Architecture of Nepalese Temples


Nepal, politically unrest and chaotic nation from beginning of its then and present existences, live beneath the splendid and majestic arrays of high Himalayas to low basin, having ancient foot trails of modern life, art, cultures, and literature.

No wonder! Nepalese live under the sacred roofs, with saturated dreams of their gods and goddesses. They built temples into their houses. They construct fulsome praise to their deities. And that’s why there are temples at every street, at every alley of Kathmandu. And, Bhupi Sherchan, a famous Nepalese poet writes “Saghuro Galli ma Mero Chowk Cha (there lies my courtyard in a narrow alley),” resting upon the unparalleled Nepalese world.

Besides, the societal injustices, disparities, and malfunctioning of every government till the date, the architecture of Nepalese temples holds profound ancient history that has been immensely significance to the art of the world. The architecture of Nepalese temples was so much influenced by India, China, and Central Asia, creating many kinds of architectural designs that have given birth to utterly new dimension in architectural world, with a colossal creativity on it.

Fundamentally, there are three styles developed in course of time: The Wooden Struts and The Pagoda Style, The Shikara Style, and The Stupa Style.

 The Wooden Struts and The Pagoda Style:

The wooden struts in Nepalese houses and temples are widespread and designated architect since ancient times.  Distinctive and splendid craving of images of gods and goddess on wooden struts shows tremendous ability of Newari artists of Kathmandu Valley.  The existing and the finest archetypes of wooden struts belong to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries (Pal, 2003, p.54).

In fact, the origin of the struts and Pagoda style goes way back to Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) of China.   It is widely perceived that the Han Dynasty have sketched the cultural figures and patterns of China until modern days. No any buildings built during the Han Dynasty are still holding the land, but what it left is tradition of nobility, and of glory.

The greatest contribution of the Han Dynasty in the architecture of that time was it laid the basic foundation for wooden struts and Pagoda style. The critical reason behind using wooden struts is to support overhanging eaves of roofs of temples, manors, and military watchtowers, along with use of (block) brackets, from the fence to the outer edge of the roof at a 35 degree to 40 degree angle. In a course of time, Han Dynasty experimented with different composition of struts, from diagonal to curved, curved to slanting struts.

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Figure 1. A HOUSE FOR THE SPIRIT was assured the dead by a pottery model like this one, such an elaborately painted copy of a manor house of Han times. Such funerary models provide invaluable clues to early Chinese architecture (Schafer, 1967, p. 32).

The variation of experimentations and inventions of Mingqi Potter Buildings of the Han Dynasty gave an ample opportunity in the development of Pagoda style. Although, at early stage, in Jiaozuo manors there is no solid evidence on the numbers of bays used, one to five bays can be seen in Mingqi Potter Building.  Noticeably divided into seven levels, the main building consists of 13 components stacked one on top of the other. The structure of building, which is multi-roofed, consists of two units outlining a double-level storey.

Appearing as an intermediate structure built between two roofed storeys, with a balcony, the lower level is smaller than the upper level. Over a course of time, such intermediate structure is seen in historic buildings with only structural function, turning smaller in height.

According to Qinghua Guo (2010), the development of Multi-storeyed and Multi-eaved buildings in Chinese Architecture might be archetypal pagoda. Analyzing the mingqi buildings, the multi-storeyed and multi-eaved buildings were prior to pagoda. According to researches and historical records, the pagoda has existed since Emperor Mingdi period (AD 58-75) of the Eastern Han, continued to flourished during the North and South dynasties (317-589).  In the T’ang and Song period, pagoda reached in its peak of development, prevailed into modern times.

Many of ancient pagodas are still found in various regions of China. Observing the appearance and structure, pagodas shared common features with the mingqi buildings, which had laid a fundamental foundation in the origin of pagoda in China.

After the fall of Han Dynasty, nomads invaded China from the north, leaving China without a steady government for almost four centuries. By 618 A.D  T’ang Dynasty ( 618-907 AD) came in power. Soon after T’ang Dynasty held the political power, China once again became a great empire in the world. In influence of T’ang Dynasty, China enjoyed the highest development in art, literature, and scientific inventions. Though Chinese began to expand enthusiastically to the north-west, they were also extending Chinese routine in the South. It might be during 7th to 8th centuries, the influence of T’ang Dynasty can be clearly seen in South, including Nepal. It might be during that time, the structure of wooden struts, and Pagoda migrated to Nepal.

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Figure 2: Influence of T’ang Dynasty in Southern region, including Nepal (Schafer, 1967, p. 32).

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Shikara Style:

In Sanskrit, Shikara means “peak of mountain.” And, Shikara style denotes vertically rose tower in Hindu temples. Basically, Shikara style is architecture of North Indian temples. Although Shikara style are even sub-divided into Dravidian, Nagar, and Vesara styles, Nepal developed its kind of Shikara style. Indian version of Skikara style doesn’t give more space in construction of temple, simply erecting tall curvilinear, while Nepalese version enjoys more space to the temple, vertical  up warded with pyramidal tower, breaking the surface into different sections.  The Krishna temple in Patan, built by King Siddhi Narsingh Malla is the finest specimen of Nepalese Shikara style. (2010)

*Incomplete.

P.S: Even though it was an important article that I wrote it for my art class, due to different circumstances, I couldn’t complete it. The indispensable factor was not getting authentic and credible sources to continue, nevertheless I had more than 15 books that I borrowed from Stephen. I had volumes of books on Chinese architect, which I could not read them all, and few of them were of Shikara Style. There were many contradictory views on Stupas, then again I was not satisfied with arguments I found in the books. Hence, I plan to publish on my blog, although it is an incomplete article. But, I will continue my research and will add information.

*Citation Needed.

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