The Town of 40 Temples and 28 Festivals, Panauti

PanautiAt the confluence of the Roshi and Punyamati rivers, and believed to be situated on one single rock, is a historical Newar town that is one of the oldest in the Kathmandu valley. Most of the temples, monuments, and satals (community shelters) are made of terra-cotta and beautifully carved wooden columns. The temples have gilded roofs and wide courtyards, and the remnants of the ancient durbar square are still present in the town centre. Located 32 km south east of the capital, this medieval town is an important cultural site in Nepal, perhaps the most important after Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur. A 15-minute climb north-east takes you to Gorakhnath Hill (2000 ft), from where one gets an overall view of the fish-shaped town as well as panoramic views of the Himalayas.

The town is chock-a-block with temples and other religious sites. Temples are predominant of course, with there being more than 40 temples dedicated to various deities spread around the small one-kilometer town. There are a half dozen or so stupas and three dyochhens (communal houses in which a deity idol resides in the upper room) along with one bahal (Buddhist shrine). In line with its rich cultural heritage, the small town also has plenty of patis, or public resting places, three dabalis (platform for theatrical shows), and six stone water spouts known as dhunge dharas, besides three public squares known as chowks. One of the largest temples is the three-storied temple of Indreshwar Mahadev which stands at the center of a courtyard paved with brick. Its architecture is an excellent example of Newari craftsmanship as are those of Krishna Temple, Unmata Bhairav Temple, and Ahilya Temple situated nearby in the same courtyard. Other temples of note are the 17th century temple of Brahmayani and the Krishna Narayan Temple at the Triveni Ghat.

PanautiPanauti town is actually a combination of six villages (Panauti, Malpi, Taukhal, Subbagaun, Sunthan, and Khopasi), and it has a population of around 30,000. The main ethnicities here are that of Newars, Brahmins and Chettris, and Tamangs. The first are dominant, and thus Panauti is rich in Newari culture, with many of its festivals similar to those of Kathmandu while some are unique with a completely local character. Twenty-eight different festivals are celebrated every year, with some of the more unique ones being:

Jya Punhi (Panauti Jatra): Held in the May-June, it is a three-day post-harvest festival that starts off from the durbar square with deity icons taken around the city on chariots. It culminates in the chariots being banged head-on on the last day to the cheers of thousands of enthusiastic spectators. Plenty of goats and ducks are sacrificed on the occasion.

Makar Mela: This month-long fair is held once every 12 years at Triveni Ghat, the site of the confluence of the three rivers, Roshi, Punyamati, and Lilawati. (The last of which is believed to be visible only to the devout.) Purification is the goal, and this is achieved by taking a dip in the waters. There are about a dozen or so temples dedicated to many gods and goddesses at the site.

Yomari Punhi: Myth has it that, in an ancient era, Suchandra and Krita, a married couple, experimented with a fresh yield of rice to make a new delicacy which they named yomari (tasty bread). It’s made from a mixture of treacle and sesame seed wrapped in a stupa-shaped rice dough. Children go around the toles (neighborhood) asking for yomari from housewives.

Panauti FestivalNamobuddha festival: It is celebrated three days before Mother’s Day at Namobuddha in honor of Prince Mahasatwo, who sacrificed his body to feed a starving tiger and her cubs. He was born in Panauti and his noble deed occurred in Namobuddha jungle (10 km from away from the town) which thenceforth became a pilgrimage site for both Hindus and Buddhists.

Devi Nach (masked dance): A masked dance that originated from Panauti in which deities, demons, and animals are represented through masks. It takes place on the day of Indrajatra.

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