The Kathmandu Valley civilization is around 3000 years old. It has been claimed that the valley was a large lake in the early geological period and it was only when the lake was drained that the valley was ready for human settlement. There is also a legend which reinforces the story that a certain Bodhistav called Manjushree came to Kathmandu Valley and cut the gorge in Chobar with his flaming sword and drained the water out of the valley making it ready for human settlement.
History & Culture
The discovery of a life-size statue of King Jaya Verma in 1992 at Maligaon in Kathmandu, with an inscription dated 185, is the earliest recorded evidence about Nepal’s history.
The discovery of a life-size statue of King Jaya Verma in 1992 at Maligaon in Kathmandu, with an inscription dated 185, is the earliest recorded evidence about Nepal’s history. Before the conquest of the Nepal (Kathmandu) valley by Gorkha’s King Prithivi Narayan Shah in 1769, Nepal Mandal, or Kathmandu Valley, was known as ‘Nepal’ to the outside world. According to recorded history, which dates back to early Christian era, Nepal has been ruled by the Lichchhavi, Thakuri, Malla and Shah dynasties. The Lichchhavis ruled the country from the beginning of the 1st to 9th century. The Lichchhavis were followed by the Thakuris, who ruled the country from the 9th to the 14th century. However, the architectural excellence of the Kathmandu Valley reached its zenith during the later Malla Period from the fourteenth century to the eighteenth century. The UNESCO heritage monuments that are scattered throughout the Kathmandu valley are the ingenuity of this period.
It was during the Malla Period that Newari culture and architecture reached their pinnacle, and is known as the era of “renaissance”. Malla rule came to an end when the Kathmandu Valley was conquered by the Gorkha King, Prithvi Narayan Shah, in 1769, and the Shah dynasty was established. But in 1846, taking advantage of a weak King embroiled in intense palace intrigues, Jung Bahadur Rana seized absolute power through the brutal court massacre and started the Rana oligarchy. The Ranas de facto ruled the country as their fiefdom until they were ousted from power by a popular revolt in 1951, and democracy was established in the country.
What we identify as Nepalese culture today germinated and developed in the Kathmandu Valley at the beginning of the 1st century or probably even earlier. But it was only after the country opened to the outside world with the advent of democracy in 1951 that the world was able to see the grandeur and opulence of Nepalese culture. No doubt, the different ruling dynasties patronized it, but in essence, it has been a people’s culture- a culture nurtured by the people through the ages. No cultural event takes place in Nepal without the people’s mass participation. One can see the spectrum of a vibrant cultural rainbow in the multitude of festivals and rituals that are celebrated almost every other day in some part or the other of the country. In the capital city of Kathmandu, the Newars who make up the indigenous inhabitants of the Kathmandu valley and are best known for their artistic creativity and skilled craftsmanship, culture has held a paramount position in their everyday lives.
Cultural tolerance has been the quintessence of Nepalese way of life. Nepal remains one of the most peaceful multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural countries in the world. The ethnic unity and religious harmony maintained by the Nepalese against such diversity are truly remarkable and have been acknowledged internationally. Undeniably, this plurality of culture is what has given Nepalese society its vibrant and lively character.
World Heritage Monuments of Kathmandu Valley:
Kathmandu Durbar Square
Kathmandu Durbar Square lies in the heart of the Kathmandu city. The locals know this area by its old name Hanuman Dhoka – an ancient seat of the Nepalese Royalty. The Royal Palace during medival timese were not merely for Royal Activities but also used as the center of Administration, cultural activities and festivals.
The Historical buildings and temples in the area were erected from the time of King Ratna Malla (1484-1520 AD) to Prithvi Bir Bikram Shah (1875-1911 AD) covering the Malla, Shah and Rana period of Nepalese history. The entire palace complex here is named after a monkey god called Hanuman. One can see a huge stone statue of Hanuman painted all red next to the main entrance (the golden gate) of the palace. Hanuman here is regarded as a powerful protector of the entire Durbar Square.
