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Thursday, December 29, 2011

New Year Triple Bonanza

The 2012 New Year's day coincides with the annual bathing ceremony of Janabahaa Dyo In the evening of January 1, the deity will be brought out from its sanctum in the main temple in the Janabahaa complex and carried to the raised platform in the south-east corner of the courtyard, where the image will be given a shower with holy water, milk and honey after an elaborate tantric ceremony. The bathing water is brought from the holy river known as Bhacha Khushi, located just below Byasah (Bijeshwari) by a group of caretaker priests the day before. From the next day onwards, a week-long process of repainting the deity from head to toe by designated caretaker priests of Janabahaa takes place in the open courtyard, from approximately 10 am to 3 pm every day.

The living goddess Kumari will grace the deity's ritual bath in person. This is one of the thirteen times in the year that the Kumari comes out of her beautiful temple abode in the Kathmandu Durbar Square.

The audio tour of Janabahaa that has been planned for quite some time will also be launched the same day, just before the bathing ceremony.

If you come to Janabahaa at about 4 pm in the afternoon, you will be guaranteed a few hours of festive atmosphere, local music, centuries-old religious tradition and a religiously awakened crowd. If you carry a large camera, you might even be invited to sit on one of the chairs reserved for the press with a good vantage point.

Photos by Alok Tuladhar.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Janabahaa Audio Tour in the Offing

An electronic guided audio tour is currently being rolled out on a trial basis in the living heritage site of Janabahaa. This kind of service is being made available for the first time anywhere in Nepal. The automated tour provides not only authentic and updated information about the historic and cultural monuments and practices found inside the Janabahaa premises, but also gives insights on the past, present and future efforts for the conservation of this "open museum" that is of great importance to the Buddhist community of Kathmandu.

This new service, designed for the benefit of visitors to Janabahaa, was announced via this blog a few months now. Thanks to the hard work of volunteers in both hemispheres of the globe, this service is now all ready to be launched. The content of this new offering was circulated to a large number of well-wishers and friends of Janabahaa, and many of them responded with encouragement and highly practical suggestions for the initiation of this novel task.
Watch this space over the next several days for updates on its actual launch date. Meanwhile, here is the full content for you to listen to, even without being physically present at Janabahaa. You may wish to download this to your mobile device and bring it with you, together with a pair of earphones, the next time you drop in at Janabahaa.

Click on the link below to listen to or download the guided audio tour recording.
Janabahaa Audio Tour

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Starting Early, Keeping Janabahaa Clean

Orange peel?

Right into the dustbin it goes.

And I will be a good boy and run back to get more stuff for the dustbin until Janabahaa becomes spotless.

Ah yes, we youngsters have the zeal, and we know how to lead by example.

Did any one of you elders notice how clean Janabahaa has been lately? Drop in and see for yourself. And tell us how to improve, because there is still room for much improvement.

Photos by Alok Tuladhar.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Make Space for the Chariot

The annual chariot festival of Janabahaa Dyo is one of the most colorful and important festivals in Kathmandu. Here is the full text of a comprehensive article about the festival published in the May-June 2009 issue of Spaces magazine.

