KATHMANDU: Finding your way through the winding alleys of the Kathmandu Durbar Square can be quiet a puzzle if you do not visit it regularly. This durbar square, also commonly known as the Basantapur Durbar Square, is located at the heart of the city.
The square is a living museum of culture and history with numerous temples and old quarters. Majority of the people who live in the are Newars, who have built their traditional houses with unique wooden carvings and distinctive brick structures.
Tourists usually visit the durbar square for its abundance in culture, unique temples, striking house structures and of course major religious rituals, some of which are carried out only once a year. The Taleju Bhawani Temple, for example, opens only once a year during Dashain.
Of the 50 temples that dot the Kathmandu valley, the Golden Temple is one of the hidden gems. The temple is mostly gold plated (as the name would suggest) and is guarded by statues of mythical lions.
It was built in around 1500 AD by Jaya Yaksha Malla, also known as Yaksha Malla. Jaya Yaksha Malla was one of the kings of the Malla Dynasty and ruled from around 1428 to 1482. The Golden Temple is two-storey high and is always full of worshippers.
The Golden Temple is often called the Jana Bahal, sometimes even referred to as Machhindra Bahal, and less frequently Kanak Chaitya Mahavihar. The temple complex stands in the middle of the court with main deity residing inside the temple.
The main god is the Seto Machhindranath and is also known with various names such as Janabaha Dyo, Aryavalokiteshvara and Karunamaya. Jumping into the historical background of the temple, Janabahal was previously known as the Kanak Chaitya Mahavihar. However, after the deity of Seto Machhindranath was placed in the courtyard, people started referring it to as Jana Bahal. The name Kanak Chaitya Mahavihar comes from a chaitya of Kanakmuni Buddha which is situated in front of the temple, inside the courtyard.
Thus, the bahal was originally a place for religious activities of Buddhists. An interesting fact to note is that the
various images of Lokeswaras which is inside the courtyard were placed by the kings who used to follow Buddhism. The Lokeswaras are the Bodhisatwas from Buddhism, known for being able to reach nirvana but delaying doing so and not ‘crossing over’ through compassion for suffering beings and to teach the ways to others.
The major festival observed at the Golden Temple is the Jana Baha Dyah Jatra, which is a chariot festival. Besides that, people of the Buddhist religion visit the Seto Machhindranath deity and pray. The religious followers take count of the beads which are tied in a thread and/or rotate the manes when praying.
Buddhists from the Newar heritage practise uposadhavrata, a form of fasting ritual. They perform it on every Ashtami by carrying out the saptavidhanutara satva puja, a prayer, and offer pate (parasol). Sat Puja is also practised in which they offer toncha, batti and prasad.
In the compound of Kanak Muni Buddha’s chaitya, the members of three Newar castes–Buddhacharya, Shakya and Bajracharya–practise the Barey Chwiu ritual. The Newars frequently organise programmes of lighting palas around the Golden Temple or lighting 108 diyo battis.
Hindus mostly visit the shrine on the day of Purnima, Ashtami and Sanlu (Sankranti) for auspicious ceremonies. However, the daily rituals of the temple are conducted from around 4 am by the priests and there are also evening sessions.