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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Story from ECS Magazine about Nepalese Temple Architecture

Here is a very interesting article in the current edition of ECS Magazine. The subject of this story, Purusottam Dangol, continues to play a key advisory role in the ongoing renovation works of the Janabahaa Dyo temple.

Saving Grace
Purusottam Dangol
By Amendra Phokharel

Apologies for the bizarre allusion I am about to make, but immediately after America’s 110 storey World Trade Center towers were razed to the ground, the American government confidently announced that if terrorists thought they had shaken the very foundation of its economic prosperity, they were wrong. The Twin Towers would be built again in no time. Sadly, Nepalese officials cannot say the same thing if any of Kathmandu’s ancient temples, far smaller in size, deteriorate or fall to the ground. The reason is that the Americans have the blueprints of their Twin Towers, but the Nepalese have virtually lost the designs of their temples. Even if the blueprints of the Twin Towers were lost, an architect could flip through his imagination and redraw the map. The same cannot be said for the Hindu temples, because they are not simply what they appear from outside.

Though the American skyscrapers were built by highly qualified architects, the knowledge designers of the ancient Nepalese temples had were far more sophisticated. “That with so much limited resource and no formal qualification they could build structures as proportionate as the temples in the valley is in itself an amazing feat,” says Purusottam Dangol. Then he adds: “It can spin the head of any architect worth the salt.”

Apart from being a qualified architect, Dangol is also the Deputy Director at the Department of Urban Development and Building Construction, and has published a book entitled Elements of Nepalese Temple Architecture.

When building a skyscraper an architect’s concerns and calculations are restricted to the land on which it is being built and its immediate surrounding. But the designer engaged in planning a Hindu temple assesses factors far beyond, depending on all but his mental radar. Among those factors there are even supernatural ones, about how the deities will react to their new abode.

A simple sentence in Dangol’s book, published after thorough research, reveals the complexity of building a Hindu temple: “Only if the temple is constructed according to a mathematical system can it be expected to function in harmony with the mathematical basis of universe. Only well executed image, satisfactory in its proportional measurements will be able to invite the deities to reside within it.”

“Though the temples built during the past few decades mimic the older ones, they do not incorporate the basic schemes of original designs in strict sense of a term,” says Dangol.

“The original temples built centuries ago, for example, use wooden wedges in place of nails that are considered inauspicious and thought to invite bad omen,” he says, “though that tradition is changing fast, as nobody can explain why wooden wedges are better than nails.”

The people hired to make the temples were great craftsmen who could have easily forged metal nails. Metal fasteners, however, were simply not an option. But aren’t nails, more th
an the wooden wedges, supposed to be effective in keeping the structures steady and upright? Standing against that logic is the fact that the temples survived the great earthquake of 1990 BS (1933 AD), when other buildings that were held together by nails, and built much later, fell apart.

Indeed, some thought was given to ensure the longevity and robustness of the older edifices, Dangol suggests. For example the woods used in different parts of the temple, he says, were of varied kind. “Sal wood was used in the parts exposed to rain and direct heat, whereas the portions shielded from adverse weather tend to be made of softer varieties. But I think for all fixing and tightening purpose the woods used must be of hardest variety, like oak,” he concludes.

The resourcefulness of the craftsmen is visible in their ability to weave the religious and cultural symbolism into the architectural design. “Take the case of struts that are used to provide support to the overhanging roofs. The deities carved on them are done so beautifully that an onlooker is instantly mesmerized to think of it in the line of some essential religious symbol, and ignore the support factor,” says Dangol.

In his book he presents an in-depth study of the subject, including some interesting historical perspectives. “In most cases, the temples with deities found on the site have their sanctum sanctorum lower than the ground level on which the main structure stands,” says Dangol. One has to climb down a few inches to a few feet in order to reach the shrines of such temples. Indeed, Maitidevi temple, located north-east of Dillibazar, has its shrine at a slightly lower elevation, whereas the temple of Guheshwari, behind the Pashupatinath, requires you to descend a flight of steps to have a close look at the deity.
On the other hand, the temples built by the royals stand high above the ground with their most sacred interiors resting at the base of the topmost plinth. Patan’s Krishna Mandir (temple) and the temples in Basantapur area are the examples.

