The largest – and probably also the most renowned – of all courtyards, Nasal Chowk, along with the Dabali that it houses, once served the most important royal ceremonies of the Shah monarchy like accession to the throne and coronation. It continues to function today as the focal point for many cultural rituals, processions, dances, and performances . . .
Nasal Chowk, the biggest courtyard of the Hanumandhoka Palace, has been named after the Natyeshwor or Nasaleshwor temple – a temple dedicated to the dancing form of Lord Shiva – that lies on the eastern front of the courtyard. The courtyard was used for different purposes in the two eras –Shah and Malla – that reigned over the Hanumandhoka Palace. During the Malla era, it was used primarily as a meeting space, which could either be an audience organized by the king with the public or a discussion with foreign ambassadors and rulers. Also, it served as a royal theatre on occasions too – which probably could have been the reason for the establishment of the Natyeshwor temple. The rulers used to sit at the Sisa Baithak and enjoy dancing rituals. However, during the Shah era, the Shah monarchs decided to use the dabali, or the raised platform, present at the center of the courtyard as a space to organize their coronation ceremony. The reason behind this is actually quite intriguing. During Indra Jatra, the statue of Indra is brought from the Degu Taleju temple and kept on the dabali. Since King Prithivi Narayan Shah, the father of modern Nepal, had conquered the kingdom of Kathmandu on the day of Indra Jatra itself, it was his brain child to use the Nasal Chowk dabali as the coronation platform. Hence, we can speculate that the Shah rulers held this quadrangle in higher prominence than the Malla rulers did.
Architecturally speaking, Nasal chowk boasts the superior beauty of Malla art and architecture. Most artifacts present here date back to the Malla period although the surrounding buildings were mostly constructed in the Shah era. On entering through the entrance of the Nasal Chowk, which lies on the northern part of the courtyard, one can immediately notice a beautifully carved door on his left. The exquisitely carved gods and goddesses on the door panels, the statues of Jay and Vijay (they were believed to be the protectors of the Malla rulers), signifies the unrivaled architectural craftiness of the Malla era artists. The door was heavily decorated with gods and goddesses because it led to the private chambers of the Malla rulers, which symbolized divine security from the evils. As one moves ahead, parallel to the wooden door, there's a striking idol of half-man, half-lion god Narsimha. Actually, the architectural beauty hidden in the intricacies of each section of the palace is beyond words. For instance, the Mahavishnu statue present at the eastern verandah of the courtyard has been considered as one of the finest pieces of metal work. Or the Sisa Baithak, which was probably the only glass designed building throughout the country during its time of construction.
Today, although the rulers have passed and changed, the Nasal Chowk is still in use. The royal throne, which was used by the king, is still present in the ground floor of the Sisa Baithak, covered with a white cloth. Buddhist monks (Pancha Buddhas) still come here and offer pans and suparis to the throne during the festival of Basanta Panchami as a part of their ritual, which has been passed on for generations.
The main residential quadrangle of the Malla kings, Mohan Chowk, with its golden spout, canopy, and globe, boasts the finest works of medieval art utilizing all media ranging from metal, stone, and wood to paintings alike. This is also where the Malla monarchs welcomed heads of foreign states, forged friendships and diplomacies, and signed treaties . . .
North to the Nasal chowk lies the Mohankali chowk: the most spectacular and exquisite courtyard in all of Hanumandhoka premises. It was built by King Pratap Malla in 1649 AD as the primary residential quarter for the Malla rulers. It was an established rule that no one could enter this end of the palace except for the Kings – not even other members of the royal family unless the king wanted them. However, the rule was different for two different cases. First, whenever kings from other hill states visited the Hanumandhoka Royal Palace, they used to be entertained here. Second, the intransigent members of the royal family were imprisoned here when their activities threatened the peaceful possession of the throne. The deep relation and prominence of Mohankali chowk with the royal throne (besides the already established rule of no entry without permission) can be gauzed from the fact that a prince had to be born in this quadrangle to be considered eligible for ruling the palace. The last king of Malla dynasty, King Jay Prakash Malla, is believed to have lost the kingdom to the Gorkha King because he wasn't born in this courtyard. It's also believed that he had great difficulties to sit on the throne even though he was the legitimate heir to the palace.
