The Durbar squares are the historic cores of the 3 major towns within the Kathmandu Valley. Durbar means ‘royal’ and the squares developed around the former royal palaces and a series of important temples and shrines, linked together by an open public space. They were, and still are, the center of public life in the cities. In the western corner of the city, Bhaktapur Durbar Square is relatively unintegrated into daily life. This spectacular square, the capital of the Malla kingdom till 1769, is an open museum in itself .Victorian illustrations show that it was once packed with monasteries, temples and artistic buildings, almost one third of which were devastated in the great earthquake of 1934 and is former self, with odd blank spaces ruining the once masterful composition. This square however, still holds mesmerizing palaces, pagodas, Shikhara style temples as well as Buddhists monasteries exclusively architectures. Layaku (Bhaktapur durbar square) is Bhaktapur’s monumental gem. It is one of the seven UNESCO world heritage sites. One can get to feel the touch of mediaeval excellence.
The durbar square of Bhaktapur is smaller than those of Patan and Kathmandu. Approaching durbar square through the huge white gate, one can notice on the left, a pair of lion statues guarding supposedly one of the entrances to the royal complex. Between them lies two master pieces of stone sculptures, Bhairab the fierce form of Shiva and Durga a fearsome manifestation of goddess parvati, which dates back to 1701A.D. It is believed that the unfortunate sculpture had his hands cut off afterwards, to prevent him from duplicating his masterpieces. In front of these statues of Ugrabhairab and Ugrachandi or when entering the durbar square from the main gate, there is a group of temples on the right(south), which represent the four highest Hindu pilgrimage sites; Gopi Nath, Kedarnath, Rameshwar and Badrinath. These temples are constructed by the Malla kings for those who could not afford to visit the original sites. Another pair of lion status and stone sculptures of Hanuman (worshipped for strength and devotion) and Narsingh (an incarnation of lord Vishnu) can be seen at the entrance of the National Art Gallery, which is situated on the middle north side of the square. The gallery is worth visiting for its exclusive collection of Buddhist Paubha paintings, palm leaf manuscripts as well as metal and stones. The whole block on the north side of the square is the main palace complex. It consisted of 99 different courtyards within (out of which still remain) the main entrance to this palace complex is the master piece of Bhaktapur, through this golden gate you may enter to discover the courtyard of the Taleju temple, the royal bath and what used to be the residence of the Malla kings. Next to the golden gate is the most talked about 55 windows palace of King Bhupatindra Malla. This palace, which is being completely renovated by the department of Archaeology and the Bhaktapur Municipality, is one of the main parts of the palace complex. Right in front of the golden gate you can see the impressive statue of King Bhupatindra Malla on a high stone column. The gold gilded statue in the position of worship is the center of appraisal for every visitor. In front of the palace lies a large bell erected by King Ranjit Malla in 1337A.D. Beside the big bell stands the Shikhara style Durga temple, completely built out of stones in 1727 A.D. by Jaya Ranjit Malla. On the lower flank of this Vatsala temples lies another small bell erected by king Bhupatindra Malla it is popularly known as the ‘Khicha kho gan’ which means dogs crying bell because dogs cry and bark whine at its sound. Unfortunately it is now broken. Some of the important parts of Bhaktapur Durbar Square are explained below:-
- Erotic Elephants Temple
On the left just before the entrance way to the square is a hiti (water tank). A few steps before that, but on the south side of the road, perhaps 100m before the entrance way, is a tiny double roofed Shiva- Parvati temple with some erotic carvings on its temple struts. One of these shows a pair of copulating elephants, in the missionary position! It’s hathi (elephant) Kamasutra.
- Ugrachandi and Ugrabhairab
Near the main gate at the west end one can admire a pair of multiple-armed statues of the terrible god Ugrabhairab and his counterpart Ugrachandi, the fearsome manifestation of Shiva’s consort parvati. The statues date from 1701 A.D. and it is said that the unfortunate sculptor had his hands cut off afterwards, to prevent him from duplicating his masterpieces. Ugrachandi have eighteen arms holding various weapons and she is in the position of casually killing a (buffalo) demon. Bhairab has twelve arms and both god and goddess are garlanded with necklaces of human heads.
- Char Dham
The four temples locally called Char Dham which means four holiest pilgrimages lies at the western end of Durbar Square. King Yaksha Malla built in1451A.D. For those who could not travel abroad for health and financial reasons. The Char Dham is as follows:-
- Rameshwar Temple
The first temple you notice on the right as you enter gate is Rameshwar temple, in front of Gopi Nath temple which is a Gum Baja style temple. It is an open shrine with four Pillars and it is dedicated to Shiva. The name Rameshwar comes from the fact that it was Ram was an incarnation of Vishnu who had the original temple of Mahadev built at Rameshwar temple, south India.
- Badrinath Temple
A small temple west of the Gopi Nath temple is locally known as Badri Narayan which is dedicated to Vishnu and Narayan.
