A land ruled by many dynasties, Nepal is one fascinating destination to explore the cultural magnetism, religious practices, unique architectural treasures and its mysteries. Nepal has a glorious history and an enriching cultural heritage. This is one of the unique countries in Asia wherein the ancient culture is preserved carefully. Popularly known as a trekker’s paradise, Nepal has much more to offer to the world than the Mount Everest. Nepal overwhelmed me with its rich cultural legacy. More than anything, Kathmandu valley alone is a treasure trove for ancient architectures that tell fascinating stories from the past.
My very first tryst with the ancient architectures happened when I decided to explore the oldest settlement of Kathmandu valley known as Patan. Around 7 km away from the bustling city of Kathmandu, Patan welcomes you to its vibrant Durbar Square, adorned with the finest collections of Buddhist and Hindu temples, intricately designed palace and surrounded by the Newari houses on those tiny alleys. The very first impression of Patan Durbar Square was rather intriguing and it instilled an inherent curiosity to know more.
The spectacular amalgamation of architectural finesse is what Patan signifies and due to which it has become one of the most inviting places in the country for the historians, artists and writers. At the very first glance, it seems too much to absorb. But as you settle down in the chaos and look around, it creates an urge to dig out more about this oldest settlement.
City with many names
The ancient city of Patan was known by different names in different periods, like Lalitpur, Patan and Yala. The word Lalitpur means Beautiful City (Lalit means Beautiful and Pur means City). It is said that because of its very beauty, attractive and unique architectures, the city was named as Lalitpur. It is also said that the city was a flourishing trade centre in ancient time and that’s why it was called Pattana, which means trade centre. In Newari language, it is known as Yela De , which means a lovely town.
Turning pages in history
When we talk about the origin of the city of Patan, there are several versions available by the historians and scholars. Many of them stated that Patan’s history dates back to 250 BC, when the emperor Ashoka had visited Nepal during the pilgrimage and constructed four earthen mounds in the city, which are still existing and are known as Ashokan Stupas. But many believe that it was the Kirats, who are the aborigines of the north-eastern Himalayas, came to Nepal around 700 BC and ruled. The Kirat king by the name of Yalamber built a palace in the city of Patan on the bank of the sacred Bagmati River, from where he used to rule the country. It is said that king Yalamber defeated Bhuvan Singh, the last king of the Ahir dynasty and established Kirat rule in Nepal. During his kingdom, the powerful king Yalamber extended his kingdom as far as the Tista River in the east and the Trishuli in the west. He made Patan his capital and later he named it after his name –Yala.
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The recorded history of Patan states that it begins from the Lichhavi period and the many inscriptions mention about the settlements, royal decrees, construction of temples, chaityas and other monuments. It is believed that it was during the Lichhavi dynasty, Patan saw the massive constructions of architectures and the constant development of the city to establish it as the centre of trade and commerce.
The Patan continued to flourish during the Malla dynasty. During the 13th-18th centuries, the Malla kings created its extraordinary architectural legacy in the city. The Malla rulers were said to be the great connoisseur of art. The Sikhara style temple, typical Nepalese multi-tiered “pagoda” temple, palace or other monuments belong to Malla dynasty. The Nepalese architectures reached its zenith during the Malla period. In other words, more than 80% of the existing monuments belong to the Malla dynasty and are confined to the Kathmandu valley. It was due to the skilled craftsmen and artisans, these unique architectures were built to perfection and became the identity of this Himalayan country in the world.
Large concentrations of Hindu temples are found in the Patan Darbur Square because of the Hindu origin of the Malla rulers. The beautification and preservation of the historical monuments were very much evident in Malla kings. The best part of these dynasties, specially the Lichhavi and Malla was that the rulers had the urge to develop and maintain the cultural heritage of Nepal. Patan became the supreme centre of importance until the valley capital was shifted to Kathmandu with the arrival of King Prithivi Narayan Shah, who created a unified Nepal which was ruled by his descendants for the next two and a half centuries.
What all to see in Patan
Patan Durbar Square
The main attraction of the ancient city is the Patan Durbar Square. The bustling square is dotted with Buddhist and Hindu temples, palace and surrounded by the Newri architectures. Enlisted as the World heritage site, this courtyard is an amalgamation of the finest collection of architectural treasures. The square has three courtyards like the Keshab Narayan Chowk, Mul Chowk and Sundari Chowk.
