After a brief coffee break at the north end of Durbar Square, I headed north to visit a couple of worship sites – one Buddhist and the other Hindu – that make clear that traditional religious practices still matter to the inhabitants of the town and those pilgrims who come from away to make offerings and petitions.
Hiranyavarna Mahavihara (“The Golden Temple”)
The so-called Golden Temple was the first stop on my brief side trip from Durbar Square. Its official name is Hiranyavarna Mahavihara and its Sanskrit roots mean this –
- Hiranya – golden
- varna – colour
- Maha – great
- vihara – monastery.
The complex, dating back to about 1400, functions as a Newar Buddhist monastery, though it only hosts daytime visitors since there are no longer any resident monks staying there. I am not sure if that also applies to the on-duty pre-pubescent priest (if that is his actual title) whom I saw while I was there.
The street facade of the monastery features guardian figures and a nicely done stone entrance. When you step inside and past the two elephants with riders on the other side your view is captured by the image below. A Thunderbolt (dorje) sits in front of a small shrine which fills the middle of the courtyard. It brings to mind the dorje at the top of the steps in front of the Swayambhu stupa. Behind the courtyard shrine is the main temple, whose top two of the three roofs are visible.
Also visible in the image above and the next two below are metallic streamers. Known as pataka, they are apparently there for the convenience of the gods so that they can descend easily in response to the petitions of the pilgrims who have come! At the Sule Pagoda in Yangon, I have seen something similar. There I saw a wooden boat on a pulley system into which believers put their petition cards. The boat is then pulled up into the sky so that the gods can more easily access the petitions! Such is the enduring appeal of belief in the gods! We are a long way from the historical Buddha’s advice:
33. “Therefore, Ananda, be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as your island, the Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge. ( Digha Nikaya, Sutta 16. Mahaparinibbana Sutta. see here for the source of the quote)
On the perimeter of the courtyard is one eye-catching shrine after another, each with evidence of being active and visited. This monastery courtyard with its many exquisite metal sculptures and mini-shines is a living museum and may be the most atmospheric religious shrine I have visited in Nepal. In making my rounds, I also realized that I have little chance of understanding the complexities of the living Newar Buddhist tradition. Who are all these gods and why do they command such reverence?
Behind the small courtyard shrine – to the right of the Taleju Bell pictured above – is the central shrine built into the ground floor of the three-roofed pagoda. I need to go back one more time to get a decent shot of the entire temple! What you see below behind the metal fence are the base of the temple and the shrine in a space framed by more amazing stonework, the torana above the doorway lintel especially so.
The heavily draped figure is apparently of the historical Buddha in the “Touching The Earth Pose”. Given the name of the complex – Hiranyavarna Mahavihara – I wondered if the Hiranya (golden) Varna (colour) refers to the Buddha statue’s skin colour. Varna is also the term used to describe Hinduism’s four hereditary social classes and would seem to have originally been based on skin colour. The darker-skinned Dravidian inhabitants got the bottom slot and the conquering Aryan invaders, the top three.
While I was there I got a quick look at that month’s temple priest (if that is his title). Like another religious role in the Kathmandu Valley – that of Kumari – he is a prepubescent youth. Unlike the Kumari who keeps her position for five or six years, the boy here serves for a thirty-day period and then is replaced by another under-twelve-years-old boy.
I could have spent another two hours at the Golden Temple. I could also have wandered into the rooms of the courtyard and even checked out the second floor but I decided to leave the locals gathered there undisturbed by yet another nosy tourist with his camera.
I stepped back out onto the street and headed a bit further north to the Kumbeshwar Temple and the Baglamukhi Temple to its side. I was moving from Buddhist complex with its Newar spin to a Hindu temple complex with a Newar spin! The five-storey main temple is dedicated to Shiva; the smaller but very popular Baglamukhi Mandir to the goddess of that name. She is, I think, a manifestation of the goddess Durga. I happened to be there on a Thursday, a day supposedly special to the goddess. Also part of the complex are two hiti, water tanks with water believed to come from Gosain Kunda, some forty kilometers away and a major attraction to pilgrims.
Walking up to the Hindu temples there was yet more evidence of the damage caused by the Gorkha Earthquakes of 2015. It will take a generation for the people of the valley to recuperate from them.
Along with the Nyatapola Mandir in Taumadhi Tol in Bhaktapur, the Kumbheshwar Temple is a five-storey structure. In May of 2018, it still had scaffolding around it as workers repair the damage from 2015. The lineup to the left of the Mandir snakes all the way to the Baglamukhi Temple. (Both Google Map and Apple Map spell it Banglamukhi; another less common spelling is Bagalamukhi!)
I eventually exited the temple complex on the other side and headed back to Durbar Square. Along the way, I passed yet more temples and residential buildings with evidence of earthquake damage.
As you get closer to Durbar Square, the tourist shops – all seemingly selling the same stuff – start appearing. The north end of the square has a number of restaurants. It is also where you access the Patan Museum. My look at Durbar Square can be accessed here –
Having just landed in Kathmandu the evening before, after a twenty-hour flight from Toronto, I was flagging! I would find a rooftop café for yet another cup of coffee before making a quick visit to the museum and then returning to my Lazimpat room at the Hotel Tibet, a very comfortable place to stay while I waited for my Upper Mustang trek to begin.
Other Posts On The UNESCO Heritage Sites Of The Kathmandu Valley: