Kathmandu (Nepali: काठमाडौं) is the capital city of Nepal. Controlled as a suzerain nation by Jayasthiti Malla, the valley broke into 3 major parts or cities in 1482. The 3 cities, which were controlled by 3 different Malla Kings, are known today as Kathmandu (Kathmandu metropolitan city), Lalitpur (Patan) and Bhaktapur (Bhadgoan).
Durbar square or Darbar square is considered a royal courtyard or premise located in and around royal palaces in Nepal. Mostly referred to the 3 historic palaces of Kathmandu valley; Basantapur Durbar Square, Patan Durbar Square and Bhaktapur Durbar Square, it may include pools, fountains, temples, theaters, garden etc. The Kings of the then period used to use the square to organize various festivities, theatrical performances and to meet for various societal causes.
The Newā people or Newārs are the indigenous people of the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal and the creators of its historic civilization. Cuturaly and linguistically belonging to Indo-Aryan and Mongol tribes, Newars are considered the natives of Kathmandu valley.
The 3 durbar squares of Kathmandu valley belonged to 3 Newari Kings of the Malla period. After the conquest of Kathmandu by the Shah clan of Gorkha region, the city assimilated with the legion of later monarchs, thus marking the beginning of the Shah period in Kathmandu.
Kathmandu Durbar Square or Basantapur Durbar Square is the symbolism of Newari culture and art. Dating back almost 400-500 years, the palace has also been listed into UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The first record of construction on Basantapur goes back to the 3rd Century, during the time of Licchavi Kings.
Though there are no written archives stating the history of Kathmandu Durbar Square, construction of the palace in the square is credited to Sankharadev (10th Century). Kathmandu, being the center of trade and business, people from many other regions used to visit the Basantapur, creating a hub hub of tourists, traders and vendors for ages.
The early period lacked the elaborate and lavish decorations on the palaces and temples that are generally seen today, however, the area was always used as a popular market place.
The Malla Period
The Malla dynasty lasted almost 550 years. During Malla period (12th – 18th century), under which the first king of Independent Kathmandu city, Ratna Malla, built the first temple in the area. Hugely renovated and redecorated the older constructions and with the addition of newer properties in the later period, the royal palace which is seen today came to existence.
The oldest temples in the square are those built by Mahendra Malla (1560–1574). They are the temples of Jagannath, Kotilingeswara Mahadev, Mahendreswara, and the Taleju Temple. This three-roofed Taleju Temple was established in 1564, in a typical Newari architectural style and is elevated on platforms that form a pyramid-like structure.
During the time of Pratap Malla, the most literary, spiritual and artistic of the then kings, the site was expanded and newer constructions including new palaces, temples, Stupa and courtyards, were added. He was the one who built a statue of Hanuman (Hindu Deity) at the palace’s entrance, later causing the place to be renamed to “Hanumandhoka,” where “Hanuman” stands for a Hindu deity and “Dhoka” stands for the gate or doorway.
The palace premise became a hot spot for everyone in the city. Almost every royal events, festivities and theatrical plays were organized in the very courtyard of the palace, which were carried out joyously even after the end of the Malla dynasty.
The Shah & Rana Period
The Shah dynasty consisted of the Rajput (Kshatriya) clansmen from North India which ruled Nepal, along with the Kathmandu valley, for 240 years. Eliminating the Newar kings of Kathmandu along with the major/minor patronages of other regions, the Shah were successful in assimilating the greater states and making it a nation which we recognized today as Nepal.
The early monarchs of the Shah dynasty used Kathmandu Durbar Square for their own palace. Every major/minor royal events were organized in the very courtyard where the former glory of the Malla kings still illuminated. Multiple addition of temples and courtyards were carried out during the period. You can experience these while exploring Kathmandu valley.
The Rana regime (1846-1951), the autocratic rule in Nepal, existed in between the Shah period. Acutely monopolizing the state powers and building national/international networks of likeminded bureaucrats, the Ranas’ were successful in ruling the nation for over 100 years.
The major transition in Basantapur area came during the time of the Ranas’. Inspired by the English architecture and models in building, the Ranas imported the same culture into Nepal and built many recognized buildings in and around the city.
The Rana construction can be well recognized in Kathmandu Durbar Square. A whole white building adjoining the palace with an enormous stature dominates the whole area, exposing the greater art of Anglo-Saxon culture.