Historic Record

Kasthamandap is no more. What is perhaps almost as unfortunate is that a majority of Nepalis believe Kasthamandap was build many centuries after its actual construction. For this reason experts, journalists, and city-dwellers have not lamented Kasthamandap’s loss to a great extent, even as we approach the two months mark of the great 2015 earthquakes (Michael Hutt is the exception, here and here). But the fact remains: Kasthamandap was easily the oldest standing public structure of any kind (temple, sattal, darbar, pati, etc.) in the valley, dating back to at least 1143 AD. While much of the building interior and facade was no doubt renovated over the intervening centuries, experts believe the large platform (mandap) and the enormous four wooden columns most likely date back to the original construction. 

That makes Kasthamandap around 900 years old at the time of the 2015 earthquakes. If we do not restore Kasthamandap, and search for the historic treasures within, we will lose a part of our heritage and a part of our identity, forever.

The mis-information about Kasthamandap’s much younger age stems from 19th century Kathmandu vamsavalis, which without fail, and for some inexplicable reason, credit Laxmi Narsingh Malla (ruled 1621-1641)  for the establishment of this monument. The rigorous Samsodhan Mandal had correctly established the antiquity of Kasthamandap more than 25 years ago in the book इतिहास सम्सोधनको प्रमाण प्रमेय (जगदम्बा प्रकाशनमाला २७) [Hyoptheses and Proofs from Historical Research, Jagadamba Publication Series 27, out of print].  However, the incorrect, later dating has unfortunately been cited and perpetuated in most Nepali and Western publications, unfairly denying Kasthamandap the fame it deserves because it is “only about 400 years old.”

There is now talk about restoration of the more popular structures in Kathmandu Darbar Square (Upper floors of Basantapur tower, a devastating loss in itself, Trailokya Mohan, build at least 537 years later, and the iconic Maju Dewal, build at least 549 years later). But nobody seems too concerned about Kasthamandap’s fall, or about the makeshift tents build right atop the uncleared and unsorted rubble more than a month after the devastating earthquakes.

Let us, then, recollect the established historic evidence of Kasthamandap’s antiquity and act immediately to seek out what remains, and to restore this pavilion back to its magnificence.

First undocumented mention of the Kasthamandap pavilion: 1090 AD (Nepal Sambat 210)

Luciano Petech in Mediaeval History of Nepal mentions an unpublished manuscript account, according to which the Kasthamandap sattal existed already in 1090 AD, in the reign of Harsadeva (ruled about 1085 – 1099 AD). But Petech gives no reference or evidence. The manuscript in question is perhaps the same as Astasahasrika-Pragyaparamita, another manuscript dated to 1090 AD, and (as of 1974) in possession of a guthi associated with Kasthamandap (Slusser and Vajracharya, 1974). This manuscript apparently contains details of the 1090 AD date, but was not made available for study.

Could the guthi manuscript have survived the earthquake by being housed elsewhere? If so, can we confirm the Kasthamandap reference in it now?

First confirmed mention of the name Kasthamandap: 1143 AD (N.S. 263)

The polymath Rahul Sankrityayan, traveling under great duress to Tibet in 1936, found in the Saskya Monastery a worn-out palm-leaf copy of a manuscript called Namasangiti. The colophon of this manuscript contains the word SriKasthamandape and is the first confirmed record of the name “Kasthamandap” to date.  According to Petech, this colophon and transcription was completed in Brahma Tol, Kathmandu in “the last hours of Friday, September 24th, 1143” during the reign of Narendra Deva and somehow made its way into Tibet.

देयधर्मोय यानयायिन्या परमोपासिका श्रीकाष्टमण्डपे केलाच्छच्छे मल्लनर्सिंहस्य।।०।।
महाराजाधिराजपरमेश्वरपरमभटारकश्री नरेन्द्र देवस्य विजयराज्ये ।।

सम्वत् आचू ३ अश्वनि शुक्ल पूर्णमासायां शुक्रदिने मल्हनर्सिंहस्य नामसंगीति पुस्तक सम्पूर्णमिति।।
श्री स्यं ब्रम्हामायामातीकी ग्वल पूर्ववत विध्यमस्थानाद्धि वासी वनिकपुत्र विसुध्रजीयेन  लिखितं।।

It is not illogical to assume that the place name Kasthamandap (literally, “wooden pavilion”) was derived from the large sattal of the same name that dominated the Maru Tole area of Kathmandu. It is also not illogical to claim that the construction of the building itself preceded the first recorded mention in 1143 AD by many years. The geographic extent of Kasthamandap was originally limited to the area around the sattal, but eventually grew to cover the entire northern city (Yambu), and by the fourteenth century, the unified Kathmandu city.