The reason for it to be called as the most spectacular courtyard of all Hanumandhoka premises comes from its architectural beauty – especially the golden water spout present at the center of the courtyard. It lies twelve feet below the ground level, and it served as a water spout for the cool water King Pratap Malla brought from the hills of the Budhanilkantha to the Hanumandhoka palace. The architectural design of the water spout has been considered to be one of a kind. It has materialized the dreams of the sculptor who constructed and furnished the nuzzle of the spout: birds and beasts crowded together in a rumble, tumble, rushing towards the water. Along with it, it also represents the icon of Bhagirath, the person responsible for bringing Ganges to the Earth, embracing his knees and contemplating the ripples dancing across the surface of the pond. Truly, the water spout reflects the deep meaning of life and humanity. Furthermore, the walls along the water spout represent thirty-six gods and goddesses. King Pratap Malla was an avid devotee; therefore, he bathed every morning in this holy water spout and offered his prayers to the gods and goddesses.
Mohan Chowk has been constructed in a chokwath style (an architectural design where towers stand at the corners of a quadrangle). The buildings are three storeyed, and there is a magnificient sun window along the eastern wall. The verandahs of the ground floor have artistically represented the life of Lord Krishna through the use of skilled wood craftsmanship. Contrary to other three frontiers of the quadrangle, the western wing doesn't have any verandah. Rather, it consists of a monolithic life-size image of Astamatrika, also called as Mohankali. This sculpture has been regarded to be one of the most unique pieces of the palace – especially considering the time when it was constructed. Sculptures as such are believed to be extremely rare when King Pratap Malla ordered the design of the stone image. It is this image because of which the quadrangle has been called as Mohankali Chowk.
The verandah on the northern frontier of the palace has been considered to be very prominent. When the king was in his death bed, he would be taken here under the golden canopy. The golden canopy consists of the images of gods and goddesses he lived his life with, as a reminder of his dependence and mortality, in golden figures. Along the northern wall, there is a lengthy inscription from King Pratap Malla – which served as a detailed guide on how to worship the Gods and Goddesses. Above, the inscription lie two rows of images. The first row depicts the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu and the life of Lord Krishna. The second row, however, is quite mysterious. Contrary to the whole religious ambience of the entire quadrangle, it shows normal day to day life. No one knows who the figures present in the images represent. In some of the images, however, there have been sights of an individual who looks similar to King Pratap Malla. The most surprising fact is the presence of people who are dressed in Western clothes because it's believed that the Kathmandu valley hadn't established connections with the Western civilization during that period.
A supplementing residential quadrangle mostly used by the Malla queens, Sundar Chowk houses the massive monolithic stone sculpture of Kāliyadaman next to a golden spout similar to Mohan Chowk. Additionally, this courtyard is home to few of the palace complexes's finest wooden ankhi jhyals and dhokas . . .
North to the Mohan Chowk, behind the Jaldroni at the outer premises of the palace, lies the Sundari chowk. It was most apparently built as an interior part of the Mohan Chowk. Therefore, it can be entered through the door at the western front of the Mohan Chowk.
Sundari Chowk has a lot of similarities with Mohan Chowk in terms of design. It almost looks like a scaled down version of the Mohan Chowk. According to the inscriptions, it was built by King Pratap Malla in 1707 BS in the name of his wife. The wooden architecture of Sundar Chowk is specially very beautiful. They signify the original wooden craftiness of Nepali artists. On the second floor of the Northern wing, one can notice a beautiful three faced sunjhyal with two side by side thaku jhyal. Unfortunately, even though most parts of the quadrangle has the wooden architecture intact, we can't find any remnants of these beautiful craftworks in the southern and the western wing.
Similar to Mohan Chowk, Sundari Chowk also has a golden water spout. It was used to fill the water tank, or the Jaldroni (perhaps being the reason why it was constructed behind Jaldroni), before the tap system was established within the city. The architecture of the water nuzzle is again quite similar to that of Mohan Chowk with the beasts rushing and tumbling to reach the water spout. On the top of the nuzzle lies a small Gumbaj style temple. However, despite astute resemblances with the Mohan Chowk, the number of images of the gods and goddesses in Sundar Chowk is far less.
