In local legends, Kāṣṭhamaṇḍap (henceforth Kasthamandap) is popularly known to be made of wood from a single tree. From its exquisite wood carvings to the thick columns, the large mostly timber structure is certainly an artistic marvel of Newārs.
Here we will focus on a timber column (see the photo) at the north-west (Vāyu
) corner near an icon of Sūrya Vināyak
, within the massive ground floor open space of Kasthamandap.
Most locals remember this column from seeing people rub their backs against it. Lore has it that this column relieves people of their back pain – all they have to do is lean against it and rub their back in a vertical motion. Even those not suffering any pain often do so as a habit, as they approach the Sūrya Vināyak shrine (background in photo). Some have argued that the legend is a fabrication of recent times, perpetuated by tourist guides as an attractive device to entrance visitors. However, the legend is also well known among the elders of the community.
The pillar has a smooth surface, with a few uneven crack-lines, but this does not make rubbing your back problematic.This piece is specially polished, and is different from other wooden columns all in terms of shape and size. While most other Kasthamandap columns are rectangular, the cross-section here is circular. Decades, and perhaps centuries of rubbing has smoothened the surface to a shine.
The column also supports the stairs that lead to the upper storeys of Kasthamandap. Going to the upper storeys is prohibited for the general public; only local guthiyārs (keepers of the Guthi) have access. These go up to the pinnacle of the temple every Māghe Sankrānti (Māgh 1), when Busāra(n)worship is held. These days, the Kathmandu Metropolitan City Office also hold access rights to the upper storeys.
Local legends also refer to our pillar as the oldest wood-piece of the structure that have survived for a very long time. Some scholars believe this particular column is older than the other large columns supporting upper storeys. However, we have not read of or found any evidence reliably dating the column.
Now that Kasthamandap has completely collapsed to the massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake of April 25, 2015, some of the wood-work from the structure have been placed near Śiva Pārvatī temple, shifting it from near the Lakṣmī Nārāyaṇa Sattal. The healing pillar, however, has not been located anywhere, to our knowledge. For now, therefore, there is no pillar to offer solace to locals. But we need to restore this precious piece of Kathmandu living culture, along with the rest of the Kasthamandap structure, and indeed, all other destroyed heritage sites. The healing of our souls can then proceed.