Sunday, July 4, 2010

history of nepalese architecture


Course Coverage:

Chronological study of different stages of development:

Pre-historic Period

- Gopalas and Mahispalas

- Kiratas

Historic Period

- Lichchavis 5th (1st ?) –9th century

- Thakuris (Dark Period) 9th –12th century

- Mallas 12-18th century

- Shahs and Ranas 18th century – 1950

- Modern - after 1950

Study of secular and religious buildings, both Hindu and Buddhist, which will include:

- house forms, bahals, bahils, rest houses, temples, stupas, priest houses, palaces etc.

- Planning and hierarchy of urban spaces of Malla towns

- Hindu-Buddhist harmony and its effect on architecture

- Symbolism in Nepalese architecture

- Construction techniques and materials

- Development in other regions of Nepal


- Drawings of different important structures

- Identification of elements of heritage significance along specific routes of the historic cities

Glory of past architecture – 7 World Heritage sites located in Valley

Advantage of actually observing and feeling the ambience of architectural heritage

Boundaries of ancient Nepal – contiguous ridges and valleys – east Banepa, Palanchok to Sun Kosi and beyond; north to Nuwakot; west Gorkha (Lichchavi inscription), south – Lele and Tistung; control of outer regions nominal.

Developments outside Valley not significant so focus on Valley, mainly on Malla period.

Reference Books: Slusser, Mary Shepherd; Nepal Mandala, Princeton University Press, 1982.

Dr. Tiwari, Sudarshan Raj; The Ancient Settlements of the Kathmandu Valley, CNAS, 2001.

Korn, Wolfgang; The Traditional Architecture of the Kathmandu Valley, Bibliotheca Himalayica, 1976.

Other references: Dr. Tiwari, Sudarshan Raj; Tiered Temples of Nepal, 1989.

Dr. Tiwari, Sudarshan Raj; The Brick and the Bull, Himal Books, 2002.

Bernier, Ronald M., The Nepalese Pagoda

Hutt, Michael, Nepal: A Guide to Art and Architecture of the Kathmandu Valley GTZ, Images of a Century

Locke, John K., Buddhist Monasteries of Nepal ,. Sahayogi Press, 1985.

Lecture 1


The earliest epigraphic records of Nepal are the pillars erected at Lumbini and Nigali Sagar in 257 BC by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka (269-232 BC). The Lumbini pillar inscriptions record that Ashoka came to pray at the spot because Lord Buddha was born there. The inscription on the other pillar at Nigali Sagar refers to the repair and expansion in size of the stupa of a previous Buddha called Konakama in 254 BC and his personal visit and offering of reverence in 249 BC. Legendary accounts of Ashoka’s visit to Nepal are not substantiated by Indian or Sri Lankan records. The five “Ashoka Stupas” of Patan have been credited to Ashoka, four lie at the cardinal corners of the city while one is situated in the centre, however, Slusser contends stupas may be funerary mounds of pre-Buddhist origin and may predate the Mauryan period (Slusser, 1982) Neils Gutschow and Tiwari, however, do not accept this and believe they are no older than 16th century (Tiwari, 2001). The four chaityas associated with Ashoka are claimed by other Buddhist legends to be Chilancho Chaitya of Kirtipur, Swayambhu Chaitya, Chabahil Chaitya of Devpatan and the Patuko mound of Patan (Tiwari, 2001). Svayambhu Purana account of Ashoka’s daughter Charumati marrying a local prince Devapala and establishing Deopatan and a vihar of her name is also not substantiated by Indian and Sri Lankan records. (Slusser, 1982)

The epigraphic record of the valley is pushed back significantly by the discovery in 1992 of a stone sculpture of King Jaya Varma dated 185 AD (Slusser, 1982). Ancient Brahmi script states he is the 4th king who died in the year 107 Saka Samvat, which coincides with Jayadev II record on the stele at Pashupati and the account of Gopalarajavamsavalis. Before the Jaya Varma inscription, the earliest dated document of the valley was the stone inscription at Changu Narayan erected by Mandeva in 464 AD.

Buddhist chronicles refer to monks at Sravasti, an important trading centre (Set Mahet village by the Rapti river) who joined a group of wool merchants bound for Nepal but who had to return because of the difficult passage. This clearly indicated trading existed between India and Kathmandu Valley during 5-6th century BC. (Slusser, 1982) Kathmandu was connected to the Uttarapatha, the great northern Indian trade route which passed through the Sakya capital of Kapilavastu and existed at least from the 6th century BC and connected the eastern Gangetic basin with the civilization of the Near East. The Uttarapatha was connected to another great trade route, the Dakshinapatha which was connected to the Buddhist communities of Sanchi and Ujjain. In early 7th century AD the Tibetan nation was established which brought tranquility to the surrounding territory. From then on Nepal became the preferred trade route between Tibet and India. Till the late 18th century, trade was the primary source of the Valley’s wealth and its main raison d’etre. (Slusser, 1982)

Mauryan statesman Kautilya (244 BC) referred to woolen blankets from Nepal in Arthasastra (Slusser, 1982). Italian excavations in Hadigaon unearthed built cultural remains dating back to 150 BC ( Tiwari, 2001). Since the timing is relatively close to the time of Kautilya, conclusions can be drawn that settlement of distinct urban pattern existed to accommodate such heightened economic activities. The history of settlements in the valley can thus be pushed back more than 600 years from established date of historical beginning. (Tiwari, 2001)

Hsuan-tsang, Chinese pilgrim to India in mid 7th century heard in Vaisali about red copper, yak, Mingming bird and use of copper coins in Nepal. Wang Hsuan-tse, Chinese envoy on his way from the T’ang court to meet Harshavardhana at Kanauj, visited Kathmandu valley in the mid 7th century during the reign of Narendradeva and noted that “merchants, fixed and itinerant, were numerous and cultivators rare”. (Slusser, 1982)

The 4TH century AD pillar inscription of Samudragupta at Allahabad lists “Nepala” as a frontier state. T’ang dynasty, contemporaries of Lichchavis, referred to Nepal as Ni-po-lo.

Lecture 2



No records of pre-historic Nepal exist. Religious legends exist but actual historical facts are difficult to ascertain, as the legends are prone to one-upmanship, designed to curtail each other’s influence. Some important Nepali texts are Nepal Mahatmya and Swayambhu Purana.

Chronologies or vamsavalis are abridged dynastic histories which detail out the deeds of kings towards the gods. They can be a good source of historical events, however, their authenticity require further confirmation. The two important vamsavalis are Gopalarajavamsavali (compiled in 1382-1395 in the court of Jayasthitimalla) and Bhasavamsavali (prepared during 18-19th century).

Different religious chronicles tend to claim different events or names for what appears to be the same site. For example, the confluence of the Bagmati and Vishnumati which is claimed as Chintamani Tirtha by the Buddhists is also supposed to be the site, as per Himdu legends, of the holy ashram of sage Ne, after whom Nepal is named. The earliest Sivaite image of Bhringareswore at Sunakothi is equally claimed by the Hindus and Buddhists. Devapatan of the Ashoka legend is the same area noted by Gopalarajavamsavali to be where the first Lichchavi king Supuspadeva, also known as Pasupreka, built the temple of Pasupati Bhattaraka and a beautiful town. Gopalarajavamsavali lists specific gifts offered by Vrisadeva and Dharmadeva so the temple must have been in existence before 400 AD. Manjushree is supposed to have built the town Manjupattana, probably around Balaju area. Later kings shifted from Manjupatana to Sankasya on the Banks of Ikshumati (Tukucha). This same town as per Hindu chronicle is supposed to be Nandisala, credited to Lichchavi kings. (Tiwari, 2001)

Gopalarajavamsavali lists Mandeva as the 21st king of the Lichchavi dynasty. It states Lichchavis were preceded by 32 kings of the Kirat dynasty. The Kirats were preceded by the Mahispalas who had taken over from the Gopalas who had ruled for eight generations. So by assigning 20 years for each reignal period, Tiwari estimates that the Gopalas began their rule around 1000 BC. As per the vamsavalis, Gopalas were the first rulers of Nepal. (Tiwari, 2001)

Gopalarajavamsavali states Ashoka came to Kathmandu during the reign of 14th Kirat king. Since Ashoka ruled during the 3rd century BC, the timing appears plausible. It also states Mandeva as the 41st king and Jayadev II as the 58th king. The records of Jayadev in the Pasupati inscriptions list chronology of kings which match the vamsavali. Also the Hadigaon find of king Jaya Varman coincides with the vamsavali record. Thus, vamsavalis cannot just be written off.

Early legends indicate that Kathmandu Valley was a lake which was later drained and settled. There is no doubt about the existence of the lake as geological studies have shown the valley to have alluvial soil under lacustrine conditions and fossils. Along the course of the Bagmati there are 4 locations where ponding could have occurred: Gokarna (Sodhani Tirtha), Gauri Ghat ( Santa Tirtha), Chovar (Jaya Tirtha) and Kotwal (Setuvina Mahatirtha). Legends such as opening of Chovar also occur for Gokarna and Gaurighat (Tiwari, 2001).

Tiwari contends that Chovar gorge probably opened up later due to geological disturbance. He believes the earlier drainage point was Bungamati as there are lake deposits and Matsendranath and water myths are associated with it. He has also charted out different contour levels of the Valley to arrive at this decision (Tiwari, 2001).

Nepalmahatmya tells of Krishna draining the lake but the Swayambhu Purana tells of an earlier period when the lake Kalihrada or Naghrada was full of snakes. On Kartik Purnima a lotus sown by Vipasubuddha appeared, which emanated a self-existing flame, Swayambhu. Later after Manjushree drained the lake a sage took to protect the pure light from evil forces and built Swayambhu Mahachaitya. (Tiwari, 2005).

After the drying of the lake the hillocks remaining out of the water were probably the early habitat of the aboriginal settlers. Tiwari hypothesizes that the earliest settlements were on the higher reaches of the surrounding hills. Settlements moved down along hill spurs jutting into valley along Changunarayan, Jagdol, Kapan, Tokha, Mahankal, Balaju, Swayambhu, Naikap, Bungamati, Sunakothi, Katunje, Sanga-Tathali. Later settlements extended to Bhaktapur, Thimi, Gothatar, Devpatan, Baluwatar, Manamaiju, Kirtipur, Chovar, Okhthali, Lagan and Matitar. By early Lichchavi period movement had occurred to occupy Patan, Hadigaon and Kathmandu (Tiwari, 2001).

Slusser contends that people of Tibeto-Burman origin probably drifted down from the harsh Tibetan plateau and were ancestors of the current hill tribes and Newars. (Slusser, 1982).

As per the legends, the aboriginal people were serpent worshippers and were called Nagas. The legends portray the Nagas as a matriarchal society who worshipped simple unhewn stones as tribal female deities dedicated to Kali, Kumari, Devi, Malika, Maiju and Ajima. Traces of such customs still remain with the Newars, the Kiratas and Rajbanshis (Tiwari, 2001).

The similarity in place names of Tistung-Palung-Chitlang to the south of Chandragiri hills, now inhabited by the Hale and Gwa caste groups of Newars, and Chepang area, as well as the linguistic relations between the Chepangs, Newars and Kirats indicate they could have common ancestry and could be descendents of the Nagas. The Newar name for Patan, Yala, is believed to originate from the Kirat king Yellung or Yalambara, the alleged founder of the dynasty and the city. Chyasal-tol is believed to commemorate the 800 Kiratas slain in battle with the Lichchavis (Tiwari, 2001).

Although the chronicles seem to suggest the Gopalas and Mahispalas came from India, Nirish Nepal believes their origins to be derived from the pastoral community of Nagas who broke up into two groups: Gopalas (cow herders) and Mahispalas (buffalo herders). They appear to be aboriginal herdsmen of the Bagmati region and the primogenitors of the Newars. The Newar caste hierarchy has the Hale or Gwa caste divided into two sub-sections: Sapu (cow milker) and Me-pu (buffalo milker). The predominance of Hale and Gwa castes among the Newars in Taukhel, Nhulu, Kunchha, Papung, Pulagaun and Shikarkot villages of Tistung-Taukhel-Chitlang regions indicate they are not mythical but real historical people (Tiwari, 2001).

According to the vamsavalis the seven daughter groups of Gopalas and Mahispalas occupied seven villages of Kathmandu: Satungal, Boshigaun, Machchegaun, Taukhel (Tahakhel?), Kirtipur, Lohankot and Nagam (Panga). These villages have concentrations of Gwas and Hales. During the Jatra of Satgaons, all the seven guardian goddesses of the villages come together at the site of the mother goddess of Vishandevi temple on the banks of the river Balkhu (Indramati Ganga). Podes are the group leaders of the festivities. Podes are also guardians of the matrika temples eg. Tunaldevi Ajima of Chandol datable to the 5th century. Podes also do not practice Yihi of the Newars . Could they be older than the Gopalas? Just as indicated by the legends, it is possible the Gopalas and Mahispalas occupied the higher lands around Palung, Tistung, Satgaon etc. with their capital at Matatirtha (Tiwari, 2001).

Although the Gopalas and Mahispalas were believed to follow Vaishnavite Hinduism and the Kiratas followed Saivite Hinduism, Buddhism probably arrived earlier. Buddhist and Hindu legends seem to refer to the same early sites of religious or secular importance to pre-Lichchavi settlers. If the logic of movement of settlements from the higher to the lower level over time is to be accepted, then the Buddhist sites were probably older as they were located on the higher level of the same mountain spurs.

Ichangu Narayan – Ichangu Vipaswibuddha – Jamacho

Sikha Narayan – Pharping Sikhitathagata – Champadevi

Bishankhu Narayan – Bishankhu Viswobhubuddha – Phulchoki

Changu Narayan – Changu Manjushri – Manichurthan

Location of Mahadev Pokhari, Pokhari Thumko, Pokhari Bhanjhyang and Dahachowk in the general areas of the Buddhist legends tends to suggest these hill ponds served as water supply reservoirs for large settlements nearby. The profusion of many non-Sanskrit names around these regions further reinforces the theory that Kirata or pre-Lichchavi settlements existed there. Their location seems to suggest their strategic importance in regard to control of the passes to the valley for military as well as trade purposes. The settlements probably doubled as military garrisons and trading posts at the time of the Sravasti monks. Highways criss-crossed the valley linking the settlements.


Mahabharat mentions Kiratas as aligned to Kauravas. Shiva also appears as a Kirata to give Arjuna the weapon of Pashupat. The Puranas ( edited in 400 AD?) mention Kiratas as people of the Madhyadesh, located in the Himalayas next to Kamrupa ( Slusser, 1982).

Kira (edge) ta (roam)- so Kiratas thought to refer to aboriginal people roaming at the edge of Aryan settlements. Vamsavalis indicate Kiratas as the successors of the Gopalas and the Mahispalas. Some vamsavalis mention the Kiratas took the Bagmati route from the south to enter the valley (Tiwari, 2001). Slusser suggests earlier drifters from the Tibetan plateau to be the ancestors of Kiratas who in turn were the ancestors of the Newars (Slusser, 1982).

Whereas the Gopalas and Mahispalas were thought to have come from India and followed Vedic Hinduism with Vaisnavite inclination, the Kiratas were thought to be the followers of Shiva. Kirateswore Sivalinga and proto-Lichchvi Kali of Aryaghat are indicative of Sivaite following among Kiratas.

According to N. M. Thulung, Kirata folklore suggests the Kiratas originated from “Mong” in China. They split into the Chyan, Tyan and Hyan genets. The Chyan moved south to the Indus Valley and from there into Nepal after the Aryan invasion. The Aryans entered the Indus Valley in waves between 2000-1200 BC and expanded into the Gangetic plains. The Aryans referred to the original inhabitants as “Dasa”, “Dasyu” and later “Saka” and they were excluded from the Aryan society because they had different religious beliefs. The Manusmriti identifies the Kiratas as one of the eleven tribes who inhabited the Indus-Saraswoti region. Tiwari believes some of these tribes were forced to move away from their homeland and into the Kumaon region. While the Khas set up their kingdom in the Kumaon hills, the Kiratas moved on to settle in the Kathmandu Valley (Tiwari, 2002). While no remains of temples were found in the Indus Valley, archaeologists have concluded that worship of the primal form of Siva, Rudra, was popular.

The easternmost town of the Sakas dug up by archaeologists so far is Alamgirpur which lies a little to the north of Delhi. Thus, the physical distance as well as the time gap between the Indus civilization and the Kathmandu Valley is not as great as it seems. Further east and closer to Nepal lay the Sakya kingdom of Kapilavastu. They are believed to belong to the Khas clan of the Sakas and they also extensively used brick construction. Considering the fact that the Sakyas and the Kirats were contemporaneous, it is not difficult to conceive that the Kirats may have traveled to Kathmandu Valley after being displaced from their ancestral homeland by the Aryans.

In his book “The Brick and the Bull” Tiwari hypothesizes that when the “Sakas” moved away from their homeland and into the Kathmandu Valley, they brought along with them the knowledge of the 18 building trade groups, among these the art of brick building, water tanks, drainage system etc. They also brought their religion (Tiwari, 2002). The discovery of 2nd century BC brick construction by the Italian excavation team near the Satyanarayan temple gives conclusive proof that the Kiratas had advanced knowledge of brick construction. Terracota figurines of humped bulls and matrika sculptures suggest Saiva and mother goddess worship was prevalent among the local population.

That other dynasties preceded Lichchavis is proven by the fact that Sanskrit inscriptions of Lichchavi period used mostly non-Sanskrit terms for administrative and personal names (Rogamacau, Sindrira, Kedumbata) and more than 80% place names including that of hamlets, towns, rivers etc which have survived till today, eg. Pharping, Balkhu, Balambu, Mhepi, Khopring, Tukucha etc. If Lichchavi rule began from the 1st century and older names survived for more than 500 years when the Lichchavi inscriptions were made, it indicates that there were well established towns and villages during the Kirata period and there was continued influence of the Kirata language on non-Sanskrit language (Tiwari, 2001).

The Kiratas worshipped Ajima (Yumi) or grandmother and Ajju or Bhairav or Hathvan (Theba) or grandfather and these traditions are existent in eastern Nepal. Some writers consider the imageless piths of Kanga Ajima, Luti Ajima and Maiti Ajima as remains of Kirata goddesses. Yumi was worshipped as mother goddess; Rais and Limbus also worship Yumis. Popular Newari belief links Indrachowk Akash Bhairav and Pachali Bhairav to Kirata king Yalambar Hang and his son Pabbi respectively. Places worshipped as Bhairav were memorials of kings: Akash Bhairav of Indrachowk commemorates King Yalambar while Pachali Bhairav is for the Kirata king of Pharping. One interesting point is the Hadigaon inscription of Amshuvarman listing state recognized religious sites. None of the above sites were cited or were lumped under “tadnyadevakulam” indicating they did not find favor with the then rulers (Tiwari, 2001).

Many early Kirata settlements probably emerged around mother goddesses and Bhairav temples. There probably were also Kirat defenses on hilltops such as Phulchoki, Nagarjun, Champa Devi, Nagarkot gap, Nuwakot etc. The vamsavalis tell of Kirata palaces at Phulchoki, Godavari, Gokarna and later Pulchowk but there are no remains to corroborate the statements. The Mandeva palace at Gokarna is thought to be the Kirata palace but since it is a cave, its likelihood being the remains of a Kirata palace is remote. The Kirata towns on hilltops were referred to as pringgas eg. Pharping, Khopring (Bhaktapur) and dula suffix meant settlements on slopes: Kupondol (Newari term dol for dula).