The most spectacular aspect about Sundar Chowk has been the Kaliyadaman statue. It's considered to be one of the rarest masterpiece of stone architecture not only in Nepal but the entire Indian sub-continent. It depicts the story of Lord Krishna subduing the evil serpent Kaliya. The art is so beautiful that the form of Lord Krishna almost seems like it's moving. Unfortunately, no one knows who built it. King Pratap Malla had supposedly found this as he was traveling in the city, and he installed it in the palace. The sculpture is believed to have been developed somewhere around 600-700 BS.
The only courtyard retaining the original art and architecture from the Malla era as shown by the brick pavements, Mul Chowk was used for principle life events of Malla princes and kings such as bartabandha, bibaha, accession to throne, and coronation. With a series of skulls on its dhurichang, this courtyard is of special tantrik importance . . .
The entirety of the art work that has been depicted in the Hanumandhoka has a religious ambience to it, and it might feel superfluous to have an added quadrangle entirely dedicated for the religious purposes only. However, there exists a quadrangle in the Hanumandhoka premises which has been solely constructed for the religious ceremonies – the Mul Chowk.
The word Mul can be literally translated to the word principal. Mul Chowk, as the name dictates was primarily used for all the principal religious events and rituals that took place within the palace such as religious rites, wedding ceremonies, investiture of crown prince and chief ministers as well as the coronation ceremony of the king.
The temple was built in 1564 AD by King Mahendra Malla. However, the first excerpt about the temple can only be found around 1627 AD. In 1709 AD, King bhaskar Malla is supposed to have rebuilt the temple, providing it its current appearance.
Architecturally, the entire quadrangle almost feels like a bihar that has been built for the goddess Taleju. Her marks can be noticed everywhere – from the struts to the inscriptions to the carvings at the wall. The struts – which represent one of a kind wooden architecture from the Malla era – depict the story of Taleju Devi from the stories of the Chandi. In fact, the southern wing of the temple is a smaller, but absolutely beautiful, version of the Taleju temple at Trishul Chowk. It's considered to be the most important wing of the courtyard too. During the festival of Dashain, when people get the opportunity to visit Taleju Bhawani, the idol of the goddess is placed in this smaller temple itself. The central open space is used to offer sacrifices – like buffalos and goats – to the goddess during Dashain.
Most known for the colossal temple of the Taleju Bhawani – the favorite goddess of the Malla rulers – this courtyard has been named after a trident that has been placed at the base of the temple, a sign of the power of the divine devi . . .
The spacious Trishul chowk can be reached through the northern doors of the Mul Chowk and the Dashain Chowk. Or, during the festival of Dashain, people can even enter the courtyard through the Singha Dwar located at the outer skirts of the palace. The courtyard has also been called as "Trishul rivi" in some of the historical documents.
The most spectacular aspect about the Trishul chowk is the majestic temple of the powerful – and favorite goddess of the Malla kings – Taleju Temple. The trident that lies at the base of the temple, which has been defined as the symbol of power, has been the reason for the courtyard to be named as the Trishul Temple.
As one enters the Trishul Chowk, they can notice a structure that has been constructed in a Gumbaj style. Although the monument might look like a temple at first glance, it is actually a structure erected to offer oblations to the goddess. Besides the agni sala lies a dabali. During the era of Malla rulers, it used to be a place to perform and showcase different cultural dances.
At the center of the courtyard, we can notice three gigantic columns standing on the top of a tortoise. The first one – the one that's at the front – was built by King Pratap Malla in 1720 BS. The second one – just behind the one with Pratap Malla – was built by King Parthivendra Malla. Both these columns feature the kings with their respective families praying to the goddess in a devout fashion. The third – and the final – column represents a winged lions, which signifies it was an important architectural symbol during the Malla era.
Dashain Chowk houses the Dashain Ghar, which is the storehouse for royal jamaras (sprouts grown during the festival of Dashain which signify blessings for longevity and success). From there the jamaras would be sent to the Narayanhiti Palace, from where the jamaras would then be conferred by the royal family to the general public . . .
Dashain chowk, which lies adjacent to Mul Chowk, Lohan Chowk, Bhandarkhal Garden, and Trishul Chowk, has been named after the Dashain ghar located in the quadrangle. The Dashain Ghar was built as a storehouse for the royal Jamaras, a species of sprouts grown during the festival of Dashain, signifying blessings for longevity and success.