Oldest copper-plate inscription attached to Kasthamandap: 1333 AD (N.S. 454)

This copper-plate inscription, affixed to the high struts of Kasthamandap, is the oldest physical record that directly links the name with the pavilion.

ॐ स्वस्ति श्रीयोस्तु सम्बत् ४५४ मार्गशिर बधि ११ यंगल श्रीतृभयछयं पांचालि
भह्नाह्नस सुदिस श्रीत्याछ तवतवमी संमतन जुर उदैशन थितिलोपन
याङ थाक्र थितिथिरा रपरंगा भाष थ्वते जुर् वं।
श्रीपांचालि भह्नाह्नस श्रीगछे त…

Yangal is the old Nepal Bhasa (Newari) name for the southern half of Kathmandu. Tribhaya chem translates to “building of the three royal families” and probably points to use of the sattal as a royal council hall by all three contemporary states: Yangal, Yambu and a third that is obscure (possibly Vaidyagram or Vaid). Panchali is a reference to Lord Pacali, who is “petitioned as the divine witness to a political pact and made guardian of certainfunds deposited as a gage in his temple, the sattal” (Slusser and Vajracharya, 1974). In typical Kathmandu style, the building was probably both a shrine and a public pavilion in the early days. Pachali Bhairav is a much revered deity particular to the southern half of Kathmandu to this day.

This copper-plate is valuable not only because of its antiquity.  It is also one of the first records of the use of Nepal Bhasa (along with Sanskrit) in court-sponsored writing, and captures a medieval Kathmandu transition during which manuscripts and inscriptions slowly changed from being fully in Sanskrit (Licchavi era) to being mostly in Nepal Bhasa (end of the 15th century).

Is this copper-plate, a priceless capsule that records so much of Kathmandu’s rich history, still buried under the rubble of Kasthamandap? Will it suddenly appear in the international black market for antiques many years from now and fetch an astounding price? By then, would the Nepal Earthquakes themselves have faded into the recesses of our collective memory as yet another episode of Kathmandu’s history? Should we care more about the disappearance of this piece of history?

In addition to the royal family, Pachali and public resthouse connections, Kasthamandap also has long-standing Buddhist associations. As of 1974, a Buddhist guthi still performed Panchadana [five givings] during Bhadra Chaturdasi at the site, during which is displayed, among other things, the Astasahasrika-Pragyaparamita manuscript from 1090 AD mentioned above.

Will there be a Panchadana at Kasthamandap during this year’s Bhadra Chaturdasi (August, 2015)? If so, will the manuscript be on display again?

Kasthamandap Copper-plate inscription of 1379 AD (N.S. 499)

This copper-plate inscription was nailed to Kasthamandap high overhead in an almost inaccessible place on the beams. According to M. Slusser, by 1974 the actual copper-plate was blackened and warped but she provides an english translation which is reproduced below (the incomplete original was published in Sanskrit Sandesh Vol 1, No. 6 but is unavailable to us at present):

In N.S. 499…the Hariganas [followers of Hari (= Siva), i.e., the Kapalikas] received this building of Yamgala by order of Jayasthiti Malla…from this day it was theirs…It is given by the king.”                (Slusser and Vajracharya, 1974)

In 1379, then, King Jayasthiti Malla had gifted the Kasthamandap sattal to Guru Gorakshyanath and his Nath followers. The Nath cult originated in ancient times and worshipped Shiva, and was an extremist branch of Pashupat ascetics called Kapalikas. The Nath cult, and veneration of Gorakshyanath, flourished in the Kathmandu valley between 1367 AD and early sixteenth century.

Gorakshyanath is believed to have traveled to Kathmandu himself. There is no doubt that his arrival was warmly received by valley dwellers who always had a soft spot for Shiva, who had decided to patronize their enchanted little valley in the form of Lord Pashupatinath. On a side note, a small and then-insignificant hill state to the west of the Kathmandu valley (Gorkha) had also incorporated Gorakshyanath as their patron saint.

Descendants of the Nath yogis, popularly called kanphatta, still lived within Kasthamandap as of 1966, when they were evicted for renovations. The Kusale caste of Kathmandu also trace their origins to the Nath sect.

