• 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.

  • Bhairavas Guarding Maru Tole

    Kāṣṭhamaṇḍap (Kasthamandap) literally means the wooden pavilion. But it is seemingly more than that.

    The following is the list of eight Bhairavas guarding the Maru tole encircling the Bhuti Sa भुति सः (Chāyā Chatra Bhairava छायाँछत्र भैरव deity) and the Kasthamandap as well.

    This list is collected in a local chronicle entitled Devatāharūko Vaṃśāvalī देवताहरूको वंशावली (unpublished, hereafter VD) compiled by Pundit Dineśānanda Rājopādhyāya (born 1923 A.D. | 1984 B.S. in Kāṭhmāṇḍu, Nepāl). It is compiled in pp. 923-925 under the section named ।। काठमाडाैँ, मरु टोल, अष्ट भैरवको बयान् ।। :

    Chronicler Rājopādhyāya (pp. 928) mentions that he compiled the information from a collection of Dr. Yogendra Bhakta Śreṣṭha (Kāṭhmāṇḍu, Nepāl) on 19 January 1979 A.D., Friday (B.S. 2035 Māgh 5).

    Rājopādhyāya, Dineśānanda. (n.d.). Devatāharūko Vaṃśāvalī. [Unpublished].
    MS in collection of his son
    Rājopādhyāya, Gauravānanda ‘Rāju’.

    Eight Bhairavas Guarding Maru Tole

    Alternate Name Location Description
    1 Aṣitāṅga Bhairava
    असिताङ्ग भैरव
    Ānanda Bhairava
    अानन्द भैरव
    गणेश दास साल्मीको घरको पश्चिमतर्फ
    2 Ruru Bhairava
    रुरु भैरव
    मरु सत्तलको पश्चिम दक्षिणको कुना
    3 Caṇḍa Bhairava
    चण्ड भैरव
    Svacchanda Bhairava
    स्वच्छन्द भैरव
    सिंह सत्तलको मुनि, भीमसेनस्थान जाने
    4 Krodha Bhairava
    क्रोध भैरव
    अशोक विनायकको घर मुनि
    5 Unmatta Bhairava
    उन्मत्त भैरव
    मरुहिटी जाने बाटोको दायाँतर्फ बाटोमा
    6 Kapālī Bhairava
    कपाली भैरव
    Kapāl Bhairava
    कपाल भैरव *
    मरु टोलको नासःद्यःको सत्तलको दक्षिण
    तर्फको कुनामा
    7 Bhīṣaṇ Bhairava
    भीषण भैरव
    छाया छत्र पीठका पूर्व भागमा पन्त, जोशी बाहुनको घरको कुनामा
    8 Saṃhāra Bhairava
    संहार भैरव
    मरु गणेशको ठूलो घण्टा मुनि

    * As mentioned by the VD.

    I have so far located seven of these Bhairavas, and confirmed it based on local lore. It would be interesting to locate all these Aṣṭabhairavas and see what symbolic meaning (if any) it has to present.

  • Legend II: The Healing Pillar

    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.
  • Moving Images

    Excerpt from an interactive 3D model of Kathmandu Darbar Square by Pasa Studios. The Kasthamandap content begins around 1:08. Attempts to contact the producers for further details on the project, including availablility of the software, have been unsuccessful.



    Ganesh shrines (Ashok Binayak, Jal Binayak, Karya Binayak and Surya Binayak) used to grace the four inside corners of the ground floor of Kasthamandap. Post-earthquake, all four shrines and statues within are unaccounted for.



    A time-lapse motion capture of Kasthamandap. The constant stream of people in and out of Kasthamandap attests to its popular use as a lived space.

  • Heritage Ride

    Tour de Lumbini organized a 60Km bike ride around Kathmandu heritage sites on July 4, 2015. The puropose was to raise awareness and funds for the restoration of Kasthamandap.

    Thanks to Ms. Shriju Pradhan, Chief of the Heritage Conservation and Tourism Promotion Section, KMC, for the early photos.

  • Elegant Details

    Extant drawings of Kasthamandap interior, from the sublime Italian tome Architettura Himalayana. These details will be useful when we faithfully rebuild Kasthamandap.

    From V. Sestini and E. Somigli, Architettura Himalayana:Architettura tradizionale nella valle di Kathmandu / Himalayan Architecture: Traditional architecture in the Kathmandu Valley. Polistampa (2007).  Buy here (Amazon) or here (Italian publisher).