Architecturally, there aren't any important artifacts or structures in the quadrangle. However, the courtyard houses two important monuments that are important historically:
1. Seat for the water vase that is brought from the Changunarayan Temple every Dashain for worshipping.
2. A well, which serves as a source of pure water for offering to the Goddess Taleju. A flight of stairs has been designed near the central part of the courtyard to draw water, and the beam at the level of the original staircase bears two beautiful lion engravings.
Corresponding to the Malla rulers' Mohan chowk, King Prithivi Narayan Shah had built the Lohan Chowk as the residential quadrangle for the Shah rulers. The four towers in the courtyard, which have been named after the four cities of the Kathmandu valley, are designed in the unique chaukwath architectural style . . .
Located south to the Mul Chowk and south west to the Nasal Chowk, Lohan Chowk can be recognized as the epitome of Nepali wooden architectural beauty. It has derived its name from the stone pavements that cover the quadrangle. Lohan can be literally translated to the word stone; hence the name Lohan. Also, before the Shah rulers built the structure, it was a home to Tejarath Adda; hence, it is called as Tejarath Chowk too. The Shah rulers, according to inscriptions and documentations, preferred calling the courtyard as Basantapur Tower.
The Lohan Chowk has been built in Chaukwath style (four towers residing at four corners of a quadrangle). It's believed that King Prithivi Narayan Shah built all those four towers after his conquest over the Kathmandu City as his residential quarter. Shah Kings, since then, used Lohan Chowk throughout their monarchial era, prior to their migration to Narayanhiti, as their residential home.
However, regarding the construction of the four towers at Lohan Chowk, we can find different evidences that it wasn't only King Prithivi Narayan Shah's contribution. Even before the king arrived at Kathmandu, different documents, although not explicitly, points towards the presence of the towers already. They were smaller, but it's believed the towers existed already. Even with the towers, it can be speculated from inscriptions engraved on the walls of the Lohan Chowk that King Prithivi Narayan Shah had only been able to complete Basantapur tower and Bilas Temple. The other two towers, Laxmi Bilas Tower and Kirtipur Tower, are believed to have been completed by King Pratap Narsingh Malla.
Architecturally, the woodwork of the towers are unparalleled. King Prithivi Narayan Shah believed in the nationalist policy. He encouraged Nepali artists, Nepali products because he thought this would be the first step towards the path of progress. Hence, the walls and doors of the Lohan Chowk can be noticed to be embellished with authentic Nepali woodcrafts. Especially the wooden work on the beams at the ground floor and the windows of the towers are a spectacular sight for any viewer.
The name Dakh chowk comes from the tropical bengali grape Dakh. Before the palace premises were established here, this used to be the cultivating field for grapes, and hence, the name Dakh chowk was given. Interestingly, there are no remnants here from Malla era i.e. we can only see the passage of Shah rulers in this courtyard. . . .
Once we head south to the Nasal Chowk, we can reach the Dakh Chowk. The Dakh Chowk has been named after the tropical Bengali fruits that used to be grown here before the construction of palacial monuments. Probably because of the presence of the farms prior to any rigid palace structures, there are no remnants here from the Malla era. All the structures and artifacts belong to only the Shah era.
This quadrangle was very popular during the rule of King Rajendra Bir Bikram Shah to King Prithivi Bir Bikram Shah. The top floor of the northern wing of the quadrangle consists of images from King Prithivi Narayan Shah to the Rana prime minister – Jung Bahadur Rana. Interestingly, contrary to all the other quadrangles of the palace, the western wing doesn't have any buildings. There is only a wall which separates the Dakh Chowk from the Masan Chowk.
Architecturally, the wooden sculptures at the base of the Dakh Chowk are especially beautiful. They consist of capricon, tiger heads, and serpent carvings, which almost look like they are popping out of the wooden beams.
Popular for the Degu Taleju temple, this chowk's name gathers much attention. Masan literally translates to crematorium, and it's an expectation that this was a royal cemetery, which has been further strengthened by the presence of a Tulsi tree. However, no historical documents talk about it, and it's been discarded as a legendary idea only . . .
Masan Chowk has been separated from the Dakh Chowk by a wall at the western front of the quadrangle (Dakh, here). It is also called as Kanhel Chowk. Actually, in the Malla era, it used to be Kanhehol chowk because of a certain species of flower – Karbir flower – that used to be grown there. In Newari, Karbir is called as Kanhehol. Therefore, the quadrangle got its name as Kanhel Chowk.