The Kirata capital appears to have shifted frequently. Chronicles mention the capital shifted from Kiratsur at Thankot to Andipringga (Hadigaon) and to Patan. According to Tiwari, earlier, Bishandevi of Balkhu near Naikap seems to have represented the power of the state so when the Kiratas set up their capital at Andipringga, they brought her and set her up in their capital somewhere near the current location of Satyanarayan temple. This act invested the Kiratas with the power to rule. Later, during Lichchavi rule, Narayan became the god which invested the power to rule, so the Lichchavis erected the Narayan temple at the site of the goddess of Andipringga and relocated the temple of the goddess to Tunaldevi at Chandol (Tiwari, 2002).

Popular belief is that Patuko mound in central Patan is of Kirata origin. Some historians have concluded that Kirata king Patuko shifted his palace from Gokarna to Sankhamul. Patuko is thought to have been the second last Kirat king so Patuko is probably a historical figure of Kiratas. Kirata culture used bricks for built structures since early times. Tiwari believes Kiratas used bricks and timber to build palaces and transient buildings for commoners and contends Sankhamul as the palace site, probably where the Patuko mound stands (Tiwari, 2001). Chyasal tol is one of the oldest quarters. Chyasal and Guita are exclusively inhabited by Jyapus, suggesting their lineage closest to ancient Nepal. The Kiratas early relations with Patan is reinforced by the fact that two sites are considered venerable by the present day Kiratas: Siddhilaxmi temple near Tyagal tol and Tikhel at the southwest corner of Patan (Slusser, 1982).

Although legend has it that the Lichchavis slew 800 Kiratas at Chyasal tol, some believe Lichchavi takeover of Kiratas was not violent as the Lichchavis make no mention of diaspora, fire or sword or boasts of victory (Slusser, 1982). Lichchavi inscriptions suggest Kirata settlements in the form of small towns were situated on the upper reaches of the hill slopes. They had non-Sanskrit names which continued even during Lichchavi periods. Some of these were Ahidumkottagrama (around Gokarna), Lembatidrangga (Lele), Mathanggrama (west of Thamel), Lohpring and Muhpring (east and northeast of Pasupati), Kadunggrama, Ferangkotta, Kichpringgrama, Pasinkhya, Thenchograma and Jolpringgrama (all around Thankot), Konko (south of Bhaktapur), Thanthuridrangga (near Budanilkantha) etc. Excavations in Hadigaon have revealed pre-Lichchavi brick walls (167 BC -–1 AD) and a water tap tray with the name Andigrama suggesting the site belonged to the Kirata settlement of Andipringga. In current Kirata terminology and probably in the ancient times as well, “cho” and “gung” indicate places located on higher grounds. The Lichchavi inscriptions have many such names e.g. Haragung, Dhandangung, Chhogung, Lumbancho, Pahancho, Dhancho, Gungrihara, Gungshikhara etc.

Spring fed ponds and hill top ponds, natural or man-made, were important to Kiratas as they were settled on higher grounds. The Lichchavis and later on the Mallas continued to use these as their source of water supply for their towns.

The small settlements of Yambi (current Indrachowk), Jama (current Jamal), Lanjagvala (current Lagan) and their capital Andipringga (current Hadigaon) further to the east were aligned along the main trade route from India to Tibet, the Kampo-Yambi Marga (Indrachowk -Ason-Jamal-Naxal-Hadigaon-Dhumbarahi-across Dhobikhola-Mahankal-Kapan)(Tiwari, 2001). Lichchavis later added the larger town of Daxinakoligram to the south of Yambi.

Lecture 3

Historical Periods:

Lichchavis 300? – 879 AD

Transitional 879 – 1200 AD

Early Malla 1200 – 1382 AD

Late Malla 1382 – 1769 AD

Shah 1769 – 1951 AD

Rana 1846 – 1950 AD


Lichchavis of India ruled from Vaisali, north across the Ganges from Pataliputra the capital of the Mauryans and Imperical Guptas. They appear to have been politically assimilated by the Muaryan state. Later they were allied to the Guptas through marriage. Chandragupta I (ascended 320AD) married a Lichchavi girl Kumaradevi which was acknowledged in an Allahabad inscription by his son Samundragupta (Slusser, 1982).

First and only epigraphical record of connection between the Lichchavis of Nepal and India occurs in Jayadeva II inscription of 733 AD at Pasupatinath temple. Jayadeva extends lineage to 37 kings before Vrisadeva, to the Lichchavis of India. There are twelve unnamed kings preceding Jayadeva before another Jayadeva is mentioned, referred to as Jayadev I by historians. Providing 20 year average reign, Jayadeva ruled sometime in the 2nd century AD (Coincides with the statue of Jaya Varman unearthed at Hadigaon?).

Gopalarajavamsavali states Lichchavi king Nimistankaravarman, lord of Vaisali who came from the south, defeated the Kiratas (King Galija) and began the dynasty in Nepal. Why the Lichchavis came to Nepal from India is not known (perhaps important trade?). Tiwari suggests Bhaskerverman, left Vaisali for Kathmandu to do penance at Pashupati in 78 AD (Tiwari, 2002). During his absence Vaisali was sacked by the Kushanas, ending Lichchavi rule there, so he set up his kingdom in Kathmandu. He probably ruled from the palace of Dakshinrajkula which was annexed from the Kirata king of Patan. Since he did not have any sons, he adopted Bhumiverman, a local youth. Perhaps, because of his “Sakara” origin, Bhumiverman moved his capital to Andipringga, the site of his ancestors. This was probably the reason - the start of his rule and his return to his ancestral home – why he established the Sakara Samvat, the official Lichchavi calendar in 78 AD. He built the Madhyamarajkula palace, so called because it was centrally located in the valley (Tiwari, 2002). Its existence is corroborated by Anshuverman’s later inscription. This was the royal residence of the Lichchavi’s until Mandeva built Managriha almost 400 years later.

The first epigraphic record of the Lichchavis, Manadeva’s inscription at Changunarayan, mentions 3 preceding kings: Vrisadeva, Sankaradeva and Dharmadeva. There are no clear indications of when the Lichchavi dynasty disappeared but there was a decline after Jayadeva II and records disappeared so 879 AD (the year of establishment of Nepal Sambat) is taken as convenient dividing line (Slusser, 1982). The Nepal Samvat was introduced by king Raghavadeva and is referred to by the vamsavalis as Pasupati Bhattaraka Samvata, implying it had something to do with the construction or renovation of the temple. This also probably implied, as suggested by Tiwari, that Pashupati had replaced Vishnu as the royal patron deity because power had returned to the Sakara lineage (Tiwari, 2002).

From the chronicles Vrisadeva was a Buddhist who founded Svayambhu stupa. He was noted as an excellent king “not given to war”. From this it may be assumed that he may have assumed a subservient status for Nepal vis-à-vis the Guptas. Son Sankaradeva was brave, ruled the country well and made it prosperous. He was followed by Dharmadeva with virtues of an ideal king. He appears to have died unexpectedly. His queen Rajyavati was performing a religious service at Changunarayan when she had to leave midway because of news of Dharmadev’s death. She was dissuaded from committing sati by her son Manadev who threatened to commit suicide if she did not change her mind. After learning of Dharmadev’s death the tributary chiefs tried to break free of Lichchavi control so Manadeva with the aid of his maternal uncle, an Indian prince, set out to subdue them. The east was won back without a fight but he had to defeat the western samantas. Thereafter, he raised the garuda victory pillar at Changunarayan in 464 AD recording his exploits which was the first epigraphical record of the valley (Slusser, 1982). Manadeva built one of the first known palaces, Managriha from which all subsequent Lichchavi kings ruled until the 7th century.

Between 506-641 AD power was contested by the Abhira Guptas who claimed lunar descent (Somavamsa) as opposed to the solar descent (Suryavamsa) of the Lichchavis. Their connection to the Guptas of India is doubtful. Some scholars think Abhira Guptas may be descendents of Gopalas since the Gopalas also bore the name of Guptas. The Gopalaraja vamsavali also states “King Bhimadeva (Bhimaarjunadeva) reigned 14 years. After that the Gopala dynasty conquered the solar dynasty and ruled powerfully again” (Slusser, 1982). Bhaumagupta apparently was the first Abhira Gupta to assume full power that in effect made him king. His name appears in 540 AD and regularly thereafter. By 594, he had either died or been displaced by Amsuvarman.

Amsuvarman’s name appears in the inscription of Sivadeva I beginning in 594 AD denoting him as a powerful officer. His declared rule lasted from 605-621 AD although he had in effect wielded power a decade earlier. He used the title Samanta and later referred to himself as Mahasamanta (illustrious high feudatory). Later he assumed the title of Maharajadhiraj. He was not a Lichchavi but claimed lineage of the moon as opposed to the solar lineage of the Lichchavis (Slusser, 1982). Tiwari suggests he could be of Sakara origin which is probably why he elevated Pashupati as the royal deity although he gave equal status to Vishnu, the official deity of the Lichchavis (Tiwari, 2002).

Shortly after Sivadeva’s death, Amsuvarman built a palace for himself, naming it after Siva’s home, Kailashkutabhavana. He also assured maintenance of the older palaces of Managriha and Madhyamarajkula as indicated by his Hadigaon edict. He was a truly remarkable king, deeply involved in administrative and judicial matters and learned in the sastras. His fame was sung by Hsuan-tsang, probably at Vaisali.

Soon after Amsuvarman’s death, Abhira Guptas again regained power by deposing Amsuvarman’s designated successor Udayadeva. His heir Narendradeva fled to Tibet. A puppet Lichchavi Dhruvadeva had been installed by 624 AD and Bhaumagupta’s grandson Jisnugupta was the real wielder of power. He had taken up residence in Kailashkutabhavana. Jisnugupta’s son Vishnugupta also virtually ruled as king from the same palace. Lichchavi’s were relegated to figureheads whose names were initially invoked in inscriptions but wielded no power.

By 641 AD, with the aid of Tibetans, Narendradeva had been restored to the throne and had taken up residence in Kailashakutabhavana. Thereafter, his descendents ruled from Kailashkutabhavana. Nepal was a country of some consequence between 600-733 AD. Legends tell of a great fire in Vishalnagar. Tiwari believes this probably refers to a fire during the reign of Narendradeva. Palace intrigues and disputes developed into a religious civil war which caused the great fire that destroyed the capital. Two of Narendradeva’s sons are also believed to have been killed. Narendradeva was forced to set up residence at Bhadradivasa Bhawan at Sankhamul and many of the Buddhists of Hadigaon fled to the safety of Patan with their Buddhist king (Tiwari, 2002). Narendradeva later returned to Hadigaon.

Lichchavis brought Indian heritage to Nepal. Sanskrit was the court language and the script was brought from India. They used similar administrative, judicial and legislative terms and used the Indian (?) eras, Saka Samvat, till late 6th century. There was constant touch with India through commerce and pilgrimage and Gupta influence in art, especially stone sculptures, was quite apparent. There was frequent intermarriage with Indian royalties eg. Manadeva’s mother Rajyavati was of Indian descent.

Tibet’s records are silent about Nepal’s vassalage but China’s annals refer to Nepal’s vassal state because of Tibetan help to Narendradeva in regaining the throne (Slusser, 1982). The Gopalaraja vamsavali confirms Nepal was subservient to Bhota but Nepali records make no mention of this.

Tibetan records tell of two Buddhist princesses, Bhrikuti of Nepal and a Chinese princess who were sent to marry Song-tsen Gampo, a powerful king of Tibet (627-650 AD). They are credited with introducing Buddhism to Tibet. Though Bhrikuti was said to be the daughter of Amsuvarman, he had been dead for 20 years by the date of the marriage so the princess was probably daughter of Bhaumarjunadeva, Visnugupta or even Narendradeva. (Slusser, 1982).

Lichchavis administered the state skillfully according to established laws. Complex institutions were set up that regulated the relationship between the ruler and the ruled and between the men and gods. Taxes were levied and compulsory labour was exacted for irrigation and public works. Trade was fundamental. Land tenure was closely regulated and state was concerned with farmers’ agricultural and livestock production (Slusser, 1982).

Guthis, based on Indian gosthi, was an important practice. Society was hierarchically stratified by caste and occupation was caste based and enforced through the office of the bhattadhikarana. Although the official language of the court was Sanskrit and Indian Gupta script was used, indigenous people spoke their mother tongue, Kirat or proto-Newari (Slusser, 1982).

Lichchavi towns must have followed Sanskrit ritual literature rules for creating towns, based on the Vastu Purusa Mandala represented by the Ekasiti Pada or 9x9 grid of 81 squares. Brahma is said to preside over the 9 central squares and the palace and other important buildings were placed there. The 8 cardinal points were controlled by territorial deities and watch guards. The Hindu city was supposed to represent the cosmos and Manasara prescribed 8 plans: Dandaka, Sarvatobhadra, Namdyavarta, Padmaka, Svastika, Prastara, Karmuka, Chaturmuka (Tiwari, 2001).

By the 4th century Siva Pasupati was the most important deity of Nepal. At about the same time, Dolasikhara-swami (Changunarayan) was installed and these two gods were held in highest esteem. Durga worship was also made. By the beginning of 5th century Vrisadeva built Svayambhu. Then Dharmadeva built the Chabahil chaitya. Bouddhanath was built probably by Sivadeva. Hundreds of miniature stone stupas or chaityas were built. Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism was practiced and by Amsuvarman’s time Vajrayana was also practiced. Monasteries (viharas) were set up where monks and nuns resided. Mathas, their Hindu counterparts, were also built. Endowments were made to temples and monasteries. There appeared to be harmonious relationship between the two religions (Slusser, 1982).

Tiwari’s view seems to differ somewhat on this matter. According to him, there appears to have been continuous conflict between the two religions. Buddhist legend tried to discredit Mandeva by describing how the Makara turned back at the sight of the son killing his father at Narayanhiti. On the other hand the Gopalarajavamsavali gave a milder account by saying it was done unknowingly. Tiwari believes Manadeva’s father’s death was a result of palace intrigue. Dharmadeva appears to have been killed because of his inclination towards sacrificial rites associated with Buddhist Yogini sect and presumably for erecting the Chabahil chaitya. He believes an act of regicide and patricide was committed (Tiwari, 2001).

According to Gopalarajavamsavali, Vrisadeva, the great grandfather of Manadeva, built Svayambhu chaitya. Tiwari thinks he was apparently sacrificed at a water conduit. No conduit is observed today. As per the Svayambhu purana, Shantikaracharya erected Svayambhu to protect the spot of the primordial lotus and went into self-internment at Shantikara temple just as Vrisadeva was supposed to have done. Closer inspection of the temple reveals that it has been built over a stone conduit where today access is denied to the sanctum which is built over the conduit. Vrisadeva’s (Shantikara) self-sacrifice probably may have been performed for peace among society. Similarly, Dharmadeva (Dharmapala) was probably executed at Sankhu, home of the Yogini (Tiwari, 2001).

Miniature chaityas of the Buddhists called chibahs, more correctly Masiri-dega (Mansiri-dega>Manjushri-dega) were the Buddhist equivalent of the Hindu practice of dedicating Siva linga to dead parents. Chaityas were suppressed following the rule of Manadeva, briefly resurfaced in the 12th century and again suppressed till the 17th century, even in Patan (Tiwari, 2001).

Lecture 4


By early Lichchavi period, settlements existed at Sanga (Sangagrama), Banepa, Nala, Panauti, Khopasi, Palanchowk, Dumja and probably Dolakha, Lele (Lembatidrangga), Chitlang valley and even upto Gorkha. Within the Valley settlements occurred at Daxinakoligram, Deopatan, Hadigaon, Budhanilkantha, Thankot, Naxal (Jonjondingrama), Jamal (Jamayambi), Kisipidi (Kichpringgrama) etc. (Slusser, 1982).

During Lichchavi period, grama meant settlement of Lichchavi creation or expansion and are not indicative of villages. Drangga was not a physical classification but a type of administrative power given by the state (Tiwari, 1982). Pringga generally referred to settlements on the crests of hillocks and the suffix was never used for places with Sanskrit names. This suggests pringgas refer to settlements from Kirata period whose names had remained popular for a long time eg. Khopringgrama pradesha (eastern part of Bhaktapur), Jolpringgrama (NW of Thankot), Lohpring and Muhpring (E and NE of Pasupati). Settlements on slopes of hillocks usually carried the suffix “dula” such as Kadulagrama, Mekandidula, today’s Kupandole etc.

Lichchavi towns were situated along a number of trade routes crisscrossing the valley. The towns were fairly compact with distinct urban character. Apart from agriculture including production of cash crops, other activities were pursued such as animal and fish farming, mining and metal processing, cotton weaving, forestry, trading etc. Weaving of cloth was practiced at Thankot which is still continued. There was extensive trading with the southern neighboring states and high levels of commercial activities existed as evidenced by minted coins and measuring units and scales. Such non-agriculture activities indicate certain degree of urbanization. The defense and administrative services also appear to be highly organized into functional departments and regional divisions for taxation and security etc. Many types of taxes were levied e.g. on land, orchard produce such as garlic and onions, exports, cloth, oil, shops, agriculture implements, animal farming, entertainment etc. Tax collection centres were located close to temples and at the palace gates. Settlements do not appear to be walled as in the later Malla period. Pedestrian and wheeled traffic routes linked the different settlements and the roads had various classifications such as marga, mahapath, brihatpath, hastimarga etc.

Unlike during the earlier times when settlements were laid on the lower slopes of the hills and drinking water sources were close by, many Lichchavi settlements were located on the high lands (tar) of the valley, far away from hill water sources and in areas with relatively low water tables. To provide them with adequate water, the Lichchavis developed ponds with deep wells or which were fed by canals bringing water over great distances. Sometimes naturally available water veins or reservoirs were used to supply water to depressed pit conduits (dhunge dharas). The distance from the source or reservoir determined the depth of the pit conduits. Some of the dhunge dharas are still working today.

The towns were either palace centric or temple centric. Palace centric towns were the capital city with the palace as the central focus. Maneswar (Hadigaon) where Managriha was built was the first palace centric town. Temple centric towns were built around important temples. Some of the early temple centric towns were Bhringagrama (Sunakothi), Lembatigrama (Lele), Bungamati, Deopatan and Narasimhagrama (near Budhanilkantha). Settlements also grew up around the tax offices which formed the central urban space such as at Stharudrangga (Chapagaon) and Kichpringgrama (Kisipidi). By late Lichchivi or early Malla period towns came to polarize around centres having both a temple and tax offices. Stone water conduits were often built near these complexes. As taxes were collected close to the water spouts, these were frequently referred to as “bhansar dhara”. In palace centric towns the palace gates served as tax collection points and location of water conduits (Tiwari, 1989).

The Lichchavis established Dakshinkoligrama at the confluence of Bagmati and Vishnumati. Bajracharya and Slusser believe the name was derived from Koligrama which existed to the north. Tiwari refutes this argument by proposing that the name was derived from the people of "Kaula sect" who practiced Tantrik worship facing east so that their right hands lay to the south (Tiwari, 1982).

Hadigaon was the capital of early Lichchavis and the location of Mangriha, the palace of Manadeva. Gopararajavamsavali refers to Hadigaon as Nandala. It was known as Andipringga but acquired the Sanskrit name Haripura during the transitional period which changed to Harigrama, Harigaon and finally to Hadigaon (clay pot village- special clay extracted to form telia bricks (Slusser, 1982). It lay on the principal trade route from Daxinakoligram to Tibet on the Kampo-Yambi route (linking present day Kapan and Indrachowk). It remained the capital until the capital was shifted to Kathmandu during the transitional period.

According to the Bhasavamsavali King Gunakamadeva is supposed to have built Gunapo palace and established Kathmandu in the form of a sword between the Bagmati and Vishnumati rivers as per the advice of Goddess Mahalaxmi in a dream. This legend was probably a way of legitimizing the shifting of the capital city from Hadigaon to Kathmandu sometime during 942-1008 AD. The Kampo-Yambi highway probably formed the centre line of the sword and confirmed the amalgamation of Yambi and Yangala (north and south Kathmandu).

