Nepali Times Asian Paints
A temple of dubious reputation

being given a much-needed facelift by the Tourism Ministry.

This temple was first built by the great Nepali prime minister and army commander Bhim Sen Thapa, Gen Ochterloney\'s valorous opponent during the Anglo-Nepal wars of 1814-16. He planned it to be a building; or singular magnificence, but the foundations were hardly complete when Bhimsen was forced to commit suicide.

In accordance with popular belief of the time, it was considered inauspicious to complete an undertaking begun by someone who had died, so the temple never should have been completed. That it was owed much to the audacity of Jung Bahadur, the first Rana prime minister, Bhimsen\'s grand nephew who, disregarding superstition, had the temple completed. It is rumoured that he did this to atone for his part in the murder of his uncle, Mathabar Singh, and the infamous Kot massacre when hundreds of Nepal\'s elite were cut down at a royal audience in a single day.

Apparently the victims\' bodies were cremated en masse at the spot where the temple now stands. True or not, the temple even to this day is largely shunned except by temple priests, destitutes who gather to receive charity under a bequest of Jung Bahadur, or more likely his senior wife, and those who come to perform the last rites of their deceased relatives.

The temple has been describe by many as ugly-an early Western visitor described it as too vulgar to even describe. True it has an air of being unkempt and deserted, but frankly I find it both powerful and imposing. Its style owes much to Moghul architecture of which Bhimsen was greatly enamoured. His palace, now being demolished, was Moghul in style with a fair amount of Kathmandu Gothic thrown in.

His folly on the Tundikhel, Kathmandu\'s maidan, is a Muslim type minaret and his small temple near it could well have been the model for this larger, far more grand construction. Either Jung Bahadur was faithful to Bhimsen\'s design or had an eye for Moghul architecture himself. The most striking aspect of the temple are four large golden griffins that seem to hurl themselves about into flight from the corners of the first tier of the building. They are believed to have guarded a Vishnu temple that once stood on the Tundikhel and was cleared away to make room for the large maidan.

Crowning the high dome and giving it a Nepali character are four gilded and plumed serpents under a sacred canopy.

In the courtyard, facing the front door of the temple, is an inscribed granite column resting on a massive stone turtle. It supports a heavily gilded, life-size statue of a man in court dress, plumed and bejewelled and wearing a sword, standing stiffly upright. He is protected from the sun and rain by a gilded canopy.

History is confused as to who he is, as the highly stylized likeness makes recognition difficult. Dr Oldfield, who lived and worked in Kathmandu besides being a contemporary and friend or Jung Bahadur, describes how on 15 March 1853, a statue of the prime minister was inaugurated on the Tundikhel with a review of the army, much festivity and a grand show of fireworks.

So we know there was a golden statue of Jung Bahadur extant and that like the temple of the golden griffins it might have been found to clutter up the new maidan and was moved elsewhere. Where better than to the temple lung Bahadur built? Later historians, however, describe the handsome figure variously as King Rajendra Bir Bikram Shah, whose power Jung Bahadur usurped, or even his son. King Surendra Bir Bikram Shah. Rajendra was deposed by Jung Bahadur and sent into exile in India. Surendra, when heir apparent, spent much astonishing ingenuity devising means of ridding himself of Jung Bahadur, who was then but an outstanding courtier.

It was in this temple, called Kal Mochan, dedicated to the deity Satyanarayan, that in 1954 I saw the late King Tribhuvan\'s sons, with the exception of the eldest, King Mahendra, observe the traditional days of mourning, their heads shaved, dressed in white seamless garments. barefooted and sleeping on pallets of straw.

I remember being affected then by its sense of foreboding and gloom. I still am. Little wonder then that many Nepalis mistake the gentle god of Kal Mochan for Shiva the destroyer.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)