Because of the peculiar name of the quadrangle – Masan and Kanhel both – it has grabbed a lot of attention. It has been believed that the quadrangle was used a royal cemetery in the folk lores. However, no such documentation or evidence exists to prove the fact. In fact, there are clear inscriptions which support the fact that the Malla rulers were incinerated at Pashupati Area. It's just that the name is misleading.
At the center of the courtyard lies the temple of Natyeshwor – the God of dance. The documents actually have shown that this quadrangle, opposed to the belief that it was a cemetry, was a royal dance house. The rulers used to invite dancers, and they would perform their dance in front of the Natyeshwor temple.
The most significant aspect about the temple is the golden platform raised here. It was built by King Jay Prakash Malla in 1813 BS after the old platform was in the brink of destruction. This platform is important not only historically but culturally too. It has been constructed as per tantrik practices that align with the worship methods of the Natyeshwor devta.
Nhula Chhen chowk has a historically special significance. After the heroic triumph over the Kathmandu valley, documents dictate King Prithivi Narayan Shah proudly entered the palace via this courtyard. It was the residence quarter of the brave king. Even now, his bedsheets are on display to the public, and they've been conserved with utmost care . . .
As soon as one enters the gate that leads to the Gaddi Baithak, they reach the Nhula Chhen Chowk. This courtyard has been the most popular as the first courtyard King Prithivi Narayan first stepped into after his conquest of the city of Kathmandu.
Regarding the origins of the courtyard, no one knows the precise date. However, as per the inscriptions, it was there before the reign of King Jay Prakash Malla. The word Nhula Chhen means "new home". It isn't given because King Prithivi Narayan Shah brought his new home there, as most people might expect. It was given because the courtyard wasn't built deliberately i.e. the courtyard came into existence because of the construction of surrounding monuments and structures.
From architectural point of view, we cannot ascertain how the Nhula Chhen Chowk looked like originally because we neither have documents nor photographs talking about it. Furthermore, the courtyard itself was reconstructed over a lot of periods, so it limits our idea of the original architecture of the courtyard. For instance, Rana Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana had removed the old wooden house from Nhula Chhen Chowk and rebuilt a new house. Later, during the times of King Prithivi Bir Bikram Shah, the house was demolished and the new neo-classical majestic Gaddi Baithak was constructed. It served as a meeting space for the Rana and Shah rulers with foreign ambassadors.
Getting back to Nhula Chhen Chowk, although the structure has changed repetitively over time, we still can see some of the architecture from the ancient times. Especially the windows at the Kaushi Tosakhana adda. They are absolutely magnificent.
Kaushi Tosakhana was actually a storehouse created by prime minister Bhimsen Thapa to store important papers such as papers of Shah expenditure from the times of King Prithivi Narayan Shah himself.
Another important, and probably the most prominent, artifact in the Nhula Chhen Chowk has been the bedsheets of King Prithivi Narayan Shah. After his victory over the Kathmandu city, he had spent few of his nights here before he established himself in the palace. Even today, his bedsheets are protected with care there. They're very simple and have used Nepali local handicraft works for the design. Once again, King Prithivi Narayan Shah has demonstrated his nationalist policy through his lifestyle. Above the bed, we can notice a spectacular view of wall art of gods and goddesses. It's believed that the king chose that room because he could pray the god when he's going to bed and as soon as he wakes up.
Out of all courtyards, Bayu chowk has been regarded as the most mysterious because of the lack of information regarding it. However, its name comes from the Bayu(air) god temple lying at the southern front of the courtyard. Interestingly, it's also called as Lamo chowk because of its long shape . . .
Located south to the Dakh chowk and west to the Nhula Chhen chowk, Bayu Chowk has derived its name from the air god temple that is located within the courtyard. The temple, on a first glance, looks eerily similar to a house. Had it not been for the golden gajura at the pinnacle, we probably wouldn't be even able to identify it as a temple. It derived its other name, Lamo chowk, from its long shape.
Much isn't known about Bayu Chowk because of the lack of historical documents. However, one fact lets us know about the potential origins of the temple. A document from 1710 BS has told a little about King Pratap Malla praying the air god., which signifies that the temple was in existence before 1710 BS.