20 Apr 2022

Bhaktapur: ‘The Art of the Matter’


The medieval town of Bhaktapur is deeply entrenched in the art and craft traditions of Nepal from ancient times. For visitors, it offers an opportunity for an immersive deep dive into an intrinsic part of this beautiful Himalayan country’s cultural legacy.

Seclude yourself in an island of silence, despite the crowds, at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Durbar Square, and stand amazed at the astounding ornamental narrative of the Palace of 55 Windows or Pachpanna Jhyale Durbar. A fabulous showpiece of Newari woodcarving artistry, the palace carries a name inspired by the number of ornate windows, a unique architectural feature that marks this royal residence.

Definitely keep time aside to browse around the excellent display of medieval and Licchivi art at the National Art Gallery housed here in the western wing. Unmissable here on the ground floor are the ancient Paubha Scroll paintings, tantric cloth paintings., the masks of Nava Durga,, the deeply symbolic erotic paintings of  Bhairava and his shakti, Bhairavi; there’s another image of Mahasambhara, one of the popular but fearsome deities of the Vajrayana cult of Buddhism, in his Yogic union with his shakti, Bajrabarahi. On the first floor of the museum dip into the gallery collection of Vasundhara, Ganesh Shakti, Mahisa Sambhara, Vajra Yogini, Asta Bhairava with their shakti, and Shiva. It also has the classic paintings of Krishna Leela and Madhukaitavabadha.

Your other point of focus at the main entrance for the main palace in the Durbar Square should be the intensely decorative Golden Gate, a masterpiece in repousse art, dating to the reign of Raja Ranjit Malla, the last Malla ruler.

Often described as a ‘Museum of Living Art and Architecture,’ Bhaktapur is a roller-coaster ride of delights for the culture buff, who wants a thorough insight into Newari heritage and the complex marriage of Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Unmissable too are the ornamental facades of the shrines (both pagoda and shikhar style) and religious themed paintings in the temples, in the Durbar Square and in the Bahls or traditional Buddhist monasteries in Nepal. Another spot worth spending time to marvel over the frescoes illustrating the walls and the elaborate structure is the much venerated Taleju temple, dedicated to Nepal’s cult goddess.

At the Pashupatinath Temple, which in many ways replicates the one in Kathmandu, the graphic erotic carvings in the pillars and roof might come as a bit of a surprise to you. The ascent towards the skies of King Bhupatindra Malla’s 5-tiered Nyatapola Temple dating between 1701 and 1702 is awe-inspiring; the elaborately sculpted pagoda-style structure rises to a height of 30m and is the tallest temple in Nepal.

The Dattatraya Square is worthy of a visit for its iconic ‘Peacock Window’. The beautiful window, dating to the 15th century even managed to sidestep the humongous damage caused by the earthquake of 2015. If you want to witness the beauteous nature of Newar traditions in intricate artistry the Peacock Window defines it in the most intimate manner.

Dattatraya Square is also Bhaktapur’s oldest square and has the interesting Wooden and Metal Craft in museums you might want browse around.

Don’t leave town without shopping for thangka paintings, elaborately painted masks and wooden toys lovingly made to represent mythical figures.

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