Housing the “Lord of All”—Bhaideval Temple

A leisurely stroll along Patan’s busy roads, alleys and lanes bestows the stroller with wonderful spectacles, some of which you will probably remember for a long time to come, especially if you happen to come across one of the many colorful festivals that occur every other day or so during the more festive seasons. On less festive months too, a walk around the wonderful Patan Durbar Square is sure to be an enlightening one, there are so many wonderful monuments to be seen. However, there is one particular monument, that too within the immediate periphery of this World Heritage Site, that you could well miss if someone doesn’t point it out to you, although it is no small monument by any means. Puzzled?

In fact, this could be as puzzling for many locals too—what I am talking about is the temple known as Bhaideval that stands in obscurity at the south-western corner of the square, near to the main road leading to the square. It is finally undergoing reconstruction now, this a project of the Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust (the HQ of which is in New York), and one can safely bet that the final product is going to be a lot  more different than what it is now currently—a simple  lime-washed square structure with a Mughal type dome on top. According to the local chief of KPVT, Dr. Rohit Ranjitkar, this is one project that they can proudly say has been totally funded by local donors, notwithstanding the international nature of the organization.

According to a photograph taken in 1920, Bhaideval was once not only as beautiful as any of the other temples in the square, it was among the largest in the area.  Then, it displayed the typical pagoda style and was a three storied structure, with intricate details carved in at every nook and corner. This, as everybody knows, is an inherent part of most pagoda style temples in the Kathmandu valley, and Bhaideval certainly did not lack in the same.

Then, in 1934, “The great earthquake” struck the region, destroying hundreds of structures, including Bhaideval. Unfortunately, Bhaideval somehow or the other missed the boat while reconstruction was done on many temples so brought down in the square. According to some, in Bhaideval’s case, concern of the locals was limited to just providing a shelter for the god inside, and not to restoring the temple to its former glory, with the result that for many years afterwards, it remained as just a domed square block of lime-washed bricks standing obscurely at one corner of the fabled square. Now, looks like its time has come—reconstruction has begun and one assumes that soon enough one will not be able not only to miss it while visiting Patan Durbar Square, it could well be impossible to miss it altogether!

Now, since we have talked about it so much, a bit more on its history is called for here. Built during the reign of King Siddhi Narasimha Malla in 1678, its real name is Vishvesvara (Lord of All) Temple.  About the reason for it being called a s Bhaideval, it was said to have been built by a minister in one princes’ (Shrinivasan’s) court. This particular minister happened to be named Bhagiratha Bhaiya, and it was in his honor that the temple came to be known as Bhaideval.  After the 1934 earthquake, some local ‘architects’ made some efforts at “reconstruction”. They must have been a lazy or, more likely, a weirdly creative lot for what they did was this: the rising three roofs was replaced by a dome with the original finial on top, this dome, a statement in mogul architecture first introduced early 19th century into the country. The rest of the temple consisted of just a square white block constructed of bricks lime-washed from time to time.

However, luckily, the original platforms of the temple survived as did the base of the ground floor pillars which are lovingly carved in stone. Today, the reconstruction of the temple is not only based on the existing base (which provides the original ground plan) but also on artist Henry Ambrose Oldfield’s watercolor done in 1853. The reconstruction is also aided by a photograph from Felix Brandt, Altotting’s collection. This photograph, taken in 1920, is believed to be the only surviving photograph Bhaideval.

Photo: Niraj Maharjan

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