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  • Day 730: A Status Check

    Kasthamandap fell two years ago. There has recently been a groundswell of enthusiasm from local residents to rebuild this iconic monument. But there are no concrete plans, engineering-vetted architectural drawings, or timelines yet. Meanwhile, the Government (Department of Archaeology and the Kathmandu Metropolitan City Office) is shamefully absent from the scene, after some disastrous, abortive plans towards reconstruction last year, which was loudly and rightfully criticized by locals, as well as national and international experts. We sincerely hope that the enthusiasm generated by recent local efforts leads to a speedy reconstruction of Kasthamandap, a world heritage site that should rightfully be a symbol of the locality, of the Kathmandu valley, and indeed, of all Nepal. 

    To mourn the second anniversary of the fall of Kasthamandap, we present a poignant sketch of the monument drawn by Desmond Doig in the 1970s.




    Image from “Down History’s Narrow Lanes: Sketches and Myths of the Kathmandu Valley” by Desmond Doig and Dubby Bhagat, Braaten Books, 2009.

  • First Documented Mention: 1135 CE (Major Update)

    In Artibus Asiae Vol. 70, No. 2 (2010), Jinah Kim writes about a Pancharakshya manuscript copied in Kathmandu in the year 1135 CE. In her article, and in a stellar follow-up 2013 book titled “Receptacle of the Sacred” (a must-read for any scholar or amateur interested in the South Asian cult of manuscripts), Ms. Kim writes about the colophon of the manuscript, which contains the phrase “Kasthamandap”. However, a clear picture of the colophon page, as well as a complete transcription/ translation of the colophon, has been unavailable to date.

    The manuscript in question is in the collection of the San Diego Museum of Art in the United States. We have been fortunate enough to locate and photograph this manuscript (Edwin Binney 3rd Collection, Catalog number 1990.156).  We present here a high resolution image of the colophon page (Folio 102 verso). This is followed by a transcription and translation of the colophon, kindly provided by eminent Newa scholar Mr. Kashinath Tamot.

    Folio 102 verso of the Pancharakshya manuscript, 1035 CE

    Detail of the folio containing the mention of Kasthamandap



    iti tatra buddhānāṃ buddhānubhāvena devatānāṃ ca devatānubhavena mahatī iti vyupaśānteti ||

    [[āryamahāmantrānusārinīmahāvidyārājñī samāptā]] ||

    ? deya dharmoyaṃ pravaramahāyāyinaḥ śrīkāṣṭhamaṇḍape |

    paścimarathyāyāṃ śrīkṛ(4)ṣṇaguptamahāvihārādhivāsī |

    śākyabhikṣu śrīānandabuddhināmnā yadatra puṇyan

    tad bhavatvācāryopādhyāyamātāpitāpūrvaṅgamaṃ

    kṛtvā sakalasatvarāser anuttarajñānaphalāptaya iti ||

    samvat ā lṛ hṛ pauṣakṛṣṇapratipadi puṣyanakṣetre budhadine |


    śrīmad indridevasya vijayarājye likhitam idaṃ pañcarakṣāpustakam iti ||



    This Pañcarakṣā is donated by Ānandabuddhi Śākyabhikṣu, the follower of Mahāyāna, residing Kṛṣṇagupta Mahāvihāra at Paścimarathyā in Kāṣṭhamaṇḍapa. It was scribed during the reign of the king Indradeva [text reads “Indrideva”] on Wednesday, first lunar day of waning moon of (the month of) Pauṣa, in puṣya constellation, (in the era) ā (200) lṛ (50) hṛ (5), that is, in NS 255 (1135 CE).

    Hitherto, historians have recognized that the iconic tiered structure of Kasthamandap (Maru Sattal) existed as far back at 1143 CE, based on a mention of the name in a Namasangiti manuscript stored in Tibet’s Saskya Monastery  (discussed here).

    With the evidence of the San Diego manuscript in hand, the documented existence of Kasthamandap can now be pushed back a further eight years, to 1135 CE.

    Even more tantalizing is the possibility that Kasthamandap existed as far back as 1090 CE, as reported by Mary Slusser and Gautam Vajracharya in a 1974 journal paper (also discussed here). Unfortunately, this possibility has not been substantiated yet, due to lack of access to the Astasahasrika-Pragyaparamita manuscript reportedly copied in 1090 CE. But until the day we locate the elusive Pragyaparamita manuscript, we can pause and marvel at the fact that the venerable Kasthamandap existed at least 881 years ago in 1135 CE, and maybe more.