The idea to write a book on Nepal’s temple architecture first occurred to Purusottam Dangol when, as a student of architecture, he submitted a research paper on Bhaktapur’s Nyatapole temple as a part of a summer assignment. His teacher appreciated the effort and asked him to continue studying the ancient
architecture and publish a book later.

He continued the work off and on over the years, then got an opportunity to dedicate himself wholly to it, though it was during a time of personal misfortune. He took nine months off from government service to take care of his ailing mother, who passed away soon after. “I could have rejoined the service, but instead I decided to finish up the pending business,” says Dangol. “Since our culture requires us to visit as many temples as possible in the first year of a death in the family, I took it as a divine intervention.”
And so he began his work in full swing. He visited temples and studied the architecture for hours on end. He visited libraries that very few have ever heard of. And he met someone he was referred to by someone who knew someone... One look at Dangol’s face and you’ll say “spare me these someone’s details, eh!”
“Getting things out of people was unnerving,” says Dangol, “but patience is the last thing you want to lose when you are out to seek help from people who have learned to trade money for information.”

His persistence paid off, and today his book is a staple reading at the schools of architecture in Nepal and is found in the shelves of many libraries in the city.

Like American cities are known for their skyscrapers, Kathmandu is known to the outside world as the city of temples. Like the skyscrapers represent America’s economic prosperity, the temples stand for our cultural richness. But unlike the capability of the American’s to resurrect their foundations, Nepalese are fast losing the wherewithal to revive their precious heritages.

Dangol need not publish books for living as he is basically an architect, not a writer. He was also of officer rank with the government when he started doing the research for his book. But the fear of losing it all really pushed him on. Though he knows the book is no where near to be tagged as a complete documentation of Nepalese temple architecture, he is proud of the fact that at least those following on his footsteps will not have to sweat it out like he did.

The book is filled with elaborate descriptions, detailed sketches (by the author) and some pictures of original manuscripts that outline temple plans and the science behind them. Those manuscripts are in fact the blueprints of Nepalese temple architecture that he dug out with the help of a friend at Kaisar
Library. “My friend was kind enough to sift through the dust covered stacks of books, as rarely did anyone came looking for them,” he says. “It was embarrassing to stand there and see him do all that, but I had no choice.”

Thanks to him and all those who helped, Purusottam Dangol published his book. So, perhaps, all is not lost after all. And if you found my allusion at the beginning well placed, I’ve gained what I had set out for.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Presentation on "Our Achivements" (continued from earlier post)

Among the three presentations made during the 1st Annual Meet of Janabahaa Society, the slideshows of two of them (Sumati Bajracharya and Dr. Sampurna Tuladhar) can be viewed here. The third presentation made by Bijaya Shrestha on the achievements of Janabahaa Society can be viewed here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Chariot procession of Janabahaa Dyo

We all know that all the chariot procession of Janabahaa Dyo takes place once a year as per Newaa culture. The procession goes around town during April in a magnificent way, awakening a sense of profound religious devotion and heightened cultural awareness among all those who witness this major festival. If we miss out it, we need to wait one whole year to witness it again. What if we are not in Nepal during the chariot pulling festionval -- do we have any choice ? Yes , now we definitely have .

Now you have the opportunity to see the Janabahaa deity chariot procession held in an amazingly lively manner on video. Just click on the play button below and visualize the breathtaking scenes. Video by truthasu (courtesy

Children's group ("Macha Puchah") rolled out

With the aim of bringing about increased awareness among the younger generation regarding the rich heritage of Janabahaa and the Newaa culture that is closely associated with it, a children’s group of Janabahaa Society has been launched on October 4, 2008. This group has been named Macha Puchah.

The current plan is to get this group to meet every Saturday at Janabahaa and discuss various issues related to Janabahaa, such as its history, religious significance, cultural importance, archeological value, etc. Group members will be given home assignments to gather information on specific topics related to Janabahaa to encourage them to interact with their parents and to make a presentation to the whole group the following week.

