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Patan Durbar Square: World Heritage Sites: Traditional Nepalese Arts: Spiny Babbler Museum
Patan Durbar Square

"As an ensemble, the Durbar Square in Patan probably remains the most picturesque collection of buildings that has been set up in so small a place by the piety and pride of Oriental man." - Perceval Landon, 1928.

Patan Durbar Square, the center of Lalitpur, "The City of Fine Arts," is one of the places in the Kathmandu Valley, where the medieval arts and architecture still remain in its original state. It maybe so because, comparatively, less destruction occurred here during the great earthquake in 1934 that left most of the Valley in ruins; and the reconstruction of the dilapidated complexes was successful to bring back its seventeenth century antiquity. The red bricked, three- storied palace dominates the east side as it runs along the entire length of the Square. Facing at this palace are the temples and sikharas of various sizes and styles. These complexes were added at different times through the history, without any plans, but they perfectly blend together to form the Square. The entire Square is paved with brick, which usually get crowded with people during different festivals.

The chronicles shows that the location of Patan Durbar Square lies at a very ancient crossroad. The settlements of indigenous communities surrounded the Square and before the Mallas were properly established in 1300 AD, the Pradhanas, principal nobles, settled around the crossroads. There are inscriptions linking the Pradhanas with the Durbar Square, telling about mansions and temples they built around the Square but don't stand today. Purandarasimha, a Malla King who ruled Patan in the late sixteenth century, established two temples in the Square. One is the Cara Narayana, built in Newari architectural style in 1566. The other temple is dedicated to Narasimha, the mythical incarnation of Visnu in half lion and half human form, made in sikhara style in 1589. It is said that Purandarasimha built the latter temple in memory of his brother with the same name Narasimha. In 1597, Sivasimha Malla, built Degutale Temple. He rebuilt old temples made by the Pradhanas
Sivasimha; but his work is said to have been better than the old architecture. The palace mansion Chaukot, the four cornered palace, was established before the seventeenth century. It stood at the northern end of the Square and after the mid nineteenth century, the mansion was started to be called layku. According to Gopalaraja Vamsavali, chronicle of Gopala Kings compiled by 14th century AD, a Taleju Temple was already built by the Pradhanas before the Mallas.

Despite many efforts put together by many kings, the present architectural state is mostly the result of Kings Siddhinarasimha Malla (1619-1661) and Srinivasa (1661-1684), father and son. Siddhinarsimha Malla was made a king when he was young. It is only after twenty years that he started with constructions. In 1641, he rebuilt the Degutale Temple, which made the temple better than before with five roofs as inscription refer to his temple as nyatapola, five-roofed temple. Six years later, he gilded the topmost roof of the temple as an offering to the goddess of the temple.

A remarkable courtyard, Sundari chowk, with its sunken bath was added in 1646. Sundari chok had been an extension of the palace towards the south. Before that time at the location of Sundari chok was a vihara, Hatkobahal, which was donated by Laksmikamadeva in late twelfth century. The vihara was relocated at the west of the Square, which is presently the Kaha bahal also known as Ratnakaraj Mahavihara. Sundari chok is surrounded by three-storied palace in the four sides. This palace is one of the best examples of seventeenth century Neplali architecture. Its entrance, facing the Durbar Square, had a golden gateway and a golden window over it. Similar to other Malla kings, Siddhinarsingh Malla also tried his best to please his clan deity, goddess Taleju, with extensive donations. He built in her name a tank and fountain in Bhandarkhal, adjacent to the Sundari chok, was added in 1647. It is said that the King during his daily offering to the goddess offered lotus that grew in the pond in Bhandarkhal. He was very pious and spent time in meditation and worships instead of royal pleasures. Before his abandonment of the throne to his son, he had already added two more monumental temples in the Durbar Square. One is the marvelous stone sikhara temple of Krishna Mandir made in 1637. It is four storied but the main shrine of Krishna along with Radha and Rukamani at the sides is in the first floor. Almost entire walls on this temple are filled with carvings of Lord Vishnu in his different incarnations. There are altogether 21 pinnacles arranged at different heights on the temple. The other temple is a newari style temple dedicated to Shiva, better known as Visveswara. During the completion of each temple, a koti hom, fire ritual, was performed for the celebration and expensive donations were made to the temples.

In 1652, he gave up his throne and left for a penance in Benaras. Though he returned from Benaras, he didn't take over the throne, but helped his son, Srinivasa, rule Patan. Srinivasa started his career in masonry since 1661. From that year, he started the renovation of the palace from one end to the other at Patan Durbar Square. Unfortunately the Degutale temple, which Siddhinarsingh had built, was completely destroyed by a fire during in Srinivasa's early years as a king. Rebuilding the Degutale Temple was one of his first projects. But he didn't give the temple its original five-storied style, he reduced it to three, which is more convenient for a Newari style temple. This temple was again dilapidated during the earthquake in 1934 and reconstructed and again extensively reconstructed in 1969.

By 1666, he had also renovated the Mul chok and the palace courtyard. During this reconstruction he also built a temple for goddess Taleju at the south end of the palace. From then onwards, the ritual offerings during Dashera were made in the temple. A golden doorway to this temple was fixed by Riddhinarshimha Malla in 1716. But the chief Taleju Temple in the Patan Durbar Square, which stands at the northeast corner of the Mul chok, was the restoration of a previous temple and was completed in 1671. He also built a new temple dedicated to agama deities at the northwestern corner of the Mul chok. Though completely destroyed in 1934, the inscriptions and pictures of the temple state that it was very peculiar with three types of roofs, one rectangular, one octagonal, and one round. In 1680, he erected a Bhimsen Temple in the Square. His minister, Bhagiratha Bhaiya, also built a Visvanatha Temple in the Square in 1678 as a substitute to Visvanatha Temple in Banaras. Destroyed during 1934, it was restored with a dome for a roof and is popularly known as Bhaidewal, after its donor.

Besides Siddhinarsimha and Srinavasa Malla, their successors also continued to make donations to the Patan Durbar Square but most of them were outside the palace. In 1701 Yoganarendra Malla added a pillar and Manimandapa, his royal council hall. His sister, Rudramati, in 1706 added the Narayana Temple. His daughter built the Chyasing Devala, an octagonal stone sikhara temple in 1723. Then Vishnu Malla and his wife donated a huge bell to the goddess Taleju in 1737, which is said to have replaced a smaller bell donated by Yoganarendra Malla.

The Patan Durbar Square was constructed by the pious devotions of the kings, queens, princes, princesses, and ministers to satisfy the gods. The temples, courtyards, and palaces were constructed and after damage they were reconstructed in the fashion of that time. After a temple was built, there was a constant flow of donations in the form of paintings, money, decorations, and mostly extensive restorations, all which were done in the belief of pleasing the deities in the temple resulting in a prosperous life of everyone in the family.

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