    The colophon is also valuable in that it identifies a hitherto unknown Buddhist monastery, the “Krishnagupta Mahavihar” which was apparently in the vicinity of Kasthamandap, besides a road named “Pascimarathya” (Western wide road for chariots). Neither the monastery, nor the road has been identified elsewhere in the corpus of Nepali historic material to date. Mr. Tamot does mention that the Western wide road could have been used for Pachali Jatra or Upaku Wanegu (the annual funeral procession around Kathmandu). This is an area ripe for future academic research.

    The San Diego manuscript described above is stored with two elegant painted book covers (see below). The story of the book covers, with their curious history, must be saved for another blog post in the future.



    We thank Mr. Kashinath Tamot for the transcription and translation of the 1135 CE Pancharakshya manuscript colophon. We thank Ms. Marika Sardar, Associate Curator for Southern Asian and Islamic Art, for generously providing access to the Pancharakshya manuscript.

  • Day 365: A Status Check

    April 25, 2016 marks the one-year anniversary of the devastating first earthquake of 2015 that caused the complete and total collapse of Kasthamandap. An article in the latest issue of ECS Nepal (here) summarizes all efforts and plans aimed at rebuilding the landmark Kathmandu monument.

    The bottom line: no concrete plans, no timelines, no official response to the alarming UNESCO report highlighting the need for sub-surface archaeology at the site, no published budget, no professionally executed architectural plan that ensures earthquake resilience and respects local building traditions, no earthquake modeling/simulation studies, and no commitment from national or international agencies toward funding the project.

  • दैबलाई नि नछोड्ने यो कस्तो दैबी प्रकोप?


    अतिथि पोष्ट: सुशील ताम्राकार  

    विनाशकारी महा भूकम्पले खण्डहर बनाएको मेरो देश, सहर अनि टोल वस्तीबारे आज धेरै दिन पछी मात्र केही शब्द कोर्ने हिम्मत जुटाएको छु | देशको माटो बाटो कांपीरहंदा की-बोर्ड माथि हातका औम्ला पनि काँपिदो रहेछ | देश दुख्दा परदेशीको मन पनि त्यतिकै दुख्छ, त्यतिकै छटपटाहट हुन्छ| परदेशी नेपाली मनहरु अझ अनिदोमा आफन्त खोज्छ| जिन्दगीको सारा हिस्सा र किस्सा काष्ठामंड़प वरिपरि बित्यो | हनुमान ढोका, वसन्तपुर, मरु , चिकं मुगल, भीमसेन स्थानका हरेक गल्ली बाटाहरुमा मेरा लाखौँ डोबहरू छन् , अहिले भग्नावशेषहरुमा थिचिएका छन् , पुरिएका छन् | त्यसैले पनि हजारौं माइल पर पनि दुखिरहेको छु |

    सानो छंदा मरु डबलीमा बसेर दिन भरि गाडी गुडेको हिसाब छेउमा राखिएका मत्तितेलका ड्रमहरुमा धर्सा कोरेर जतनका साथ् राख्थ्यौं | हिसाबको पहिलो पाठशाला थियो त्यो | काष्ठमण्डप जसलाई मरु सत: ( सत्तल , पाटी ) भनिन्छ, जो एउटा बिशेत नामक रुख रुपी राक्षसको काठबाट बनेको बिशाल मन्दिरको कुनै नामो निशान रहेन | किंबदन्ती सुनेर उहिले जिब्रो टोक्थ्यों अहिले माटोको ढिस्कोमा बिशेतका अवशेषहरु खोजीरहेछु |

    सानोमा आमाले मरमसला किन्न पठाउँदा केही क्षण भए नि त्यै सत्तलमा ह्वाग्रा खेलिराखेका दौतारीहरु संग भलाकुसारी गर्थ्येम| कहिले एकै छिन गाब: दोब: खेलेरै मात्र घर जान्थें ( ह्वाग्रा र गाब: दोब – गुच्चा खेल बिशेष ) | गोरखनाथको मुर्ति अघिल्तिर झुन्ड्याईएको घण्टा सकिनसकी उफ्री उफ्री बजाउँथेम| अकस्मात झरी पर्दा धेरैअन्जान बटुवाको लागि ओत लाग्ने छत थियो त्यो |