Bhavanas refer to palaces. Viharas were called viharas but no mention is made of chaityas which were probably included in the viharas. Prasada as well as bhavana was also used to refer to Hindu structures housing images of gods or Sivalinga. Palaces were located within settlements whereas viharas seemed to be situated in rural areas, a few being located within or on the fringe of urban areas. Temples were also generally sited within settlements and often formed the central space. Six palaces are mentioned in the Lichchavi inscriptions: Dakshinrajakula, Managriha, Kailashkuta bhavana, Bhadradivasa bhavana, Salamburajabasaka and Pundrirajakula (Tiwari, 1989).


Anshuvarman mentions this palace and probably refers to a very old palace, older than Mangriha. D. Bajracharya suggests it was located at Hanuman Dhoka but Tiwari believes it lay SE of Jaisedeval and south of Hadigaon, across all rivers in Patan. He suggests it refers to the Kirata palace around Patukodon since chronicles mention last palace of the Kiratas to be the first palace of the Lichchavis. The site was also known as the centre of practice of “Daxina Buddhism” (Tiwari, 2001).


Manadeva built Managriha during his long reign of 464-505 AD. He probably felt the need to build a new palace because of the patricide, however, the new palace was named after him by his son only after his death. The first edict was issued by his successor Vasantadeva in 506 AD which began with “Um Swasti Managrihat” and symbolized the palace as the seat of power (Tiwari, 2001). Edicts continued to be issued from the palace until 641 AD by Bhimarjunadeva, the puppet king under Vishnugupta who lived in Kailashkutabhawana.

Jayadev II’s Narayan Chaur edict describes Managriha as an extensive walled compound, pierced with several gateways and contained a “preksanamandapi”. From Amshuvarman’s description, the palace housed the royal family and many palace functionaries. It also contained a number of shrines and temples and a stable for coronation horse and elephant (Slusser, 1982). Managriha probably was of trikuta design and had a moat around it. There were public entrances on the east and west sides. A Siva linga temple existed in the north-west corner of the main central court. To the south there was a forecourt with a pavilion for public audience. The outermost court or raja-agana had a prekshana-mandapi to its south which was a pavilion to screen visitors to the palace.

Both the Jayadev II and Amshuvarman edicts are in Hadigaon and refer to Managriha, probably indicating its location there. According to Slusser, Karttikeya, the commander of the gods, which normally graces temples in the capital city has six faces, six arms, twelve eyes and twelve or six ears. Such a statue appears to the west of Hadigaon, guarding the western gate, thereby confirming the capital city status of Hadigaon and the location of Managriha there. (Slusser, 1982) Tiwari locates the palace to the area generally north of Bal Mandir and to the SE of the current Manamaneswori temple (Tiwari, 2001). Coins were minted during the Lichchavi period and there was a place referred to as Tamrakuttasala close to Managriha. The Kampo-Yambi highway was supposed to have passed at some distance from the palace to the west.


Kailashkutabhavana was built by Amshuvarman (605-621 AD). Construction may have begun during the time of Sivadeva I, predecessor of Amshuvarman when citizens of Kurppasi (Khopasi) were instructed to furnish 50 varieties of clay for the door opening festival and Kailasha festival. This suggests the palace may have been whitewashed as was the practice in contemporary India. First edict from the palace was issued in 605 AD. The Guptas who usurped power and later Narendradeva (643-679) and his descendents till Jayadeva II issued edicts from Kailashkuta bhavana, denoting that the ruler had shifted residence from Managriha to Kailashkutabhavana (Slusser, 1982).

Two steles, first dated 606 AD erected by Amshuvarman are located at a dabali at the east end of Hadigaon. One addresses the palace officers and seeks their obedience and was probably located in the centre of the palace or at the main gate. The other inscription is about the amount of annual grant to religious and administrative institutions from the state treasury and was probably located outside the palace gate dealing with such grants. The location of the steles suggest the palace was situated somewhere near Dabali of Hadigaon (Tiwari, 2001).

According to Chinese annals, the Chinese ambassador Wang Hsuan Tse described Kailashkutabhavana as a “storied structure 200 tch’eu high and 80 pou (400 ft.) in circumference able to accommodate 10,000 men. It is divided into three terraces, each divided into 7 storeys. In the four pavilions there are sculptures which are decorated with gems and pearls. In the middle of the palace there is a tower seven storeys high roofed with copper tiles. Its balustrades, grilles, columns, beams and everything are set with gems and semi-precious stones. At each of the four corners of the tower descend copper water pipes, at the base of which water spout forth from water dragons. From the summit of the tower, water is poured into troughs which gushes forth like fountains from the mouth of dragons” (Slusser, 1982).

The Chinese ambassador’s description suggests the palace was of Trikuta design, i.e. with three courtyards, probably as Tiwari suggests in the North-south axis (Tiwari, 2001). There was no exit from the NE to the south. The South Gate was provided a much higher grant than the other gates suggesting it was the main gate which had a military checkpoint and tax and administrative offices for the different parts of the valley. The reference to Pratalya also seems to suggest there was either a chariot way or a covered walkway linking the south gate to the inner courts. Then there was the west gate from the lower court which also had a security checkpoint indicating the south court was accessible to the public. Above it in the middle court was the Managriha gate also facing west and above it another gate. A gate also existed in the north side. The middle court led only to Managriha while the west gate on the upper court led to a still older palace Madhyamarajakula built by Bhumiverman, the first Lichchvi king to set up his capital in Andipringga. As no security barriers appear to have been set up in the Mangriha gate, Madhyamarajkula gate and the north gate, there probably was free passage between the palaces which would suggest that they were contiguous (Tiwari, 2001).

Classical texts required gates to the east so its absence probably meant that access was not possible because of a stream or a lake to the SE. The Chinese ambassador also mentioned a lake was visible from the terrace (Tiwari, 2001). Impressive waterworks leads one to believe that the water mechanic held an important position and this is substantiated by the higher salary allocated to him.

The palace structure was probably constructed mainly of wood and bricks as indicated by the bricks with Amsuvarman’s name unearthed in Hadigaon. (Slusser, 1982) Kailashkuta bhavana had more than four temples and five gates. However, there is no mention of the temples in the Chinese annals which should not have missed these when such a detailed description of the palace had been provided. This would probably indicate that the temples were either not grand structures or did not form focal points in the squares or were confined to the private quarters of the palace. It appears palace temples were given prominence only later during the Malla period (Tiwari, 2001).

Slusser argues that Kailashkutabhavana was probably located in Kathmandu in the vicinity of Jaisideval because of the presence of the statue of Kartikkaya in the vicinity whereas Tiwari firmly believes the palace was located in Hadigaon, to the SE of Managriha and Manamaneshwari, to the south of Gahana Pokhari which was the source of the water for the palace waterworks (Tiwari, 2001).


Narendradeva issued three edicts between 671-679 AD from Bhadradhivasa bhavana. Slusser suggests it refers to Kailashkutabhavana, not another palace, used while it was being repaired (Slusser, 1982). Tiwari disagrees and suggests Bhadradhivasabhavana could be a palace located in Patan where Narendradeva took up residence after he was ousted from Kailashkutabhavana due to palace intrigue as a result of his attraction to Buddhism (Tiwari, 2001).


Lichchavi inscriptions indicate existence of 14 viharas. Srimanadeva vihara, Abhayaruchi vihara, Chaturbhalatanasana vihara, Kharjurika vihara, Madhyama vihara, Sivadeva vihara and Varta Kalyanagupta vihara were thought to lie in the same general area. Sriraja vihara which was also close to them was thought to lie NE of Gokarna. Thus all the above viharas were probably located between Chabahil and Gokarna. Sivadeva vihara is probably the same as Bouddhanath and Gum vihara lies at its current location at Vajrayogini (Tiwari, 2001).

There seems to be an absence of viharas in Patan during the Lichchavi period although there was a concentration of viharas during the medieval period. During the period following Lichchavi, a strong conflict appears to have developed between Brahmanism and Buddhism. Manadeva's father probably was a victim of such conflict. As a result there appears to be a total relocation of the Buddhist population of the area between Chabahil and Gokarna to Patan (Tiwari, 2001). The Lichchavi viharas probably housed celibate monks and nuns practicing Mahayana Buddhism and were generally located away from settlements. By the time of the transitional period, Bajrayana had fully flourished and celibate monks and nuns had given way to married bhikshus. The design and location of the viharas were changed to accommodate their married status. They came to be located within dense settlements (Tiwari, 2001). Locke, however, believes the two schools of Buddhism existed alongside since early Lichchavi times and Bajrayana slowly gained ascendancy until celibacy in monks died out altogether (Locke, 1985).

Gopalarajavamsavali informs that Vrisadeva built Swayambhu chaitya, Dharmadeva built Dharmode chaitya, Manadeva built Gum Vihara and Sivadeva I built Bouddhanath. The exact form of the earlier chaityas is difficult to determine as they are hidden within later enlarged structures. It was a common practice in India and Nepal to enlarge existing stupas while carefully preserving the original sacred structures within. It is therefore not uncommon to find original images within deep niches.

Dharmadeva stupa and Mahamayuri stupa (Gum vihara) are probably most approximate to their original size and appearance, however, the finial is probably of later date. The original structures of Swayambhu and Bouddha have been completely transformed during restorations (Slusser, 1982). Nothing is known of the original structures but the pointed finial with 13 stages became standard only after the 11th century (it increased from 5 to 9 to 13). The practice of painting eyes on the Harmika may also have begun only after the 15th century (Slusser, 1982).


Twenty-four temples are mentioned in the Lichchavi inscriptions. Pashupati and Dolashikharaswami (Changu Narayan) were of greatest importance. Changu predates Manadeva, whereas he is credited with the construction of Maneshwara, current Manamaneshwari where Siva linga is placed inside the temple (Tiwari, 2001). Jalasayi Narayana (Budhanilkantha) was established by Vishnugupta. Other important temples were Kailashwara, Narasimhadeva, Rameshwara, Hansagrihadeva etc.

The Lichchavis used specific suffixes to denote the dedicated god. Swami was used to denote Vishnu, Iswara to denote Shiva, Deva to denote Vishnu avatars and Devakula to denote Kirata temples or temples housing more than one image Temples were not the major elements of central urban spaces such as palace squares. This form was developed much later by the Mallas (Tiwari, 2001).

Multi-tiered temples of brick and timber probably existed during Lichchavi time. This can be determined partly by Wang Hsuan tse’s description of Lichchavi structures but mainly from Amshuvarman’s 610 AD edict where he had donated funds for the restoration of a temple in Matingrama (Sundhara tol, Patan) because “the bricks had been disturbed and the timber of the doors and windows had become old and broken” (Slusser, 1982). This brick and timber temple Matin-devakula, which housed mother goddesses, was obviously non-Lichchavi and of Kirata origin.

Italian excavation at Hadigaon discovered the foundations of a temple dating to the 2nd century BC. The foundation was of a typical Navagraha plan (nine holes in foundation) based on Vastupurushamandala (Tiwari, 2001). This is an example of a brick and timber temple, square in plan, probably with sloping roofs. The temple is credited to the Kirata period but such structures must definitely have influenced Lichchavi construction. Lichchavi period small temples were built of timber posts with bricks as infill. Such temples were common in India in the early Gupta period. It was only during the Malla period when the structural materials were reversed, with bricks serving as the structural element and timber as the filler material.

According to chronicles, Haridattavarman, an undocumented Lichchavi king is credited with the construction of four hilltop temples dedicated to Narayana: Changu Narayan, Ichangu Narayan, Sikhara Narayan and Lokapalasvamin. The last temple along with the town of Hamsagrihadranga where it was located exists no more. Currently Bishankhu Narayan is referred to as the lost temple.

Gunakamadeva is credited with the repair of the 5 storied Pashupati temple and remodeling it into a 3 storied temple. Since the technology of constructing more than two tiers was developed much later, this does not seem plausible. Both types of ambulatory temples, the chariot and palanquin (ratha and khata) were familiar in Lichchavi times. The jatra of Machchindranatha was regulated by Narendradeva.

Stone and brick shikara type of temples, familiar in India, were also probably known in Lichchavi period. Nepali worship is fundamentally an individual matter so Nepali temples have no provision for congregation as in the Indian temples.


Simple shrines of Lichchavi period housing Sivalingas and referred to as “avarana” can still be found in the Pasupati and Lele area. These were probably one of the earliest forms of shrines. They consisted of four short stone columns set directly in the ground. The columns were almost triangular in cross section but flat on the two exterior faces and had decorative emblems in the upper part. The roof was a 4-8 inch thick flat monolithic slab with sloping sides set directly on the stone columns. Finials were short stubby amalakas carved separately and placed on the roof (Slusser, 1982). Later shrines appear to have been raised from a square stone plinth, joined at the corner junctions with half-lap joints with dowels at the corners to house the columns.

During late Lichchavi/early transitional period shrines became larger and more elaborate. Shrines were raised on moulded courses, the image or linga was set on an elevated platform, columns were engaged into hollowed out lintels, above it was a beam and on it was set a roof composed of diminishing square and octagonal slabs, finished with an amalaka and a bulbous terminus (Slusser, 1982).

Votive chaityas of Lichchavi origin are still found and range from 2-4 ft. high. These are of monolithic stone and composed of 3 principal sections: the drum, dome and finial. The chaityas, except for a few are all raised on plinths. Sometimes the plinth is elaborate and appears to be a virtual square temple with exterior niches facing the cardinal points. In some rare cases the plinth makes the dome almost non-existent and it becomes difficult to even refer to it as a chaitya (Slusser, 1982).

Plinth may consist of diminishing stages with niches. The niches could be 4 major and 4 minor niches or all of equal size. This could refer to the eightfold path or eight principal events of Buddha’s life. The niches are empty or have carved images. Metal or stone images were probably installed in the empty niches during certain occasions (Slusser, 1982).

The Medhi of the Lichchavi chaityas were plain while the domes were polished hemispheres and there was slight variations in their form and size. The polish of the dome is one of the distinguishing features of the Lichchavi period, similar to the practice in India during that period. The finial consisted of a plain cube, the harmika, and above it a diminishing squat pyramid of 3 or 4 steps. Most of the 13 stage finials found on Lichchavi chaityas are of later date as the original finials were replaced either because they had been destroyed by treasure hunters or were purposely removed so as to make them conform to later Buddhist doctrines (Slusser, 1982).

Some of the chaityas seem to be faithful copies of existing larger buildings of the period. They point to the existence of sixteen-legged (4x4) column structures commonly used later in temples and dharamshalas. Octagonal colonnaded temples may also have existed as indicated by the chaityas and their existence in contemporary India. The columns appear square and undecorated at the bottom but change through several decorative layers to circular form at the top and support brackets/capitals as in a typical post-and-lintel construction. This type of construction is evident in existent brick and timber construction of later periods (Slusser, 1982).

That the Malla style architecture was probably derived from Lichchavi structures is made evident by the fact that: the Matingrama inscription referred to a temple with wooden windows; the style was well developed by the 11th century when the Kasthamandap was constructed; and the earliest known Newar style temple of Indreswara Mahadev at Panauti constructed in 1294 already showed a matured architectural style (Slusser, 1982). The respect for the tradition and practice of reconstructing temples according to the original guidelines probably prevented innovations in construction and style and helped maintain much of the original character of the temples. (Parajuli, 1986). The presence of Lichchavi chaityas within courtyards also indicates that common houses were probably built around courtyards as in later periods. Wang Hsuan tse had reported that Nepali houses were built of wood and were sculptured and painted (Slusser, 1982).


The inscription of Lele of 604 AD provides details about organizations such as Arogyashala (home for the recovery of health), Pradeepa Gansthikas (organization for maintenance of city lighting), Paniyashala (organization responsible for potable water supply), Malla Yuddha Gasthika (troupe of wrestlers for entertainment), Pranali Gasthika (unit responsible for maintenance of canals), Goyuddha (bull fighting establishment) etc. This shows the town had water, lighting, health and entertainment services. From this one can deduce that larger towns probably had even more elaborate and developed services (Tiwari, 2001).

As towns moved to higher lands in the valley floor during Lichchavi periods, the problem of supplying water to large urban population became acute. Earlier settlements were closer to water sources, closer to the mountain slopes. Later the easy water sources were far away and sub-surface water level tended to be low. To solve this problem the Lichchavis created pit or recessed “gairidharas” called pranalis. Water was brought over long distances by digging channels from source, usually through covered channels. The water passed through gravel/sand filter and was stored in reservoirs behind the retaining wall with the conduit. The oldest known dhara of 554 AD built in Hadigaon is still in use. Some of the other Lichchavi period stone water spouts are Gairidhara at Naxal, dhara at Naxal Bhagwati, dhara near Jaisideval, Manidhara in Patan Durbar square.

Dharamsalas and patis were common in Lichchavi times as evidenced by the Kasthamandap. Apart from the gairidharas, spigot fountains (reservoir of drinking water known as jaladroni and sometimes siladroni), large reservoirs (khataka) and irrigation canals were prevalent (Slusser, 1982).

Lecture 5


After the inscriptions of Jayadev II (713-733 AD) there are very little records, fewer than a dozen inscriptions, no coins and no foreign accounts. However, there are thousands of manuscripts mainly of Buddhist texts copied in the Valley viharas. Most texts close with remarks on place, name of king, date of completion etc. which are good sources of information.

The first manuscript to use Nepal Sambat was completed in 907 AD. It is composed in Sanskrit but uses different style of writing in old Newari or Nepalakhala. Subsequent documents all use the Nepal Sambat (Slusser, 1982).

Thakuris were probably descendents of Lichchavi kings as their cultural practices were similar. There are no records of foreign intrusions. A series of weak kings probably began to result in the carving up of the state into smaller units. Gunakamadeva (942-1008 AD), a king of some significance, is credited with founding Kathmandu, probably restructuring it into a shape of a sword. Political power gradually shifted to Bhaktapur and Banepa. In 1147 AD Anandadeva became “supreme king” and established himself at the new palace of Tripura at the western end of Bhaktapur. From then on till the close of 15th century Bhaktapur was the capital city.

Tibet had earlier turned west to Kashmir for Buddhist learning but after the end of 10th century till 12th century they began to look south for teachers, texts and cult objects. Tibetans went to study in monasteries of India and Nepal. Patan developed as a Buddhist university town with its many viharas (Slusser, 1982). After the 12th century there was a marked decline in Buddhism.

MALLAS 1200-1769

There are no records of external aggression so Mallas were probably titles assumed by descendents of earlier rulers. The period between 1200 – 1382 AD was a continuation of the transitional period; the period between 1382 – 1482 was a time of relative stability under strong rulers while the time between 1482 – 1769 saw the break-up of the kingdom and continuous infighting between brother states (Slusser, 1982).

There was no significant king in the early period and the throne appeared to alternate between two or more families. Since mid 12th century Bhaktapur had been the capital and kings who titled themselves Mallas ruled from it. The kingdom beyond of Bhota (Banepa-Panuati-Palanchowk) was more powerful and was ruled by hereditary nobles who paid nominal allegiance to the Valley king. Because the valley kingdom was weak, it suffered a series of devastating raids from the Khasa and Mithila kingdoms and the Muslims of India.

The first king to write Malla was Arimalla (1200-1216). Because of weak kings nobles took over power and were de-facto rulers. Rudramalla, a principal noble of Bhaktapur, was the main power broker in 1317 AD during the reign of Anandadeva II. He installed Arimalla II, the king of his choice, even while Anandadeva II was still alive. Upon Rudramalla’s death, his only girl child Nayakadevi was declared his legal heir. The girl was raised by Rudramalla’s mother, assisted by Devaladevi, wife of Harisimha, who was given refuge in Bhaktapur after the last king of Mithila died en route to Dolakha after fleeing the Muslims. For the next three decades, Devaladevi played a powerful and manipulative role in the affairs of the state. Nayakadevi was first married to a prince from Benares who was poisoned. Nayakadevi was then married to Devaladevi’s son Jagatsimha. Their daughter Rajalladevi was taken care of by Devaladevi who then married her only granddaughter to Sthitimalla, probably a native of Mithila, who was later to become king (Slusser, 1982).