Suitable articles contributed by members will also be published in Janabahaa eNews, which will help the children polish their research and writing skills. To make this program more interesting for the children, activities like art class, oratory tutoring, Nepal Lipi and Ranjana Lipi (script) classes, field visits, etc. will be organized every week.

The concept of Macha Puchah was envisioned by multifarious personality Dr. Matina Tuladhar, with active participation of Anjila Tamrakar. Not only will this campaign ensure long-term participation of the young members for the betterment of Janabahaa and its periphery, this effort will also help the children to manifest their public speaking abilities and to help explore their hidden talents and self-confidence, and contribute to their overall personal development.

Members of the newly established children's group of Janabhaa Society.

Sahaj Tamrakar teaching the children to sketch.

Participants follow the art tutor's instructions keenly during the first meeting of the Janabahaa Society children's group .

Eight-year old Hriddhi Tuladhar is one of the youngest members to join Janabahaa Society's children's group.

Photos by Alok Tuladhar.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Children of Karunamaya II

Sharmila Chhetri (middle) was born with a mild form of cerebral palsy, which is a non-progressive, non-contagious condition that causes physical disability in human development. Her left limbs are not controlled by her brain, so she needs assistance with her basic activities like standing, walking, etc. She cannot speak in words, but her vocal outbursts and her facial expressions speak volumes of her active mind and childish playfulness.

Sharmila’s mother works as a construction worker at a house being built inside the Janabahaa courtyard. Her sister Deepa (right) looks after her all day. Their father is serving time in a Kathmandu jail. The family moved to Kathmandu from their home in Kailali, where they earned a living farming their relative’s land, so that they can deliver a good meal to the imprisoned man once a day.

There is no known cure for cerebral palsy – neither with modern science nor with Karunamaya.

Names have been changed for obvious reasons. Photo by Alok Tuladhar.

Friday, October 03, 2008

"Jheegu Janabahaa" DVD available for replication

In March 2007, Janabahaa Society had produced a 20-minute compilation of the sights and sounds of Janabahaa in DVD format. The DVD entitled "Jheegu Janabahaa"were sold locally and in London (check out blog entry about it here). Copies of the DVD can still be ordered by emailing (original price of Rs. 100 per copy including box still holds), and we will see whether we can have it delivered to you (within Kathmandu). If you are outside Kathmandu, we can ship it to you and charge the shipping costs to you.

You can view the main menu of the video here:

The irony of it all

Here is a story that appeared in the Annapurna Post on July 16, 2008. What do you think about the suggestion of the hakim of the Department of Archeology (the last sentence of the article)? Leave us a comment or two.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Children of Karunamaya

Kids will be kids, right? Not really. They grow up. But hopefully they do not leave behind their love for books as they grow older. These two teenage girls came to Janabahaa one fine afternoon, only to find the increasingly popular library at the Janabahaa Society office closed for the day. No problem – as long as there are books available, they are willing to read.

Children playing are a major tourist attraction.

This is a healthy looking child, by any standard. Her mother, one of the designated full-time sweepers at Janabahaa, has recently enrolled her at a privately run pre-school.

Child carrying child.

Janabahaa is one of the few open spaces in downtown Kathmandu where children can play, relax, bask in the winter sun or enjoy many cultural and religious activities that take place throughout the year.

Smriti (left) and Devika (middle) live with their parents, grandmother and younger brother in a rented flat (or is it a rented room?) inside Janabahaa. Their mother, who is the newer of their father's two wives, sells flowers in the courtyard every morning, and washes clothes and dishes for neighborhood families all day to earn a livelihood for the family, despite her ailing back. Their father boozes away from midday to midnight at a watering hole in Kilagal, after a brief stint at the flower stall in the morning. Both these girls go to a free government school in Itumbaha, but their younger brother gets to go to a private '"boarding" school. The color of the girls' hair shows the extent of their malnutrition, but they are as happy and spirited as any child should be. Looking at the way things are going for this family, it is quite unlikely that it will take a turn for the better any time soon. Meanwhile, Karunamya looks on...