    त्यो भन्दा नि काष्ठमण्डप, त्यै वरिपरि बस्ने ताम्राकार, बज्राचार्य, मानन्धर अनि किसानहरुको आदिम वस्ती भएको जीवन्त प्रमाण थियो | घ्यो चाकु सल्हूँ अर्थात माघे संक्रान्तिमा काष्ठमण्डपको बिशेष पूजागरी गजुरमा नयाँ ध्वाँये (ध्वजा) फहराउने चलनको निरन्तरता कसरी दिने अब ? पुजा गर्ने पुजारीलाई एक चुनांचा ( त्यतिबेलाको न्यूनतम मुद्रा इकाई, एक पैसाको १/४ खण्ड ) अनि ध्वजा फहराउने ज्यापु दाईलाई २० मुरी धान कसले दिन्छ अब ? मन्दिर रहेन, हाम्रो पुर्खाको धरोहर धरहरा संगै खण्डहर भएको छ |

    काष्ठमण्डप छेवैको हजाम देग : ( सस्तो दरमा कपाल काट्ने नाइँहरु बस्ने मन्दिर ) पनि बाँकी रहेन | निम्न आय भएका मजदूर किसानहरूको सेवा गर्ने थलो पनि गयो | माजु देग:, दश अबतार देग लागायत धेरै विश्व सम्पदा सूचीमा रहेका मन्दिरहरु जग मात्र शेष रह्यो | यस्तो लाग्छ, मेरो वस्ती वरिपरी मान्छे भन्दा बढी देबी देवता पुरिए | दैबलाई नि न छोड्ने यस्तो दैबी प्रकोप ? पुरिएका मान्छेहरु धेरैलाई जिउंदै निकाले, केहीको लाश निस्कियो | मलाइ बचाउ, म पुरिएँ भन्न पनि नसक्ने वा भनेको भए नि यो प्रकोपको कोलाहलमा नसुनिएका देबी देवताहरु अझै “रेस्क्यु”को आशमा बसेका छन् |

    म सम्झिन्छु, एक पल्ट २०३१ सालमा राजा बीरेन्द्रको राज्यभिषेकमा सजिएको हनुमान ढोका प्रांगण र मन्दिरहरु | चिटिक्क बेहुली झैँ शृंगारमा सजिसजाउ भएका ती मन्दिरहरुले साँच्चै नै देबभूमि जस्तो लाग्थ्यो | दोस्रो पल्ट २०४२ फागुण तिर बेलायतकी महारानी एलिजाबेथको भ्रमणमा काठमाडौ सहरको साँचो चढाई स्वागतको गरेको इतिहास बोकेको त्यो मरु सत: त्यसपछि हजारौं रकत्दान शिबिरको भरपर्दो आश्रयस्थल थियो | दुर्भाग्यबस बैसाख १२ गते १२ बजे पनि रक्तदान शिबिर थियो | गर्लाम्यै ढलेको मन्दिरले अरुको जीवन जोगाउछु भनेर शुद्ध मनले रक्तदान गर्न आएका रक्तदाता एवं रक्त संकलन गर्न आएका निष्कलंक स्वयम् सेवीहरुले जीवनगुमाएको खबर अझ कहाली लाग्दोछ |

    भाग्नाबशेष पन्छाइदै छ | पुरिएका चार बिनायक (गणेश) र गोरखनाथलाई सकुशल राखिएला | पुनर्निमार्णको पाइला चालिएला | फेरी जस्ताको तस्तै मन्दिर बनिएला | तर मा कहाँ खोज्न जाउँ बिशेत राक्षस? त्यसको शरीरको बडेमानको पुरानै काठको खम्बा ? इँटा इँटामा खोपिएका हजार स्मृतिहरू आउने बर्षाले बगाई सक्ने छ | कहाँ खोज्न जाउँ मेरो बाल्यकालको ती अमुल्य क्षणहरु ?