Khasas ruled Western Nepal (Karnali Basin) between 11th – 14th century and raided the valley 6 times between 1287 – 1334 AD. Unlike the raids by the Muslims and Mithila kings, the Khasas plundered the people but spared the temples and shrines. Their kings also assumed the title of Malla and their capital was north of Jumla at Sinja or closer to the Tarai at Dullu. Remains of temples, images, fountains and inscriptions lie scattered throughout the kingdom (Slusser, 1982).

In 1349 Sultan Shams-ud-din plundered the valley, smashed the Pasupati four faced linga and damaged Svayambhu and other sites. Sthitimalla co-ruled with Arjunadeva from 1372 AD but became king in 1382 until his death in 1395 AD. He gave stability to Nepal, rebuilt Svayambhu in 1372, 23 years after its destruction by the Muslims. Historical records show he set up new offices such as pradhana, pramana. He is credited with the caste system but this had been evident since the Lichchavi times. He probably codified and gave the custom the force of law (Slusser, 1982).

Yakshamalla, grandson of Sthitimalla, maintained control over kingdom till his death (1428-1482 AD). His 6 sons were left to rule jointly but they broke up the kingdom after his death. In 1484, Yakshamalla’s second son Ratnamalla seized Kathmandu and after sharing rule with his younger brother Arimalla, became sole ruler. Rayamalla, eldest brother ruled Bhaktapur collegially with his brothers. After his death the throne passed on to his descendents. Patan was ruled by powerful mahapatras, hereditary nobles. Ratnamalla’s descendents wrested control from the nobles in 1597 AD after which it actually came under Malla rule.

After Yakshamalla’s death the Malla kingdom, in effect, broke up into 3 kingdoms: Bhaktapur-Dolakha, Kathmandu-Nuwakot, and Patan-Pharping and Chitland Valley. Each capital city was a walled fortress. Patan and Bhaktapur had moats or partial moats. Even Pharping and Nuwakot as well as small towns and villages were fortified. Forts were normally built on ridges and hilltops.

Pratapmalla, ruler of Kathmandu during 1641-1674, was a ruler of consequence while the father-son-grandson rulers of Patan, Siddhinarsimha, Srinivasa and Yoganarenda were responsible for making Patan beautiful.

The goddess Taleju was known since Lichchavi times and Maneswori was one of her manifestations. Taleju was also widely worshipped in Mithila and other parts of India. Taleju worship increased in the valley with Mithila influx in the valley in the 14th century. Her nickname Domaju meant mother goddess of Doya (Maithali). Sthitimalla made her his lineage deity (kuladevata) and chose her as his personal deity (istadevata) which was continued by later kings. Although Pashupati outranked her in official records, she was close to the Mallas and was offered rich offerings and imposing temples (Slusser, 1982).

Mughal influence was noticed in Malla court; domes served Hindu temples from 17th century. Trade with Tibet intensified during late Malla rule, especially in the reign of Pratap Malla. By the time of the 3 kingdoms Tibetans came to care for and rehabilitate the prestigious but decaying Buddhist shrines. In 1971, Tibetan lamas repaired Svayambhu and introduced prayer wheels and Bouddhanatha and Namobuddha were rebuilt to Tibetan taste during late Malla period.

After the formation of the three kingdoms, rivalry between them led to the refinement in art and architecture. The 18th century restoration of Svayambhu by Tibetan lamas was funded by Jayaprakash Malla and Prithvi Narayan Shah.

SHAH & RANAS (1769-present; 1846-1950)

Drabya Shah founded Gorkha in 1559 AD. Ram Shah (1614-1636) ruler of Gorkha concluded a treaty with Siddhinarasimha of Patan and invited Newar traders to Gorkha. Prithvi Pati Shah became blood brother (Meet) of Kathmandu king Nripendra in 1678 AD.

In 1685 Gorkhalis embarked on winning the Malla kingdoms. Prithvi Narayan Shah seized Nuwakot in 1744 and began the economic blockade of the Valley, finally seizing Kathmandu in 1768, then Patan and Bhaktapur in1769 AD. Prithvi Narayan Shah preferred the Newar culture to that of the Mughals practiced by the Mallas. Thus he continued the traditional designs in his buildings.

Bahadur Shah, younger brother of Prithvi Narayan Shah, was responsible for expansion of borders mainly to the west. By 1790, 15 years after the death of Prithvi Narayan Shah, the frontiers had been pushed to the present boundary. Because of palace intrigues and weak kings, prime minister wielded power and there was constant power struggle between the Thapas and the Pandeys. Jung Bahadur Kunwar killed the nobles in the Kot massacre of 1846 and assumed absolute power. The Ranas ruled till 1950 after which the Shahs regained the throne.

Lecture 6


Much of the Malla architecture that can be observed today began with the coming to power of Jayasthitimalla in 1382. The time of the Mallas, especially after the breakup of the kingdom, is often referred to as the golden period of art and architecture in Nepal. The relative political stability and wealth from agriculture and trade as well as the rivalry among the three cities to outdo each other led to highly developed urban spaces and architectural forms.

After the establishment of Tripura palace at the western end of Bhaktapur in 1147 by Anandadeva, efforts were made to reshape the city along the Astamatrika plan, whereby the matrikas were placed around the periphery of the town with the temple of Tripura Sundari at the centre. The theoretical pattern could not be strictly followed because of the elongated shape of the town. In Kathmandu the perimeter goddesses were believed to be placed on the periphery of a sword shaped plan during the reign of Gunakamadeva (c. 10th century). By encircling the city with the statues of Astamatrikas, the king achieved the twin objectives of sanctifying the city as well as demarcating its territorial limits. The shrines also acted as a barrier to check unplanned urban sprawl and in effect the city grew through infill development.

In Nepal the passage from rural to urban did not imply an abrupt change in construction patterns or difference in economic activities as in the west. The majority of the city dwellers were engaged in agriculture and the buildings and settlement patterns of the rural areas resembled those of the cities and towns. Tar land was not good for agriculture so all settlements were built on the uplands. The fertile low lands were reserved for agricultural purposes. This practice was continued until recent times and was disregarded during the rapid urbanization during the 80s and 90s.

Movements within the city were designed for the Gods, the living and the dead. The movement of the Gods was designed along major streets for the movement of chariots and festivals from temple to temple, palace and piths. The movement of the living was designed to allow them to fulfil their functional requirements: performing the daily religious rituals such as bathing in rivers and sacred ponds and offering pujas to Gods, going to farms and markets. These movements generated a pattern of movement connecting the rivers, ponds, temples, farms and markets to the residences. Towns were normally located on high lands close to water sources to meet such requirements and temples were even located at river sides so a person could retain his purity after the ritual bath before offering puja. As farmlands were all around the settlements, there was growth of radial roads leading out to the farms and rivers. The streets would join as they reached the town and the nodal points developed into squares. The squares gained social importance as they got progressively closer to the city centre, finally converging on the Durbar square which was the central nodal point.

It was considered inauspicious for the dead to encounter the gods on the way to the funeral ghats. Thus the route for the dead followed narrow back lanes, avoiding the routes of the wheeled chariots of Gods, never going over bridges and only when it was physically impossible, the route of lesser Gods was taken. The stoppage and intermingling was designed only for the Gods and the living, resulting in squares, while no nodes were designed for the dead (Tiwari, 1989).

The streets were always designed in straight line segments; at every turn a temple or religious landmark was placed. The reduction of the streets into short straight sections reduced the visual effect of narrowness. Intersections were usually developed into a small square so as to bring in more light and sky into visual play. The bounding surfaces of the streets were designed and treated for visual harmony, through uniformity in building sections, elevational treatment of doors and windows, roofs and horizontal elements. The sloping ga-jhya on the upper floor allowed observance of the street activities from the privacy of the house. It was designed not for sun and sky but for a better field of vision of the street below (Tiwari, 1989).

Hierarchy of squares was maintained in Malla towns in accordance to social cultural activity: the Durbar square or central square, the market square, the residential neighbourhood square and the private residential square. All except the private residential square were located at nodal points or where directional change occurred in the streets (Tiwari, 1989).

The private residential square was bounded by houses of the same extended families and was connected to the street through a doorway. The square could have a votive miniature temple or a well. The residential neighborhood square often housed a large number of extended families, often belonging to the same clan. It differs visually from the private residential square in that two or more streets come to meet there. They have public religious edifices such as temples or a large water spout. Being basically residential squares, the temples are not of dominating volume.

The market square is remarkable for its heightened sense of urban space. It is the typical nodal square located at street intersections and often has more than one element of visual focus. The element of surprise is heightened by the fact that the main focus is often the last to be seen e.g. Nyatapola square. The tiered temples are visually dominant bounded by the uniform façade of commercial residential buildings. The axes of movement is changed leading to a different focus. Platforms are located for the transaction of produces but the squares are most active during times of cultural events.

The Durbar square is the apex in the hierarchy of urban open spaces. All the streets lead to it and it is flanked by the palace on one side and a whole phalanx of temples on the other side. Major temples or their replicas are located there. By royal decree all major festivities either began, passed through or ended in these squares and they came alive during the continuous cycle of festivities.

Temples became the dominant feature of the Durbar squares during the Malla period. It began with the construction of the lineage goddess Taleju Bhawani in the palace precincts of Tripura (c. 1300 AD) followed by the construction of temples in the palace foregrounds, ultimately rivaling the palaces for dominance of the squares. The temple building activity was so extensive that temples began to be erected even in the secondary and even smaller squares of the city, e.g. Kumbeshwara temple area (c. 1390 AD), Datratraya Matha area (c. 1450 AD), Nyatapola square (c. 1704), Jaisideval area and Indrachowk. Even street ends and corners began to look imposing with the introduction of the temples (Tiwari, 1989).

The main streets were paved with stones while side streets were paved with bricks. Water supply was based on a system of springs, wells and ponds. Natural underground water flows were connected to hitis. Water was also brought from distant sources to feed the hitis. Water for household and religious purposes was often drawn from wells. Water from the hitis and springs were collected in open tanks (pokharis) which were used for commercial and household purposes.

Jayasthitimalla had designated 36 kar or occupational groups such as Tamrakar, Silpakar, Chitrakar etc. and population was settled according to their occupation. The central palace was immediately ringed by the Pradhans, Amatyas etc. and other castes were settled in concentric patterns on a decreasing hierarchical order with the untouchables occupying the outermost outskirts of the city.

Occupational groups also tended to be loosely grouped in specified areas of the city. For example, in Patan, Jyapus were concentrated in the NE quarter of the town, bronze casters in the SE, goldsmiths in the NW, coppersmiths in the city centre. Certain towns also had specialized functions: Bhaktapur in dyeing and printing of cloth, Thimi in pottery, Khokana in oil pressing, Patan in metallurgy etc.

Mallas preferred bricks as the main structural material and used timber, richly carved , as the filler material, as opposed to the timber and stone preferred as structural elements by the preceding Lichchavis. Although wood carving probably existed during the Lichchavi period, the richly carved windows were a contribution of the Mallas. The Lichchavis were familiar with bricks but brick making was much more advanced during the Malla period. They introduced the polished telia bricks and the highly decorative brick moldings, which was not known to the Lichchavis.

Expansion of palaces was done through addition of quadrangles to an existing structure as it would require only two to three sides to complete the enclosure. Expansion took place normally in a geometric fashion, however, squares were often added in an informal pattern depending on the need or site/street layout.

Because of the religious dogma that dwellings should not be higher than the house of Gods, the settlements upto the 14th century probably did not exceed two storeys. Mahendra Malla is believed to have received divine inspiration to construct a three tiered temple dedicated to Taleju in Kathmandu. The architects were at a loss as to how to construct it and they built it in 1564 only after they had been enlightened by a sanyasi (Slusser, 1982). Thus it is apparent that temples with three or more tiers appeared only from the mid 16th century. This allowed the secular buildings also to be raised in height beginning from the late 16th century. The rationale for building vertically was necessitated by the growing population and the scarcity of inner urban land (Parajuli, 1986).

For the Malla period structures, foundations were generally built of bricks with or without footings as sometimes the width of the wall was considered adequate enough to serve as foundation. Floors consisted of wooden joists placed 4-6" apart laid over with wooden planks, clay and tiles. The roofs had ridges. The central post supporting the ridge beam was raised like a king post but without the supporting struts.

The roofing rafters were closely spaced, covered with planks and laid over with a thick layer of clay and tile on top. The heavy roof overhangs were supported on struts. The doors and windows were non-load bearing and were richly carved.



Residence of kings was similar to wealthy homes except that it was more elaborate and had more space and quadrangles. Woodworks were more intricately carved, double columns and brackets were used and floor joists were extended beyond the walls and carved at the ends. These were meshed with elaborate courses of decorative tiles and carved wood.

Sajhyas were expanded to form continuous galleries and projected as short brackets. Carved nonfunctional panels were attached on either side of doors with toranas over the doorways. Facing bricks of deep red lustrous glazed finish were used and tiles were used as protective cornices

Ground floors were used as guard room, reception (phalacha) and functions of the royal office. The royal chapel was a separate agamchem and other temples were scattered throughout the compound. The treasury was located in an attached garden known as the Bhandarkhal. There were no cat-windows in palaces suggesting dining areas were someplace else.

Expansion was made by attaching quadrangles instead of wings. Bhaktapur was once believed to have 99 quadrangles, Kathmandu 55 but Patan had less than a dozen (Slusser, 1982). Palaces served as forts and were referred to as kvachem. Tripura palace was known as kvachem and Patan palace as chaukota or four-cornered fort after a fortified building standing at its northern end. Palaces had pleasure pavilions, ponds, fountains, baths and gardens.

Despite the larger scale and richer embellishment, the palaces still retained the scale and harmony with the other buildings surrounding them, unlike the European palaces and the durbars of the Ranas. They had no special orientation and the addition of quadrangles was done in an informal manner so that the palaces did not require the wide axes and the large gardens of the Indian and Western palaces.

After the conquest of Prithvi Narayan Shah, Kathmandu served as the capital so the palace structures of Patan and Bhaktapur stopped functioning as the residence of kings and instead housed various departments. After 1885, the royal residence was shifted to the Narayan Hiti Durbar, which earlier belonged to Jung Bahadur’s brother Rana Uddip Singh, and the Hanuman Dhoka palace came to be used only for royal ceremonies such as coronations, marriages, festivals etc.


The palace lies in the centre of the city on the southern side of the traditional trans-Himalayan trade route. The name Hanumandhoka is derived from the image of Hanuman at the main gate. The palace squares and the temples were aligned to this route. The large square to the south and the entire street of New Road providing a new wider and direct access to the palace was created after the earthquake of 1934 after demolishing several southern quadrangles of the palace. Because of this late development the new square is devoid of the temples so plentiful in the old square. The new access also changed the orientation of the palace and separated it from large sections of its gardens in the south, which housed the royal stables.

Gunakamadeva is thought to have established the capital in the 10th century and built the palace. Slusser’s contention that the Lichchavis ruled from Kathmandu has been refuted by Tiwari who believes the Lichchavi capital to have remained at Hadigaon except for the brief period of Gunakamadeva’s rule (Tiwari, 2002).

The palace was much larger earlier; Oldfield reports there were 40-50 different courts of various sizes and names. Only till 150 years ago, the palace had 35 chowks and extended as far as the Nepal Bank building behind Bhugol park. The palace currently has 9 courtyards consisting of three centuries of accretion of interconnected palace buildings for domestic and official use of the royalty, along with private temples, shrines, ponds etc. After 1769 it was the palace of the king and received special importance at the expense of the other palaces. Extensive expansion and modifications were made so that much of its original appearance was lost.

The building activities of the earlier kings is not known but Ratnamalla seized Kathmandu from its nobles in 1482. He ruled from Hiti Chowk which has since disappeared but it seems certain he had taken over an established palace building. Hiti Chowk is once believed to have been a quadrangle to the north side of the road near the Kot (Slusser, 1982). He established a small Taleju temple near Tana-devata which lies to the north of the palace compound. Tana-devata is a Mother Goddess from the time of Sankaradeva (1069-1083 AD). Ratnamalla’s temple foundation may be the Mulchowk Taleju temple which is built into the southern side of the quadrangle. The Mulchowk was built in 1564 AD by Mahendra Malla in the shape of a vihara with a central square courtyard surrounded by two-storeyed buildings. The ground floor of the three wings of the quadrangle consists of open verandahs while the south wing contains the temple of Taleju. The temple door is flanked by statues of Ganga and Jamuna and is crowned by an impressive torana of the goddess. The chowk was used for important religious celebrations, especially related to Taleju, royal weddings, investiture of the crown prince and the coronation of the Malla kings. It was originally inhabited by only the priests. It was later restored by Pratapmalla and by Bhasker Malla in 1709. The chowk appears to be less affected by the continuous alterations and comprises of brick structures with richly carved doors and windows.

The oldest temples in the square were also constructed during the reign of Mahendramalla (1560-1574). These are Jagannath, Kotilingeswara Mahadev, Mahendreswara and the main Taleju temple. The largest and the most important structure in the whole complex is the three tiered temple of Taleju which was built in 1564. According to chronicles its design is supposed to have been of tantric inspiration. Mahendramalla is believed to have lived in Bhaktapur and worshipped Taleju. She was pleased with him and instructed him to build a temple to her in his palace in the form of a yantra (magic design). The architects did not know how to build it until they were enlightened by a sanyasi (Slusser, 1982). The square plan double enclosure temple is constructed on an elevated platform consisting of 12 stepped plinths. It is the highest structure within the palace complex and including the plinth rises to a height of about 37 metres. It is one of the most richly adorned temples of the city with metal roofs and lattice enclosure under the lowest roof. Twelve miniature chapels with double roof and traditional design are set at the 8th plinth while similar four corner shrines have been built on the subsequent plinth. It is open to the public only for a few days during Dasain, otherwise it is accessible only to the resident priests.

Karnel Chowk, also known as the Masan Chowk, is probably the oldest residential structure of which only the western wing of the old structure remains. There was an unfounded but popular belief that Malla kings were cremated there, thus the name. The west wing is modest in size, double-storey brick and timber structure with richly carved windows, and is certainly older than the rest of the palace, suggesting it presents the original appearance of the palace. A three tiered Bhagawati temple is built into the west wing and is believed to have been constructed by Jagajjaya Malla (1722-1735 AD). The idol of Nuwakot Bhagawati which was brought by Prithvi Narayan Shah from Nuwakot was installed in the vacant temple after the original figure of Mahipatindra Narayan was stolen in 1766 AD. It is not known whether Pratapmalla renovated these structures.

Sivasimha (1581-1619) built Degutale, another temple to Taleju, but it was apparently rebuilt by Pratapmalla. It is built into the northern wing of the Masan Chowk. It’s exterior is of glazed brick with carved timber windows, unlike the plastered and whitewashed surface of the adjoining palace wings. It has a three-tiered roof and is the largest of the palace temples.

Pratapmalla (1641-1674) carried out major expansion and renovation works and is mainly responsible for the character of the palace and its environment. He built the entrance (the current door was built by Bhimsen Thapa) and set up the Hanuman image. He built the main palace court of Nasal Chowk named after the image of Nasadyo (Nataraja) he installed in the eastern wall. This was where the king held meetings with his subjects. He also built the dabali for plays and dances, where the famed Harisiddhi dance troupe performed. The chowk gained further importance during the Shah period who used it for various ceremonies and for the coronation of the kings.

