By Razen Manandhar
While walking through New Road, a few would think that there is a millennium-old courtyard behind the towering business complexes. One would be surprised to find a big open space with temples inside, between New Road and Dharahara that might be as old as 1,522 years old.
This ancient Buddhist area is believed to have been built in courtyards that once belonged to two (or three) Buddhist monasteries. The quadrangle - approximately 40 metre wide and 60 metre long - is surrounded by residential buildings. It proudly houses over a score of ancient monuments, installed at different periods of history. The locals believe that there was a Tirtha Vihar some 2,200 years ago and its name was twisted later into Te Bahal. The oldest evidence found there is a stone inscription, used as a pedistal for Mahakal’s image, dating back to 480 AD. Some of the monuments in the Bahal are as follows:
Ganesh temple: It is a small temple at the eastern entrance to the courtyard, closely related with the cultural life of the local residents. People of Khichapokhari, Bhotebahal, New Road and Nhuchhe Galli visit there during festivals.
Sankata: At the south-west corner of the courtyard is a two-storey temple of mysterious God Sankata or Padmantaka, worshipped by both Buddhists and Hindus. It is said to have been brought from Assam state of Kamarup or Kamakshya along with Red Macchindranath by King Narendra Dev in the 7th century AD. The temple also contains an idol of Red Machhindranath.
Tedo Vihar, Tet Vihar, Tirtha Vihar, Triratna Vihar, Rajkirti Vihar or Prachandavira Mahavihar: This three-storey monastery-building is the main shrine of the Bahal, facing east. It has a torana, donated to the Vihara in 1700 AD.
Bandhudatta Vihar or Mugaa Dyo: This ancient temple remains to be a small one-story temple, containing a Kwapa-Dyo - the Akshobhya - stands opposite to Tedo Vihar. It is said to have been built by King Narendra Deva for his tantric Acharya Bandhudatta, who helped him bring Machhindranath to the valley. It was renovated in 1826 AD. The alternative names of the two Vihars are often confusing in various sources.
Nasaa-Dyo: This abstract deity of Nasaa Dyo is worshipped for learning traditional drums. Farmers offer sacrifices to the Dyo during such occasions. A concrete structure has covered the shrine recently.
Bhadrakali Dyo-chhen: The "God’s residence" of Bhadrkali or Chamunda, one among the eight Hindu Mother Goddesses, lies at the centre of the Bahal. It is not clear when and how this blood-seeking fierce Hindu Goddess happens to reside in the Buddhist courtyard.
In addition, there are several other chaityas and other idols, erected at different times inside the courtyard. And there used to be a small rest house (pati) behind the Sankata temple with a series of ancient idols. But now a concrete building stands there, which also shelters the local ward office and nobody knows where the idols have gone.
There is another large Stupa with four transcendent Buddhas around it behind the RNAC building. It is said to be built by King Narendra Dev too. Several other chaityas are found there, including an image of Akshobhya. The Akshobhya is said to have been the Kwapa-Dyo of Vandakirta Mahavihar, once stood on the Tundikhel until it was demolished.
It is said that Te Baha is a complete identity in itself. There were seven wells in the Bahal but hardly any of them is functioning well. Many of them also might have come under concrete buildings. There was also a Chhwasa, a corner said to be a place of protecting demon, which has been encroached upon.
Te Baha is obviously a very ancient Buddhist site that might be a powerful Buddhist resource centre during the Licchivi period but it converted into Hindu shrine as Hinduism got more priority during the Malla period.
Regardless of its ancient picture, the priceless monument of Te Bahal are being neglected by the locals as result of urbanisation. As the government has not set any guidline to protect this monument zone, modern houses are being built for commercial purposes. The tall residential buildings are dwarfing the monuments in the middle. The three-wheeler stand, next to the courtyard, is also affecting the religious atmpsphere and a huge building of RNAC and the commercial complext being built by Karmachari Sanchaya Kosh is disturbing the environment of Te Bahal.
There is no enough open space in the middle as the local youth clubs are adding one after another building or shed in the courtyard. They not only neglect their heritage but also let in heavy vehicles in the fragile Bahal. An easy business is going on: Any one can park their vehicles in the courtyard by paying a small amount of money. It invites more and more vehicular movements in the courtyard area.
[ Kathmandu, Sunday, June 09, 2002 Jestha 26, 2059.]