    भाद्र महिनाको चतुर्दशीको दिन मनाइने पंचदान पर्ब ( बुबाको मुख हेर्ने दिनको दुइ दिन अगाडी, बौद्धमार्गीहरुले बौद्ध गुरुजु { बज्राचार्य र शाक्य समुदाय}लाई दान दक्षिणा दिने पबित्र दिन ) दिनमा त्यै मन्दिरको दक्षिण चोकमा लामा लामा चार वटा काठको चारकुने मण्डप बनाई, पूजा अर्चना गरी दिनभरी फू बारे नआउन्जेल ( अन्तिममा पाल्नु हुने शाक्य बज्राचार्य) आएका जति शाक्य बज्राच्रार्य गुरुजुहरुलाई दान दक्षिणा दिने परम्परा ताम्राकार समुदायले काष्ठमण्डप बने देखि नै चलाउँदै आएको प्रमाणिक इतिहास छ | सम्भवत त त्यही चारवटा काठको मण्डप नै काष्ठमण्डप हो र कालन्तरमा त्यो सत: नाम नै काष्ठमण्डप रहन गएको हो | यसपालीको पन्चदानमा दान दिन भीमकाय खासी (भाँडो)मा चुलो कहाँ बाल्छ होला ? त्यो ६ सय बर्ष भन्दा पुरानो काठ अझै बाँकी छ वा खण्डहरमा मिसिए ? मन भित्र यस्ता धेरै प्रश्नहरु छन् | चिन्ता मेरो घर चर्किएको र भत्काउनु पर्ने अवस्थामा रहेको भन्दा नि मेरो अस्तित्वको छ , मेरो जीवनको हरेक हिस्सा संग गाँसिएको किस्साको छ | हे दैब, दैबलाई नि न छोड्ने यो कस्तो दैबी प्रकोप ??


  • “Good news” about Rebuilding Kasthamandap

    The February 7, 2016 edition of the Nepali-language newspaper Annapurna Post carried the first-ever news story on the reconstruction plans for Kasthamandap.

    Some salient details:

    • To be rebuild by the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC), using the design, drawings, cost estimates and guidance of the Department of Archaeology (DofA)
    • Cost estimate: approximately USD 1.4 Million (NRS 154,200,000) over three years
    • To be made out of saal wood (Shorea robusta), the same material used in the original construction
    • “Fiber” (fiber-glass?) to be used in conjunction, to make the structure earthquake-proof
    • The Durham University team (involved in a recently-completed UNESCO-sponsored assessment of damage to heritage sites) has hinted that the original construction could be from the seventh century CE, which, if verified, would push back the date of construction to over 300 years, and squarely during the heydays of the Licchavi era. This is a sensational finding, if confirmed.


    Some comments:

    • In general, this is very exciting news!
    • We commend the swiftness with which the DofA and KMC have created a plan, which was no doubt a challenge given Nepal’s current situation
    • More details on the design selection process and reconstruction plans would be welcome: may we suggest public sharing of these details in an online forum (official web-site/ blog) ?
    • A breakdown of the reconstruction budget, perhaps shared online, would be welcome
    • The use of fiber-glass is intriguing. Why not traditional wood reinforced (when only absolutely needed) with completely concealed metal?
    • We look forward to more announcements/ scholarly publications from UNESCO Professor Robin Coningham of Durham University about the tantalizing hints of an 700-800CE original construction date for Kasthamandap.
  • Remains of Kasthamandap

    What remains of the treasures of Kasthamandap has been safely stored for now. Here is a pictorial account.

  • Labor of Love, Model of Devotion


    Late May, 2015. A few close friends gathered for their usual afternoon meeting at the house of Surya Bahadur Shrestha behind Kasthamandap … Rather, behind the pile of rubble that was formerly Kasthamandap. They sat around on the carpet, un-sattaled by the bright light pouring in through the window, now that Kasthamandap’s giant roofs were no longer blocking the view. For as long as they could remember, Maru Sattal had been back there, sitting majestic, a benevolent guardian sheltering Maru Tol…no, the entire city. The memory of Kasthamandap lay heavy on their souls. The grief was heaviest for one friend whose father was inside Kasthamandap when the earthquake struck: he lost his life in the collapse of Kasthamandap that day.

    Juju Tuladhar sifted through the morning papers and read out sections of Suresh Kiran’s article to his friends. “Big businessmen and celebrities are clamoring to get ordinary citizen involved in the restoration of Dharahara tower. Some bankers have even announced that they will ‘invest’ in Dharahara. The media has made the Dharahara stump the de facto ‘earthquake symbol’. But why?”

