Nestled in the heart of the ancient city of Patan, Nepal, lies a captivating UNESCO World Heritage Site known as Patan Durbar Square. This architectural marvel and its surrounding chowks (courtyards) have stood as a testament to Nepal’s rich cultural heritage for centuries. Patan Durbar Square and its chowks showcase remarkable Newar craftsmanship, intricate temples, and a harmonious blend of Hindu and Buddhist traditions. The courtyards lie in the heart of a busy town and the Palace itself sits as a social space for the people of Patan. This essay explores the historical significance, architectural grandeur, and cultural importance of Patan Durbar Square and its chowks, shedding light on their enduring legacy.
Patan Durbar Square traces its roots back to the ancient Licchavi period (3rd to 9th century AD), when it served as the royal palace complex of the Malla kings. The Malla dynasty played a pivotal role in shaping the artistic and architectural landscape of Patan. Over the centuries, the square witnessed the rise and fall of various dynasties and endured several reconstructions. Despite the passage of time and various disasters, Patan Durbar Square has managed to retain its historical charm, reflecting the resilience of Nepal’s cultural heritage. The recent earthquake of 2016 had an impact on the built mass of palace.
The architectural magnificence of Patan Durbar Square and its chowks is a sight to behold. The square is adorned with numerous palaces, temples, and statues, showcasing the finest examples of Newar craftsmanship. The tiered temples, with their intricate wood carvings, gilded roofs, and delicate stone sculptures, exemplify the artistic brilliance of the Newar artisans. The iconic Krishna Mandir, Bhimsen Temple, and the Taleju Temple are among the most notable structures within the square. Each edifice stands as a testament to the fusion of Hindu and Buddhist architectural styles, symbolizing the religious harmony that has prevailed in Nepal for centuries.
Surrounding Patan Durbar Square are four distinct chowks, or courtyards, each with its unique characteristics and historical significance. These chowks served as gathering places, centers of trade, and venues for cultural events. They were essential to the social fabric of the city, fostering community engagement and preserving traditions. The chowks were zoned according to the social hierarchy. Some courts were dedicated to the king and some were dedicated to the priests.
All the chowks have their entrance facing temple complex to their west. The four main chowks are:
The center of the chowk has a small, gilded Bidyapith Temple, besides a wooded post used for animal sacrifices. The deity of the courtyard is Yantaju, a form of Durga who was the personal deity of Malla kings.
This chowk also houses Taleju Bhawani Temple, which is flanked by statures of river goddesses Ganga. The upper stories of this temple are now a part of the museum. The northeast corner has Degutaleju temple which has octagonal plan with triple tiered roof.
Known for its exceptional beauty, Sundari Chowk is a hidden gem within Patan Durbar Square. It was built by Queen Sundari, wife of King Yoganarendra Malla, and showcases exquisite woodwork and stone carvings. The chowk features a royal bath, known as Tusha Hiti, where the royals performed ceremonial ablutions.
Keshav Narayan Chowk
This chowk is named after the Keshav Narayan Temple, a sacred shrine dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The temple’s architecture and its beautifully carved wooden struts are a testament to the Newar artisans’ skill. Keshav Narayan Chowk is also home to an impressive collection of stone sculptures, attracting art enthusiasts from around the world.
Mani Keshav Narayan Chowk: Situated adjacent to Keshav Narayan Chowk, Mani Keshav Narayan Chowk is known for its serene ambiance and the statue of Lord Buddha at its center. This chowk exemplifies the harmonious coexistence of Hinduism and Buddhism in Nepal.
Bhandarkhal Garden: A breakout space
The Bhandarkhal water tank, also known as the Bhandarkhal garden, is situated behind the royal palace in Patan. Currently, access to the tank is restricted to visitors who have purchased tickets for entry into the Patan Museum. Built in the late 17th century, it was originally designed to serve as the main water source for Patan’s royal palace.
The water tank has a roughly square shape, measuring 16 x 16 meters. It consists of three stepped terraces, providing convenient access to clean drinking water throughout the year. The first two levels of the tank are constructed with stone, while the lower level is made of brick. Water flows into the tank through the Lohan Hiti water spout located on the eastern side. At the center of the tank, there is a dragon-headed spout adorned with a stone sculpture of Ganga, the goddess of water, flanked by two inscriptions from the Malla period. Two stone guardian figures are positioned on either side of the niche.
Adjacent to the tank, on its northern side, stands the Bhandarkhal pavilion. Originally built with timber, it was unfortunately lost at some point between 1853 and 1950. However, in 2010, the pavilion was reconstructed based on a watercolor painting by Henry Ambrose Oldfield from 1853. The reconstructed pavilion rests on an original stone base and features an arched torana flanked by bas-reliefs depicting various deities. Notably, a stone relief on the north side of the pavilion’s base portrays scenes of the Eight Siddhas and aspects of court life.
Patan Durbar Square and its chowks are not merely architectural marvels; they are living testaments to Nepal’s rich cultural heritage. These sites provide a window into the religious, artistic, and social fabric of Nepal. The square serves as a venue for various religious festivals, processions, and cultural performances, keeping the traditions alive and promoting cultural exchange. The chowks, with their open spaces and vibrant atmosphere, provide a sense of community and serve as meeting points for locals and visitors alike.
Furthermore, Patan Durbar Square and its chowks have played a crucial role in fostering artistic and architectural traditions. The intricate woodwork, stone carvings, and metal craftsmanship found within these structures have influenced generations of artisans, who have carried forward these skills to this day. The preservation and promotion of these cultural treasures are vital in ensuring the continuity of Nepal’s artistic legacy.
Patan Durbar Square and its chowks stand as a testament to the rich historical, architectural, and cultural heritage of Nepal. They showcase the exceptional craftsmanship of the Newar artisans, the religious harmony that defines the country, and the sense of community that binds its people. As these architectural marvels continue to captivate visitors from around the world, it is crucial to recognize their significance, preserve their integrity, and promote their cultural value. By doing so, we can ensure that future generations can experience the awe-inspiring beauty and historical significance of Patan Durbar Square and its chowks, fostering a deeper appreciation for Nepal’s cultural heritage.
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