The chariot festival of SETO MACHENDRANATH 
by Sabina Tandukar
A crowd of more than thousand people, dancing euphorically to the tune of classical music, some singing religious hymns, some praying fervently and others looking around in awe; and amidst this crowd is the towering monumental moving temple - a 'Ratha' or a chariot. This mesmerizing scenario is the procession of Seto Machhindranath in Kathmandu valley. Full of life, colour and excitement, this festival enlivens the inner spirit and gives joy to the infinity.
These processions along the routes of the medieval towns were meant to foster the culture of community living besides paying homage to the revered god. A source of religious entertainment for the mortals of Kathmandu valley, these chariot festivals started since the early days of the Malla period.
The festival is said to have been started by King Pratap Malla. But judging by the available inscriptions in the courtyard of Janabahal, it is clearly older than this time. The deity was perhaps originally from the Hamhal monastery in Ranipokhari and later shifted to Kel Tol. A myth also supports this hypothesis saying that initially Jamal was a different country called Jamadesh and Yakshya Malla was the then ruling King. The Kantipuri was such a divine place, where every morning, people used to bathe in the holy river and visit Swayambhunath; such works of virtue led them to heaven after their death. Once the god of death 'Yamaraj', saw that none of the dead from the Kantipuri went to hell and on looking further he understood that the divine power of Swayambhunath was the cause. So with his fellow men he set himself on visiting Kantipuri and paid homage to the sacred god. While he was returning, King Yakshya Malla, along with his Tantric guru, captured them and asked for immortality. Yamraj himself being a mortal could not give such a blessing and said so, but the King would not let go of him unless he bestowed such power on them. The frightened god then prayed to Arya Awalokiteshwor and requested to free him. The Lord hearing such a prayer appeared instantly before them from the water. With a white colored body and eyes half closed looking downwards, the lord said that wherever the Kalmati and Bagmati meets, a temple needs to be established and whoever pays him a visit shall always be prosperous and live long. He told the King to organize a Ratha Yatra every year for three days starting from 'Chaitra Sukla Astami' so that he could travel to the houses of those people who cannot move, are disabled or stay longer at their houses and bless them with happiness and long life. The Ratha Yatra was to start from a place from where the god originated which happens to be the present Ranipokhari area.
The temple of Arya Awalokiteshwor is located in Janabahal. It is one of the few monastic courtyards which have a full fledged storied temple standing in the middle of a court with a shrine in the wing at the far end from the entrance. The temple is highly ornamental with gilt-copper roofs, ornamental metal banners, tympanum, and struts illustrating the diverse forms of Awalokiteshwor. While prayer wheels line the pedestal, lions and gryphon's guard the approaching step to the shrine doorway. The courtyard is large, spacious and stone paved with numerous chaityas and stone pillars holding aloft various Buddhist deities. At present the use of full length iron grills all around the temple has ridiculed its beauty and urgently calls for a better alternative to protect the enshrined gods and the historical works of art from possible theft.
Ratha or a chariot is a moving temple. The Ratha with 13 stories (including those of the gajura) conforms to the shikhara style forming the Trayodasak Bhuwan; with the first storey being the "Pramodidabha" and the final one being the "Gyanawati". Each step leads up to the path of nirvana. Triangular shape determines stability, showing the right flow of energy; with each vertices of the triangle pointing to the three "Lokas" of this universe: Swarga (heaven), Martya (earth), and Narka (hell). The festival of the most compassionate divinity aims to end the sorrows of all those in these three lokas. While '32 lakchyan yukta' means the one with all the positive energy of this universe, this principle also guides the construction of the Ratha. The principle has that the total length of the Ratha from the bottom to the top of the Gajura must conform to 32 haat, even the horizontal length conforms to this principle. The circular wheels have a diameter of 16 haat (1 haat is approximate the length from the elbow to the middle finger tip).

The four wheels of the Ratha are symbolic representation of the four Bhairabs - namely; Yamantak (black), Pragyantak (white); Padmantak (red); and Bigmantak (blue). The idol of the god is placed in the chariot which is believed to be circumscribed by the 'Das Dig Lokapala' (other gods) during the entire procession.

More than 300 pieces of wood are joined together to form this Ratha. The 100 pieces of the total goes to the wheels each confirming to the exact 25 pieces. Woods of different species (around 8 types) are used, each making a vital part of the Ratha. Na-shin (a type of wood) forms the wheels as it has good compressive strength and the woods with higher flexibility form the towering portion of the Ratha. No iron nails are to be used so woods are joined together using lap or tongue and groove joints and tied together using 'beda' (local vine).

The Ratha is not the product of an isolated effort of a single group of people but rather various groups of people specializing in various activities come together to construct it. Since the earliest, two groups of Newar Jyapus, each from the Thane and Kwane have been constructing the Ratha. This time the troop lead by the Maharjan brothers - Prakash Maharjan and Pradeep Maharjan successfully completed the construction of the Ratha. A ritually important flower "la swan" is required which is especially grown by the Munikars. These activities bring unity and harmony among the caste groups of the valley.
The Route
On the day of Chaitra Sukla Astami, the priests, who are Shakyas, take the image of the chief deity, Padmapani Avalokiteshwor, out for a procession to Jamal beside Ranipokhari where the large wheeled chariot is waiting to receive it. The two leaders from Thane and Kwane lead the Ratha. The procession starts with the people of various castes playing their musical instrument and dancing to the tunes.

This colorful procession is so exhilarating that any observer is bound to feel energized, the towering chariot making its way down the alleys of the town, the enthusiastic youths pulling chariot with the rope, the peoples singing the hymns and praying, the lights, the smell of the incense sticks all create an aura magnanimous and full of divine power difficult to discern. All groups of people unify and come forward in the procession and pray for their long life and prosperity.

