Peaceful co-existence of Hinduism & Buddhism | Kathmandu


History

Kathmandu valley was once a giant lake until the waters were drained through the Chobhar gorge in the south west. Legend has it that Manjushree cut open an outlet at Chobhar and people settled in the fertile valley which was the beginnings of a whole new civilization. Art and music flourished in the 19th century largely patronized by royalty. The Newar population that inhabited the valley was to a large extent engaged in farming but they were and are also excellent artists, builders and craftsmen. They enjoy an unusually large number of religious festivals unique to the valley, during which they feast endlessly on cuisine quite different from that of other Nepalis. The valley was once ruled by herders known as Gopalas until they were ousted by the Kirantis who are said to have ruled for more than 5oo years. They were in power during the time of the Mahabharata. The Kirantis were finally conquered by the Lichhavis whose temples and water systems remain to this day.

Swoyambhu Stupa, an UNESCO heritage site
Pashupatinath Temple, an UNESCO heritage site
Bouddha Stupa, an UNESCO world heritage site
They were followed by the Malla kings whose reign brought in the Golden period when local art and architecture reached its pinnacle, capturing the hearts of visitors even to this day. Much of what this dynasty introduced in the form of architecture such as the temples, palaces and palace squares, religious festivals such as Gai Jatra, the cult of the Living Goddesses and much more make up the bulk of Nepal’s proud heritage. The Shah dynasty from the kingdom of Gorkha captured the entire valley, subjugating and banishing the Malla rulers from Kantipur, Lalitpur, Bhadgaon and Kirtipur. But the Shahs were not to rule for long. An exceptionally shrewd and power hungry Prime Minister wrested power from the ruling monarch and his queen, establishing a hierarchical rule of Rana Prime Ministers while keeping the kings on the throne as puppet rulers with no power whatsoever. However, by 1950, the Shahs managed to win back their right to rule with the help of their subjects and disgruntled Ranas. But, history was to repeat itself, after taking back power from the Ranas, they were to finally give it up once and for all in 2005, losing power to the democratic forces who now had the country firmly in their grip. Nepal is now a federal republic.

Places to see: World Heritage Sites


Pashupatinath Temple, an UNESCO world heritage site in Kathmandu

Pashupatinath Temple

The holiest of Hindu shrines devoted to Lord Shiva, Pashupati draws the largest crowds of devotees and has vast tracts of land under its jurisdiction. The deceased are brought here for cremation along the banks of the Bagmati and many Hindu festivals bring devotees here for a dip in the river and to pay homage to their god Shiva. The largest crowds gather here for Shivaratri ‘the night of Shiva’ in the beginning of spring when along with devotees, sadhus (the holy men) arrive here in great numbers from India.

Boudha Stupa, an UNESCO heritage site in Kathmandu

Boudha

The largest stupa in Nepal, Boudha is not very far from Pashupati and should be included in the same tour. This magnificent shrine has been an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists from around the world and especially from Tibet where Buddhism reached its pinnacle. In the vicinity of the stupa are many monasteries where hundreds of monks reside and foreigners take up courses in Buddhist studies. The largest crowds of devotees descend here for the Lhosar (the Tibetan New Year) festival in late winter or early spring.

Swoyambhu Stupa, an UNESCO world heritage site, in Kathmandu

Swoyambhu

Yet another powerful shrine and also one of the oldest, Swoyambhu is dominated by the Newar Buddhists. Perched atop a small hill, it is seen from most parts of the city and has a circular road around it for circumambulation where devotees are seen from early morning. A big draw for pilgrims from around the world, a near vertical staircase leads straight up to the stupa but there are also easier approaches. A great view of the city can be had from the shrine.

Durbar Square and the old Palace


One of the city’s major attractions, Durbar Square showcases the artistry of the Newar artisans going back many centuries. The square is a treasure trove of woodcarving and metal craft that embellish the windows and doors of the remarkable temples as well as the Hanuman Dhoka Palace (an image of the god Hanuman can be seen near the door (“dhoka” in Nepali). The palace houses interesting museums dedicated to the Shah kings and was once the seat of power where the coronation of these monarchs also took place until 2001 when the last king was crowned.

Patan Durbar Square, an UNESCO heritage site

Patan Durbar Square

Similar to Kathmandu Durbar Square, Patan Durbar Square is a living museum enriched by art represented in the wood-carving, stone carving, metal work and superb architecture of the temples built centuries ago. Part of the old Malla era palace has been converted into a museum that showcases the art of old Lalitpur. The outstanding Krishna temple in stone is worth a visit.

Bhaktapur Durbar Square, an UNESCO heritage site

Bhaktapur Durbar Square

The most spacious of the three palace squares of the valley, the Bhaktapur Durbar Square also has fewer temples but more space for people to sit around. The major attractions are the Golden Gate and the Fifty-five windows of the old palace. Worth a visit is the Art Gallery which houses some ancient artifacts. The art around Durbar Square is quite exceptional especially in the form of metal craft which includes some fine repouse work. This is where the remaining Malla kings took their last stand against the invading Gorkha army and lost their kingdoms.


Changu Narayan temple

Not far from Bhaktapur and accessible by car or bus, is one of the oldest temples of the valley, the Changu Narayan dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Standing majestically on a hilltop, it overlooks a large part of the valley and boasts some wonderful sculptures. Eateries, souvenir shops and hotels line the steps leading up to the shrine. Built in the Lichhavi period, it dates back to the 4th Century AD.

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ward no. 1, Kathmandu District,
Province 3, Nepal
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