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Changunaryan Temple


Changunarayan Temple: The ancient temple of Changu Narayana is placed in a grassy court amid the bulidings of a small village on a high hilltop that is also known as Changu Narayana or Dolagiri. This hill is about 8 miles east of Kathmandu and a few miles north of Bhaktapur. The Manchara River flows beside the hill. This shrine is dedicated to Visnu and held in especial reverence by the people of Bhaktapur. While it is not as famous as the temple of Pasupatinatha in Deopatan, it is the goal of various pilgrimages and exhibits the development of Newari religious architecture as completely as any other temple in the Valley. Legend places its founding as early as 325 A.D. in the time of Hari Datta Verma and it is one of Nepal's richest structures historically as well as artistically. In the grounds there is a stone pillar inscription of great importance recording the mililary exploits of King Man Deva who reigned from 496 A.D. to 524 A.D. It is the earliest inscription known in Nepal. The temple was restored during the lifetime of Ganga Rani, consort of Sive Simha Malla who reigned from 1585 to 1614. There are records of the temple burning in the year of 822 Nepal Samvat (1702 A.D.), after which reconstruction was carrid out. More inscriptions in gilt-copper plates were added by Bhaskara Malla in 1708 A.D.

The decorations in stone, wood, and bronze are more profuse and perhaps older than those of almost any other temple in the valley. This two-storey temple is of basic Nepalese design with every possible emphasis given to masterful ornamentation. It has several trees around it and is bordered by many buildings, most of which are religious in use. Many stone sculptures of great antiquity and excellent style are placed in niches or on stone bases around the court, all of them being of complex composition except the great Garuda before the temple entrance, dating to the 5th century A.D. Many more chapters would be required to even begin to treat these fine sculptures here and the reader is referred to the works of Kramrisch and Singh for an introduction to them.

The lower roof is of red tile with the sloping ribs formed by upended tiles. A very simple embossed border is at the edge which is also marked by many bells with long clappers and leaf-shaped pendants. Metal banners hand below the corners of the roof and metal curves are mounted there. Also marking the lower roof is a golden dhvaja which extends down from the pinnacle to beyond the edge of the roof over the main entrance. Numerous bells and lamps also hang around this roof.
The second roof is of gilt copper with a simple painted border. It is ribbed in the usual way and has corner curves, but, like the lower roof, has no attached birds. The pinnacle is brightly gilded and of the usual five-spire type with its large central spire covered by an umbrella on a narrow triangular support. Bells hang all around the roof and its front side has perforated Kinkinimala.

Both of the roofs are supported by large struts which are among the most beautiful in Nepal. They are set at a 45* angle on the wide cornice ledges which extend in abstract beam ends. Since Perceval Landon's visit to Nepal shortly before 1928, extra narrow strut beams of red and blue floral design have been placed on either side of every strut on the lower level. These increase the colorful effect of the lower level and are completely integrated into the architectural scheme. The same floral or vegetative motif fills the upper third of each major strut, with a multi-armed deity holding various attributes below this red and blue canopy. At the base of each strut is a white-framed composition involving minor gods or sexually allegorical scenes. The upper struts are very similar, but without the very large beats in various colors with a small framed diety at the foot and over the head of each. The cornices on which all the struts are based are of beauty in themselves. Green, the color of the upper geometric border, is a dominate hue. Three-dimensional animal heads are the next of the many rows of symbolic borders. The extended abstract beams of red color are supported by human arms in dark sleeves, the hands being painted white. The cornice of the second storey is not as wide as the lower one, but its colors and motifs are the same. Golden symbols, probably of the lotus, are at the center of the cornice of the second storey below the struts. There are three small windows in dark wood frames with white spotted highlights in the core of the building behind each strut level.

The intricate workmanship of the struts is challenged only by the carving of the wooden doorframes. While they are of the usual plan with upper and lower extensions of wood far into the surrounding brick walls, the detail is of uncommon complicity and beauty. The triple doorways are equally impressive in design on all four sides of the temple, the front being distinquished only by the extra sculptures in the court before it, the dhvaja, and the especially ornate triple oil lamp hanging over the entrance. Most of the doors are painted yellow, although some are gilded. The two doors which flank the center openings of each side are non-functional and have scalloped frames. The center doors on all sides have large toranas. These toranas are all brilliantly gilded, with the entrance side of the building having a slightly more elaborate one. This main torana shows Visnu with his two consorts, each figure placed under a hooded canopy of louts base. There is a very curvaceous dragon border over and around the deities, and the entire torana is based on a remarkable complex of repeated architectural elements in bronze ends or certain pinnacle base. The doors themselves all have purna kalasa designs on their panels and floral designs above these. The vegetative, reptilian, human and divine motifs. On the entrance side most of the door frame is covered with a plating o thin metal sheets.

The steps leading to the main doorway are flanked by tow stone elephants surrounded by oil lamps. Beside these is a low oil lamp railing of metal which goes all around the temple base, meeting the animal figures which guard all the doors. There are bells in stone frames before the entrance and there is a stone pillar 10 feet in height with an upended conch shell of bronze 3 feed high on top of it standing to the right of the entrance door. Other symbols of Visnu are present before the entrance as well, and a small metal enclosure holds behind bars the charming bronze figures of Raja Bhupatindra Malla and his queen as temple itself, beside the main doors. These are well-modelled and portray various deities and their attendants.

A subsidiary rectangular shrine dedicated to the eight Mothers and nearly as wide as the temple itself, but lower, is located to the left of the temple. It has gilt copper roof of greater beauty than that of the main temple with large curves and an elaborate pinnacle. The lower level has some intricate gilded screens and well-decorated doorway, but the interior, which is the setting for a great many small ritual images in bronze, is gaudily lines with bright ceramic tile. Photography is strictly forbidden within interiors and the foreign visitor may not even look inside the main shrine. The total configuration of the Hindu temple of Changu Narayana is so impressive that it can hardly be described. While retaining architectural purity, this temple is the setting for woodcarvings and gilded details of shimmering, jewel-like beauty in abundance rarely found even in this country of fantastic architectural ornamentation.

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