  • 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)
  • Depiction in Art

    In 1565 AD (Nepal Sambat 685), Kathmandu’s venerable Swayambhu chaitya was renovated by the Patan Mahapartra (noble) and his brothers. This was in keeping with a longstanding Kathmandu tradition of affluent citizen sponsoring such renovations.  The renovation in question, now 450 years ago, was not a massive undertaking. It was probably limited to replacing the crowning umbrella (छत्र) atop the famous chaitya. But the re-consecration of Swayambhu was important enough to be commemorated in a banner painting (पौभा) created in Yampi Vihar, Patan. This banner painting has survived the intervening 450 years more or less intact, ignoring some rat gnawings along one side. 

    On this banner painting can be seen what may be the earliest artistic depiction of Kasthamandap. The pavilion had become such an icon by 1565 AD that the entire Yangal Desh (South Kathmandu) was represented symbolically by Kasthamandap in the painting (detail in images below). One can see that the Kasthamandap of that time was also an open pavilion, with local residents happily walking about and enjoying the view from its upper, open balconies. Let us hope our future generations also have the pleasure of walking the upper pavilions of Kasthamandap. And since hope is never enough, let us make it happen.



    1. M. S. Slusser. On a Sixteenth-Century Pictorial Pilgrim’s Guide from Nepal Archives of Asian Art Vol. 38 (1985) 6-36
    2. J. C. Huntington, D. Bangdel and R. A. F. Thurman. Reconsecration of Svayambhu Mahachaitya in The Circle of Bliss: Buddhist Meditational Art (2003). 112-115
    3. A. V. Rospatt. The Past Renovations of the Svayambhucaitya in Light of the Valley: Renewing the Sacret Art and Traditions of Svayambhu (2011). 156-206
  • Legend I: The Origin

    Once upon a time, the Great Kalpavrikshya flew down to celebrate Macchindranath Jatra at Lagan Tole disguised as one of us mortals. Our tantric Lopipada, a bit of a showoff in his best days, saw the dignified visitor sauntering about, decided it was a challenge, and took it on as a test of his skills. He cast such a tantra, such a tantra, on Kalpavrikshya that he was immobilized like a rock on the very spot.

    After struggling awhile, Kalpavrikshya admitted defeat and pleaded: See here, Sir, if you let me go, I will give you any thing you wish for. Such is my nature and name.

    “Oh, I thought you were but a simple tree”, Lopipada said slyly. “Anyhow, I had always wanted to build a large sattal right here in the square and so accumulate merit for the next go-around. When I saw you walking about, I thought your wood would be enough. Give me a replacement tree of similar size, and I will let you go. But you have to stay on in our township until the day salt and oil are sold at the same rate.”

    “Very well, I will give you a tree. But do not consecrate it to any god. If you do, the wood will walk away. ” The tantra temporarily loosened, Kalpavrikshya walked the short way to Ikha pukhu, cut a handsome saal tree growing along its fertile edges, delivered it to Lopipada and was released into freedom. Wasting no time, Lopipada collected the best of our simkarmis and started building his sattal.

    We set up the enormous four central pillars that was carved out first. All men from Yangal were called in to set these into place, it was quite a spectacle. Then came the expansive supporting beams, the bracketed columns in the upper floors, the rolling balconies that decorate each floor, and all the stairways and windows — strong, durable creations to weather all seasons here in Yangal.

    But what was this? Even after all of this carving, almost half of the tree still remained. So Lopipada ordered a bahal built nearby, and we called it Sikhamu bahal.

    Perhaps it was Kalpavrikshya’s own style of revenge for Lopipada’s slight, but the wood from the gifted tree was not expended yet. So Lopipada decided to attain further merit by building a smaller sattal, and jokingly named it Silyan Sattal.

    The grand sattal, the largest among our public buildings, was called Kasthamandap by the higher-ups in society, but we have always called it Maru Sattal. Lopipada had build the sattal right along our border with Yambu, where the vendors are many and the afternoon gatherings lively. As the sun slants westwards, warm and golden behind Chandragiri, we gather below Maru Sattal’s hanging eaves and tunahs to rest, smoke hukka from the same pipe, and rehash the days events. As per our arrangements with Lopipada, every year during the Sattal Puja, we call out loudly that salt and oil are still not sold at the same price, just so Kalpavrikshya stays around one more year.

    Our Lopipada was not only clever, he was also wise. The sattal gives solace to travelers from near and far, because the two trade routes connecting Kuti and Kerung to Nalanda and Ayodhya and beyond to foreign lands, crosses right in front of it. As a result, we always share some corner or other of Maru Sattal with Siddha Swamis from Banaras, traders from Kabul or Kashmir, and pilgrims from Lhasa. Of course, we do not mind sharing.  Travelers always bring interesting stories.

    Besides, Maru Sattal has enough space to give rest and comfort to us all.