The very first day of this divine procession covers the Jamal, Ratnapark, Bhotahity and Ason area. On the second day, the procession starts from Ason to Balkumari, Kel Tol, Indra Chowk, Makhan and rests in the Hanuman Dhoka. Here the living goddess Kumari also comes out to pay her visit. On the final day, the Ratha moves through Hanuman Dhoka, Maru, Chikan Mangal, Jaisidewal, Jya Baha and finally reaches Lagan Tol. After circumambulating a special tree for three times the procession completes.

The religion says that the festival must complete before the Purnima or the full moon day of the month. On the fourth day, after a special puja, the image of the god is carried back to the temple and restored there.

The whole procession with its starting, finishing and stopping points enroute, interestingly shows the hierarchy of open spaces and the path-space configurations, giving a new socio-cultural meaning to existing religious sites, squares and streets. Everyday the procession pierces through the dense settlement of the city and at the end of the day stops at the Chowks or the Durbar squares that are the points of religious or political importance. These places act as the congregational points where locals come forward to perform religious activities.
Present scenario
Even to this day the Jatra holds the same value and importance to the city dwellers. Guthi sansthan is the government organization that works for the construction of the Ratha and continuum of this festival. This year a whole new set of Ratha was prepared using only about 20% of the old resources. However due to lack of time only one type of wood (Agrakh) was incorporated in its construction and few iron straps were seen in the junction and wheels to ensure its strength.

The culture of a nation is one of its most valuable assets. However, some additions to the new urban fabric has torn apart such values and beliefs. One such addition is the construction of the overhead bridge in the Ratnapark - Baghbazaar junction which lies in the route of this chariot festival. The clear height of the bridge is far less than the height of the Ratha. Last year, the Ratha toppled over at this point because of this obstruction and level differences created in its path as the towering Ratha had to struggle through the narrow space leftover by the bridge. Such unplanned development works should be checked by the concerned authority and greater public awareness is needed regarding such public activities.
Festivals and Jatras make the heart of the Newari culture. The Jatra of Seto Machhindranath in Kathmandu, Rato Machhindranath in Patan, and Bisket Jatra in Bhaktapur are famous and unique in their own style as the architecture of these towns itself.

These cultural activities give us our identity and are the part of our glorious past. We must consciously work for its continuity, making it a living heritage of the city.
Purna Ratna Bajracharya
Padma Sundar Maharjan
Guthi Sansthan
• Kathmandu Valley, The Preservation of Physical Environment and Cultural Heritage. A protective inventory prepared by HMG of Nepal in collaboration with the UN and UNESCO, the Austrian Federal Government and the JDR 3rd fund.
• Tiwari, S.R: The Urban Spaces of Kathmandu Valley Towns: a historical perspective
• Shakya, Gyanendra: Nepalese manuscripts on architecture: published in Vaastu vol. 5, pg: 53
• Bajracharya, Kamalananda; Janabahadyo Ya Bakha: Aaju publications.

Purna Ratna Bajracharya is the acting chairman of 'Shree Seto Machindranath Ratha Nirman Committee, 2066 B.S.'. After the Ratha toppled over last year during its procession, the committee was entrusted to construct the Ratha with special instructions that the untoward incident of the previous year does not recur this year too, as such incidents are considered to be a bad omen for the country. A graduate in Fine Arts, Bajracharya is also associated with Gorkhapatra Sansthan (Nepali National Daily) and has been working in various temple restoration projects. His works include the design and restoration of 108 Lokeshwor in Janabahal and restoration works in Nala Karunamaya temple.

The online version of the article is available here. Also, a video of the spectacular festival can be seen here.

Cleaning Up, Strengthening Family Ties

The immense popularity of Janabahaa as a place of worship poses an immense challenge of keeping the place clean of all the "holy grit" that results from the elaborate rituals and ceremonies carried out by devotees in this complex. One common form of worship is to light oil wicks in the hundreds of metal lamps laid out around the main temple and around various stupas in the courtyard. Cleaning the lamps of the residue left by the oil and the burnt out wicks is a perpetual task, carried out by volunteers and devotees.

Shown here is the family of Sarbagya Tuladhar lending a hand in keeping the "daloo" lamps clean.

Photos courtesy Sarbagya Tuladhar.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Tears of Compassion

This  photo has been submitted to the Postal Services Department of the Government of Nepal for use in an upcoming postage stamp that the Department will publish soon. The two small figures seen at the bottom of this picture are the White Tara and the Green Tara, who represent two drops of tears shed by Karunamaya Aryavalokiteshor (or "the compassionate one") upon seeing the sadness and misery persisting in this world. These two Tara figures remain unveiled only for four days after the re-installation of the image of Karunamya in its sanctum upon completion of its annual bathing and repainting ceremonies.

