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Friday, September 24, 2010

Learning How to Click the Mouse

Photo by Bijay Shrestha
The first Photography Basics Workshop organized by the Janbahaa Society concluded today. The workshop not only helped draw the participants' attention to the living heritage of Janabahaa, but also helped to raise some much-needed funds to carry out the regular activities of the Society.

"Novice participants produced some fantastic results after just seven or eight hours of instruction," said instructor Alok Tuladhar. He continued proudly, "the workshop has definitely proved that Janabahaa is a wonderful location to practice photography."

Raj Prajapati, a participant, says, "My last SLR was a vintage Mamiya. I have now decided to buy the Canon 60D immediately. I feel I am already a semi-professional photographer, thanks to the workshop."

Shown here are some of the works produced by the participants during the course of the workshop.

Photo by Bijay Shrestha
Photo by Bijay Shrestha
Photo by Bijay Shrestha
Photo by Himan Raj Shrestha

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Compass Buddha

If you get lost, and there are no stars in the night sky to help you find the direction, just go to a chaitya near you and locate the Akshobhya Buddha. He always faces east.

Akshobhya (Sanskrit for “the Immovable One”) is the next important Buddha among the Dhyani Buddhas after Vairochana. Akshobhya was a monk who vowed never to feel anger or disgust at another being. He was immovable in keeping this vow, and after long striving, he became a Buddha.

Dhyani Buddhas are abstract aspects of Buddhahood. They are often called Tathagata or Pancha Buddha. They are so popular in Nepal that they are found in almost every chaitya, and found painted in the main entrance of many Buddhist houses.

Akshobhya is a heavenly Buddha who reigns over the eastern paradise, Abhirati. (Note that the eastern paradise is understood to be a state of mind, not a physical place.) Those who fulfill Akshobhya's vow are reborn in Abhirati and cannot fall back into lower states of consciousness.

In Buddhist iconography, Akshobhya usually is blue. He is most often pictured with his left hand resting on his lap, palm facing upward, and his right hand touching the earth, palm facing inward. This is the earth-touching mudra, which is the gesture used by the historical Buddha (Siddhartha Gautam) when he asked the earth to bear witness to his enlightenment.

In Buddhist tantra, evoking Akshobhya in meditation helps overcome anger and hatred.

So how many images of Akshobhya can be found in the Janabahaa complex? Well, it is surely worth counting.

Photo by Alok Tuladhar.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Soap Nuts and Elephant Ears

Much has been achieved in the course of the renovation and cleaning efforts undertaken in recent years in Janabahaa. Perhaps the most visibly striking result so far is the polishing of the Halampo (gilded copper repousse banners) hanging from the lower roof on the eastern face of the temple.

Age-old local techniques were used to remove the decades-old dirt (see earlier blog post entitled “Glitter under the Grime: Citrus Juice to the Rescue”). To give finishing touches to the cleaning job, two more home-grown commodities were used.

Hathan (Rittha or Soap Nuts). Scientific name Sapindus mukorossi. This natural soap is a locally grown product, and has been used traditionally as a natural cleanser.

Fakan (Karkalo or Elephant Ear/Taro). Scientific name Colocasia esculenta. The Elephant Ear plant grows in abundant quantities in the valley during the monsoon, and is used widely as a nourishing and tasty vegetable. The huge leaves of the plant is dried in the sun and boiled in water. The resulting liquid is applied on the soap-nut washed metal surface to bring out the rich glitter.

Finally, acrylic epoxy spray is applied on the surface for waterproofing.

The brilliantly-polished and waterproof Halampo will now hopefully remain so for the next few years, after which the whole process will need to be repeated.

Photos by Alok Tuladhar.

Announcing... Photography Basics Workshop

The historic East Germany Contax S, 1949, the first pentaprism SLR for eye-level viewing. Photo © by Jeff Dean

Hands-on Photography Basics Workshop
(covers SLR Camera Basics, How to Take Good Photos, Digital Correction)

Time: 8.15 am to 10.15 am
Date: September 20 (Monday) to 24 (Friday), 2010
Venue: Janabahaa complex
Fee: Rs. 2,000 per person (all proceeds will go towards Janabahaa cleanliness fund)

To register, please call Alok Tuladhar at 9851012482.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Water! Water! Where art Thou?

The first picture (photo by Alok Tuladhar) is of a water fountain currently for sale in an “antiques” shop in downtown Bhaktapur. The second picture shows the original water fountain which had appeared in our earlier blog entry entitled "Cloud Lakes, Circle of Bliss and Creatures of the Rain Rivers."

