A living gallery of Kathmandu’s heritage: Durbar Square

16 07 2011

Kathmandu is a city that is blessed with some of the most magical of places, several of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are not just a collection of buildings that have lost their souls, but sites in which the rich cultural heritage of the city and country is very much being lived out in the present day. In additional to the two heritage sites that I have mentioned, Swayambunath and Boudhanath, there is another, Durbar Square, that serves as the heart and soul of the city. It is in the square that one finds what is said to be the oldest building in the Kathmandu Valley, the Kasthamandap or House of Wood, which in fact gives Kathmandu its name. The house which dates back to the 12th Century is where the city is said to be centred on, and is one in an amazing concentration of monuments (of which there are more than 50) packed into an area that measures no more than about 300 metres by 300 metres.

Durbar Square is a living showcase of Kathmandu's heritage.

Arriving at the square late in the afternoon, what greeted us was not just the warm glow of sunlight that reflected off the red and brown of the buildings in the square, but a quadrangle that was abuzz with the confusion of traffic on the streets in and through the square mixed with the sounds and movement of life that seemed to swirl all around me. The square indeed was alive, alive not just with the passage of life through it, but also with life as it is lived within it.

Kathmandu's Durbar Sqaure has more than 50 monuments packed into a 300 by 300 metre area.

The Bhagwati Temple - part of the Hanuman Dhoka Durbar complex that is the heart of Kathmandu's Durbar Square.

At the heart of Durbar Square is the Hanuman Dhoka Durbar – a complex that served as the seat of power of the Malla and later the Shah dynasty of Nepal that dates back to the 16th Century. It was the intricate wood work of the Bhagwati Temple of the complex that was the first building that caught my attention standing as I stood in awe at all that surrounded me. It wasn’t the last as all around as I wandered I was struck by the wealth of Newari architecture that the area was filled with, many of which are still serving the functions they were originally built to serve.

Part of the former Royal Palace complex.

Another part of the former Royal Palace complex.

Another eye-catching piece that isn’t so much a building but a colourful relief that is carved into a 3.7 metre high piece of stone – that of Kala (Black) Bhairav, a manifestation of the Hindu god Shiva in a six-armed terrifying destructive form that is seen to be stepping on top of a human form that symbolises human ignorance. The image of Kala Bhairav is said to strike down anyone who is dishonest before it, has served in the past as a place where criminals are tried and innocence was often proven by the swearing of innocence to the image.

The 3.7m relief of Kala Bhairav was used in the past to try criminals.

Beyond the masterpieces of Newari architecture, scenes of everyday life added to the wonderful experience of a visitor to the square. All around there were rows of vegetables being sold, little shops that operated from some of the old buildings themselves, and people going about their daily lives (as well as the many that seemed to be there just to soak the atmosphere in). Wandering around the square and taking in the somewhat bewildering array of what was on offer, it didn’t seem long before the fading light of the sun set told us that it was time to go. And after a final walk around, I was prepared to part taking away with not just the many images I captured with my camera, but a lasting impression of what is certainly a living gallery of Kathmandu’s heritage.

The square was filled with people going about thier daily lives.

A man watching the world pass him by.

Another man sits, watching the world pass by from under the arches of the Bhagwati Temple.

Vegetables being sold on the steps of the Maju Dega, a 17th Century shirne in Durbar Square.

A dried goods vendor.

Shops operate out of some of the old buildings.

A child that seemed to be carrying her weight over her shoulders.

Cotton candy on sale.

The image of Kala Bhairav in Durbar Square.


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