- Gopi Nath Temple
Two roofed pagoda style is Gopi Nath. It is the temple attached to Rameshwar temple houses 3 deities Balaram, Subhadra and Krishna. It is difficult to see the deities as the door remains mostly closed. It is also known as Jagannath. It is another form taken by Vishnu: Dwarika also simply known as the Krishna temple, houses 3 deities, left to right, respectively: Satyabhama, Krishna and Radha. Their images are carved in stone. In the month of Mangsir, the deities are placed in a palanquin and taken around the city.
- Kedarnath Temple
Just beyond that is terracotta Shikhara style is Kedarnath (Shiva).
- Hanuman Statues
The entrance to the National art gallery is flanked by figures of hanuman the monkey god appears in Tantric form as the four armed hanuman Bhairab. Hanuman is worshipped for strengt and devotin
- Narshimha Statues
Narshimha –the lion headed god, incarnation of lord Vishnu, posing killing Hiranyakashyapu, who was a power boned person. Shiva had graced him through a boon for almost immortal life .Accordingly, he would have none of his breathing last neither on earth, nor in the sky, nor on the air .Strategically it that Vishnu made him breathe his last placing him on the former’s lap. This statue date from1698 A.D.
- National Art Gallery(Malati Chowk)
The Malati Chowk was built by King Bhupatindra Malla in 1707. This is the western end of the palace which is the section of the palace and has been converted into the National Art Gallery which contains numerous paintings, manuscripts and stone sculptures. The entrance to the Gallery is flanked by figures of Hanuman the monkey god and Vishnu as Narshimha. This National Art Gallery was established by government of Nepal, department of archaeology in 1960 A.D. at Singha Dhoka building complex of Bhaktapur Royal palace.
Gallery has magnificent collection of ancient Paubha painting and various classic and medieval masterpieces in wood, stone and metal. Being actually housed in the ancient palaces one can also get the chance to marvel the original masterpiece of wall paintings on the walls of the Malla palace. It is housed in a renovated old wing, displays over 200 exquisite paintings from the 13th century on in cluding palm leaf manuscripts, Thangkas and restored frescoes decorating the wall of King Bhupatindra private quarter. The gallery is a palace not to be missed while in Bhaktapur
- King Bhupatindra Malla’s column
A guilded statues of King Bhupatindra Malla kneels on a pillar opposite, dignifies and solemn, his hands folded in Prayer, legs folded with a serpent supporting the capital, in front of the Golden Gate. A small bird sits on top of the serpent’s head. King Bhupatindra Malla is the most famous of the Malla kings of Bhaktapur and had a great influence on the art and architecture of the town. Like the similar column in Patan’s Durbar square this one was a copy of the original in Kathmandu.
- Vatsala Devi temple
Directly in front of the palace and beside the king’s statue or next to the Taleju bell is the stone Vatsala Devi temple. This Shikhara style temple is completely constructed in sandstone and is built upon a 3 stage plinth. And has some similarities to the Krishna temple of Patan. It is dedicated to Vatsala Devi, a form of the Goddess Durga. The temple was originally built by King Jitamitra Malla in 1696. The structure that can be seen today, however, is a reconstruction by King Bhupatindra Malla and dates back to the late 17th or early 18th century. Behind the temple is a water source called Dhunge Dhara and next to it stands the Chayslin Mandap.
- Tagogan (big bell)
Huge Taleju bells are found in the entire 3 Durbar square of the Kathmandu Valley. They had multiple uses in ancient times when they aced as alarm bells during times of distress, as a means to notify the population of important events or discussions and to pay homage to the fearsome Goddess Taleju. This large bell which was erected by King Jaya Ranjit Malla in 1737A.D to call the faithful to prayer at the Taleju temple.
- Khicha kho gan
Smaller bell stands on the temple’s lower plinth and is popularly known as the Khicha kho gan which mean dog crying bell. The king had the bell ring made to replicate the sound of the death knell that had heard in a dream. It was erected by King Bhupatindra Malla in 1721A.D.supposedly to counteract a vision he had in a dream, and to this day dogs are said to bark and start howling if the bell is rung. Unfortunately it is now broken.
- Lu Dhwaka (Golden gate)
In front or directly opposite of Bhupatindra Malla statue the magnificent gate is locally known as Lu Dhwaka which means golden gate. It is the entrance to the 55 window palace. The golden gate is generally agreed to be the single most important piece of art in the whole valley. This magnificent gilt gateway and palace was built by King Jaya Ranjit Malla in 1754. The remarkable craftsmanship is considered by many to be the finest example of Metal work in Nepal.
The torana features the image of 4 headed goddess Taleju Bhawani having 10 armed and two attendants at her side named Ganga and Jamuna. Taleju Bhawani is the family deity of the Malla dynasty and there are temples to her in the Royal palaces in valley. A Garuda (half man and half eagle head) the vehicle of Vishnu, above the gate and is shown disposing of a number of serpents, dragons and reptiles.