Pratapmalla added two new residential quadrangles to Nasal Chowk: the Mohan Chowk and the Sundari Chowk in 1649 AD and 1651 AD respectively which were the principal residential quarters. Both were remodeled in 1822 during the reign of King Rajendra Bikram and no longer reflect the earlier characteristics. The current structures are done in white plastered surface with recessed arched niches, reminiscent of Muslim design. He erected a three-tiered agamchem housing the private Malla deity and circular five-roofed temple to Hanuman in the corner of Mohan Chowk between 1650 and 1655 AD. He built the bath in Mohan Chowk, copied from the bath in Patan, which contained a sunken pit with a tap exquisitely formed of carved birds and animals and the walls lined with images of gods and goddesses. Near the bath was a metal figure of mandala and a large stone throne where the king performed his morning devotions. Around the courtyard were placed figures of the ten incarnations of Vishnu and Krishna at play.

Pratap Malla completely restored Mulchowk and improved Degutale. The restoration of Kathmandu Degutale was based on the design of the Degutale temple of Patan durbar built earlier by Siddhinarsimha Malla. He also built the octagonal temple of Vamsagopala dedicated to Krishna in 1649 in memory of his two Indian queens who had died that year. He also erected Indrapura temple in the northern palace square and the sattal named Kavindrapura to the east of Kasthmandap. He constructed a tank in Bhandarkhal and brought in the image of Jalasayana Narayana from a nearby pond. He also brought in and installed in the fountain of Sundari Chowk, the Lichchavi period 7th century statue of Kaliyadamana. The Kala Bhairav was also brought in from the place where the Jalasayana Narayana was found and installed it in its present location.

In 1679 Parthivendramalla constructed Trailokya Mohan (Dashavatara) dedicated to Vishnu. It is built on a five-stage plinth and has three roofs. The walls are plastered and whitewashed. The temple has an outer circum-ambulatory colonnaded passageway at the cella level.

In 1692 Queen Riddhilaxmi erected one of the tallest structures in the durbar square, the Siva temple of Maju-deval. It is three-tiered temple with plastered and whitewashed surface built on a high pedestal of receding size. The temple has a colonnaded ambulatory passageway at the ground floor level.

Jayaprakashmalla built the Kumari Ghar in 1756, also known as the Kumari bahal. It was based on the plan of a Buddhist vihara but incorporated features of domestic residence for use of the Kumari. It is a 3 storied structure with richly carved windows facing the streets and the inner courtyard, especially at the third storey.

Prithvi Narayan Shah built the Nautale Durbar in 1770 also known as Basantapur along with the four storey annex known as Tejarat Chowk (Lohan Chowk) because of the government loan office which was housed there at one time. The buildings were constructed in the traditional architecture as Prithvi Narayan believed in promoting local rather than foreign style. Three pavilions were constructed at the corners: the rectangular pavilion with the curved barrel roof at the NW corner representing Kirtipur, the octagonal pavilion at the NE corner representing Bhaktapur and the square pavilion at the SE corner representing Lalitpur. While the Mohan Chowk was the residential quarters of the Mallas, the Shahs preferred to live in Basantapur Chowk. It is believed the chowk was built vertically over existing smaller buildings and some of the pavilions were constructed later by Pratap Singh Shah and Rana Bahadur Shah. The wood carving in the courtyard as well as the Basantapur palace are of exceptional quality. From the Bhaktapur and Lalitpur pavilion, an excellent view of the gardens to the south as well as the temple of Taleju to the north could be obtained.

Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa enlarged the main palace entrance. Bahadur Shah (Rana Bahadur Shah?) constructed the Siva-Parvati temple as a single roofed two storey rectangular building in traditional style. It houses the Nava Durgas on the ground floor and the figure of Siva and Parvati gazing at the street below. He also installed the head of Seto Bhairava next to Degutale in 1795.

The south-western wing of Nhutachen Chowk was demolished and replaced by a neoclassical Gaddi Baithak by Chandra Sumshere in 1908. The wing has large ionic columns on the first floor from where the kings viewed the many religious activities of the square. The Shah kings gave audience and accepted credentials from foreign ambassadors in this building. To maintain uniformity of appearance several adjoining wings of the palace were ornately plastered and whitewashed.


The palace is located at the center of the city facing a large temple filled square. It consists of four quadrangles and since it has been spared large scale remodeling, it has best preserved the Malla period character. Unlike the other palaces at Kathmandu and Bhaktapur where foreign design elements and plastered surfaces were introduced, the Patan durbar maintains a completely traditional appearance with brick walls, carved doors, windows, struts and cornices and tiled tiered roofs.

During Lichchavi times Patan existed as Yupagrama, suggesting the Lichchavis had built upon an earlier Kirata settlement. The ancient city was situated at the crossroads and nobles or mahapatras built their mansions along the crossroad during the transitional period. Caukot, or four-cornered fort, from which the name of the palace has been derived, had stood at the northern end of the palace complex next to Manidhara prior to the construction of other palace buildings. This is where the Kirata palace is also supposed to have existed. The existing Mani Kesar Narayan Chowk still maintains pavilions at the corners of the roof which was common in forts.

Some of the earliest structures of the durbar square are the temples to Vishnu built by Purandarasimha who ruled Patan as the mahapatra for much of the late sixteenth century: Cara Narayan, a temple with two tiered roofs built over a two stage plinth and shikhara temple of Narayan built in 1566 and 1589 respectively.

Patan was annexed in 1597 AD by the Kathmandu king Sivasimhamalla and came to be ruled by the Malla kings. The chronicles confirm that Sivasimha built a temple to Degutale. He also adopted the buildings of the mahapatras and constructed other buildings. The Caukot or the four-cornered fort was already in existence at the northern end of the current complex near the Manidhara.

The current palace structures are credited mainly to the father-son pair of Siddhinarsimha and Srinivasa who together reigned between 1619-1684). Siddhinarasimha built the Degutale over a four storied structure in 1641 and gave it five roofs, however, the temple was destroyed by fire during the early reign of Srinivasa. In 1646/47 Siddhinarsimha built Sundari Chowk and a tank and fountain of Bhandarkhal to please his tutelary Taleju. The Sundari Chowk was a totally new construction which expanded the existing palace southward and was built at the site of Hatko bahal which was dismantled and translocated to another site west of the square at the present site of Haka-bahal (Ratnakara Mahavihara) (Slusser, 1982). He also built Visvesvara in 1627 and the stone shikhara Krishna temple in 1637. The Krishna temple is a square three-storied stone structure with a shikhara roof, topped by a gilded amalaka and gajur. It is built on a raised plinth and has important scenes from the Mahabharat and Ramayana carved in bas-relief. Three miniature pavilions with inverted lotus domes, gilded amalakas and gajurs occur on each side of the first and second floors. The ground floor has a colonnaded circumambulatory passageway.

Srinivasan undertook to rebuild the palace structure from one end to the other. He rebuilt Degutale which was destroyed by fire, but with only three roofs over a five storey structure. This design was copied by Pratapmalla during the construction of the Kathmandu Degutale. The temple was destroyed in the 1934 earthquake and was reconstructed. It was again restored in 1969. In 1666 he totally restored Mulchowk and introduced the practice of celebrating Dasain in the chowk by building a Taleju temple in the southern wing of the court. The images of Ganga and Jamuna flank the temple doorway as in the Mulchowk temples of Kathmandu and Bhaktapur. He built the chief roof top temple of Taleju with odd octagonal shaped roofs, probably over a previous temple, at the north east corner of Mulchowk. He built a new agamchem in the NW corner of Mulchowk with three different shaped roofs: rectangular, octagonal and circular. This temple was destroyed in the 1934 earthquake and was not restored in its original structure. In the two storied wings of the courtyard lived the palace priests. The courtyard was used to perform various dances and ceremonies to which the people of Patan were invited. In 1680 he restored or enlarged the northernmost Caukot quadrangle also currently known as Mani Keshar Narayan Chowk after the small Vishnu temple in the courtyard. The southern side fell down a half century later and was razed and rebuilt by Vishnumalla. Extensive renovations were made in the 19th century when a 4th floor and golden door (Lumjhya) were added. Srinivasan also constructed the Bhimsena temple in 1680.

Srinivasa’s minister Bhagiratha Bhaiya built Bhaideval after the Visvanatha temple of Benaras was destroyed by Aurangzeb. It had three roofs in the traditional style, but during restoration works after the 1934 earthquake, it was given a dome roof. Yoganarendra’s sister built Sankara Narayana in 1706 and his daughter built Cyasing-devala, an octagonal shikhara temple in 1723.

Unlike the other palaces where the temples are built in different directions, the temples of Patan durbar square all face the palace. The quadrangles of the palace also appear to have no interconnection to each other and were probably built as separate units. They are also nearly perfect squares and probably most closely resemble the original. Their main gates lead to the palace square while a small gate leads to the gardens at the rear. The main gates are flanked by small gates which are too small for use and are apparently not functional doors as entry to the rooms is obtained from the courtyards.

The Sundari Chowk was the main living quarter of the king. Entrance to the courtyard is gained through a gate on the central axis of the building. The gate is guarded by statues of Ganesh and Narasimha. A one metre wide walkway runs around the courtyard which is at a lower level than the street. The floor of the courtyard is paved with square stone slabs. The courtyard has a bathing tap (hiti) at the centre, Tusa Hiti, which is exquisitely designed and apparently was copied by Pratap Malla in his Kathmandu palace. The water fountain is gilded and the walls are adorned with exquisite stone carvings of deities. Most of the doors and windows face the courtyard for privacy. The open dalans on the ground floor served as rest areas and stables while the rooms housed arsenals and palace guards. Four stairs at the ends provide access to long narrow living quarters on the first floor, apparently with no interconnection among them. These were obviously four separate and distinct living quarters.

The second floor probably was added later. The plan of the building appears to resemble the design of the viharas and very well could have been influenced by them. Like the bahals the palace also probably had two storeys initially. The second floor had a projecting lattice covered walkway facing the courtyard which provided connection to the rooms along the different wings as well as to the lower floor. Whereas the rooms on the first floor served mainly as the living and sleeping areas, the rooms on the second floor served as kitchen and eating halls. The space below the roof served no useful purpose.


The Bhaktapur palace, unlike the palaces of Kathmandu and Patan, is located at the western end of the city, away from the main trading route. It was built in the mid-twelfth century by Anandadeva as Tripura (three cities) with three courtyards. Quadrangles were continuously added until it grew to 99 courtyards and extended up to Sukul Dhoka in the east. During Oldfield’s visit when the capital had already shifted to Kathmandu, he noted that the Bhaktapur palace was the “largest and most costly of any in Nipal” (Slusser, 1982). Much of the palace was destroyed in the 1934 earthquake and very little of its original structure remains. Until 1742 AD 12 courtyards existed which has been reduced today to only 6 courtyards.

Only three chowks display the square form and could suggest that they are of the original design?: the Mulchowk, Kumari Chowk and Bhairav Chowk. Unlike the other two palaces of the Valley, the Bhaktapur palace is unique in that it has no tower temples built above the palace structure. The Mulchowk is dedicated to the worship of Taleju and her chief shrine is built into and occupies the southern wing. This court is believed to be one of the oldest structures and could probably be one of the three original puras of Tripura. Since other buildings of the same period still exist today such as the Kasthmandap (1143) and Indreswara Mahadev (1294), the Mulchowk could well date from the time of the Tripuras (Slusser, 1982).

The Bhairav Chowk had already been built in 1580. It was also known as the Sadashiva Malla Chowk after the Kathmandu ruler (1574-1580) who was once held prisoner there. Jagajjyotir Malla (1614-1637) built the pleasure pavilion of Vasantpur Durbar (spring palace) for his queens to the west of the existing palace structures. These were later restored and rebuilt by Bhupatindra Malla. Nothing of the durbar remains except the stone guardian lions at the gateway.

The temples in the palace square form three temple groups: in front of the palace to the south, in the east and in the south-west, earlier separated from the south grouping by a dharamshala. The southern group was dominated by Yakseswara which was built by Yakshamalla and was supposed to be a replica of Pasupati. The eastern group was dominated by a three tiered Shiva temple on a five stepped plinth. The temple is noticed in the sketch by Gustave LeBon in 1885 but was destroyed in the 1934 earthquake. Only the guardian lions of the temple remain today. The largest temple in the western group was the Narayan temple of Badrinath.

Much of the constructions of the Bhaktapur palace can be attributed to Jitamitramalla, his son Bhupatindra and his grandson Ranajit. In 1677, Jitamitramalla made extensive renovation of Kumari Chowk, also known earlier as the Ita Chowk, which is possibly as old as Mulchowk. He constructed a stone water spout in the courtyard with instructions not to contaminate the water or desecrate the area. He also built the palace wing of Thanthu Durbar to the northeast of Mulchowk and the Siddhi Chowk which does not exist anymore. He also constructed the gardens and the sikhara temple dedicated to Vatsaladevi. He repaired the Nag Pokhari to the north-east corner of the existing palace complex which was built by Jagajjyotir Malla (1614-1637 AD). The sunken pond had a gilded water spout and was decorated with stone sculptures. A wooden post with the gilt head of Vasuki (snake god) was erected in the centre of the pond. If the tank served as the bathing area of the kings as is commonly believed, then it would have to be assumed that it was enclosed by a quandrangle (Korn, 1976).

His son Bhupatindramalla continued to repair and renovate the palace. He reconstructed the Malati Chowk and installed huge stone lions and idols of Hanuman and Narasimha guarding the entrance. This chowk was later rebuilt in the 19th century and has preserved little of the original character. The reconstructed building is of colonial design with plastered and whitewashed surface. The 55 window gallery is also attributable to him although it was reconstructed after the 1934 destruction. According to the sketch of Gustave LeBon (1885) the gallery originally projected out from the building and was supported on struts. The reconstructed new gallery of windows follows the original design but now no longer leans outwards as before but remains flush with the vertical surface.

The most outstanding works of Bhupatindramalla are the two temples in Taumadi Tol. In 1702, he built the Nyatapola, one of two 5 tiered temples of Nepal. In 1717 he enlarged and restored the Bhairava temple which had earlier been built as a single storied building by Jagajjyotir Malla. Within the durbar square proper he is credited with the construction of three very modest shrines in the western cluster. The largest temple of Badrinath was already in existence during his time when he restored it. The smaller shrines he built formed the rest of the Char Dham, namely Jagannath, Kedarnath and Rameswaram.

The main gate was gilded by Ranajit Malla in 1754 and was called the Sun Dhoka (golden gate). The gate was an offering to Taleju and led to her temple compound. It also was an indication of the wealth amassed by the kingdoms from the north-south trade.

Lecture 7



A typical Malla period Newar house consisted of a narrow brick-walled rectangle, usually 6 metres wide and of variable length divided by a central bearing wall. Typically it was of 3 stories topped by a ½ storey attic with tiled double-pitched saddle roof, however, inner city houses close to the center had 4 or 5 storeys while poorer sections at the outskirts had only two storeys. The vertical floor addition was necessitated by the need to conserve limited irrigated agricultural land. Along with bricks, timber formed the structural elements and was used for doors and windows. Houses were joined end to end and built around a courtyard. Monotony was avoided by variations in height, length and treatment of facades. This form of compact settlement was followed even in the rural houses, giving credence to the belief that Newars were more inclined towards trading and considered agriculture a necessary but secondary occupation (Korn, 1976).

The courtyards around which housing units were built had a multipurpose function, providing both utilitarian as well as social communal space. It was used as a children’s playground, area for washing, grinding grains, sitting in the sun, feasts etc. Access to the courtyard from the street was through a narrow door. Staircases at the corners provided access to the individual housing units. They were narrow with trap door shutters, probably a relic of the earlier days when it was necessitated by defense requirements.

Foundations were shallow and constructed of crushed rocks or river stones. Plinths of finished bricks or dressed stones were common but these were not bonded to the foundations. Walls rose from the foundation and were of handmade bricks, kiln burnt for exterior walls, often sun-dried bricks for interior walls, laid with clay mortar. When facing bricks were used, they were not well bonded nor tied at the corners. Thus lower level bricks tended to erode, fall out or bulge out and develop cracks under heavy stress or tremors. Because walls were poorly bonded, they were at least 15 –24 inches thick.

The houses were normally set on a raised podium, generally of stone or brick. The podium acted as an intermediary zone which separated the street from the house, the private from the public. It acted as a semi-private space shared by neighbors, where men and women worked and children often played. Steps to the house were either recessed in the podium or projected out in the street. A stone vedi in the shape of a lotus was inscribed on the pavement in front of the steps which was worshipped each morning. This point referred to as pikhalakhu marked the interface between the house and the street. Pikhalakhu ( pin-outside, kha-door, lamkhu-stream) symbolized the street as a stream of flowing humans coming out of individual houses.

Often a part of the ground floor facing the street or courtyard was left as open porch with double row wooden columns and capitals replacing walls. Otherwise openings were kept at a minimum in the lower walls for structural purposes as well as privacy. The ground floor was otherwise rarely used as living areas because of dampness. Only the shops had well ventilated wooden floors, otherwise they were either covered with clay or brick tiles.

Doors were narrow and low (5 ft height) but had corbelled lintels and divergent walls. Double hinged swing doors were bolted by wooden bars. Doors sometimes had framing bands. There were few windows in the ground floor. Sometime there were blind windows or tikijhyas. Tikijhyas were common on the next floor for reasons of privacy and structural strength in walls. Corbelled lintels and divergent walls helped to spread light to the interior. The number of windows on each floor were generally kept as odd numbers for reasons of symmetry.

A slightly protruding brick course demarcated floors and the top row often served as bracing cornice for tunalas. Outside walls were decorated through symmetry of elevation and carved doors and windows. Interior walls were left unfinished or were plastered and whitewashed.

Normally the top floor (traditionally the third but could be the fourth or fifth floor) had large windows, the sajhyas (windows to be opened). Sajhyas were large windows with moveable vertical swinging latticed shutters and wide interior window seats. The sajhyas were intricately carved and formed the primary design element of the façade. It was either set flush with the walls, slightly projected (Gajhya)or supported on short brackets and leaning forward as an angular bay window (Vimanjhya). Vimanjhyas were especially designed to view the many processions taking place in the streets below.

The interior of the house was divided lengthwise by the load bearing walls to form long narrow rooms which were further partitioned breadth-wise to form smaller rooms. In the third or top-most room the middle wall was replaced by wooden column to form a large hall. Because of the sajhyas the room was bright, large and airy and was used for working or living purposes.

Each floor was supported on closely spaced wooden joists overlaid with wooden planks or later with brick and covered with a thick layer of clay which was kept smooth and hard by daily scrubbing with a mixture of water, clay and cow-dung. Sometimes small unglazed square tiles were laid over the floor but this was done primarily in the corridors. The joists were kept exposed outside just below the projecting layer of bricks and kept flush with the wall.

The roofs were low, generally less than 6 ft., and consisted of a framework of wooden beams, rafters, trusses and posts pegged together. Wooden planks, split bamboo or laths were laid over the rafters over which a thick layer of clay was laid and small interlocking tiles (jhigatis) were pressed into it. Longer tiles were used at joints and curved corner tiles (kumpa) were laid at roof ends. One or two small openings were made in the roof for light and ventilation, known as cat windows (bhauvajhya), protected by specially shaped tiles. Sometimes small dormer windows were also used to light the attic. Roofs were normally sloped at 30-40 degrees but more recent constructions have reduced slopes of about 20 degrees. Roofs with wide projecting eaves tended to be heavy so wooden brackets (tunalas) were used to support the projecting roofs. They were set at 45 degrees and were supported on brick cornices or slightly projected beam ends.

