Friday, March 31, 2000

Sundari Chowk with marvelous water spout

By Razen Manandhar

In the history of the Kathmandu Valley, the middle of the seventeenth century is particularly remembered for this is the apex of the awesome Malla dynasty architecture. All the kings of Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur, spent more time in decirating their palaces and surroundings than paying due attention to safeguard their states from foreign invaders. One among the masterpieces of the period is Sundari Chowk of Patan Durbar Square.

The 355 year old courtyard, with one type of art or another in every inch of its walls, windows, door, roofs of buildings as well as the floor with the water spout on its centre, can be the model of the height of Malla period art and architecture. The credit of this courtyard goes to two art-loving and religious kings of Patan — Siddhi Narasimha Malla and his son Sri Nivas Malla.

Though Patan Durbar Square is the smallest among the three palaces of the valley, it is no less significant in art and architectures. Among all, the beauty of Sundari Chowk is incomparable, which in fact extended the palace itself from the southern side. Some said that King Siddhi Narshimha Malla became so ambitious to have the ‘unearthly’ bath spout constructed that he even shifted an ancient Buddhist monastery to some other places and constructed a totally new courtyard on that place. It was the year 1647 AD.

The courtyard of well-proportioned three-storey quadrangle, an outstanding example of Newari architecture reflects the luxury a royal residents could seek out of indigenous ornamentation.

The intricate door way is decorated with guarding images giant stone lions, Hanuman, Narasimha and Ganesh by the wall.

Though the quadrangle itself is not so big, each and every corner has the power to spell bound any visitor with its unparalleled beauty with the minutest carving. Its interior part particularly beautiful, with, and on the top floor a sacreen gallery that over looks the Tusa hiti, the royal bath.

One can hardly find any structure, which is non-functional there. All the structures bear separate utility in the construction or keeping it intact for centuries. On the ground floor, a series of columns leave a small piece of semi-open area under the building. The wood beams are heavily decorated, so are the doors, windows and struts. But, apart from that, the artists have made the whole quadrangle a big sculpture and with detail carvings, giving each piece of wood and stone shapes of Brahmanical deities, human beings, legendary animals and flowers.

The windows just look like showpieces, hanging on the wall. On the third floor, a series latticed windows or screen-verandah is make continuously on all four sides.

The central part of stone-paved ground is the stone waterspout, which used to be the royal bath in Malla times where the religious kings used to purify themselves, offer water to all the deities before thinking about politics. It was so beautiful that Pratam Malla had a copy of it in his Hanumandhoka palace. The water spout is made of metal in the shape of a cock shell, on which gilt Vishnu sits with his consort Laxmi, about to fly on Garuda, his vehicle. It is guarded by two relief images of elephants below the spout.

The spout valley or pit is surrounded by at over 70 magnificent stone idols of Hindu deities in two series of niches, on its retaining wall as well as on the brink. The whole set of beauties is encircled by a pair of serpents, in the mood of protecting the shrine and pilgrims. Moreover, just above the spout one can find miniature of the famous Krishna Temple.

But having such a marvellous specimen of art and monument of cultural heritage is not enough. For at least seven years, the court has been closed. The section of Department of Archaeology does not even have a clear concept what should be done with the courtyard.

The officers there said that Sundari Chowk is closed because the surrounding buildings are crumbling and is waiting for renovation.

But the truth is that nobody knows when it will be renovated. Out of foreign donation, an extravagant "documentation" was done several years ago that blew up tens of millions of rupees. And the department is waiting that some other donors will come up and renovate the monument for them.
[ Kathmandu, Sunday, March 31, 2000 Chaitra 18, 2058.]