Ancient beautiful art and architecture meets the modern urban lifestyle, Patan is where you get the best of both worlds
A place which has soaked up the rapid urbanisation process thoroughly but has not lost its touch of magic from the old times. Still retaining the rich culture and tradition from the inception of civilisation, Patan Durbar Square being the core of Lalitpur tells a story of history through their numerous monuments and trades.
A major city area both then and now, it has become multifaceted; from historical areas to local hangouts, from peaceful bahals (courtyards) to crowded gallis (alleys), from flea markets to branded stores, from instant coffee to expensive brew, from authentic newari cuisine to continental cuisine. Patan has everything to offer and more.
Stories from the days past
As time passes, deeds of men become legends and myths which are later retold as stories. One of these stories is about a farmer named Lalit, who carried God Rato Machhindranath to the valley all the way from Assam to save the valley from the worst drought it had ever seen. This is how the town was named Lalitpur in honour of the diligent farmer. This city is also called Yala in Newari, named after the Kirati King Yalamber himself.
Patan being the oldest town in the valley was discovered in the 3rd century BC by the Kirat Dynasty and expanded in the 6th century by the Licchavi Rulers. Legend has it that in 250 BC Emperor Ashoka along with his daughter visited Kathmandu and erected five Ashoka Stupas, four in the surrounding and one in the middle of Patan. The city saw the most growth during the Malla rule, also known as the medieval period which boasts structures and monuments considered the epitome of Newari art and architecture.
One of the three durbar squares in the Valley, Patan Durbar Square saw major reforms during the reign of King Siddhi Narsingh Malla in the 1600’s. Built during the prosperous Malla Dynasty it still flourishes the rich art and craft over the centuries.
Living with the Kings and Gods
Patan Durbar Square has three main chowks or courtyards, the central Mul Chowk, Sundari Chowk and Keshav Narayan Chowk. The Patan museum that we know was once the ancient Royal palace of the Malla Kings which now houses one of the finest collection of religious and historic art. South of the Patan Museum is the impressive Mul Chowk, the largest and oldest among the three main chowks has Biyapith Temple at the centre, Taleju Bhawani Temple on the south, Degutalle Temple on the northeast and Taleju Temple on the north. South of the Mul Chowk is the smaller Sundari Chowk, has the magnificent Tusha Hiti, the royal bath. Keshav Narayan Chowk is inside the Patan Museum to the north of Mul Chowk, there is Keshav Narayan Temple at the centre of the chowk.
The view from the ancient royal palace of Patan looks on to the beautiful Durbar Square filled with multitude of temples and statues each displaying the peak of Newari architecture to be seen in Nepal. The first monument that greets your sight is the beautiful brass statue of King Yog Narendra Malla and his wife seated with his hands joint in Namaste, a customary hindu greeting. The statue sits atop an intricately carved stone column with a Naga (snake) looming over the king’s statue creating a canopy with a bird nestled on the serpent’s head. Legend has it that as long as the bird remains, the king may still return to his palace.
Another eye catching temple in the Durbar Square is Chyasin Dega, is a unique eight sided stone Shikara built in 18th century. Bhimsen Temple a three-storey pagoda dedicated to one of the Pandavas, Bhimsen who has a power of 10,000 elephants. Krishna Mandir, one the most famous temples in Patan is also shrouded in mystery which tells that it was built because of a dream King Siddhi Narsingh Malla had of Krishna and Radha standing in front of the palace. The temple was built on the same spot. The Krishna temple is also built in the shikhara style, the first floor enshrines Krishna, the second Shiva, and the third Lokeshwor. Scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata is narrated in Newari script in the interior of the temple.
Coexistence of Beliefs
Patan is believed to be one of the oldest Buddhist settlement in the world. There are a lot of incredible buddhist monuments around the patan area which have their own stories to tell. The exquisite Golden Temple approximately 200 mt north from the durbar square houses a beautiful statue of Shakyamuni Buddha. Mahabuddha Temple to the south of the durbar square, the first Buddhist temple featuring a tower with several hundred Buddha images carved into its bricks. The beauty of observing manu Buddhist and Hindu temples built in close proximity and all of it open to people of all religions is definitely something you cannot experience elsewhere.
After the 2015 earthquake, Patan Durbar Square being one of the many places that faced destruction resulting the loss of temples and monuments but the traditional craftsmen with the aid of various organisations are restoring and remaking it all. This shows that even in the face of modernisation Patan has still maintained a culture of craftsmanship.
Patan has an blend of both the past and the present. A whole day of strolling around Patan through the bahals and gallis, sights and sounds from just around the corner lead you to discover more. The sights of the various historical art and architecture, people hanging out, performing rituals or shopping, it transports you from past to present and vice versa. One cannot help but be charmed by this old city.