Vertical division of floors were as follows:

Chelli or ground floor

- farmers used it for barn, stable, tool shed, storage of wood and manure

- craftsmen used it as a workshop

- merchants used it as a store

- street facing columned porches served as a shop

- in well to do families, a segment was used as guardroom or reception (phalaca)

Mata or middle floor

- sleeping quarters in smaller cubicles

Chota or top floor

- all purpose room devoted to work, recreation, storage, entertaining, drying space for farm products

Baiga or attic (half storey)

- kitchen and dining area

- family chapel (agama) usually housed in a small separate attic room kept closed and locked. Wealthy families may build a full-scale temple called agamachem. Strangers or low caste people were not allowed access to the top floor because of the family shrine.

- storeroom for precious things

Symmetry was maintained in the façade around a central axis. As far as possible odd number of windows were placed on each floor. Each floor was arranged independently in symmetric fashion and if any asymmetrical element existed on the ground floor, it was not repeated in the upper floors. Earlier, the typical windows were square latticed tikijhyas and sajhyas were heavily carved. About 200 years ago the latticed windows were elongated vertically, probably for more light and ventilation, and the sajhyas were simpler and less ornate. By the turn of the century, to introduce more light, the lattice windows and sajhyas were replaced by narrow almost full-length windows with railing and shutters ( Korn, 1976).

Water was collected from private wells or from public wells or recessed fountains nearby. Washing and bathing was done around the wells and fountains, in courtyards, roof terraces or even in the street.

Latrines were considered unclean and so were not attached to the house. Children used the streets or open spaces while adults sought segregated public toilets hidden behind alley walls or used the riverside. Latrines were later constructed in the ground floors.

Lecture 8


VIHARAS : Bahas and Bahis

During the time of Buddha, monks had no permanent residence, leading nomadic lives, staying under trees and caves. During the monsoon, because of the incessant rain and the dilemma about trampling and killing newly sprouted plants, they were required to stay within a prescribed area. Resting places called aramas were built all over to serve the monks and the period of the rainy season became for them a time of retreat and introspection. In course of time, these resting places came to be called viharas or residences (Rajesh & Kelly, 1998). The modern Indian state of Bihar was so named because of its vast number of viharas. With the spread of Buddhism among the laity and with their support, viharas became permanent institutions. With plenty of time at their disposal, the monks and nuns engaged in creative activities such as philosophy, literature, medicinal texts, grammatology etc.

Vihara thus became a Buddhist monastery where presumably celibate monks (bhikshus) and nuns (bhikshunis) lived. The community of the monks or nuns was known as the sangha. Initially, in India, viharas were purely residential units and chaitya-grihas were the prayer halls. With the advent of Mahayana, the viharas were transformed into both a place of residence as well as a place of worship. This is evident in the rock architecture of Ajanta and Ellora. This transformation of the viharas led to the extinction of chaitya-grihas (Flon, 1994).

In India, with the passage of time, viharas became mahaviharas. The prefix “maha” is used to imply grandeur. Apart from being larger, consisting of a cluster of viharas or a large vihara which had many branches, a qualitative change had occurred. The mahaviharas became primarily focussed on education and advanced learning and came to be recognized more as monastic universities or doctrinal colleges (Rajesh & Kelly, 1998). Great mahaviharas were established in as far north as Taxila and Orgyan to as far east as Magadha and Bengal. Great monastic universities of Nalanda, Vikramashila and Odantapuri were filled with scholars and students from many Asian countries.

In Nepal the term is loosely used for all types of viharas, even small ones. The basic design of the Nepali viharas is quite similar and can be broadly categorized into three types: i) bahas ii) bahis and iii) baha-bahis. Gellner, however, believes that the baha-bahi is not a separate type of vihara but a branch baha with a verandah, which forms part of the living quarters. Father Locke (Locke, 1985) defines a baha or bahi as a Newar Buddhist institution with a consecrated Buddha (kwapa-dya) shrine and agama to which a sangha of initiated Bare are attached. The Nepali word bahal is a corruption of the Sanskrit term vihara, changing from vihara to vahara to bahara to bahala to bahal and finally to the Newari term baha. Similarly bahil is derived from the Sanskrit term bahiri which means outside. From bahiri the word changed to bahira-bahil- and the Newari term of bahi.

Viharas evidently existed during the Lichchavi period, as there are references to some 15 monasteries of that period. There is little information between the Lichchavi period till the 12th century when the Malla period began. After the Malla period there is an abundance of information but a significant change had taken place. The viharas were still inhabited by the Buddhist sangha but those who referred to themselves as bhikshus were, in fact, married. Even before the Malla period, by N.S.213, there are references about some inhabitants of viharas who were Vajracharyas (vajra masters) and who were presumably married. By the end of the Malla period it seems clear that there were no more celibate monks. Some of the inhabitants of bahis in Patan called themselves brahmacharya bhikshus but there are numerous examples about their wives and children.

Today the viharas are looked after by a sangha of Sakyabhikshus and Vajracharyas, called Bare, and their families. After the time of Jayasthitimalla, the Bare became a caste and the sangha became a patrilineal descent group, i.e. the son joined the sangha of his father. The monasteries were no longer open communities, which accepted anyone who wanted to lead a life of a bhikshu.

Viharas are most numerous in Patan and Kathmandu but relatively few in Bhaktapur. They are also found scattered in other towns and villages of the valley. In 1985 John K. Locke had estimated that in Patan there were 141 bahas (18 main and 123 branches) and 25 bahis, in Kathmandu there were 90 bahas and 16 bahis while in Bhaktapur there were 20 bahas and 3 bahis (Locke, 1985).

The basic plan of the viharas have remained unchanged for over 2000 years as the layouts are very similar to the cave monasteries of earlier times which in turn were probably based on the single storey house of the Indus Valley civilization built around an atrium (Korn, 1976). In India viharas gradually disappeared after the Muslim conquest while in Nepal their function as monasteries also declined and the term came to be associated with Buddhist buildings, not monasticism.


Bahas were founded as establishments for communities of married Bares but not all bahas were former viharas. It is not certain whether at a certain in history all monks married and became householder monks or the custom of marriage was introduced and gradually became more acceptable until celibacy in monks died out altogether. It is difficult to say with confidence whether bahis existed earlier than bahas, although bahis practiced an older form of Buddhism. There are no confirmed dates for existing bahis earlier than 1200 A.D. Many bahis were founded in the time of Jayasthitimalla and Yaksha Malla such as Uba Bahi and Iba Bahi in Patan, Nhaykan Bahi and Syangu Bahi in Kathmandu. Also Buddhist manuscripts were not copied in bahis except in a few exceptions. Manuscripts were usually copied by Vajracharyas in bahas. It is the contention of Father Locke that bahas and bahis co-existed since the earliest times. Because of the ascendancy of the Vajracharyas and Tantric Buddhism, the celibate monks succumbed to the dominant institution and gradually became married monks. This led to a slow decline in the tradition of the bahis.

Each baha has its own sangha which is a closed and self-sufficient unit looking after the affairs of the bahas. In contrast the bahis belong to one large overall organization (sarva-sangha) and the elder of each bahi must be present at all bahi initiations. Many bahas have branches. Kwa-baha (Bhaskaradeva Samskarita Hiranyavarna Mahavihara), also known as the golden temple, was probably built during the reign of Bhaskaradeva N.S.165-67. It has 7 official branches and the largest sangha comprising of 1400 Sakyas and 350 Vajracharyas (Locke, 1985). Similarly, Uku-baha (Sivadevavarma Samskrita Rudravarma Mahavihara) has the largest number of branches, 29, and the second largest sangha.

The bahas were set on a low plinth and consisted of a quadrangle with wings built around a central sunken courtyard. The courtyard was paved with tiles and had a passage all around it. The buildings were normally 2 storeys high, constructed of brick structural walls, wood and tile. They were closed in and generally unobtrusive from the outside, presenting a bleak and shuttered exterior to the secular world outside. The ground floor walls were windowless or fitted with a few blind windows or tikijhyas flanking the entrance. Entry was through a single door in the main façade, guarded by lions. The doorway was surmounted by a torana and flanked by the guardian images of Ganesh and Mahankal, one a Hindu and the other a Buddhist tantric deity (Slusser, 1982).

The phalca was situated at the entrance with platforms or low benches, designed as an assembly for singing devotional songs. The vihara shrine was placed on the opposite side of the entrance facing the entry. The Buddhist image on the ground floor was a non-tantric deity known as kwapa-dya (guardian deity). The agama deity on the upper floor comprised of a pair of tantric deities where access was restricted. The kwapa-dya was mainly the image of Sakya Muni Buddha and sometimes of Akshobya. The kwapa-dya was open to the public but only the initiated members of the sangha were permitted to enter the shrine. The shrine was designed to be taller than the rest of the structure, either through the addition of a roof or placement of gajurs.

The wings were divided by masonry walls to provide rooms for storage and quarters for married monks. Staircases were provided at each end of the wings which led to three roomed apartments which were not interconnected. These apartments were occupied by the families of the Bare. Colonnaded bays were provided on the ground floors at the center of the side wings. Light and ventilation to the upper rooms was provided by tikijhyas. The space above the phalca usually had a sajhya and served as a common room. The space below the roof was generally unused.

The design of the external façade was symmetrical and sections of the walls were projected and recessed in relation to the width of the wings. The exterior bricks were of better quality and the entrance and the shrine doors were decorated. Interior walls were plastered and white washed.

Today many of the bahas have not maintained the earlier traditional architecture and have undergone many changes at different times. The shrines have become much more elaborate and modified into multi-roofed temples built into the complex of buildings around the courtyard. Because viharas were houses of gods, the decorations sometimes surpassed even that of the palace, with carved wooden members, decorative moldings, carved brackets etc. Exquisite toranas were placed above the entrance of the bahas and baha-bahis. Gild metal was extensively used particularly in the roof and façade, including doors. Kwa-baha is a good example of such a shrine.

The sunken courtyard was considered a sacred area and was filled with lotus, agnishala, chaityas, shrines, images of gods and donors, pillars, bells, inscriptions, mandalas etc., often aligned along the central axis. Mandalas usually faced the entrance door and were raised on a pedestal with the symbolic thunderbolt, the bajra.


Korn (Korn, 1976) has suggested that bahis were generally built outside the settlements and were founded by a single patron such as a king or a celebrated monk. It was designed as a place for training, teaching, preaching epics and to give shelter and food to visiting monks. With the growing popularity of Vajrayana in which marriage was allowed, the monks desirous of marriage had to leave the bahi and had to found or join a baha where family accommodations were possible and monks lived as grihastha bhikshus. Because of the families, the bahas were located within the cities. There seems to be an underlying presumption that bahis preceded the bahas and were inhabited by celibate monks and nuns. Records have shown that members of bahis who referred to themselves as brahmacharya bhikshus were actually married and that many bahis were established during Malla period (Locke, 1985). Thus as Father Locke has suggested, the two probably co-existed since early times and celibacy in bahis gradually disappeared as tantric Buddhism gained popularity. Initially the bahis tried to preserve their tradition, which was quite different from that of the bahas. Their efforts were doomed, however, as they were trying to maintain the tradition of celibate monks whereas they were not celibate themselves. Vajracharya priests had to be arranged to perform many of their family rituals since their studies did not cover family rituals.

It has also been suggested that bahis housed celibate monks and served as schools of dharma where Buddhists from bahas came to learn the basics of dharma. After learning the basics the students went back to the baha for further study and training to become a Vajracharya. Members of bahis were considered to be of slightly lower status than those of the bahas, thereby suggesting that bahis were a lower form of Buddhist institution than the bahas. Although there were tantric agama gods, there were no consecrated tantric priests who usually had to be called in for family or occasional rituals. Families of the bahis were usually poorer and getting smaller. As a consequence bahis were usually in a state of disrepair and more closely retained their traditional architectural features. As bahas were more prosperous they have made continuous improvements and markedly changed the original physical appearance. On the other hand once the bahi building collapsed, it was not rebuilt and disappeared altogether.

The bahis were situated on a knoll (Pulchowk) or were raised on stepped plinth so that entry was gained through stairway. Another distinguishing feature was that there was often an imposing balcony over the entrance so there was no space for setting up the toranas. The guardian lions were not installed at the entrance. This, however, was not always the case as some bahis did have stone lions and toranas, e.g. Iba-bahi and I-bahi. Another feature was the small square shrine with a narrow circumambulatory, set in the wing facing the entrance. The shrine normally contained the image of Sakyamuni Buddha. It had a dark room on the first floor for the agama deity above the shrine and had a temple structure protruding beyond the roof.

In the bahis, except for the outer wall and the shrine which were constructed of brick, the rest of the building was generally of timber construction. The external wall in the ground floor had no opening except for the entry door with its flanking blind windows. Much of both the ground and the first floor were open colonnade. This type of open construction did not lend itself easily as family quarters, which probably was the intention during the time of occupancy by celibate monks. In the upper storey the floor joists were extended over the courtyard, passing even in front of the agama and were screened with lattice. Unlike the bahas which had staircases at each corner leading to family quarters, the bahis had a single flight of broad masonry stairs.

The façade was symmetrical and left plain and without any decorative brickwork or projecting sections. The upper floor normally had 3 or 5 lattice windows except for the rear façade which had 2 or 4 as the section behind the shrine was left blank. The windows were too small to provide adequate light and ventilation. This was obtained from the courtyard side which was banked with lattice screen.

The third type of vihara, the baha-bahi, was a combination of the baha and the bahi. Two floors were built in the form of a baha while the third floor consisted of open colonnade like that of the bahi with sajhyas in each wing, outward leaning windows or even a continuous latticed balcony. Gellner, however, considers the baha-bahi to be a branch baha, not a separate category of monastery.

Apart from the above three categories there were family bahas, great bahas and temple bahas. The family bahas or modern bahas, all built within the past 150 years, consisted of family quarters built around a courtyard with a small shrine inserted into one wing. Sometimes the shrine was free-standing and placed at the centre of the courtyard or set against one wall of the courtyard building. This was often a reflection of the deteriorating economic condition of the baha community. The great bahas were large squares surrounded by residential quarters with at least one shrine built into one side. The square could contain other shrines and chaityas. Tebaha, Yatka Bahal and Itum Bahal of Kathmandu and Bu-baha of Patan are typical examples. In the temple baha, an important temple was placed in the centre of a square surrounded by residential or rest houses such as in Machendra Bahal.


Mathas were the Hindu equivalent of the viharas but are now mostly defunct. They had no well defined plans/elevations and served mainly as quarters for a group of male Hindu ascetics gathered around a religious leader (mahanta ). They served as centres for teaching and learning Hindu philosophy and study of appropriate manuscripts. There are 17 major mathas in the three cities of the Valley.

Because they had no distinct design or orientation, they normally resembled the standard dwelling units. They were only distinguishable because of their superior wood carving and extravagant decoration. Because Bhaktapur was the most Hindu city during the Malla period, it contains the largest number of mathas with the biggest concentration around Dattatreya temple at Tachapal Tol in eastern Bhaktapur.

The ground floor was generally used as stables, stores, servants’ quarters. The upper floors were used as grain stores, guestrooms, meeting halls and bedrooms. The kitchen was located in the top floor or the attic. There were one or more courtyards around which ghars were built whose size and arrangement varied considerably. The façade was symmetrical with the main door and the upper floor windows set about a central axis.

Lecture 9


The term multi-storied for Nepali temples is a misnomer because only in a few cases where a shrine occurs on the upper floor, the temples have multi-tiered roofs without the intervening floors. The space above the cella is wastage space and even the windows on the upper floors are blind windows for visual purposes only. The space above the roofs has been deliberately left open so as to keep open the vertical axis for the easy movement of the gods to heaven.

There is no clear indication of when the style began but it seems to have been existent during the time of the Lichchavis as indicated by their inscriptions. That the style was a novelty to the Chinese can be ascertained from their description of the Nepali tiered system. The temple designs seem to have evolved over the different periods; the existing temples have been renovated or reconstructed at various times and so do not mirror the actual original designs.

The origin of many of the oldest temples are surrounded in legends and because of the continuous renovations, it is difficult to confirm their original dates. According to legends, one of the oldest temples the Pasupati is believed to have been built by the first Lichchavi king Supuspadeva while another Lichchavi king Haridattavarmen is said to have built the four Narayan temples. The kings cannot be historically confirmed but the temples exist, albeit the structures of today are a result of several renovations and re-constructions. The respect for the tradition and practice of reconstructing temples according to the original guidelines probably prevented innovations in construction and style and despite many renovations and reconstruction, it is believed the temples have faithfully retained as much of the original character as possible.

Despite its mass and weight the Nepali temple is not an aesthetically heavy building. The decreasing size of the tiered roofs point upwards; the curved tiles or birds ready to take flight at the roof edges carry one’s view skywards instead of following the downward roof line. The swaying bells and leaves lend lightness while the flags, birds, perforated borders and cloth banners lend delicacy to the structure. The temple is, however, tied to the earth by the red brick and timber which belong to the earth and whose harmonious combination is responsible for the pleasing aesthetics.

A paved area around the temple demarcates the sacred ground and shoes are often taken out when entering this area. It is paved with small square tiles or stone. The temple is usually set upon one or more plinths of diminishing pattern which helps to raise the temple and give it prominence and symbolic value. The plinth also has practical value to protect the building against damp and raise it above the muddy street level and away from the activities of children and animals.

The composition of the plinths is not known as undertaking any kind of excavations would bricks or stone rubble with shallow foundations. Nepali temples probably followed the same method. However, it is not known whether the temple walls rest on the plinths or have separate walls with the intervening space filled with various materials. The visible portion of the plinth is covered with brick and the edge of each step is topped with stone paving. Ornamental molded bricks are set below the stone slabs. Secondary shrines are sometimes built at the corners of the raised plinths. The stairways are guarded by stone lions, guardian beasts, minor deities etc. and each successive guardian is supposed multifold powers.

The number of steps of the platform often correspond to the number of roofs, however, the steps sometimes are completely different as in the case of Maju-deval. Nyatapola is 27”6” square in plan and has a platform height of 23 ft. The Taleju temple of Kathmandu is raised on a platform of 20 ft. Temples, primarily of Taleju, were sometimes positioned on top of a storied building as was normal in the valley palaces.

Bricks were extensively used in the main supporting structures. As brick does not lend itself easily to decoration, wood was used as a complementary material and was heavily carved. Bands of timber at various levels such as at cornice level, roof support level and cross ties provided additional structural strength to the walls.

The most common plan is the square, the perfect absolute figure full of cosmic symbolism. Rectangles are also common, however, a few octagonal or circular plans exist, more as exotic structures. Kathmandu temples were based on an odd number of squares: 1,9,25,49,81,121,..981. The most commonly used was the square of 81 ,i.e. 9x9 (Tiwari, 1989).

The form of the temple is associated with the god within:

Square – Siva, Vishnu, Ganesh, Mother Goddess alone

Rectangle – Bhairav, Bhimsen, Mother Goddess, ensemble of mother goddesses

Octagon – Krishna, although Krishna can have other plans

Another variation in the plan is the type of sanctum:

- Sanctums are exposed for Mother Goddesses and Ganesha although complex superstructures may exist. The open sanctum is closely related to the hypaethral (open roofless) shrines that preceded them.

- Sanctums can be a simple room entered by a single door with the image facing the door and set at the rear wall.

- The square temple can be a mandala where the sovereign of the mandala occupies the centre of the sanctum. The image is then placed in the centre and the sanctum is pierced by four doors at the centre of each façade. This form of temple is appropriate for worship of Sivalinga, chaturvyuha Vishnu or four-faced Brahma which are meant to be viewed from all sides. Other manifestations of these gods would be placed in a different type of sanctum.

- Some gods prefer having an upper floor, particularly Bhimasena, agama gods of viharas, some Bhairavs and some Mother Goddesses. In free standing temples, the sanctum is a small partitioned space on the upper floor and the surrounding hall like space is used by the guthiars for religious functions.

- Some temples have second outer wall so the space between the inner walls serves as a circumambulatory space. However, this space is rarely accessible to the public and is used primarily by the priests.

- In many temples the outer wall is replaced by columns so that the space becomes public and is used for circumambulation.

- Some temples were built on top of other buildings. Common among these are the temples built on some of the courtyard wings of the palaces such as Taleju temples or Degutale. Rich families also often built agamchen temples on their houses.


The rectangular temples are never placed on high bases or on top of buildings. Unlike the square temples, the rectangular temples attempt to have an orientation with the entrance façade heightened.

The Bhairavnatha temple of Bhaktapur was built as a small structure of only one storey by king Jagat Jyoti Malla (1614-1637) and was later restored and enlarged by Bhupatindra Malla in 1718 with the addition of two more tiered roofs. It has an unusual feature of three small gajuras and metal flags protruding from the centre of the lowest roof. This probably indicates the original pinnacle of the one storey temple. The temple was destroyed in the 1934 earthquake but was rebuilt in its original form along with the Nyatapola. The temple has a striking entrance facing the square which is false. The actual entry to the temple is from the back through a small back door and the god is in an upper floor cella.

Distinct feature of the temple is its tiered hipped roof which number from 1-5. Most roofs are square or rectangular corresponding to the plan but there are few examples of round or octagonal roofs over square plans.

The first stage of a multi roof is supported by the cell wall (in case of a single enclosure) or outer enclosing wall (in case of double enclosure) or colonnade (in case colonnade surrounding the main enclosure). For the next stage, in case of single enclosure wooden beams support the inner walls which support the upper roof. In case of double enclosure or outer colonnade, the inner wall supports the upper roof. If there are more roofs, timber beams support the recessed walls which support the roofs.

A thick layer of clay was laid over the roof to delay percolation and prevent leakage. However, the disadvantage was that the moisture was often absorbed by the clay which came in contact with the wooden members, causing their decay. This has caused temples to require extensive repairs from time to time. The heavy roofs were supported on slanted carved brackets which rested on wooden or brick cornices. The end brackets were longer and larger and supported the larger projection of the roof. The roof rafters were closely spaced and laid in a fan shape pattern at the corners and on the topmost roof. Erotic scenes were often carved on the brackets on the belief that it would avert the evil or shy eyes of the thunderbolt, who was conceived of as a maiden and would be abashed by the carvings. The lowermost roof was sometimes covered with wooden latticework aligned to the sloping supporting roof struts which were exquisitely carved.

Some temples were gifted with a gilded roof. The sheets were laid over wooden boards and overlaps were placed over wooden beads (runners). The ends were covered by carved metal images. The eaves were carved with intricate motifs and had hanging leaves. Birds on the verge of taking flight were placed on the four corners of the roofs.

A special feature of the tiered temples was a band of stringed cornices supporting the struts of each roof tier. The lowermost layer of the cornice band was composed of lotus petals followed by a band of nagapasa, a symbolic representation of snakes tying the temple together, then by a string with lion faces called simhamvah and other decorative courses. The layers of wooden cornices in fact acted as horizontal ties providing structural strength to the temples. Wooden ties were also provided at various levels for structural support. Just above the simhamvah level, at the four corners, the cornices were projected out as two layers of flat rectangular pieces with curved ends, supported on cantilevered wooden projections.

Exquisitely carved doors, often covered in gilded repouse metal or silver, were special features of the temples. The doors had toranas, extended heads and bases, carved flanges and in the case of larger temples, additional panels.

The number of roof tiers are determined by the god within (Tiwari, 1989).

- 1 or (7) Guru, Ganesh, Siddhi, Buddhi, Chaitanya

- 2 or (6) Brahma, Agni, Savitri, Susumni

- 3 or (5) Bishnu, Jeeb, Avidhya, Laxmi

- 4 Rudra, Uma

Thus a Siva temple could be 3,4 or 5 tiered. The two existing 4 tiered temples are Bhagawati at Nala and Harisiddhi Bhawani, both dedicated to Uma. The Uma-Maheshwora temple at Kirtipur was once believed to have been 4 tiered but was damaged in 1934 and later rebuilt with 3 tiers. Of the two 5 tiered temples, the Kumbeshwara is dedicated to Siva and the Nyatapola to a tantric goddess, probably Bhairavi.

Temples were of varying sizes and opulence. The largest plan is that of Changu Narayan with 32 ft. sides. The Indreswara Mahadev at Panuati (1294-earliest known Newar style temple) has a plan dimension of 30 ft. Cornices around temples were decorative as well as functional and symbolic (circle of protection such as Nagpasa) and support roof brackets. The end bracket at the corners are larger and exquisitely carved with the figure of Vyala, a winged horse-like aquatic creature, symbolizing water.

Of the two known five tiered temples, the Kumbeshwara dates from 1392 (1390?) while the Nyatapola was built in 1708. A rich man called Jaya Bhima (Tiwari suggests Jayasthitimalla built the temple in 1390) built Kumbeshwara with two tiers in 1392 (Slusser, 1982) while Srinivas Malla added three more tiers in 1670. The Nyatapola was built in 1708 by Bhupatindra Malla. The shrine is never opened, except to tantric priests, and it is believed to be dedicated to a secret tantric goddess, possibly Siddhi Laxmi or Bhairavi which was established to control the nearby Bhairav. Two four tiered temples exist: Harisiddhi Bhawani at Harisiddhi and Nala Bhagawati at Nala village.

Quadrangle incorporated temples of viharas were later concepts as earlier viharas had no image to worship.


The shikhara temple style was developed by the Guptas in the 6th century. Thereafter, it was introduced by the Lichchavi and continued into the later period. This style was used for both Hindu and Buddhist temples.

The shikhara temples were normally of dressed stones but were often of brick construction as well. They consist of a square cell with tapering tower, symbolizing the cave and the mountain (Mt. Meru). Temples were usually set on stepped plinth, followed by molded courses. This was done to protect the temple from damp and to give it respectability. The cella and the tower ends in a flattened ribbed disc known as the amalaka. The amalaka is often surmounted by a gajur. Entrance to the cella is through one or four porticos. The Nepali shikhara temples have been found to have a wooden frame of posts and beams enclosed within the walls to give it added structural strength and resilience.

Nepali shikhara temples lack the additional ardhamandappa and mandappas of the Indian temple designs as worship in Nepal tends to be more personal, rather then congregational. (Korn, 1976) They also lack the rich embellishment of the Indian temples.

The octagonal shikhara temple in Patan dedicated to Krishna is an exception. The Krishna Mandir and Mahaboudhha in Patan are examples of elaborately ornamented shikhara temples. The Mahabouddha, whose design was based on the Bodhgaya temple design, was started by Abhaya Raj in 1565 but was completed by his grandsons and great-grandsons only in 1601. It is covered with tiles bearing the image of Buddha and was included in the World Heritage list. It was withdrawn from the list after the government failed to restrict development in the surroundings, despite repeated warnings.

Towards the end of the Malla period, the shikhara shrines adopted a different outline, that of the shape of an inverted flower bud. These became popular due to ease of construction.

Domed temples were influenced by Mughal architecture and are believed to be Rana imports. Actually, they were introduced during the Malla period. Domed temples were favored by the Shah and Rana rulers and were built around Kathmandu. Bhimsen Thapa built the domed temples of Bhimeswara and Ranamukteshwara. The Jagannath temple near the jail built by Rana Bahadur Shah and the Kalomochana (Vishnu temple) and Vishwaroop at Pashupati constructed by Jung Bahadur Rana in 1874 are other examples of domed temples in Nepal. The temples are plastered and whitewashed, an imitation of the white marble used in the Indian structures. Recessed niches with arches flank the doors on the four sides and bands of floral motifs are used at the base of the dome and upper part of the structure supporting the dome, typical of Muslim architecture. Small pavilions are also built at the four corners in imitation of the Indian buildings. The encircling sattals are, however, done in traditional style.

Lecture 10


The principal function of the dharamsala was to provide a shelter, place to rest, work and socialize for wayfarers. It was customary to pair this with a water source. Dharamshalas were common in India since ancient times and Nepali version was probably derived from them.

Lichchavi inscription make mention of public rest houses, however, there are no surviving examples of the period. Nevertheless, it is believed that the typical pati and the mandapa have not changed much since the early times.

The most basic structure was the pati. The pati is raised on a platform with wooden floor and is normally a free-standing structure or attached to an existing building as a lean-to. It is a post and lintel construction structure with a rear brick wall. It can be found everywhere, not only in towns and villages, but also along roads, water sources and temples.

The mandapa is probably the oldest form of public shelter. The mandapa was usually a free standing pavilion of square or rectangular plan, with roof supported by 16 columns. It was designed for gathering people within or around it and was always found within settlements. The mandapa served many functions besides shelter such as town hall, market etc. Of the two mandapas situated at the north end of Patan durbar, the southern mandapa was used as a municipal weighing house and the place to fix market prices while the more recent northern structure was used for coronation by Patan kings and by priests and astrologers to determine favorable dates for the festival of Machendranath.

Sattals were multi-storied patis or mandapas. Sattals were designed for longer stays by gurus and sadhus besides transient travelers so it had additional floor and shrine over a pati type structure. The upper floor was screened for privacy. Thus they were half shelter half shrine. The most famous is the 11-12th century Kasthamandap which is roughly 18.7 m. square in plan and 16.3 m. in height. Despite it being referred to as a sattal for Siva ascetics, it served as a meeting place or town hall. Legend has it that it was constructed from a single tree. It consists of 3 large halls on top of each other without any divisions. In contrast to normal temples, it has wide stairs leading to the first floor. Loads are carried by brick walls and large wooden pillars. The brickwork is plastered and whitewashed and the roof is tiled.

The chapa is a community hall of guthi association. It is not intended for longer stays. It is typically a long rectangular two storey building whose rear is divided by masonry walls into storerooms for guthiars’ affairs while the front serves as a pati. The colonnaded upper hall serves as a hall for guthiar’s feasts and communal activities.


Stupas were probably derivatives of the practice of raising a circular tumulus over skeletal remains and demarcated with a circle of stones. This practice of raising a tumulus over tombs is evident even in the western world since pre-historic times. Slusser believes the Patan stupas to be of similar origin. According to tradition there were 6 previous Buddhas while other traditions speak of 23 previous Buddhas. Thus the tradition of corporeal stupas probably existed long before Buddha’s time.

Stupas are supposed to contain relics of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas or saints. Ashoka is believed to have broken up the original eight stupas over the remains of Buddha and distributed the remains to construct over 84000 stupas in India. Nepali stupas are distinguished as: i) dhatu stupa (mortal remains of Buddha) ii) paribhog stupa (things belonging to Buddha such as garments, bowl etc.) iii) dharma stupa (text of his teachings) and iv) udeshya stupa (amulets, mantras, jewel etc)

The elements of the Nepali stupa are:

- The original mound is represented by the egg (anda), womb (garbha) and pot (kumbha). The stupa consists of a drum pedestal (medhi), the drum and the finial. The drum or medhi is indistinguishable consisting simply of a drum of varying height slightly larger in diameter than the mound it supports. The drum is set in a modest circular platform or sometimes on a square platform composed of a number of superimposed terraces (Pimbahal, Chilancho of Kirtipur and Bouddhanath).

- The anda or dome is of varying shape, hemispherical in the early times to vertical or flattened dome during the transitional and early Malla period.

- According to Oldfield the construction of stupa commenced with the construction of square masonry chamber of 9 equal parts in the centre of the medhi (Slusser, 1982).. Precious wood, grains, images and scenes from Buddha’s life and human relics if so designed were placed in the outer 8 chambers. The central 9th chamber served as a mortise for the yasti, a great central timber mast piercing the stupa and to which the finial is attached. The chambers were filled after the ceremony, over it a mound of brick, earth and clay was constructed. The outer rounded surface was faced with bricks, plastered and whitewashed. Four chapels facing the four cardinal points were then joined to the dome. These contained the images of Dhyani Buddhas (Akshobhya-E, Amitabha-W, Amogsiddhi-N and Ratnasambhawa-S representing the different aspects of the activities of Buddha). The fifth was called Vairochana and was thought to reside in the centre of the stupa, represented by the eyes of the harmika. The painting of the eyes is a unique Nepali practice and began during the Malla period after the 15th century.

- The design of the finial varies but consists of 3 principal parts: i) the cube ii) the tapered mid-section and iii) the crowning parasol. The cube or the harmika is derived from the pavilion that surmounted the early Indian stupas which was supposed to be the home of the gods. The tapering 13 stages symbolizes the 13 stages to perfection or the 13 Buddhists heavens and is capped by the parasol. The 13 stages became standard during the transitional period after the 11th century. The conical or pyramidal spire is known as “Chura Mani”. In the earliest Indian stupas, these consisted of flattened stone discs, 3-7 in numbers, attached to the yasti symbolizing the parasol provided to respected personages. The eyes of the harmikas were the eyes of the Adibuddha but were sometimes believed to represent the Lokpalas who survey the quarter of the universe accorded to them. The finial is either simple or elaborately gilded along with the parasol.

Vrisadeva is credited with the construction of Svayambhu, one of the earliest stupas. The stupa has been repaired and extensively changed during the later renovations so that it has become difficult to imagine the earlier structure. The hemisphere is constructed of brick, plastered and whitewashed. The dome is flattened at the top and the harmika is elongated to correct for this shape. The harmika would have been a cube if the dome had followed its regular curve. Gilded toranas are placed over the eyes of the harmika while the 13 layers of the finial are made of circular metal discs supported on the timber pole, the yasti. Above it is the decorative parasol and the gajur. At the circumambulatory level the dome has chapels with images of the four Adibuddhas in the four cardinal points and four Taras in the diagonals. An additional chapel dedicated to the vajra is built in the east and a mandala with a vajra is placed in front of it. All the chapels are believed to have been added during the Malla period.


· Ghats with stepped or circular platforms were built at river edges for ritual bathing and cremation.

· Pokharis were large brick lined tanks eg. Rani Pokhara, Tawa Pokhari and Siddhapokhari of Bhaktapur. They were used for commercial and household purposes such as dyeing and washing.

· Ghaidharas (gahiti) or deep sunken pit taps were provided for larger community uses.

· Tutedharas consisted of tanks filled with water and drawn out through stoppered spigots.

· Inars or brick lined wells were built primarily for private use but also served communal function.


Prithvi Narayan Shah adopted the traditional Newari architecture when he built the Nautale durbar, also known as Basantapur at the southern end of Nasal Chowk of Kathmandu palace in 1770. The building was created as a pleasure palace and was a tall building of four roofs and nine stories. Compared to the earlier Malla period, the scale tended to be larger with larger doors and windows, more storeys etc. The motifs used were, however, similar and some struts had erotic carvings. An attempt was made to merge the temple and the palace form. He also built the adjoining four-storey quadrangle originally called Lohan Chowk but later known as Basantapur or Tejarat Chowk. These buildings were thought to have been built vertically over smaller buildings. The quadrangle has three pavilions at the corners of superficial Mughalized design representing Kirtipur (NW), Bhaktapur (NE) and Patan (SE). Lohan Chowk is of single bay construction. Prithvi Narayan Shah probably did not construct all the pavilions as it is believed Pratap Singh Shah and Rana Bahadur Shah built some of the pavilions.

Earlier the Valley architecture had influenced construction taking place outside. Prior to his conquest of the valley, Prithvi Narayan Shah had employed Newar architects and artisans for the construction of his palaces at Gorkha and Nuwakot. Both are mountain-top palaces designed as defendable watchtowers. A courtyard design palace was later constructed in Gorkha bazaar which was recently renovated by HMG. All of these buildings are strongly influenced by the Malla architecture.

The Nuwakot palace is a 6 storey tower, vertically broken by horizontal strings of balconies, string courses, window frames and roof edges. The fifth storey is capped by a shrine. It is built on 3 load bearing walls with the central wall bisecting the building along its length. Its design influenced the design of the Nautale Durbar at Basantapur.

Just as in the earlier Lichchavi period when art form and use of stone was influenced by the Guptas/Kusans, during Malla and Shah period some Indian influence was perceived in paintings and buildings, e.g. in the northern wing of the Nasal Chowk, arches with 7 and 9 foils have been used. Similarly, many buildings with dome roofs were constructed which had recessed arch niches with foils and decorative motifs borrowed from Mughal buildings.

Dharahara, a free standing minaret-like structure of Mughul design, was erected by General Bhimsen Thapa (prime minister between 1806-1839) in 1826. It was originally 250 ft. but was destroyed during the 1934 earthquake and was subsequently restored by Juddha Sumshere to its current height of 203 ft. A viewing platform was also added during restoration. There does not appear to be a need for such a structure, unless as suggested, it was to maintain contact with Chouni barracks and summon the army at short notice. The palace of Bag Durbar was also built for Bhimsen Thapa, however, it was severely damaged during the earthquake and Hari Bhawan was built in its place. The Finance Ministry currently resides in Hari Bhawan.

Bhimsen Thapa built Bhim Mukteswora and Rana Mukteswora in Moghul style with dome roofs, using horizontal bands of motifs of floral design and plastering the outer surface and painting it white, probably an imitation of white marble of Mughal architecture. Like the Indian structures, the temples have small domed pavilions at the four corners surrounding the large dome roof. Rana Mukteswora has doors on all sides flanked by arched recesses of Mughal design. The enclosing sattal structure is however done in traditional Malla architecture with exquisitely carved doors and windows.

In 1828, during the time of Bhimsen Thapa, Queen Lalit Tripura Sundari offered to Bagmati the three tiered temple of Tripureshwore in memory of her husband Rana Bahadur Shah. The temple is an imposing structure with three tiered roof raised on a pyramidal platform and done in traditional style. Four small shrines are placed at the four corners of the first layer of the platform. The enclosing structure is a traditional structure constructed in bricks with carved doors and windows and jhingati roof. The large courtyard is paved with brick tiles. The temple is currently being renovated but the sattal is in a dilapidated condition and in need of urgent repairs.

Following the usurpation of power by the Ranas, there was a dramatic change in the palace architecture of the country. Traditional architecture was completely rejected in favour of style borrowed from outside. As a projection of their autocratic hold on power and the inclination to outdo each other in the grandeur of buildings, the Ranas bequeathed to the nation a style of buildings completely different in scale and design. Many of the buildings were done in neo-classical, Baroque or industrial style with columns of different orders, French windows and white plaster, a style much in use in Europe and in neighboring India by the British. The scale of the buildings was monumental so they required to be set along an axis, had a symmetrical design and had formal gardens. Because of the lack of space within or close to the old city to provide the wide axis necessary for the visual appreciation of such monumental design, the Rana palaces were built much further away from the city area, mainly to the east and north-east. While the earlier buildings were dictated by the roof forms, the Rana buildings paid little heed to roof forms as the tiles had been replaced by CGI sheets which allowed various roof forms. Iron girders were also later introduced to replace timber beams and lintels. The warm brick exteriors of the Malla period were replaced by the white stucco surface. The first floor was normally the entertainment and living area so the halls were much grander with great detailing. Pressed metal ceiling, wall pilasters, mirrors, framed photographs etc. were employed to expressly impress the visitors and other Rana brothers with its grandeur. Despite the complete switch over from the traditional designs, the Rana buildings were quite artistic and attractive in appearance.

Development of ghats was undertaken by Jung Bahadur Rana. To atone for his sins of the Kot massacre, he constructed the Hiranya Narayan temple and the enclosing sattal in 1875. The temple was built in Moghul style with a large central dome flanked by small domed pavilions at the four corners and painted flower motifs. The surrounding quadrangle was built in traditional style. He also constructed the embankment structure from Panchyami to Kalamochan. The temple was renovated very recently but many of the ghat structures are in a dilapidated condition and are occupied by squatter families.