Names have been changed for obvious reasons. All photos by Alok Tuladhar.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sano Sasar a Complete House Full

The special screening of Sano Sansar organized to raise funds for Janabahaa Society (see earlier blog about this here) was a complete sell-out. Seen in the picture above is the "hero" of the film Mahesh Man Shakya (with dark glasses), his mother (sitting) and his father Mahendra Man Shakya (with baseball hat) at Jai Nepal cinema just before the special show. We had estimated we would be able to sell about 50 tickets, as they were priced quite steeply at Rs. 500 each, but we ended up selling 85 at the end. Special thanks to Mahendra Man Shakya, who happens to be one of the officiating priests of Patan's much reverred Golden Temple (Hiranya Varna Mahavihar or Kwa Bahaa), for coming up with this idea. Not only did he organize the whole event, but also personally contributed to the Janabahaa Society funds -- an additional cash input for each ticket sold on top of the savings from the Rs. 500 ticket sales after deducting expenses. At the end of the day, we collected close to a whopping Rs. 30,000 for Janabahaa Society from this one screening of the film! Music videos, wallpapers and other details of the film can be found here. We wish Sano Sansar grand success, and also wish a glistening career to Mahesh Man Shakya.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Room to Read

As the number of books in the mini library at the Janabahaa Society office grows, so does the number of children dropping by to read those books. Many children from the neighborhood are dropping in regularly and asking if new books have arrived. In most cases, children who come to use the library are from low income families, and their schools do not have library facilities, nor do they have the opportunity or means to join other public libraries. Donations of used books, especially children's books, would be highly appreciated. Books of any language would do, especially if they have some picutres in them. Photos by Alok Tuladhar.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

"How to Build a Nepali Temple in Thirty Days" by Sushma Joshi

Awesome… people nowadays are not only renovating temples, like the one at Janabahaa, but are also building new ones from scratch, following centuries-old architectural style and technique. Check out this blog by established writer and filmmaker Joshi and read all about an amazing feat unfold before our very eyes in modern day Kathmandu -- THE GLOBAL AND THE LOCAL: How to Build a Nepali Temple in Thirty Days. Photos of the temple being built in Sanepa will be upload right here, soon. Please do come back again.

Update (September 12, 2008):
Okay, here are the promised pictures, and then some. We were so impressed with the upcoming temple when we visited it today, we decided we will get actively involved in supporting that project and help complete it. To start with, we have created a new blog site to cover this unique project. Click here to go there.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Shanti Swasti Path and Ayutahuti Yagya concludes at Janabahaa

Remember the chariot that toppled over in April?

Apparently there is a way to negate the sins committed by we mortals that might have caused a major disaster like that. In a bid to ask for forgiveness and compassion from The Compassionate One (Karunamaya), an elaborate Hom (homa puja: the ritual of offering grain and clarified butter into the sacred fire, page 483, Karunamaya: The Cult of Avalokiteswara – Matsyendranath In the Valley of Nepal by John K. Locke, S.J., Sahayogi Prakashan, Kathmandu, 1980) ceremony was conducted at Janabahaa premises during the last three days. As the first half of the name (Shanti Swasti Path) of this rare and unique event implies, several priests recited prayers as per Vajrayana Buddhist tradition with the objective of eradicating any bad luck that might befall the population because of the accident with the chariot.

The event culminated in a big feast today where hundreds of devotees, locals and VIPs were invited.
Photo of fallen chariot courtesy of All other photos by Alok Tuladhar.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Meeting Decides NOT to Move Janabahaa Dyo Out During Renovation

After much powwowing, it has been decided, at least for now, that he will stay put in his seat, right where he is now. The topic of hot, and so far healthy, debate that has been going on for some time is regarding the best way to deal with the main image of Aryavalokiteshor (or Janabahaa Dyo) during the imminent renovation of the central chamber where it resides (earlier blog entry on this topic can be found at

During a meeting held on September 4 at Janabahaa, experts put forth their arguments and opinions for and against moving the image out of the inner sanctum while the wooden beams directly above it are replaced. Many theories were analyzed, especially in light of the meticulous measurements of the physical structure taken recently and other important details that came to light while exploring the internal architecture of the temple.