In keeping with  another Kathmandu theme, Gorakshyanath himself is considered a disciple of Matsyendranath, who is associated as closely with the Buddhist pantheon as he is with the Hindu one, and plays such a monumental role in Kathmandu history and culture, that the subject cannot be done justice to in these pages.

The stone statue of Guru Gorakshyanath that adorned the center of the main floor of Kasthamandap was probably a gift from Jayasthiti Malla dating to the same occasion. Gorakshyanath is usually represented only in symbolic form, with his paduka (imprint of feet). The stone statue therefore is extremely rare, and is one of only two such images in the Kathmandu valley.  The signature slit ear of kanphata yogis is clearly evident in the statue.

The post-earthquake status of this rare and precious historic statue is unknown. Did it survive for being made of stone and not delicate copper?

As for the 1379 AD copper-plate itself, it was already significantly damaged pre-earthquake, and  is now probably lost forever amidst the ruins of Kasthamandap.

Inscription on a copper pot hanging in Kasthamandap, 1417 AD (N.S. 537): 

श्रीयंग्रमंन्दोसं निरकंथवंको जोगिभरादत्वं…
थ्व कोणेन फलके कुरछे धारे…सम्बत् ५३७ आषाढ कृष्ण।।
आमावस्याया तिथ्व।। प्वक्ष नक्षत्र।।
…जोगे सनिचरवासरे।। 

In the mandap of Sri Yangal, fill this pot and give two maanas of chiura [beaten rice] to the jogis who have pilgrimaged to Gosainkunda…

This inscription, in an interesting but utilitarian location, emphasizes the continued importance of the Kanphatta Yogi cult in contemporary Yangal [Southern Kathmandu]. The pilgrimage to Gosainkunda, still very important in the lives of many valley dwellers, is respected here by arranging food for pilgrims upon return form the arduous journey.

Kasthamandap Copper-plate inscription of 1423 AD (N.S. 543):

शुभ।। स्वस्ति।। श्रीश्रीश्रीपशुपति भट्टारकस्य पादपंकजपराग बहुलकीर्ति: तस्यपाद पद्मोपजीविन: रघुवंशावतार
अन्धकार कलजगर्जति: श्रीमत श्रीश्रीमनेश्र्वावरलब्ध प्रसाद विराजमान: श्रीश्रीराघव कुल कमल प्रकाशितस्य श्री…
[four more Sanskrit lines of titles attesting the ruling king Jayajyoti Malla’s devotion to Pashupati and Maneswari]

यकं जाव तव दाक मदेतीप हख तोते तावत थिर याङ लोपा लोपी मयक थ्वविक्षेप पत्र थिर काल ला
याङा दुन्त (ध)थत चोसत भया जुरो ह(त)त पत्र केन कश्र्चित लोपयित्वा महारौरव नरके प्रतिप्रतयेत: कदाचि…

[three more lines of mixed Nepal Bhasa and Sanskrit]

This copper-plate inscription was also attached to front wall of Kasthamandap in the reign of Jyotir Malla. Petech notes that the plate was written in Patan, then brought to Kathmandu, and that the date was verified for Friday, June 18, 1423. When Kasthamandap fell, this copper-plate was 592 years old.

Kasthamandap Copper-plate inscription of 1465 AD (N.S. 585):

ॐ नम: श्रीगोरक्षनाथाय।।
अनादि परमंब्रम्ह निष्कलं स चराचरं।।
ध्यायन्ते योगि नोनित्यं गोरक्षं प्रणामाम्यहं ।।
प्रासादकाष्ठ…स्वर्णध्वजालंकृत मण्ड
पोयं योगीश्वराणां निवसन्ति नित्यं, श्रीयक्षमल्ल: प्रभुराजते∫सौ।।

…[six lines in Sanskrit]…

अथ नेपाल भाषा लिववुरोव़ ९ थ्वछुया वरसा नन गुठिस्यं वशवे जुरो।
जाके फं ४० थ्व केफं ६० माष फं ४ चि चेकन हलडि यालो फं १६ थ्वति प्यन्त ५ के फं २ खा व्याय फं ३
…प्यंवा श्र्वंशीन भाखा ग च्छिवोन गुठियात जुरो।
सम्वत् ५८५ आषाढ कृष्ण आमावाश्या कोन्हु जुरो थ्वकुन्हु प्रतिवष पूजा विय जुरो।।
शुभमस्तु सब्वर्दा सब्वर्दा।।

This copper-plate inscription was created during the long and prosperous rule of Jayayakshya Malla and was attached to the front wall of Kasthamandap. It invokes Gorakshyanath and names the pavilion as a residence of yogis who are entrusted with its care. Petech give the date as July 23, 1465.

