PICS: CAI YUN
Of the three Darbar Squares of Kathmandu Valley, the former seat of the Malla kings of Patan is regarded as the most architecturally elegant and harmonious.The Patan Palace complex is now one of the seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Valley.
Three beautifully carved courtyards, Keshav Narayan Chok, Mul Chok and Sundari Chok, each more splendid than the other, form the main attraction of the palace.
From the Sundari Chok, chief architect Rohit Ranjitkar (below) leads us through a low-lying door out into the royal garden. This leafy area is an archaeological treasure trove because it was the dumping ground for debris after successive earthquakes. Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust (KVPT) has unearthed foundations of buildings dating back to the 12th century. The royal bath has also been restored based on period paintings and was inaugurated earlier this year. It will be opened to the public later as an inner city park. The Kathmandu Literary Festival in September will be held at this venue.
Although this exquisite quadrangle is currently under heavy scaffolding, the exceptional architecture and crafts still shine through the piles of construction materials. Among its treasures, the most striking is the superbly carved sunken fountain in the centre of the square, which was commissioned by King Siddhi Narsingh Malla in 1647.
Every available space inside the bath is adorned with figurines of the gods, goddesses, mythical beasts and abstract patterns. Every stone alcove is devoted to members of the Hindu pantheon, reflecting the craftsmanship and devotion of the past masters.
The other stone images have also been attached with concealed stainless steel hooks so they can't be removed. Art theft is a problem. The main gilded bronze image of Laxmi-Narayan was stolen 18 months ago, and a Durga was stolen in the 1980s. Rare historical photographs and water paintings come in as a handy guideline for restoration. A special puja will be done to confer divinity to the new images when the restored Sundari Chok opens early next year. While incorporating modern technology, traditional building techniques are still employed as much as possible to keep the ancient craftsmanship.
Upon completion of the renovation project, Sundari Chok will be integrated into the present Patan Museum for a permanent display of antique wood carvings. The entire project is being supported by Nepali corporate sponsors, the US Embassy and the German government. However, funds are running out and there is an urgent need for infusion of cash if the restoration is to meet its target completion date of early 2015.
More than 200 metal figures in the museum cover a long span of Nepal's cultural history. On exhibit are objects of Hindu and Tantric significance, Buddhist artifacts, and a newly added section of historical photographs of Kathmandu. Its main focus is on cast bronzes and repousse work of Hindu and Buddhist deities. When the museum is expanded to Sundari Chok, it will also house the wooden sculptures from the darbar.
Every display item is elegantly laid out and softly spot-lit, accompanied by detailed explanation on its form, history, and significance, in both Nepali and English. Visitors gain an extensive knowledge of Hindu and Buddhist culture and how they have evolved syncretically in the Kathmandu Valley.
The museum receives at lest 75,000 visitors a year, mainly from US, Japan and Germany, but increasingly from India and China. Nepali researchers and students also use the museum.
"We are planning to increase local visitors with new schemes," says galley in-charge Suresh Man Lakhe, "there will be memberships for students up to Grade 10, with the once-off payment of 50 rupees for unlimited visits with one parent."
From August, netizens will be able to access the museum resources and view gallery photos from around the world, available in both English and German. A new series of monthly cultural seminars, a public library and an audio-visual room is also under construction.
Keshav Narayan Chok
The courtyard now houses the Patan Museum, regarded as one of Asia's most important museums for Buddhist and Hindu artifacts. Its signature huge gilded door guarded by two stone lions welcome visitors from around the world.
Before 1983, years of wear and earthquake damage, including its recent use as a school, left this jewel of Malla architecture almost in ruins. With funding and technical support from Austria, the Department of Archaelogy restored the building to its former glory. Besides extensive renovation and partial reconstruction, the space was also redesigned to suit a modern museum that was opened in 1997.
Run by an independent board of directors, the Patan Museum is a model for sustainability in a country where most such projects are mismanaged. Revenue from the tickets, rent from the cafť and gift shops and venue rental for cultural events go for the museum's upkeep.
Mul Chok is the biggest and oldest among all the three royal courtyards. It has witnessed all major historical events in the Malla period, including religious rituals, royal weddings and investiture of the crown prince. The courtyard, including the exquisite figurines of Ganga and Jamuna and the priceless toranas on the golden door is the venue for rituals during Dasain when the Taleju deity is brought down to a special room by priests. Mul Chok is also currently being restored.
F-port 2100, RABI THAPA
2100 looks good, too bad you'll be dead by then