Dharma Raj’s Lions

Hanuman Dhoka, or Kathmandu Durbar Square, is a World Heritage Site Monument Zone.  First time visitors must surely be surprised to see that it is no museum like location, one in which things are put on more fro display than for anything else. Oh no, Kathmandu Durbar Square is the centre of a centuries-old culture and a beehive of activities. It is in fact, the epicentre of a way of life that is uniquely Nepali. Or to be more precise, Newari: that is, the lifestyle of the Newars, the original inhabitants of Kathmandu Valley. The first time visitor will no doubt be pleasantly surprised to observe that this World Monument Zone is an area that fairly bustles with life as it no doubt has through the ages.

Hanuman Dhoka perhaps defines the meaning of a living museum, as the Valley has often been described as. But, living or not, the area contains a rich collection of artifact, and many temples and palace buildings, a collection that can well educate you on the Valley’s history through the ages.  The site is home to the palaces of the Malla Kings who ruled Kathmandu from the 12th to the18th century and the Shah Kings who ruled the country from 1768 to 2008. Around the palace are numerous temples, the more important ones being the temples dedicated to Goddess Taleju, the divine couple Shiva Parvati, Goddess Bhagwati, Lord Ganesh, Goddess Saraswoti and Lord Krishna. The Kumari Ghar, the palace of Living Goddess Kumari is a must-visit place and here one can get to see the goddess at certain hours. Nearby is Kasthamandap Temple (kastha:wood, mandap: pavilion) from which the name ‘Kathmandu’ is derived, It is said to have been . built from the wood of a single Sal tree.

Among all such culture and heritage riches, it would indeed be very easy to miss some equally interesting items. Two of which are the mammoth stone lions guarding the entrance to the square. They are by no means artifacts, in fact, they were installed only in 1998, as a part of the country’s first-ever Visit Nepal campaign, however, they have become part and parcel of the World Monument Zone. The lions are each nine-feet-tall and are locally known as the ‘Dharma Raj Lions’ referring to the sculptor involved, a certain Mr. Dharma Raj Shakya of Patan, Lalitpur, the ‘City of the Arts’. No doubt, there is no shortage of excellent stone sculptors in Lalitpur, but Dharma Raj stands apart for another important reason beside the fact that he is the creator of these two massive monoliths.

Dharma Raj has a statue made in his likeness in China—now, isn’t that something? However, the question does beg an answer—why a statue in a Nepali stone sculptor’s likeness? And, that too, made much before he had gained some reputation as a capable stone carver. Well, to cut a long story short, it was during a trip to China to participate in an exhibition, that some Chinese sculptors noticed his resemblance to the legendary artist/sculptor/architect Arniko who built the world famous stupa known as White Dagoba in the Miaoying Temple in Beijing (1271-79) during the reign of the great Mongolian Emperor Kublai Khan. At that time, Arniko was about only 16 years-old but immensely talented.  He went on to settle down in China as a favored architect of the court and built many more monuments, notably, nine Buddhist monasteries, two Confucian shrines and one Taoist palace as well as the Archway of Yungtang . Well, the Chinese were planning to make a statue in his honor in Tibet and were on the lookout for a suitable model, which, as it turned out, became Dharma Raj Shakya’s duty to fulfill.

Now, that is why Dharma Raj has a special standing among other stone carvers here, however, he is an excellent sculptor in his own right, having carved thousands of pieces in his studio in Patan Industrial Estate in Lalitpur. Coming now again to Visit Nepal Year in 1998, the original plan was apparently to make a total of nine lions that were to be installed at different locations in Kathmandu Durbar Square, but, somehow or the other, finally only two were installed.  The next time you are around the locality, do keep an eye out for Dharma Raj’s massive lions!

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