Sunday, April 28, 2002

Ashok Binayak: Temple of royal Ganesh

Heritage tour

By Razen Manandhar

Among fifty plus monuments constructed in the various stages of the history, the most commonly visited shrine in Hanumandhoka Durbar Square area is the insignificant temple of Ganesha, the elephant-headed god. It is associated with the social life of the public as well as the royals of the Himalayan Kingdom.

The temple of Ashok Binayak is situated at the east of Hanumandhoka Durbar Square Protected Monument Zone, beside the tumultuous vegetable and flower market. It is dwarfed by the giant pagoda structure of Kasthamandap that stands in front of the temple but the locals automatically turn themselves to the temple and take a round from the left whenever they arrive at the courtyard of Maru.

The Ganesh temple, however, is still waiting for the proved accounts of its history. The only historical evident we have about the temple is that it was renovated in 1850 AD that certainly cannot be the date of origin of the temple. It is the unwritten history and the strong belief of the locals that the insignificant shrine among the grandiloquent temples of the monument zone draws hundreds of pilgrims to its small threshold. The legends give credit of initiating religious rituals to a Tantric priest Jamana Gubhaju and continuing the rituals and caretaking the temple to a local merchant Dhamanan Sayami. Perhaps this is the reason the Ganesh is held to be deified incarnation of oil pressers (Manandhars).

According to a legend, the area where the temple is situated today was once upon a time a big jungle and people found the miraculous idol of Ganesh there. The legend implies that it belongs to the time long before Hanumandhoka as a royal palace came into existence. But as it was cramped among trees, the makers could not give the final touch by adding a pinnacle to the small temple. Branches of an Ashok tree was hanging above the temple. So the people named it Ashok Binayak. The tree shaped decoration inside the temple that is hardly visible these days, are the reminders of the Ganesha’s love the Ashoka tree that gave him its name.

The temple is only a small chamber, no garbhagriha or doors from other directions. From outside, almost all parts of the front is covered with brass plates. The reppouse plates resemble the wooden structures behind. A decorated Torana is on the top of the gate, which is tightly tucked up with iron bars, to save it from the hand of art thieves but a small Ganesh figure under the Torana has been missing. Two lions at the door and a shrew across the street guard the temple. Four ancient looking pillars inside the temple indicate the ancient structure of the temple. Like in the shrine of Budha Nilkantha, the pillars were meant to make the temple roof but it kept falling off, as people believed it, due to the God’s unwillingness to dwell under a roof. And people left the temple without completing the roof. This legend supports another logic behind the temple’s missing pinnacle.

The stone idol that has endured innumerable pilgrims’ beggings, and scraping of "prasad" is seated on the floor. With an unusually big face, the god with elephant’s head sits with four hands. On every Tuesdays, the stone idol is given a "cover" of copper idol and during major festivals like Dashain, the temple is decorated with silver idol. Recently, a gold plated idol was made for ceremonial purposes. His Majesty King Gyanendra was also present on the occasion.

A pilgrim hardly gets enough space in front of the temple to sit and ask for his blessing. And the busy pilgrims find it easy to "salute" the poor god from outside. Irrespective of its indistinct history and archaeological value, people throng themselves to the temple every day with unlimited desires they believe will be fulfilled by bless of Ganesh.

The metal idol of Ashok Binayak is taken around the core city on the eighth day of Dashian. The locals offer animal sacrifices and flowers to the god who runs from one street to another in hurry. The chariot of Ganesh is also taken to Simha Durbar and Narayanhiti Royal Palace to grace offerings.

Members of royal family take their children to the temple of Ganesh temple to accomplish rituals of rice-feeding, bratabandha and wedding. Similarly visiting the temple is a must part of coronation of every monarch of the country.

One among the four guarding Ganesh: Surya Binayak (Bhaktapur), Chandra Binayak (Chabahil), Jal Binayak of (Chobhar) remaining the three.
[ Kathmandu, Sunday, April 28, 2002 Baishakh 15, 2059.]