Photo by Alok Tuladhar.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Two Hours Outside Janabahaa

One can easily spend half a day, without knowing how much time has passed by, inside the peaceful courtyard of Janabahaa studying the innumerable intricate artwork strewn all over the temple complex and the human activity happening all day round oblivious to the centuries-old art masterpieces.

Step out of the complex's main gate in the south, and one will encounter Kel Tol -- one of the busiest thoroughfares in the core area of Kathmandu city, joining the ancient trade center of Ason with Wongha (Indrachok). And one can also while away another couple of hours effortlessly in the middle of Kel Tol watching life go by, as afternoon hues give way to dusk, evening sights and sounds and the inevitable power cut.

Earlier reference to this this street on this blog can be found at Padmapani Rediscovered and Reclaiming the Streets.

Video by Alok Tuladhar.

Monday, August 08, 2011

All Ears in Janabahaa

Okay, what is going on here? Not only does Janabahaa offer you a visual treat, but it will also excite one more of your senses with this new offer. Stay tuned to find out.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Colorful, Resourceful Devotees

At 00:36 you will see see how a devotee uses the reflective surface of the camera lens as his mirror.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


A timelapse video of Janabahaa. Once in Janabahaa, one rarely notices time go by.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Some More to Study

Masters-level students from the Institute of Engineering, Lalitpur are back again in Janabahaa, this time to conduct a detailed socio-economic survey of some random households in Janabahaa. The twenty-strong group is in the process of preparing their report about the significance of ancient Buddhist courtyard complexes (bahaa and bahi) of Kathmandu valley in modern-day urban planning and space management, and have chosen Janabahaa as their place of study.

Community leaders were interviewed at length, using digital recorders. It was obvious that the scholars were highly interested in what they were researching.

The students have even pooled in some cash amongst themselves and made a generous contribution to help in the ongoing cleaning efforts of Janabahaa.

Once the study is complete, the resulting documentation is expected to be extensive, and a very valuable reference for any researcher on the socio-economic development of urban Kathmandu.

Photos by Alok Tuladhar.
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Monday, March 07, 2011

Global Demand for Nepalese Silver

Friedhelm Nunnemann, a retired engineer and environmental/quality management expert from Germany, is a great fan of Janabahaa and the ancient architectural heritage of Kathmandu Valley. He makes it a point to drop in at Janabahaa every time he comes to town. Through this blog, he found out about the silver souvenir production, and asked his friend Bikas Maharjan, who is on his way to Germany, to pick up a few units of the precious relic on his behalf.

A Russian tourist who had happened to drop in at Janabahaa had also picked up the memento, seeing it being sold by volunteers at a counter.

Similary, Scott Faiia, an American development worker presently based in Nepal, is also the proud owner of the glittering souvenir.

Photos by Alok Tuladhar.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Photo Exhibition, Now Online!

A week-long photo exhibition on the topic of Janabahaa and Janabahaa Dyo was held for the first time ever this year on the occasion of the annual bathing ritual of Janabahaa Dyo. The exhibition, held from January 12 to 19, 2011 in the Janabahaa complex, was seen by tens of thousands of visitors every day for the entire week. It was thus probably a photo exhibition with one of the greatest number of viewers held in Nepal so far.

Here are the pictures displayed in the exhibition (you may click anywhere on the slide show to view larger pictures).

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Symbolism in Stone

There are more than fifty commemorative structures spread around the Janabahaa courtyard, dating back from a few decades to a few centuries. Most of them have beautiful hand-carved deities, and is full of amazing symbolism. Here is a high-resolution stitch of a votive chaitya (stupa or chorten). Photo by Alok Tuladhar.

Monday, January 24, 2011

All Decked Up, Almost Ready to Go Back In

This photo was taken on January 18, a day before the image underwent elaborate consecration ceremonies and placed inside in its sanctum in the temple. Photo by Alok Tuladhar.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Janabahaa Architecture Under the Microscope

A group of post-graduate architecture students from the Institute of Engineering, Lalitpur have been visiting Janabahaa recently to prepare a presentation to their class. The group, specializing in urban planning, is studying the relevance of Buddhist monasteries (bahaa and bahi) of Kathmandu in urban space management, and has selected Janabahaa for their detailed study, which includes the various stages of architectural and social development within the Janabahaa courtyard.