Narayan Hiti Durbar was built in 1847 by Jung Bahadur Rana for his brother Rana Uddip Singh in neo-classical style. It eventually was used as the palace of the kings after Rana Uddip’s death in 1885. The building was remodeled and enlarged in 1889. Part of the building was demolished and a new palace building was constructed in modern style by King Mahendra in 1969.

Jung Bahadur Rana built the Thapathali Durbar beside the Bagmati for himself. The building was in colonial style. Much of the palace has been demolished.

Before the earthquake, Ranipokhari was the central city space and the Ranas had developed it into an area surrounded by public buildings such as Durbar High school, town hall to its south, Bir Hospital and the Military Hospital, Tri Chandra College and the clocktower. All the structures were of colonial design done in simple plastered and whitewashed exteriors. Bir Sumshere had built Bir Hospital in 1890. Except for a small annex much of the older building has been demolished to construct the new OPD building of the hospital. Chandra Sumshere constructed the Durbar High School on the western side and the Tri Chandra College along with the clock tower in 1919 on the eastern side. These structure are still existing and being used as per their original function. The previous clock tower was designed by Kumar and Kishore Narsing Rana, Nepal’s first engineers trained in India and abroad. It was destroyed during the 1934 earthquake and rebuilt in simpler colonial design. The brother team was to go on to design many of the subsequent Rana palaces.

Chandra Sumshere built Singha Durbar in 1903 as his residence. It was designed by the Narsingh brothers in neo-classical design. The palace had more than 1000 rooms arranged around seven quadrangles and was among the largest building in South Asia. It was set amid a large park with formal gardens, pavilions, fountains etc. The palace was serving as the main Secretariat building when the entire building except for the front wing was destroyed by fire in 1973. The first courtyard was reconstructed using modern construction techniques but with the original elevational treatment. The building currently houses the prime minister’s offices and the office of the National Planning Commission. The front wing which was of exquisite neo-classical design was saved from the fire. It houses the Belayati Baithak which is still used for various national ceremonies.

Bahadur Bhawan was constructed in 1889 and was later refurbished into the first hotel of Nepal, the Royal Hotel. The building was renovated and is currently in use by the National Election Commission. Lal Durbar was built for Bir Sumshere in 1890 and it got its name because of the red bricks used. It was one of the few buildings with exposed brickwork built by the Ranas. A part of the building has been renovated and incorporated into the Hotel Yak and Yeti complex.

Seto Durbar was also constructed by Bir Sumshere in 1893. Most of the palace building was destroyed by fire during the 1934 earthquake. Only a small wing of the original building remains and is visible on the west side of King’s Way behind the Mercantile Office Systems.

Phora Durbar was constructed by Bir Sumshere next to his palace in 1895 with gardens and fountains. Its name was derived from the large number of fountains. It was used mainly for cultural programs and cinema. The building was completely dismantled in 1960.

Agni Bhawan was built in 1894 for Agni Sumshere, son of Juddha Sumshere. It was remodeled into a hotel in 1964 and is still functioning as the Hotel Shanker. Keshar Mahal was built in 1895. It was built around a courtyard and was surrounded by gardens and water bodies. It is currently being used as the Ministry of Education and the Keshar Library.

The old Sital Niwas was completed in 1923 and was designed by Kumar Narsingh Rana. The building was extensively damaged in the 1934 earthquake and had to be rebuilt. The current design was prepared by Kishore Narsingh Rana. The building is being used by the Foreign Ministry.

Following the devastating earthquake of 1934, the Ranas tried to restructure the city according to the changing times. They built thoroughfares connecting the old city to the palace complexes which were constructed outside the city cores. Juddha Sumshere introduced wide thoroughfare into the city core area of Kathmandu, opening up the Durbar square and constructing a new centre within the city. He maintained the uniform façade of Juddha Sadak, built Bhugol Park, Nepal Bank, the fire brigade and a sabha griha (Jan Sewa cinema). Many of the buildings of New Road also followed the colonial design although it was not uniform as in Juddha Sadak as they were built as individual structures. Much of Juddha Sadak still retains its original façade while that of New Road has been completely modernized. The Bhugol Park is a small sandwiched space, its openness reduced by the construction of the new large Nepal Bank building built in the open space in front of the original building which also has been demolished and replaced by a new annex. The Jan Sewa building was destroyed by fire in 1961 and a shopping centre has been built in its place.

The Ranas also built many gardens in formal classical design with well laid out gardens, summer houses, fountains, statuaries etc. Exotic plants were often imported for the gardens from Brazil and Japan. Many of the gardens have been destroyed or built over but some remain such as the gardens of Kaiser Mahal and Nepal Rastra Bank.


Nepal is probably the only country where Hinduism and Buddhism have co-existed continuously since very early times. In India, Buddhism died out in the 12th century with the rise of the Muslims whereas, in the extended countries such as Burma, Thailand and Indochina, only Buddhism has survived. Celibacy in Buddhist monks is normal in all the other countries, whereas, in Nepal the practice of celibacy among monks gradually disappeared with the ascendancy of Tantric Buddhism.

Although looking at the worship of common deities, the similar pantheon of gods, similar rituals and identical temple architecture it would appear the two religions remained in harmony since early times, in reality there was tension between the two religions at various periods of history. Vrisadeva, the early Lichchavi king is believed to have committed self sacrifice and his grandson Dharmadeva was killed by his son Manadeva because of their Buddhist leanings. Only their deaths could pacify the opposing groups. Also the mass translocation of the Buddhist viharas from Chabahil-Gokarna area to Patan during the Lichchavi period suggests such a movement was made probably for security reasons as Patan was mainly a Buddhists town. Conflicts can also be deduced from the fact that religious texts of the two religions tried to belittle each other’s gods and their deeds. Legends tell about Sankaracharya’s persecution of Buddhists and the merciless revenge of the Buddhamargis. The later Lichchavi kings, the Thakuris and the Mallas all favored Hinduism, although they continued to contribute to Buddhist viharas and temples as well. For example Amsuvarman, a Sivite, extended patronage to Buddhists and also built a vihara. Later Malla kings also repaired both Hindu temples and Buddhist viharas. Buddhism saw a brief revival in the 12th century when the Buddhist teachers fled India and brought along their texts and made Nepal a centre for Buddhist learning. Thereafter, with the rise of Jayasthitimalla and the Gorkhalis Buddhism saw a continuous decline in Nepal, further exacerbated by the caste system among the Buddhists and the growing popularity of Vajrayana. However, in spite of the marked bias at the level of the ruling elite, there was much more tolerance and harmony among the common people of the two religions.

Both religions believe in “karma” and rebirth of the soul. Both seek release from the endless chain of rebirths by achieving “nirvana” or “moksa”. Despite Buddhas teaching to the contrary, Nepali Buddhists have a caste system similar to the Hindus. After the advent of Mahayana Buddhism both share a similar pantheon of gods and goddesses who have the same conceptual basis, have similar iconic forms and are worshiped in much the same manner e.g. Siva-Avalokiteshwara, Parvati-Tara, Indra-Bodhisattva Vajrapani, Brahma-Bodhisattva Maitreya, Bhairav-Mahankal etc. Brahmanical gods which were long established and popular were incorporated in the Mahayana pantheon, their duties similar to the gods they were derived from (Slusser, 1982). As a result the two religions have similar cultural practices and rituals.

Both the religions were influenced by Tantrism, which did not introduce any fundamental philosophical principles but it radically changed the rituals. Buddhist schools that incorporated tantric ideas and principles were known as Vajrayana. Vajra denotes thunderbolt and diamond. The thunderbolt signifies the flash of intuitive light of perfection (siddhi) and the diamond symbolizes the indestructible quality of the doctrine. The vajra, commonly held by Vajrayana deities, has been borrowed from the Vedic rain god Indra (Slusser, 1982).

Tantric practice places emphasis on the supremacy of the female principles, probably an continuation of the older cult of the Mother Goddesses. According to Hindu tantras shakti emanates from the female principle which activates all matter. In Buddhism it is the male symbol which is considered active. But it is common practice in both the religions to apply the term shakti to all goddesses. Tantric deities of both religions have both fierce and passive manifestations. They are multi-headed, multi-limbed and have similar attributes.

Following the introduction of Tantrism in Buddhism, it came to be dominated by priests like in Hinduism. This became even more entrenched as the caste system which was practiced by the Hindus was also introduced among the followers of Buddhism. The selection of a leader or the priest was no longer determined by religious knowledge but by heredity and caste. The earlier monastic Buddhism, where the monks and nuns remained celibate, was replaced by married priests who were responsible for performing religious rituals.

The two religions have often been syncretic. Certain gods are worshiped by followers of both religions. All Nepalis worship Pasupati, Bhagawati, Rato Machendranatha, Ganesa, Hanuman, Indra and many other minor deities. Navadurgas (nine durgas) and Astamatrikas (eight mothers) are universally worshiped. Similarly, Vajrayoginis or Vidhyasvaris are equally revered as mothers (mais) or grandmothers (ajima). By the 6-7th century AD Buddha was inducted into the Hindu pantheon as one of the 10 incarnations of Vishnu. The two religions also worshiped the same gods but as different deities. Jalasayana Narayan at Budhanilkantha is worshiped as Vishnu by the Hindus but as a form of Buddha by the Buddhists. Guhyeswori is worshiped by the Hindus as a form of Durga while the Buddhists believe her to be Prajnaparamita, Agniyogini or Nairatma. The tantric Buddhist deity of Mahankal is considered by the Hindus to be a form of Siva. Once a year on kartik sukla astami Pasupati is adorned with a Bodhisattva crown and worshiped as Avalokiteshwara. Changu Narayan is worshiped by the Buddhists as Bodhisattva Avalokiteshwara. Hindus worship Machendranath while the Buddhists worship him as Avalokiteshwara. The Buddhist goddess Hariti, goddess of smallpox, is worshiped by the Hindus as Sitala Mai.

A very peculiar syncretism of the religions is seen in the worship of the Kumari. Kumari, the virgin manifestation of Durga, is worshiped in the body of a Buddhist (Sakya) girl and her shrine is a vihara. Kumari Ghar has Kumari’s personal shrine on the top floor, principle deities of the Five Tathagatas on the ground floor and an agama on the first floor. Hindu priests (Karmacharya, Achaju) are in charge of her installation, Dasain activities and nitya puja while Vajracharyas worship her daily and play a leading role in her chariot festival. The Kumari festival is participated in by people of both religions. Everyone also participates in the festivals of Indra Jatra and Machindranatha Jatra. During the festival of Indra Jatra Bares officiate as priests and Buddhist Newars assist in celebration.

Bagh Bhairav of Kirtipur is worshiped by both Hindus and Buddhists. The main icon is of clay and covered by a silver mask. When the icon is damaged, it is repaired or replaced by a Vajracharya priest who collects clay from seven places around the shrine of Mhaipi, between Paknajol and Balaju.

The shared religious philosophy of the two religions has led to common temple forms. However, the majority of Buddhist religious buildings comprise of viharas and chaityas while Hindu religious buildings primarily comprise of free standing temples with various types of roofs. While all the major Hindu temples are tiered temples, some of the prominent tiered Buddhist temples are the two tiered Machindra temples at Kathmandu and Patan, the three tiered Vajrayogini temples at Pharping and Sankhu, temple of Mahankal and Taradeo at Itumbahal. Temples built into the sides of Buddhist viharas display the same features as that of the Hindu tiered temples.

There are many shikhara type Hindu temples but few Buddhist ones. One of the most prominent and beautiful shikahara Buddhist structure is the Mahabouddha temple at Patan. Two shikhara temples dedicated to Vajrayana deities exist at Swayambhu. The free standing shikhara housing Machindranath (Padmapani Lokeswara) the kwapa-dya of Bunga Baha at Bungamati is another rare example. The Lon Degah (stone temple) built in 1664 and the Sakyamuni Buddha Mandir (1649) at Kirtipur are other good examples of Buddhist shikhara temples. Unlike the Hindu temples, no large domed Buddhist temples exist, but the number of small Buddhist shrines with dome roofs are innumerable. Both religions also have open shrines of deities but this practice is more common for Hindu gods.



The Himalayas were revered as the home of the gods, thus the temples with their pedestals and diminishing roofs could be an imitation of the mountains. Temples were often modeled after the mountain form of Mount Kailash; circumambulation around the temple representing circling of the mountain. It is not surprising Amshuvarman named his palace after Kailash. The development of the early stupa form as well as shikhara temple form was also supposed to imitate Mount Meru.

The gods were believed to require easy passage between heaven and earth and the diminishing size of the roofs with the gajur on top was believed to facilitate god’s flight to heaven. The birds ready to take flight at the roof corners were artistic manifestation of this concept and signify lightness sought in temple form.

The square was considered the perfect form. Ziggurats, pyramids and Aztec temples were all based on the square form. The circle and the sphere which was evident everywhere was easily identifiable as God’s representation. However, because of its association with movement, lack of cardinality and infiniteness of symmetry, it was considered unsuitable by the Hindu seers. Thus the square with its centre, cardinality and limited symmetry was used to symbolize the universe. The centre of the square, the garbha griha, where god’s image was placed was considered the centre of the universe (Tiwari, 1989).

The proto-Hindu temple form symbolized the centre of the universe, Mt Meru where the Gods lived. The people lived to the south. This concept was probably derived from the fact that the Vedic settlements on the Gangetic plains lay to the south of the Himalayas and the Himalayas were identified as the abode of the Gods.

The temple plan was based on the Vastupurushamandala- a unified design principle based on the square- and the temple represented the centre of the universe. The temple elevation was also a geometric representation of Mt. Meru.

The concept of a pyramid within a circular lake generated the concept of circumambulation as a first step in worshiping the God in the temple. While circling the temple it was theorized that the devotee would absorb and pay homage to the radiant energy emanating from the centre. Windows were set at the cardinal points, sometimes with images of guardians, to allow the energy to radiate out.

No temple was oriented to the north as symbolically the people were supposed to live to the south. The temple structure with its central axis pointing to the sky symbolized the heavenly movement of the godly energy which was supposed to have taken up temporary residence in the temple to allow people to worship it on earth. In Hindu temples the Gods did not occupy the temple all the time so worshippers were supposed to call out to the Gods to ensure they would be there when the devotee was in the temple. Thus without worshipers the temple were not visited by the Gods.

Although very few temples are actually built in the middle of a lake (Ranipokhari), all Nepali temples are conceptualized as lying on a subterranean water body. The rituals associated with the study of the temple site picturize underground formation of white nagas which represent water. Certain elements are used in the temple to convey to the layperson the concept of the encircling water body. Each corner strut of the temple depicts a Vyala, a winged horse-like aquatic creature. At various levels, the entablatures depict Nagpasa, the snake chain. Similarly, the torana above the entrance ways include images of the Makara, nagas and fish which also represent water.

Temples were planned according to the rules and guidelines of the Vastupurushamandala but were often modified as per site conditions and terrain. According to descriptions of old Indian writings, while laying the temple the ground was demarcated into squares representing the sacred nagas that lived underground. Nagabhanda was the chief Naga and it was the great serpent Ananta which carried the earth on its head and encircled the building site with its body. His form was divided into eight parts corresponding to the eight Digpalas, the presiding deities of the eight quarters. The serpent was believed to move under the earth making a full revolution every 3 months. His head was supposed to lie east in the middle of Ashwin. The location of the temple doorway was determined by the location of the serpent’s head. (Bernier, )

The doorway of the temple was the passage of transformation between the profane and mundane world and the holy space of the sanctum. Sometimes the devotee was stopped at the door with the priest taking over his religious duties. The toranas above the doors symbolized the window to the sacred interior. The central figure in the torana was the deity of the temple, whether Hindu or Buddhist. The toranas gained significance when the devotees were denied access to the inner sanctum. Images of Garudas, Makaras and Nagas were arranged symmetrically around the central figure. (Bernier, )

The eyes on temple doors could be interpreted as the all seeing eyes of Adibuddha in the case of Buddhist temples and of Siva in Hindu temples. The eyes had the power to deflect and nullify the effects of the evil eye (Bernier, ). Circumambulation around the temple symbolizes circling of the lake. Devotees move along the passageways surrounding the garbha griha. In the case of double core wall, circumambulation along the inner wall is generally limited to the priests.

When the temple is raised on a plinth figures along the stairways were supposed to guard the deity. They were mounted hierarchically in order of their relative physical or religious power to defend the deity. Even human figures of known extraordinary strength could be included as in the case of wrestlers Jai Mal and Patta at the entrance to Dattatraya temple. Usually located at the highest level were minor deities with powers greater than that of men or animals eg. Simhini and Vyagini at the top level of Nyatapola. (Bernier, )

A lotus, agnishala and the pillar with the gods vehicle were set along the central axis of the temple. The lotus defined the temple area while the pillar probably defined the sacred area surrounding the temple, a line beyond which the devout never entered with shoes on.

In Buddhism life was considered to be an endless cycle of births and rebirths and the circular form was used to indicate the endless path. Just as the square plan of the temples, the spherical dome symbolized the infinite cosmos, the home of the Gods. The anda contained the garbha or the relic bija of a monk or Buddha. The 13 tiers supporting the parasol symbolized the 13 steps required to attain nirvana and break from the continuous cycle of rebirths. The eyes of the harmika symbolized the energy radiating out. The yasti was a symbol of the tree rising from the earth.

Kings were considered gods, an incarnation of the Lord Vishnu so the palace contained some of the symbolic elements of a temple. It was the highest and grandest secular building, its height surpassed only by that of the agamachem temples. Guardian images often flanked the entrance.


The vastushastras have presented the square as one or divided into 4,9,16,25…1024 squares called padas. The Nepali builders apparently restricted themselves to using the vastupurushamandalas which were divided into odd number of squares eg. 1,9,25,49,81, 121..961. The most commonly used plan in the temples of Kathmandu was one using 81 squares. The odd number is also apparent in the temples plans where odd number of bays is selected, normally 3 to 5 (Tiwari, 1989).

The design module (pada for the mandala) of the temple is determined by dividing the outer measurement of the temple by 2n-1 where n is the number of tiers in a temple when odd or the number of bays in the lowest core when tiers are even. When both conditions apply, n will be the greater of the number of tiers of bays. The lion face motif (simhamvah) one of the smallest temple decorations is an indication of the artisan’s working module as their numbers are always equal on each face of the temple. The standard design module determines the sizes of the temple core and the roof above. The reduction in size of the successive roofs is determined by reducing the roof size by one or more modules (Tiwari, 1989).

The temple symbolically represents the mountain. In determining the ideal height of a temple, the Nepali builders appear to have followed the dictates of Matsyapurana which prescribes that the total height of the temple should be twice or three times the width of the temple plan. Some old handwritten texts show two or three triangles raised on each other to reach the finial height. However, the height of the triangles drawn have been found to vary from the actual width e.g. w, 8/9w, 7/9w, 6/7w, 4/5w (Tiwari, 1989).

An old manuscript outlining steps for the repair and maintenance of temples shows the use of 3 proportioning triangles to determine the heights of important elements in elevation e.g. eave level of roofs, level of neck band of lion faces (simhamvah), junction level of lower roofs and upper core walls. Applying this principle to the elevation of Narayan Dega, the proportions of the different elements appear to conform to the given principle.

If H is the height of the proportioning triangle, the height of the temple is 3H. According to the manuals, the lowest downturned triangle extends from the “ritual base” to the “ritual roof” of the temple. The level of the first triangle normally ends at the simhamvah level, however, the base of the triangle may not exactly coincide with the base plan of the temple. In a linga temple, the base of the triangle coincides with the level of the jalahari (Tiwari, 1989).

Rectangular temples are dedicated to Bhairav, Bhimsen, Balkumari and specific devis. The proportion of the plans differ from 5:9 for Jayabageswori, Bhuvaneswori and Bag Bhairav to 5:7 for Balkumari (Patan) to 5:6 for Bhagawati temple at Nala and 3:4 for Bhimsen Patan.