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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 An unpublished Sanskrit text entitled Vāriśāstra “Treatise on Water” describes how to build such water fountains.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.