One can see the masterpiece of Newari architectural designs here in the temples and palace with intricately designed wood carvings. The grandeur of the architecture of Patan Palace is absolutely eye-arresting. The palace belonged to the Malla kings, which is now converted into a Museum. Whether it is the courtyards, finest wood carvings, pagoda styled temples, or typical Newari door and windows, each corner shouts loud about the spectacular amalgamation of architectural excellence.
Temples in Patan
The Patan Durbar Square has the maximum number of Hindu temples. Among them the three storied stone temple, built by King Narasingha Malla in the 16th century AD was the prominent one. The beautiful Krishna Mandir is one of the top attractions in the square. The temple is one of the finest specimens of Newari craftsmanship where the important scenes from the Mahabharata and Ramayana epics have been intricately engraved on its friezes.
It also houses 21 spires known as the Chyasin Deval. Another important temple in Patan is the famous Golden temple located at the Kwabahal Tole of Patan. The temple is also known as the Hiranya Varna or Suwarna Mahavihar, built in the 12th century by the King Bhaskardav. With copper plated facade, surrounded by a courtyard, the golden temple is another fine example of courtyard temple architecture in Nepal. The Mahabouddha Temple is the first Buddhist temple built by a commoner named Pundit Abhaya Raj Shakya, who was an ardent follower of Buddhism. It took him 36 years to build the temple after getting inspired by the Mahaboudhdha temple in Bodhgaya, India. The temple is designed in the Hindu Shikara style and is a masterpiece of brick and tile. It has five golden pinnacles. Apart from these prominent ones, the Durbar square is decorated by other famous temples like Bhimsen Temple, Manga Hiti, Vishwanath Temple, Jagatnarayan Temple, Red Machhindranath Temple, Hiranya Varna Mahavibar, Kumbeshwar temple, etc.
Statue of Yog Narendra Malla
The statue of Yog Narendra Malla with a snake canopy and a golden bird on top is one imposing statue which can’t be ignored. The Malla King ruled Patan between 1684 AD and 1705 AD and during his reign, he added many structures to the city. He was believed to be a religious man who had a strong faith in religion which led him to build many temples in Patan. He also initiated many festivals in the city. The single stone pillar statue of Yog Narendra Malla, facing the Taleju Bhawani Temple is one unmissable statue in Patan Durbar Square.
The Narrow Lanes of Patan
When in Patan, go beyond the Durbar Square and the temples to see the lifestyle of the Newari people on those tiny alleys. It was surely a rewarding experience for me to walk on cobblestone streets dotted with the Newari houses. It gives you glimpses of the life in the old settlement, the markets, people and much more.
The south of the Patan Durbar Square was cluttered with shops selling copper, brass and bronze ware. Later I was told that Patan houses the skilled artisans from the Newari community. They have many sub-castes who are experts in different fields. Among them, the ‘Tamrakars’, are mainly concentrated in Kathmandu valley, but mostly the inhabitants are found in the heart of Patan.
The word ‘Tamrakars’ comes from the word “‘Tamo’ or ‘Tamot’, which in the Nepalese language means copper. I also tried striking a conversation with the humble Nepalese people. Patan houses some of the best local restaurants for authentic Newari food. I visited one of the restaurants facing the Patan Durbar Square to have their famous Nepalese momos. It is undoubtedly worth trying whenever you are in Nepal.
If there is anything that left me awestruck in Nepal, then it has to be the Patan Durbar Square. I haven’t seen such depository of medieval culture and architectural treasure anywhere. I was captivated by the finest work of art, exquisite presentation of artist imagery and the craftsmanship of the Newari artisans. Each structure tells fascinating tales from different dynasties that has shaped Nepal. In spite of various rulers from different dynasties, the development of art and architecture got the highest attention in Patan. Each ruler of the Lichhavi period to the present day is keen on preserving and maintaining the ancient architecture that gives Patan an undivided attention.
By Taxi : The easiest way to reach Patan is to hire a prepaid taxi from anywhere in Kathamandu city. It takes hardly half an hour without traffic. The distance between Kathmandu city and Patan is around 7 KM.
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