By Razen Manandhar
We must be proud that our forefathers have left lots of things for us to wonder. Among them, the grand temple behind the Durbar Square of Bhaktapur is one. They we so much skilled that they could construct about 100 feet high temples, with no other materials than mud, bricks, wood and a bit of stones. The Nyatapola temple (known as five-storey pagoda to others) is standing upright today. The temple is going to celebrate its 300th birthday soon next week.
King Bhupatindra Malla had the temple of Nyatapola constructed in Nepal Era 822 (in 1702 AD), which lies at Tomarhi tole of Bhaktapur. Some say that there had been a simple five-storey temple there and the king only made it grand, in the course of competition among the several states of today’s Kathmandu Valley to decorate their states with the biggest structures. Today, this pagoda stands as the biggest temple of the valley.
The temple is made on brick and stone plinths made on 22.5 X 22.5 metre square. On fifth plinth, there stands the elegant temple with five roofs made one on another. surrounded by fife arches on each side. A long straight stone series of steps takes you to the top, which is also a suited view point to get a panoramic picture of Bhaktapur. One can see giant pairs of warriors, elephants, lions, griffins and tantric deities on either side of the steps.
None of the wooden pegs, beams, supporting structures in the temple are placed without adding a taste of art on them. The ends of the beams spread on the ceiling are given head-figures of legendary animals and skeletons. The doors are so delicately carved that one can find images of gods, guards or animals on every inch And so are the decorative windows on either sides. They are not randomly put but the artists were following an unwritten tradition of which deity should occupy which space of the temple.
Simlarly, there are similar windows on other floors too. The roofs are made of wood beams with local tiles on them and supporting struts. The struts are, like in other pagodas, the major attractions of the temple. There are in total colourful 108 struts with images of deities and 529 wind-bells under the five roofs. The gold-plated pinnacle of the temple is said to be of almost 100 kg. One can hardly imagine how the people of Bhaktapur brought it up to 100 feet without any crane.
Historians say it took only six months to complete the whole temple, it is an example of mideaval construction management. They have found out that 1.1 million bricks and 100,000 tiles were used to construct the temple. Eight kilns were set around the site and thousands people from all areas of the Bhaktapur state were invited to contribute in the making of the matchless temple. Even the kings of surrounding states visited the site to observe the construction process. A 48-day long worshipping took place when the temple was consecrated. The king was so happy that threw a dinner to over 2,000 people and he presented a golden crown to the first priest who consecrated the temple on that occasion.
The main deity inside the temple has been kept secret. They believe that the mystic deity is very powerful and anybody’s entrance to the temple who is not strong to see the deity might even die. Only a edified priest can enter the temple once a year.
Quoting the priest historian Dr Purushottam Locan Shrestha said : The temple houses Goddess Siddhi Laxmi — a union of Chandi Bhadrakai, Pratyangira and Siddhi Laxmi — the supreme savior of the city of Bhaktapur. She has nine heads, 16 arms. She is sitting on Rudra who himself has made Betal his mattress. The goddess is flanked by Mahakal Bhairav and Smashan Bhairav on both sides. The whole image is made on one single piece of stone.
Religious importance aside, the temple has been a mystery to the present engineers. They say that the secret behind the strength of the temple is the perfect combination among the foundation, plinth and the temple structure. Even when the valley was hit with over 8 rector scale earthquake and hundreds of temples collapsed completely, the Nyatapola Temple lost only its top floor. It was renovated several times, Late King Mahendra did in 1962 and Bhaktapr Municipality in 2000.
The heritage is standing today with pride, as a challenge to the modern technology and people’s lukewarm attraction to the beauty of the past. Howsoever, the 300-year old legacy is not safe. Many of the idols on the fist floors have stolen. The paintings were damaged. The sculpture of the warrior was damaged by a vehicle. The local government at least must do something to stop the vehicles plying in front of the temple.
[Kathmandu, Sunday, july 07, 2002 Ashadh 23, 2059.]