Sunday, April 07, 2002

Ramchandra temple with thirty-two butterflies

Heritage tour

By Razen Manandhar

Along the time passes, temple architecture of the Kathmandu Valley also changed slowly. Specially after the First Rana Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana visited Europe, the palaces, temples as well as private buildings took a drastic change in their appearance - they imitated European looks with plasters and eye-catching white washes. Among others, the temple of Ramchandra, at Battisputali of Pashupatinath area, is an exemplary for the reason that it represents the religious architecture of the later late 19th century.

The 130 years old temple is situated on the top of a hillock at Gaushala, so it can be seen from all over the surrounding locations (however, its location has turned out to be a dense residential area). On the other side, this temple premises is an appropriate point to have a panoramic view of the ever-expanding capital city. Long winding stone-paved steps lead the visitors to a colourful hilltop almost crowded with small and big idols and temples, without leaving enough foreground to enjoy the scene from one angle.

Going through the legends, people believe that a group of thirty-two fairies in the guise of butterflies brought the throne of King Bikramaditya from his Indian State. Since the king was known for his unmistaken justice, people till some years back, believed that the local shepherds could provide miraculous justice to the people on that auspicious hillock. Apart from that, the hill is considered as a religious shrine before the temple was constructed over there, according to the locals.

A two-storey building hardly looks like a temple to those, who are accustomed to judge temple architectures from the view point of traditional Newari architecture - of dachhi appa and tilted tiled-roofs. The temple is rectangular and fully white-washed. The temple stands on a stone pedestal. Unlike other temples, there is no inner room or garbhagriha. Rather, a pradakshinapath or dalan is made around the temple which also gives an impression of being a verandah. The false doors on all four corners give an conspicuous impression of Muslim architecture while the pinnacles remain traditional. It has four minarets while the rectangular centre is turned into three gilt pinnacles on the top.A big space is left in the room where around 30 people can sit together to worship the series of five idols. Surrounding the temple inside, modern-looking 32 images of fairies in the form of butterflies are painted on the wall.

There are fine black-stone idols of standing Ram, Sita, Bharat, Lakshman, Shatrughna facing east. Those idols stand by the wall with gilt snakes and decorative trees form behind.Outside the temple, there are other idols of Ganesh, Surya, Devi and Shiva on four corners. As it is with other Ramchandra temples, there is an image of Hanuman, the server of Ram family, in praying posture. A winding staircase would lead you to the temple’s upper floor which has verandah around the temple. But it covered with iron-sheets where the caretakers live. Four minarets are made on four corners that also bear golden gilt pinnacle.

The open space in the courtyard is decorated by small temples of Shiva, Ganesh, Surya and Bhagwati in the four corners. These four corners, including Lord Shiva is worshipped as member deities of Panchayan family.

Besides, there are other nine temples of Shiva and one of Vishnu around the periphery. They were constructed in different times and, as usual, are named after the person who had them constructed.The temple is said to be constructed by a high ranking officer Sanaksingh in 1871 AD. And when he established the temple, he also offered a land property of 373 ropani, so that the income from the land could be used for daily rituals in the temple and also for conservation of the temple. Unfortunately, locals claim the land is no longer in possession of the temple. As the time passed, the temple lacked proper and continuous caring. The periphery turned out to be the dumping area of garbage for the locals, the daily pooja rituals discontinued, some of the important ornaments were stolen and one after another, the open rest houses (sattals) fell down to earth.

Above all, the temple of Ramchandra has set an example of conservation of cultural heritage from the local efforts. While quite a many temples in the Kathmandu Valley are falling apart, this must be a lucky one to have caring neighbours.

With the locals people’s effort, a Ramchandra Temple Renovation Committee was formed a decade ago. It collected donations from the locals and started painting, stone-paving and conserving the temple. Daily rituals take place and special festival invites hundreds of visitors on the day of Ram Nawami, which occurs this year on April 21.
[ Kathmandu, Sunday, April 07, 2002 Chaitra 25, 2058.]