Historic Facts of Kathmandu Durbar Square
Kathmandu Durbar Square is one of the three durbar squares (palace) located in Kathmandu valley which is all enlisted as UNESCO World heritage sites. Kathmandu Durbar Square is Nepal’s crown jewel attraction for tourists. It holds utmost importance due to the history it carries along with the spectacular architecture that evinces skills of Newar artists and craftsmen over several centuries. Kathmandu Durbar Square is the area where the tantric blending of Buddhist and Hindu beliefs joins together. It is a historic center of Nepal both in terms of cultural heritage, sovereignty, economics, religion, and pride.
‘Durbar Square’ literally means palaces and yes, Kathmandu Durbar Square was the place from which the kings of Malla and Shah Dynasty of Nepal ruled over the city. Historically, its construction as a palace dates back to Lichhaavi period in the 3rd century. When Kathmandu city became independent under the rule of King Ratna Malla (1484-1570), palaces in this square became a royal palace for Malla kings. In 1769, King Prithvi Narayan Shah also favored Kathmandu Durbar Square for the palace. Other subsequent Shah kings continued to rule from square until 1896 when they moved to Narayanhiti palace. Coronation of King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev and King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev in 1975 and 2001 respectively also occurred here and it is a place of historical significance.
Repeated and extensive renovations and construction of different temples has taken place along the Malla and Shah era of Nepal in Kathmandu Durbar Square. As 1st king of independent Kathmandu city, Ratna Malla is said to have built Taleju temple in northern side of palace. Oldest temples in Kathmandu Durbar Square are those built by Mahendra Malla (1560-1574) which are temples of Jagannath, Kotilingeshwara Mahadev, Mahendreswara. The most extensive development of Kathmandu Durbar Square had taken place in the era of King Pratap Malla. He was an intellectual, pious devotee and especially interested in arts.
Following his coronation, he immediately began enlargements to royal palaces, rebuilt and constructed new temples, shrines and stupas. In front of entrance of the palace, he placed the statue of Hanuman thinking that would strengthen his army and be a protection to his palace. This entrance leads to Nasal chok which was named after Nasadya, God of Dance. Fine image of Nara Simha (half lion and half human form) made in 1673 still lies in nasal chok. The other choks built at about this time were Mohan Chok and Sundari Chok. However elaborate Pratap Malla’s construction may have been, they were not simply intended to emphasize his luxuries but also his and the importance of other’s devotion towards deities.
Approximately, 10 ft high image of terrifyingly portrayed Kal Bhairav is placed near Jaggannath temple. It is a main focus during Durga Puja. Jayprakash Malla, the last Malla king to rule Kathmandu, built a temple for Kumari in her virginal state. Temple was named Kumari Bahal and structured like a typical newari Vihara. In this house resides Kumari, girl who is revered as living goddess. Also, a chariot was made for her.
Under Shah dynasty, a number of changes took place. Two most unusual temples were built. Basantpur Durbar (nine storied buildings) has 4 roofs and stands at the end of Nasal chok. It is said that this building was set as a pleasure house. The other temple is annexed to Basantpur Durbar and has four stories. This building was initially known as Vilasamandira but now commonly known as Tejarat chok or Basantpur chok. Temple of Shiva Parvati , rectangular in shape enshrines Nava Durga, a group of goddesses on ground floor. It has a wooden image of Shiva and Parvati at window of upper floor looking out at passerby in square. While building new road, southeastern part of palace was cleared away, leaving only fragments of places as reminder of past.
Coming to the present, Kathmandu Durbar Square is still the most important place to visit in Kathmandu. The historical significance it holds and spectacular architecture never fails to impress the first time, visitors. In the present, we can see that Kathmandu durbar Square comprises 3 loosely lined squares. In the south lies open Basantpur Square area, former royal elephant stables that now houses souvenier stalls and off which runs Freak Street. In the west, there is main durbar square area where you can spend hours watching the world go by. In the northeast, there lies second part of durbar square. There is an entrance to Hanuman dhoka and assortment of temples. From this open area, makhan tole continues. Kathmandu durbar Square is an active public walkway linking many streets together. Though Nepal is a democratic country now and coronations are not going to be held here, people gather in Kathmandu Durbar Square in festivals like Indrajatra, Dashain, Gaijatra, Macchindranath Jatra, etc to mark their centuries’ old tradition.
The major attractions in Kathmandu Durbar Square are Kasthamandap, Trailokya Mohan Narayan Temple, Kumari Bahal, Taleju temple, Basantpur tower, Gaddi Baihak, Maru Ganesh, Mahadev temple, Shiva Parvati temple, Bhagwati temple, Krishna octangular temple, Kal Bhairav and Jagannath temple. Kasthamandap and Trailokya Mohan Narayan Temple was completely destroyed by the massive earthquake of 25th April 2015. Most of the southern section of temples was tore down by it and physical cracks of destruction were sent throughout the remaining building.
Previously, Kathmandu Durbar Square was severely destructed during the earthquake of 1934. However, renovations were carried out diligently and it was back into its beautiful form once again. In 1979 it was assigned as a World Cultural heritage by UNESCO. However, after the 2015 earthquake, the works of renovation has not been going at a pace that it should have been. It is a harsh truth but is evident right before us. Kathmandu Durbar Square was the center of pride of Kathmandu and it should be the same for the continuing generations too. For this, the concerned authority must take serious steps to bring it back into a beautiful form depicting cultural and historical significance of Nepal.
The concerned authorities, may it be the Department of Archeology, Kathmandu municipality or the departments like Cultural Heritage and Tourism Department should work with its sense of responsibility towards remaking the buildings of the square. Only then, the continuing generation will be able to take a pride in their country’s history. This national heritage should never be consigned to the pages of history so it should be treated without any trace of neglect.