2011_01_22_9999_140 (1024x684)Tri Ratna Bajracharya (right) briefs the IOE students on the unique features of Janabahaa and points out a stupa (center) that has no statues and opines that it is possibly from a period when the art of making statues was not developed.

Photo by Alok Tuladhar.

Friday, January 21, 2011

108 Lokeshor Repousse Series (North-east Corner)

This gold-coated copper facade is on the north-eastern corner of the ground floor of the Janabahaa Dyo temple. You can browse around, zoom in, take snapshots of areas of your choice, examine the details and leave comments. Photo by Alok Tuladhar.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Annual Paint Job of Janabahaa Dyo: A Work in Progress

This photo was taken on January 17, 2011 -- two days before painting of the image was completed. Feel free to zoom in, browse around, take snapshots and leave comments.
Photo by Alok Tuladhar

Monday, January 17, 2011

999 Glittering Silver Sees Light of Day

2011_01_16_9999_2On the occasion of the annual bathing ceremony of Janabahaa Dyo, a silver souvenir was released amidst a ceremony in the Janabahaa courtyard on January 12, 2011. The memento shows off the temple of Janabahaa Dyo and the words “Shri Kanak 2011_01_16_9999_1Chaitya Mahavihar, Janabahaa, Yen” and “N. S. 1131” on one side, while the other side displays the image of Janabahaa Dyo with the words “Sri Aryavalokiteshor Sharana and Janabahaa Dyo.” A limited number of the 15-gram “coin” was sold to the general public at Rs. 1,500 each.

The relic is packaged in a hard plastic case, and includes a short note about the significance of Janabahaa Dyo to society in general (both in Nepal Bhasa and English).

2011_01_16_9999_3 (853x1280)As anticipated, the release of this relic has generated the much-needed funds to support the never-ending cleaning efforts of the Janabahaa complex. At the same time, this exercise has proved that there is no lack of public participation for a good cause, as long as there is initiative and sound leadership. All capital investments required for this venture was raised from about fifty individuals who volunteered to provide an interest-free loan of Rs. 25,000 each for up to three months.

Photos by Alok Tuladhar.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Annual Bathing Ritual of Janabahaa Dyo (with New Additives)

The annual bathing ritual of Janabahaa Dyo was held on January 12, 2011 in Janabahaa, accompanied with some brand new activities.

Three unique events highlighted this year's ceremony. First, on the occasion, a 15-gram silver souvenir coin was released; a week-long photo exhibition of Janabahaa and Janabahaa Dyo was launched; and an ancient visual footage dating back to 2024 Bikram Sambat (1968 AD) of the Janabahaa Dyo rath yatra (chariot pulling festival) created by Corneille Jest of France was shown to a large audience in a huge screen. Some pictures of those events are given below.

 People of all age groups watching the photo exhibition.

Old pictures attract attention from a viewer.

Carefully reading the captions to understand the story behind the pictures.

Janabahaa was literally jam-packed with people during the three-in-one event, which some have started calling the kickoff of the Janabahaa Festival.

Honoring senior citizens during the silver souvenir release ceremony.

A banner inviting guest to attend the silver coin release ceremony.

Janabahaa Dyo returning back to the temple after the evening ritual.

Janabahaa Dyo wrapped in brocade cloth returning back to the temple.

A senior priest leading the Janabahaa Dyo procession.

Butter lamps lighting up the entrance offering space inside Janabahaa.

A large crowd gathered to witness the annual Bathing Ritual.

Priests performing Puja (offering) as part of the ritual.

A large crowd is still eagerly watching the photo exhibition late in the evening.

Photo exhibition draws a large crowd to the Janabahaa premise.

In the main street outside Janabahaa, a live streaming of the annual bathing ritual was shown on large screen for those who were unable to watch it inside due to over-crowding.

A large crowed gathered to watch the live streaming of the ritual that was taking place inside Janabahaa.

People eagerly watching the 1968 A. D. footage of Janabahaa Rath Yatra.

A crowd of all age groups watching the visual from 43 years ago on a large screen.

A screen shot of the footage that shows the people in Kamalakshi, near Ason Tole in 1968 A. D.

Living goddess Kumari returning after witnessing the Janabahaa Dyo bathing ritual.

Members of the general public queuing up to purchase the silver coin memento.

Devotees offering their prayers as they watch photos of Janabahaa Dyo.

Additional pictures are available as slideshow below.

Photos by Surendra Sthapit.