Also of interest is that the switch to the vernacular is indicated with “Nepal Bhasa” (and not with “Newari” or something else) directly in the inscription.

Kasthamandap Copper-plate inscription of 1485 AD (N.S. 605):

ॐ शुभ स्वस्ति श्रीश्रीजयरत्नमल्ल श्रीश्रीजयअरिमल्ल देवस्य विजयराज्ये ।।
अद्य वाराहकल्पे, वैवश्र्वतमन्वन्तरे, श्रीकलिजुगे, जम्बुदीपे।
भरतखण्डे हिमवत्पादे वासुकिक्षेत्रे, श्रीनेपालदेशे, पशुपति सन्निधाने, वाग्मत्या:
पश्चिम्कूले विष्णुमत्या पूर्वकूले, इहैव स्थाने, श्रीकाष्ठमण्डपनगरे,
श्रेयो∫स्तु सम्वत् ६०५ अश्विनिशुक्लचतुर्थ्यायान्तिथौ। अंगारवासरे।
भाषा सिवलितिन लिलावरङाव जोगी भलादत्वंसकल लिथ्यनङाव,
चक्र बिययातं किटनद्वंबू रोव ४ तलपतिसमत। थ्व बूया वाससन द्वथ्यम्
ब्रषम्प्रत्ते बसवम् चक्र बिम्य निस्त्रप निर्ब्वाहरप यन्जमाल।

Yet another copper-plate inscription attached to front wall of Kasthamandap. The opening line suggests two of Yakshya Malla’s sons, JayaRatna and JayaAri Malla, were joint rulers of Kasthamandap at that time. Then follows an expansive and eloquent description of the location of Kasthamandap, the city: one can see that the Kasthamandap-nagar of the period was bounded by the western banks of Bagmati and the eastern banks of Bishnumati. By 1485, then, the prior Yangala/Yambu sectors had morphed into a single city-state and had adopted the sattal’s name as its own.

The inscription further describes arrangements for a talapati to use money from guthi land to feed Natha yogis who had returned from the arduous pilgrimage to Gosaikunda, and were living in Kasthamandap as described in an earlier section. Talapati is a Licchavi-era term for a district-level governor, and the title seems to have survived many centuries into the Malla era, perhaps losing some of its authority along the way (per D. Vajracharya, 1965).

All of this rich, multi-faceted history of our precious little valley is captured in a 530 year old copperplate inscription that is now crushed and lost in the rubble of Kasthamandap. Should we search for it?

Kasthamandap gold-plated Copper inscription of 1512 AD (N.S. 632):

ॐ स्वस्ति ॐ नम: ॐ नम: गोरक्षनाथाय।।
स्वस्ति श्रीनेपालेश्वर श्रीश्रीजयरत्नमल्ल देवस्य विजयराज्ये
काष्टमण्डपस्थानस प्रतिबर्ष जोगिचक्र दयके यातं दानयाङा भाख थ्वते।।
… सुवर्णद्वयकर्षाधिक चतु:प लांकित चूर्णकालालुँ प्लक्रख  [should be कर्ष?]२ थ्वतेया व्याजन वर्षम्प्रत्ते…

This gold-plated inscription in copper was also attached to the front wall of Kasthamandap, in the reign of Ratna Malla. This inscription refers to pla and karsha (“four pla plus two karsha of gold dust…”). This is significant as these coinage denominations (pla and karshapana, respectively) originated in the Licchavi era many centuries ago. Petech suggests the latter Malla use was one of weights, not coin denominations. Also interesting is the fact that 133 years after the first gifting of Kasthamandap to Gorakshyanath and his Kanphatta disciples, the cult was still strong, judging by the opening homage to Gorakshyanath in the inscription.