Experts invited to this meeting included, among others, Purusottam Dangol, who had written a book entitled “Elements of Nepalese Temple Architecture” published by Adroit Publishers in 2007 (ISBN 81-87392-77-0) and Pancha Ratna Bajracharya (aka Indra Guruju) of Bhinchhe Bahal, Lalitpur who had undertaken much of the woodwork at the Great Lotus Stupa built by the Tara Foundation of Germany in Lumbini.

It was finally agreed at this meeting that it was safe enough to put up a strong plank on top of the image of Janabahaa Dyo to protect it from falling debris while wooden beams on the ceiling directly overhead are pulled out one by one and new ones inserted in their place. Now, the question is, though it would be easy enough to take out the old beams, what kind of challenges would come up while sliding in new ones in their place, given the limited working space available? The inner chamber is small enough (9 ft. square) as it is, and the image of Janabahaa Dyo lying therein needs to be protected from any physical damage during the process.

And the fact remains that no one but designated caretaker priests (dyo pala gurujus) can co inside the inner chamber to carry out the carpentry and masonry works – whether or not they have the skill (see earlier blog entry about this at

Nevertheless, the decision not to move the deity out of its abode does save us all from a lot of hassles, as moving it out entails following very stringent religious rites and carrying out elaborate (read resource-hungry) ritual ceremonies. Photos by Alok Tuladhar.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Presentations from 1st Annual Meet

UK-based Surendra Sthapit has put in a lot of time and effort to convert the PowerPoint presentations made during the 1st Annual Meet of Janabhaa Society (held on June 28, 2008 at Janabahaa) to web presentation format so that they can be viewed online. Sumati Bajracharya’s presentation on the history of Janabahaa can be viewed here, and Sampurna Tuladhar’s presentation on future plans can be viewed here. It was also Surendra who came up with the idea of making the presentations available online via Google’s Picasa web album service. Thanks for your wonderful contribution, Surendra.

Monday, September 01, 2008

"Sano Sansaar" to be screened in aid of Janabahaa Society

Upcoming Nepali feature film Sano Sansar will be screened at Jai Nepal cinema at 5:15 pm on September 15, Monday to help raise funds for Janabahaa Society. Thanks to Mahendra Man Sakya of Tej Bhawan, Lazimpat for coming forward with this idea and for subsidizing the cost of the tickets. Please email or call Jai Rajbhandari (98510-54113) if you wish to purchase tickets to this special screening of the film. The lead actor and actress will be present during the screening. Here is a synpopsis of the film:

Ravi is an average guy who has just graduated from college. Like most average guys, he doesn't know what he wants in life. Reetu is a not so average girl knows what she doesn't want. Suraj is a sureheaded fellow who knows exactly what he wants in life. Manoj Sizapati (aka Siza) wants what every guy wants ;) ;)

Little do they know that they are living in a Sano Sansar where everyone knows everyone even if they think they do not know them...

Manuscripts (and More?)

A few years ago, one of the more conscious priests during his tenure as caretaker (dyo pala) discovered several ancient handwritten manuscripts written in Ranjana script within the inner confines of Janabahaa Dyo temple, and had it professionally digitized and analyzed at a local archive, thus saving it permanently for the benefit of posterity. Most of the manuscripts he had found had been partially damaged by fire, insects or rats. As his tenure at the temple came to an end after a month, he was left wondering what else was stored in the temple that could give invaluable information relating to our past. Right now, as the present renovation works are in progress, many are asking whether we will find any more of those lost documents or other valuable relics. This would definitely be the best opportunity to explore, for a long time to come.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

To Take Him Out… or Not to Take Him Out

The topic of hot debate right now is what to do with the image of Karunamaya Aryavalokiteshor during the renovation period. Since the image lies directly below the beams that need to be replaced, there is high risk of debris falling on top of the image and damaging it while beams are removed or new ones are inserted on the ceiling above the image. Hence, one school of thought is that the image should be relocated while repair works are being carried out. On the other hand, it is also true that if technicians work carefully enough and proper measures are taken to prevent debris from falling on top of the image, it will not have to be relocated. Intense discussions are being held every day among technical team members and caretaker priests (dyo pala) to come up with the safest and most practical solution. Here is a picture of the image, sans the ornaments and garments it is adorned with every day.