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Gold-plated courtyard temple on the Alleyway of Patan

 December 10, 2019      By Himalayan Hero
Gold-plated courtyard temple on the Alleyway of Patan

Patan is a rich heritage site which shares numerous tales from history. The captivating statues of different animals on the stairways, Hindu pagoda style temples, Buddhist monasteries, fine woodcraft designs, and tales from ancient royal families are enough to keep most historians and art lovers happy for a full day. Patan is approximately five kilometers away from the capital city of Nepal and is home to indigenous settlers of the valley-The Newar Families.

Towards the North, fine minute walk, from the historic heritage site of Patan (locally name: Mangal Baazar) we come across another masterpiece made by our ancestor which is globally renown by the name of –"The golden temple" or   Hiranya Varna Mahavihar. Whereas, local people recognize it by the name of "Kwa Bahal" when translated (in English) Gold-colored Great Monastery.

The temple looks plain from outside but appears to be majestic from inside as the temple is surrounded by five Dhyani (Meditating) Buddha images and 12 series images of Lokeshwara.  This Newar three roof Buddhist monastery has been standing tall since the 12th Century (1409 A.D). And is said to be built by King Bhaskar Verma.  In the year 2015, a devastating earthquake shook people off in Nepal.

Despite the earthquake destroying many valuable structures in Patan, the structure of the monastery was not affected. The four-year storey monastery stood tall even after a sudden shake of tectonic plates and was still open for all guests and followers. However, in the year 2017, the monastery closed for the purpose of renovation but its courtyard was still open for people.

 We have only seen Tom chase Jerry on our childhood most watched cartoon series –"The Tom and Jerry". And we also believe that Cat chases the Mouse. But this is not true everywhere. At least not in the historian tales of "Hiranya varna Mahavihar". The meaning for the word "Hiranya" is "mouse". This name comes from the myth of a golden-colored mouse that chased cats. Two idols of elephant stand tall guarding the main entrance of the temple with wooden carved struts.

Shiva and Vishnu are the two most important gods for Hindu followers. The wooden door has carved struts of these two religiously significantly god's who are also believed to safeguard the place. Crossing the first door we come across an open space having no roof at the top but enclosed by two walls and two doorways.  We can name it as the passway space as it connects two entrances leading to the monastery. 

On this connector way, we find a blue board hanging on the wall. The board displays a tourist entrance fee with a list of rules to be followed by all visitors to the temple. Ahead of us, we can see a small door of 5 feet 4 inch sculpted with the idols of deities and a pinnacle. You'll also see Buddha's carvings depicting the path to achieve Bodhisattva. Above this small door, we can also see five small "Aakhi Jhyal" painted in yellow color. Stepping in through the second doorway we see small "Bajra" covered by golden color shiny brass. This weapon is attached to a lotus-shaped mud structure. Back of this small weapon, we can see a pagoda-style temple known as "Ratna Chaitya".

The religious duty and position of priests for monastery are given to a male child of Shakya Family.  While selecting a boy for this prestigious position, different series of rules are followed. One such rule is age. In order to be the principal priest, the boy from the descent of Shakya must be eleven years old.

Why? It is said that male children of such age are deemed suitable as the Panchasheel is maintained at that particular age. A Panchasheel child is the one who has not killed any living beings, doesn't lie, steal, has corrupt thoughts, doesn't drinks and has never puffed a cigarette. You will see the principal priest dressed like a ‘Bhikchhu’ performing duty wrapped up in his religious dress. Going back to the History of Ratna Chaitya, Chinese visitor U.Aan.Chwong says that there were many mystical ponds in Kathmandu Valley.

One of these mystical ponds was situated in the middle of this Mahavihar. Inside this pond, there was Ratna Chaitya enshrined and the pond was guarded by two holy serpents Barun and Barunbati.  While Shakya's from Kapilvastu traveled to Patan for resettlement, they found the pond to be sacred and settled around this area. The migrated Shakya's then started to worship the pond as their main deities. As a result in the present, we can see clans of   Bajracharya and Shakya surrounding Ratna Chaitya. People belonging to Bajracharya and Shakya family worship this clan as their main deities and perform varieties of rituals at different times of the year.

On the south side of Mahavihar, we find a two-story building. On the ground floor of the building, we find Tara Shrine. Inside this, we can find beautiful images of Tara, Ugratara, and Bodhisattva Manjushree. Tara is known as the mother of Buddha's and it is believed that there are twenty-four appearances of Tara out of which green Tara is a young beautiful maiden. She is believed to quickly listen and pass blessings to those who are praying for her support. In 1981 new shrine was added to the courtyard of the temple, the Monkey with jack Fruit.

It is believed that the holy money offered jack fruit to Lord Shakyamuni Buddha during his visit to Soyambhunath. Amitabha in Sanskrit means immeasurable lights. On the first floor of the southern building, we can find Amitabha Buddha and a large size image of the Dipankar Buddha in the middle which is surrounded by Padmapan bodhisattva from right and Mahasthan bodhisattva from left, there is an also a space for monks and guests for practicing meditation. This space is quite peaceful, so it's best advised to maintain silent.
 Although the monastery is called "Golden Temple", no gold has been used in making of the building.

We can only see the gilded metal plates covering the Buddhist monastery from the frontage. Even without any gold plating, the monastery is magnificent and we all can get lost on the cravings on the interior with lots of detailing and that noise-free environment, worth seeing.  If you happen to be an architectural lover a thought-provoking question" how such perfect craftsmanship is possible" will shake you up. Its best advised to take a seat at the "Falcha" (Sitting space) placed at the alley of temple and observe the surrounding to calmly enjoy the historic beauty!

 4 Things to Remember!

  1. No leather items are allowed inside the premises.
  2. Make sure to maintain a low tone while inside the courtyard.
  3. Seek permission before taking pictures.
  4. Collect your entry ticket, International Tourist= Rs.50 and SAARC Visitors=Rs 25, from the counter desk.

 4 Facts of Hiranya Varna Mahavihar

  1. The Monastery has been covered with metal plates. No gold covering!
  2. Holds a myth of golden Rat chasing Cat.
  3. Surrounded by Five (Panchaseel) Buddha's.
  4.  Principal Priest of the monastery is only 12 years old.
 Visiting Nepal this 2020! Know more about the culture and the hidden gem of one of the most interesting sites; Patan. Travel the alley of Patan and explore the artistic cravings of the heritage. Contact us!


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