    Juju continued further down, “On Jeth 6, the two main national dailies Kantipur and Nagarik printed a photo of a mural being painted on a wall in the Babarmahal area. Both papers had this as the caption: Painting of a temple being created. Neither newspaper were aware that that was not a temple, but Kasthamandap. Kantipur’s logo itself is Kasthamandap: should they not know the name of their own logo? Those who made Dharahara a symbol of our fallen cultural heritage do not know about Kasthamandap. How did this happen? What is the reason for this?…”

    Juju looked up. All his friends were looking down into the carpet, as we Nepalis always do when deep in thought and in agreement. “It still amazes me that only a few historians and scholars know the true value of Kasthamandap”, Juju said slowly. They all knew, as Suresh Kiran himself wrote later on in the same article, that in today’s Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, any such talk is quickly labelled “cultural prejudice.” But their beloved Maru Sattal had fallen. The void and the pain were real.

    Surya Bahadur Shrestha spoke up, “There has been a lot of talk, friends. Let us now do something.” Saroj Ratna Shakya joined in, “We could start raising funds locally. But without official government blessing and strict oversight, we know how funds end up in Nepal. I favor a small and symbolic step.” Surya now: “You know, I have actually been thinking about this for some time. How about making an exact replica of Kasthamandap, down to the last detail. It might spur others to more action. We do know an expert who can do this.”

    All eyes turned to Hira Ratna Brahmacharya, an expert wood carver who had come all the way from Bungmati to join his friends. Hira was silent for a while. “We will need accurate measurements, and I will need to cost out the project…but yes, I think I can do it.”

    A smile inadvertently broke from everyone.

    “La, la, I have the book that was published during the 1966 renovations.”

    “And I have access to the recent scale drawings of Wolfgang Korn.”

    “OK, how about we bring all this and meet at Hira’s house next week.”

    And that is how the model was born. After a month of work. A labor of love. A model of devotion.


    The making of the model:



    Editor’s Note:  During the making of this article, we did not ask who was Newa and who was Bahun. Or who was Buddhist and who was Hindu. Or who lived in Kathmandu and who lived outside (Bungmati). We just wanted to come together to celebrate Kasthamandap, a bond that we all share.

    A very small gesture, no doubt, in the grand scheme of things. But perhaps something could be learned from this humble social exercise during Nepal’s continuing days of ethnic turmoil and constitution-making angst. 



  • Commercial use as Icons

    Some of the Kathmandu businesses that have used Kasthamandap as part of their logos. Should the businesses be more involved in the rebuilding of their namesake?

  • Day 100: A Status Check

    Today is Day 100 since the initial Nepal earthquake of 2015. We have biked in rallies and run in marathons commemorating Kasthamandap. We have lighted candles. We have written heartfelt articles and memoirs (including by yours truly). We have argued for the importance of Kasthamandap over Dharahara. We have painted murals for it and even created a miniature Kasthamandap Model that is astoundingly life-like. We have connected on social media and in the real world with others who share a passion for Kasthamandap and who appreciate its central and monumental significance in Kathmandu culture. We have organized one-day and two-day conferences on how, when and why to rebuild Kasthamandap.

    But a hundred days on, Kasthamandap is still a gaping wound at the heart of Kathmandu. Let us come together to start the rebuilding process. In the current issue (June, 2015) of ECS Nepal, this writer has tried to pave a path forward. Please provide feedback, suggest alternatives, or voice your support by leaving a comment below.

    Private groups are trying to collect funds towards this, but there are no commitments or a formal plan yet. Kathmandu residents with deep connections to this venerable sattal must get involved to make sure that the funds do get collected, that the rebuilding does happen, and that it happens in a faithful, earthquake-resistant manner. Along the way, we must not be shy about demanding accountability and results from our public servants, who are paid with our money to take care of heritage sites like Kasthamandap. An immediate challenge here seems to be confusion about which institution owns the main responsibility for heritage conservation: The Ancient Monuments Act assigns the responsibility to the Department of Archaeology, but local governance laws point to municipal bodies. Then there are NGOs such as Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust and others. Let us fix this by assigning clear roles and responsibilities, transparent chains of command, and clear coordination between all relevant groups. Modern Information Technology makes the management and communication of all this straightforward. What is more challenging, of course, is for all stakeholders to agree on policy and priorities. But it must be done.



  • Interactive Images

    Click on the image for a fascinating, interactive panorama of Kasthamandap first floor interior by the group 360 Globe.