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Durbar Square
About Durbar Square

Kathmandu Durbar Square or Hanumandhoka Durbar Square is the plaza in front of the old royal palace of the Kathmandu Kingdom. It is known as Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square, a name derived from a statue of Hanuman, the monkey devotee of Lord Ram, at the entrance of the palace. It is one of three Durbar Squares in the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal, all of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Durbar Square is enclosed with wonderful architecture and intensely showcases the skills of the Newar artists and craftsmen over several centuries. The royal palace was initially at Dattaraya square and was later moved to the Durbar square location. The Kathmandu Durbar Square holds the palaces of the Malla and Shah kings who ruled over the city. Along with these palaces, the square encloses quadrangles revealing temples and courtyards.

History and Foundation of Durbar Square

The preference for the construction of royal palaces at this site dates back to as early as the Licchavi period in the third century. Even though the present palaces and temples have undergone repeated and extensive renovations and nothing physical remains from that period, names like Gupo and Gunapo, which are the names referred to the palaces in the square in early scriptures, imply that the palaces were built by Gunakamadev, a king ruling late in the tenth century. When Kathmandu City became independent under the rule of King Ratna Malla (1484–1520) the palaces in the square became the royal palaces for its Malla kings. When Prithvi Narayan Shah attacked the Kathmandu Valley in 1769, he favored the Kathmandu Durbar Square for his palace. Other subsequent Shah kings continued to rule from the square until 1896 when they moved to the Narayan Hiti Palace.

The square is still the center of important royal events like the coronation of King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah in 1975 and King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah in 2001. Though there are not any written archives stating the history of the Kathmandu Durbar Square, the foundation of the palace in the square is attributed to Sankharadev (1069–1083).

When Mahendra Malla was residing in Bhaktapur, he was highly devoted to the Taleju Temple there; the Goddess being pleased with his devotion gave him a vision asking him to build a temple for her in the Kathmandu Durbar Square. With a help of a solitary person he designed the temple to give it its present form and the Goddess entered the temple in the form of a bee.

His successors Sadasiva (1575–1581), his son, Shiva Simha (1578–1619), and his grandson, Laxmi Narsingha (1619–1641), do not seem to have made any major additions to the square. During this period of three generations the only constructions to have occurred were the establishment of Degutale Temple devoted to Goddess Mother Taleju by Shiva Simha and some improvement in the royal palace by Laksminar Simha.

Durbar Square Under the Shah dynasty

During the Shah dynasty that followed, the Kathmandu Durbar Square saw a number of changes. Two of the most unique temples in the square were built during this time. One is the Nautale, a nine-storied building known as Vasantapur Durbar. It has four stands and roofs at the end of Nasal Chok at the East side of the palace. It is said that this building was set as a pleasure house. The lower three stories were made in the Newari farmhouse style. The upper floors have Newari style windows, tikijhya and sanjhya, and some of them are slightly projected from the wall. The other temple is annexed to the Vasantapur Durbar and has four-stories. This building was initially known as Vilasamandira, or Lohom Chok, but is now commonly known as Basantapur or Tejarat Chok. The lower floors of the Basantapur Chok display extensive woodcarvings and the roofs are made in popular the Mughal style. Archives state that Prthivi Narayan Shah built these two buildings in 1770.

In 1908, a palace, Gaddi Durbar, was built using European architectural designs. The Rana Prime Ministers who had taken over the power but not the throne of the country from the Shahs Kings from 1846 to 1951 were highly influenced by European styles.

Durbar Square Under Pratap Malla

In the time of Pratap Malla, son of Laksminar Simha, the square was broadly developed. He was an intellectual, a religious devotee, and particularly interested in arts. He called himself a Kavindra, king of poets, and boasted that he was learned in fifteen different languages. A passionate builder, following his coronation as a king, he immediately began enlargements to his royal palace, and rebuilt some old temples and constructed new temples, stupas and shrines around his kingdom. There also took the massacre called Kot Parva where the queen, prime minister, head of the states, and other people with guards died. This massacre took place in the court yard inside the palace.

During the construction of his palace, he added a small entrance in the traditional, low and narrow Newari style. The door was elaborately ornamented with paintings and carvings of deities and auspicious sings and was later transferred to the entrance of Mohan Chok. In front of the entrance he placed the statue of Hanuman thinking that Hanuman would strengthen his army and protect his home.

In the process of beautifying his palace, he added fountains, ponds, and baths. In Sundari Chok, he started a low bath with a golden fountain. He built a small pond, the Naga Pokhari, in the palace ornamented with Nagakastha, a wooden serpent, which is said he had ordered stolen from the royal pond in the Bhaktapur Durbar Square.

With the death of Pratap Malla in 1674, the overall emphasis on the importance of the square came to a halt. His successors retained relatively insignificant power and the prevailing ministers took control of most of the royal rule. After the earthquake in 1934, the temple was renovated with a dome roof, which was alien to the Newari architecture.

Architecture of Durbar Square

The majority of the structures built in Kathmandu Durbar Square date back to the 16th and 17th centuries, with some sections from the 12th century. The central feature of the square is the famous Hanuman Dhoka Palace Complex. The glorious palace was named in honor of the monkey god, Hanuman, and a statue of the unusual deity stands at the main entrance. The Hanuman Dhoka Palace Complex served as the residence of Nepal's royalty right up to the 1800s. It was also the gathering place of important administrators and numerous ceremonies were hosted here. The Nepali palace itself is a stunning structure with intricately carved wooden windows and panels. Visitors to the palace are welcome to wander through the Mahendra Museum and the Tribhuvan Memorial Museum located here.

Kathmandu’s Durbar Square is UNESCO World Heritage Site

Kathmandu’s Durbar Square is one of three durbar (royal palace) squares in the Kathmandu Valley. It is the site of the Hanuman Dhoka Palace Complex, which was the royal Nepalese residence until the 19th century and where important ceremonies, such as the coronation of the Nepalese monarch, still take place today. The palace is decorated with elaborately-carved wooden windows and panels and houses the King Tribhuwan Memorial Museum and the Mahendra Museum. It is possible to visit the state rooms inside the palace.

Time and again the temples and the palaces in the square have gone through renovation after being damaged by natural causes or neglect. Presently there are less than ten courtyards in the square. The temples are being preserved as national heritage sites and the palace is being used as a museum. Only a few parts of the palace are open for visitors and the Taleju temples are only open for people of Hindu and Buddhist faiths.

At the southern end of Durbar Square there is one of the most prominent attractions in Nepal, the Kumari Chowk. This gilded cage contains the Raj Kumari, a girl chosen through an ancient and spiritual selection process to become the human personification of the Hindu mother goddess, Durga. She is worshiped during religious festivals and makes public appearances at other times for a fee paid to her guards.

Kathmandu Durbar Square is no doubt a top attraction for tourists in the Nepal city. This massive complex is home to palaces, temples and courtyards. Visitors to the Durbar Square of Kathmandu will be surprised by the architectural wonders across several centuries. This important historical attraction has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


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