The golden gate leads into the Sadashiva Bhairab Chowk of the Bhaktapur Palace. This is one of the only remaining courtyards, which is easily accessible for Visitors. Passing through the golden gate, the next gate house is home to huge drums covered with elephant skin. The Sadashiva Bhairab Chowk leads to the Nag Phuku (Nag Pokhari) and to the Mul Chowk and Taleju temple, 2 guardian figures stand inside the doorways. A few paces away from the pond is the entrance to the Mul Chowk courtyard, which houses the Taleju Temple and is only accessible to Hindus. The Mul Chowk was established in the 14th century and is the oldest part of the palace.
- Nyanyapa Jhya (55 window)
Just next to the Golden Gate stands the palace of fifty- five Windows. Golden gate is the entrance to 55 windows. As the name suggest, the palace was constructed with 55 carved windows. The carved windows of the 2nd floor are considered the finest examples of woodcarving produced during the reign of the prodigious king. Above each of the windows are wooden torana depicting gods and goddesses. This palace, which is being completely renovated by the Department of Archaeology and the Bhaktapur municipality, is one of the main parts of the palace complex. Although there was a palace on this site as long ago as 1427, it was remodelled by king Jitamitra and his son Bhupatindra Malla in the late 17th century. The palace once sprawled far beyond here, but the 1934 earthquake has left only an enormous empty plaza to the east, littered with the bases of Giant temples. The series of intricately carved wooden carving windows on the second floor is the specialties of the structure the whole of these windows have been pulled in by more than 2 feet present level during reconstruction after the earthquake of 1934 A.D.
- Chayslin Dega
Beside the Tagogan (big bell) and in front of 55 window palace that is the Chayslin Dega. This octagonal temple was one of the finest in the square and was originally a viewing point for nobles observing festivals and rituals. The Mandap was built during the 17th century by King Jitamitra Malla and was used as a rest house by the travelers and pilgrims. It has an open hall at the lower level. It was totally destroyed by the 1934A.D. earthquake; it was recently reconstructed with assistance from Germany.
- Yakcheswor Mahadev
Behind the Vatsala Durga temple is the Yakcheswor Mahadev temple which was built by King Yaksha Malla in 15th century and is a replica of the Pashupatinath of Kathmandu erotic carvings on the roof struts. This is one of the most eye-catching on the Durbar Square. It is also the oldest surviving temple in the square. Legend has it that Shiva in his form as Pashupatinath, protector of animals, appeared in Pashupatinath. The lay-out and style of the temple in Bhaktapur resembles the original. The central shrine also houses a large chaturmukhi lingam resembling the one located at Pashupatinath. The roof struts are carved with exotic scenes.
- Siddhi Laxmi temple
It can easily be distinguished by the use of stone and their indianized style. The temple is called Shikhara in reference to their tapering shape. Although the style developed in India in the 6th century, it only appeared in Nepal during the late Licchavi period, 9th century. By the south eastern corner of the 55 window palace stand the Shikhara style stone Siddhi Laxmi temple also known as Lohan Dega. The steps up to the temple are flanked by male and female attendants each leading a rather reluctant child and a rather eager –looking dog. On successive levels the stairs are flanked by horses, rhinos, man-lions and camels. The 17th century temple marks the dividing line between the main durbar square and its secondary square.
- Vatsala temples
Behind the Siddhi Laxmi temple is another one storied Vatsala temple, which is always closed, while to one side of it are two rather lost looking large stone lions, standing by themselves out in the middle of the square.
- Fasi dega ( Tahacho Dega)
The bizarre- looking Fasi dega temple is another odd remnant of post- earthquake initiatives. The large, white Fasi dega temple is dedicated to Shiva; this temple is one of the tallest temple in the 2nd part of Bhaktapur Durbar Square. The temple sits on a six plinth with elephant guardians at the bottom of the steps, lions and cows above them. Cow is Shiva’s vehicle. Today, the whitewashed dome structure is nothing more than a house for the deity, but it is clearly out of scale compared to the preserved temple base. There are various view points around Bhaktapur and Changu Narayan temple is direct north.
- Janajyoti pustakalya
It was established at 2007 B.S. It was the 1st Library in Bhaktapur.
- Balakhu Ganesh
Ganesh, the elephant head god of wisdom and success is the defender and remover of obstacles and has to be propitiated first before worship to other gods is offered. He is the sons of Shiva and Parvati. He is extremely popular in the Kathmandu Valley and his image is found everywhere. This Balakhu Ganesh temple is next to the Janajyoti Pustakalya. Legend believes that if somebody lost anything then he\she can get by worshipping the Balakhu Ganesh.
- Tadhunchen Bahal:
A rare Buddhist remnant in predominantly Hindu Bhaktapur, the well- preserved Tadhunchen Bahal, east of the square, is a gathering place for neighborhood metal smiths in the evening; you might also hear languorous music performed on harmonium and tabla. It is also known as Chatur Varna Mahavihara an ancient looking Monastery. Near the Tadhunchen Bahal there is a small temple of Dattatraya temple.