Curious about this amazing work of art and its relevance to our modern day lives? Here are some excerpts from the article that appears in the online journal in which the original water fountain has been described in detail (“The Creatures of the Rain Rivers, Cloud Lakes: Newars Saw Them, So Did Ancient India” by Gautama Vajra Vajracharya, Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and one of the foremost art historians of Nepal):

Most of the water fountains are simple, having only essential elements such as the makara spout and the images of yaksha or Bhagīratha... But some of them are much more elaborately designed as exemplified by the golden fountains of three royal palaces of the valley. Perhaps the best example is King Jitamitra Malla (reigned c. 1673-1696)’s contribution in his Bhaktapur palace (second pictured above). It shows huge head of the makara with its voluminous trunk raised upward. The makara has large eyes, curly horns, and short legs. On top of the spout, just behind the trunk an iguana like creature is crawling slowly. Both sides of the spout are crowded with aquatic and semi-aquatic creatures such as a snakes, crocodiles, ducks, turtles, and frogs and domesticated animals such as horses, goats and cows. Note also a conch shell near the foot of the makara. The human figure with bird’s feet and tail is indeed a kinnara; but in illustrated Newar iconographic texts this mythical figure is identified as jalamānus'a “aquatic man.” From the open jaws of the makara emerges a cow or a bull. This is indeed fascinating iconographic element of the Newar fountains.

Now comes the real interesting part. Continuation from Gautam V. Vajracharya’s article:

Epigraphic evidence tells us that some of these elements of water architecture go back to the Licchavi period (ca. 200-879 C.E.) or the transitional period (ca. 879-1200). During such a long period of history, the valley-dwellers developed admirable skills and techniques to bring water from considerable distances. An unpublished Sanskrit text entitled Vāriśāstra “Treatise on Water” describes how to build such water fountains. Currently, this small text is preserved in the collection of the National Archives in Kathmandu. Very likely it is composed in the valley because some part of the text is related to the technical and artistic features of the water fountains of the valley. Thus, it deserves special attention for a detailed study in the future.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Janabahaa, the Father's Day Blessing Center

Among the many days of the year that Janabahaa draws a large number of devotees, Bau Ya Khwa Swoyegu (Kushe Aunsi or Father’s Day) is probably the day it is most crowded. To pay homage to their deceased fathers, Newa (Newar) Hindus and Buddhists of Kathmandu throng to Janabahaa from early morning to offer prayers, food and money to Janabahaa Dyo and to receive blessings from priests stationed around the courtyard.

Typically, beaten rice, curd, fruits and sweets are offered to Janabahaa Dyo in memory of one's deceased father on Father's Day, which fell on September 10 this year.

A Bajey (Hindu priest) in Janabahaa offers blessings to a devotee on Father's Day.

A Lama priest (follower of Mahayan Buddhism) recites a prayer on behalf of a devotee after accepting a donation of some rice and money.

A Guruju (Vajrayana Buddhism priest) receives alms from a devotee.

Many vendors set up shop in Janabahaa to take advantage of the large crowd that gathers at Janabahaa on Father's Day, like this lady who put up a stall to sell Szechwan pepper (pimpinella anisum).

While providing blessings to devotees, this Hindu priest sold the holy Kush grass (Eragrostis cynosuroides) at his stall. Though used for religious ceremonies by both Hindus and Buddhists throughout the year, Kush is bought and sold only on Father's Day (hence the name Kushe Aunsi).

Photos by Alok Tuladhar.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


Led by Dr. Naresh Man Bajracharya (noted tantric priest in the Newar tradition, Director of Buddhist Studies at Tribhuvan University and Fulbright Scholar in Residence, Virginia Commonwealth University), a group of over one hundred Shakyas and Bajracharyas went around different Bahaas and Bahis of Kathmandu to collect alms en masse on the occasion of Panchadaan festival on Monday, September 6, 2010.

This is the fourth year the group alms collection event has been organized to help raise funds for construction of a Vihar in Lumbini. More than a million rupees has been raised from the last three years of the joint alms collection effort.

Panchadaan festival is traditionally celebrated in honor of Dipankar Buddha, and individual members of the Newar Buddhist priest cast (Shakya and Bajracharya) go from house to house to receive offerings given by devotees and to give them blessings.

When the “brothers-in-alms” arrived at Janabahaa, they were warmly welcomed by devotees who were eagerly waiting to give offerings of rice and money, in keeping with the ancient Panchadaan tradition.

Photos by Alok Tuladhar.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Going Green

To add some much needed greenery to this artistically rich, sacred heritage site of Janabahaa, we are adding a number of flower pots around the courtyard. If you wish to be involved in this task in any way, please leave a comment here with your contact details.

Photo by Alok Tuladhar.