In Summary:

  1. Kasthamandap was a public pavilion that gave Kathamandu its name and its very identity.
  2. Kasthamandap was at least 900 years old, and possibly more than a 1000 years old, at the time of the 2015 earthquakes. It was therefore the oldest public building anywhere in Kathmandu, by far. It was also the largest traditional building in Kathmandu.
  3. With the fall of Kasthamandap, we have lost six copper-plate inscriptions, an extremely rare Gorakshyanath statue, and one storied copper pot: these are individually anywhere between 682 and 503 years old.  In addition, some of the bricks and other building material lost could possibly be  900 years old, if not older. Where are all these important historic treasures now?
  4. Kasthamandap was a time-capsule of old Kathmandu, capturing within its inscriptions, statues and enormous pillars the existence of the two (three?) townships of Yangla/ Yambu, the association with Pachali Bhairav, the rise and longevity of the Gorakshyanath cult, the gradual merging of local townships into the unified city-state of Kasthamandap (which is now Kathmandu), the rise of Nepal Bhasa as a state language, the long-standing Buddhist connections, the dual-kingship sometimes in effect during the Malla era, the continuation of centuries-old Licchavi system of coinage/weights, and the importance of guthi associations still so very relevant in Kathmandu.

Let us locate the treasures lost in the debris of Kasthamandap, and let us rebuild it back to its original magnificence. If we do not act, a part of our shared heritage and our very identity will disappear with the rubble.

***

Sources cited:

  1. L. Petech, Mediaeval History of Nepal, Rome (1958)
  2. M. S. Slusser, Nepal Mandala: A Cultural Study of the Kathmandu Valley, Princeton (1982). Two Volumes. [Buy]
  3. M. S. Slusser and G. Vajracharya, Two Medieval Nepalese Buildings: An Architectural and Cultural Study, Artibus Asiae Vol. 36, No. 3 (1974), pp. 169-218
  4. D. Vajracharya, Itihas Samshodhanko Praman Prameya, Part I, Patan, V.S. 2019
  5. G. Bajracarya , Yangala, Yambu, Contributions to Nepalese Studies I:2, 90-98 (1974)
  6. D. R. Regmi, Medieval Nepal, 2nd Ed., Vol I, New Delhi (2007)
  7. R. Sankrityayan, Sanskrit palm-leaf manuscripts in TibetJBORS 23 (1937), 1-57
  8. B. J. Hasrat, History of Nepal, As Told by Its Own and Contemporary Chroniclers, Panjab (1971)
  9. D. Vajracharya, Licchavikalka Shaasan Sambandhi Paaribhasik Shabdako Byakhya, Purnima vol. 3, no. 2, issue 10 (1965), 9-17
  10. H. Sakya and T. Vaidya, Medieval Nepal: Colophons and Inscriptions, Kathmandu (1970)
Please share your thoughts.
  1. R Surbir says:

    Dear author,
    Nepal Bhasa please, not “Newari”, as well illustrated in your article. Thanks.

    …[six lines in Sanskrit]…

    अथ नेपाल भाषा लिववुरोव़ ९ थ्वछुया…

    Reply
    • Dipesh Risal says:

      Dear Mr. Surbir,

      Good catch. And of course, I am aware of the different nomaneclature preferences (incl. Newah) but became a little sloppy in not noticing the original designation. Changes coming up.

      Reply
  2. ananta baidya says:

    Great job. Enjoyed your work. Thanks.

    Reply
  3. Kul Thapa says:

    Nice going Dipesh!

    Reply
  4. Many cheers to Dipesh Risal for this in-depth article and inspiring call to action.

    Below is a link to another article about Kasthamandapa by Professor Michael Hutt.

    According to him, “…many of the same buildings were destroyed in 1934, they were rebuilt by local artisans, with little or no help from the outside world. Now, however, many of the old crafts barely survive, and there are serious concerns about the theft of portable cultural artefacts and saleable architectural elements from these sites.

    The valley’s cultural heritage was a source of great pride for a nation that has long been beset by political and economic problems, and now by a humanitarian crisis. Making sure that future generations will be able to glory in these places again will be an essential part of the national recovery.”

    https://theconversation.com/the-history-of-kathmandu-valley-as-told-by-its-architecture-41103

    Reply
  5. Reeta Stecklein says:

    Thank you for the history on Kasthamandap, one of my favorites. Please share this again and again so that if the artifacts do appear in unscrupulous hands, they can be prosecuted.

    Reply
  6. Bill Douglass says:

    Just heard about your blog and efforts from Mary Slusser. Interested in keeping up with your crusade.

    Bill Douglass

    Reply
  7. Anil Ranjit says:

    Relation of Matschhendranath and Gorakhnat could be found in various articles and text, about those both Siddh Yogi are from Nath Parampara, but in Nepal valley who bought Matschhedranath Priest was from Bajrayana and they worship Tantra along with many Hindu deities (still do), please this bellow link may have some interesting issues about those Naths
    http://devdutt.com/articles/indian-mythology/legends-of-the-nath-jogis.html

    Reply