everywhere: Patan Durbar Square
Wonderful artwork with metals: Patan Museum
The chaityas (praying place) inside Patan Durbar Square
The sacred Krishna Temple at Patan Durbar Square
Patan Durbar Square is much more than medieval and ancient edifices and shrines. The vicinity inside less than one sq.km truly cater the glimpses of ancient civilization in the region. The visitors interacting with the locals and locals indulged in their regular life- it is great experience to stroll in the stone paved historic site, Patan Durbar Square. Plus, the most important factor that a traveler can experience during the tour of heritage city in Nepal is that they get to see the traditional lifestyles of Newars, who have believed in their culture for ages and practice till date.
Kids in Patan love to play with the pigeons
Locals enjoying their legacy and the bright sunshine
Happy Patan on a queue for water at traditional tap
Senior citizens: Has our Patan changed?
Trip Report based on Field Visit made by Explore Himalaya’s Content writer/Editor Jeeten Thapa and his associate Brijesh Lamichhane.
Four Australian ladies Lorna, Helen, Brenda and Marilyn were cordially received by Explore Himalaya at the Friendship Bridge at Nepal-China Border on October 21, 2012 after their long adventurous Overland Tibet Tour. The journey from Kodari to Kathmandu was covered the very day.
The sightseeing tour in the Kathmandu Valley was organized for the next two days. In two days they covered Kathmandu Durbar Square, Swayambhunath, Pashupatinath and Boudhanath.
Kathmandu Durbar Square is locally known as Hanuman Dhoka Palace Square. The Durbar Square complex comprises a Mega Royal Square compiling a massive variety of temples dedicated to different Hindu gods and goddess. Every structures seen here were constructed from 15th to 18th century. The palace complex is named after a monkey god Hanuman. At the main entrance the huge stone statue of Hanuman, all painted red can be seen.
Kathmandu Durbar Square.
Swayambhunath, is considered to be one of the most glorious Buddhist stupas in the world. 2000 years old, Swayambhunath is also called as a Monkey Temple by the visitors. It lies 7m above the valley, so the hill of Swayambhunath is a montage of small stupas and pagoda temples. Temple of Lord Manjushree, who is symbolized as the goddess of soul and education is very closely located to Swayambhunath. At the foothills temples of Shova Bhagwati and Indrayani are located.
Swayambhunath- A monkey temple.
Pashupatinath Temple is popular especially for the superb ancient achitecture. It lies 5km east of Kathmandu heart at the bank of Bagmati River. The temple is the major pilgrimage for the Hindus who are devotee to Lord Shiva; Lord of Destruction. The temple with two-tiered golden roof and the silver doors is a heritage treasury for the whole world. The huge number of Hindu devotees visit the temple during the Festival Maha Shiva Ratri which normally falls during the month of February.
Pashupatinath- Mega Hindu Pilgrimage.
Boudhanath is one of the biggest and the oldest Buddhist monuments ever built in Nepal. It was built during the 5th century AD. It stands 36m tall with massive three level Mandala style platform. Boudhanath is considered to be Mecca for the Tibetan Buddhists. Every twelve years here at Boudhanath the special ceremony is celebrated with great delight and belief.
Boudhanath- Buddhists Mecca.
After the visits to these Mega places the Australian ladies made their cheerful exodus on October 24, 2012.
My trip to the 'roof of the world' was a great adventure - right from the mysterious Potala Palace in Lhasa to the Everest Base Camp.