Patan Durbar Square
Patan is also known as Lalitpur which means the city of arts. It is located across the river Bagmati which is 5 km south of central Kathmandu. This city founded in 3rd century A.D. by King Veera Dev has a distinction of being the home of the finest crafts and is considered oldest of all three cities of Kathmandu Valley. Most of the monuments in this square date back to the Medieval Malla period from 16th to 18th century and the monuments in the area are mostly created to King Siddhi Narsingha Malla, Shri Niwas Malla and Yog Narendra Malla.
Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Bhaktapur meaning the city of devotees was founded by King Ananda Dev in 1197 A.D. according to the Gopal Raj Vamsabali even though the existence of the city could be traced back to the Licchavi period (185-750 A.D.). There are many monuments including pagodas, palaces, shikhara style monuments, courtyards and Buddhists shrines and monasteries. The Durbar Square was the seat of the Malla Kings and the present structures were erected from the 12th to the 18th century A.D. Bhaktapur is located at around 12 Km away from Kathmandu city.
Pashupatinath :Situates 5 km east of Kathmandu city center, Pashupati literally means “Lord of Animals” and is considered to be the patron deity of Nepal. Pashupatinath is regarded as one of the holiest sites for Hindus all over the world. Pashupatinath temple is a pagoda style two-tiered golden roof with exquisitely carved four silver doors containing in its sanctum a phallic idol with four faces facing each direction and the other fifth one is looking up toward the zenith. A temple dedicated to shiva was constructed at the present site by Licchavi King Supushpa Verma according to an ancient chronicle. However the present temple is claimed to have been built by King Bhupatendra Malla in 1697 A.D. legend has it that a cow would frequently escape from its herds and offer milk on a jyotilinga (phallic symbol of Shiva) which denotes the point where the temple stands today. It is said that a certain cowherd much to his surprise found the self-generated jyotilinga when he dug the spot where the cow would give milk. The spot immediately became the center of worship that has been continued till today.
Located on a lovely hillock, Swayambhunath Stupa lies 4 km west of central Kathmandu. There are 365 steps leading all the way to the top commanding a magnificient view of Kathmandu valley and the breath-taking panorama of the snow-clad Himalayan Range. The tradition in the Stupa follows the Vajrayana for of Buddhism which is a tantric variation of the Mahayana Buddhism (the great vehicle). The stupa seem to have been constructed during the Licchavi Period. Religious and literally sources give numerous accounts of the establishment and the patronage of the Swayambhunath premises. It is also interesting to note that the stupa went a series of renovation during the Malla period in the medieval times with donations made by the merchants, monks, pilgrims and Buddhist followers.
Boudanath is the biggest stupa of Nepal, is located 5km east of central Kathmandu. The stupa stands on a three-tiered platform raised over the crossed rectangles in order to bring out the yantra form.
The claims made in various religious and literary texts regarding the erection of the stupa is varied and conflicting. However, the stupa is believed to have been built in the 5th century A.D. during the reign of the Licchavi kings.
As in other stupa architecture, this stupa also has Vairochana at the center followed by Aksobhya, Ratna Sambhava, Amitabha and Amogha Siddhi in east, south, west and north directions respectively. Similarly, there are one hundred and eight small niches around the stupa accommodating the icons of Buddhas, Bodhisatavas and other female deities along with conjoint figures in erotic poses. Likewise, at the bottom level, it is surrounded with the praying wheels embossed with the famous mantra Om Mani Padme Hum fixed in more than hundred and forty niches.
The stupa along with the monasteries are centers of learning, cultural activities, prayers and meditation.
Changu Narayan Temple
Located on a magnificent hill top commanding a fantastic view of Kathmandu Valley, Changu Narayan – a temple of Lord Vishnu – lies 6 km north of Bhaktapur. The temple is full of magnificent art works in metal and wood. In fact, it is one of the finest examples of Nepalese architecture. The first epigraphic evidence of Nepalese history found in the temple premises during the reign of the Licchavi King Mandeva dating back to 464 A.D. shows that change had already been established as a sacred site in the 3rd century A.D. the present structure was probably constructed in the 17th century, though older elements have been incorporated during the restorations. The pagoda style temple has several masterpieces of 5th and 12th century Nepalese art.