Nepal architecture

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Nepal architecture


The standard works on the traditional architecture of Nepal are in great demand these days. Many local and foreign journals have put a lot of subjective emphasis on Nepalese architecture. In fact, a lot of tourists have been so fascinated by our historical and traditional buildings that they have actually conducted various studies on the subject. Perfect examples of Nepalese architecture are abundant in places like Bhaktapur, which makes it a hit on the tourist charts. Theses pictorial buildings depicting our culture have attracted a lot of foreign as well as local scholars and a wide number of tourists, proving helpful showcasing our traditional architecture as tourist attraction.

The new age architects divide our architecture into three main categories: the vernacular (residential), the monumental and the monastery style. However the main styles in our architecture in Nepal can be broadly into: the Newari house, the Buddhist Monastery, the Hindu Priest house, the Royal Palace, the Temples and the Public Rest House.
As the lifestyle of Newars has remained relatively unchanged, the original building design and construction has been retained. The universal characteristic of this design is the vertical room arrangement, not dependant on the size of the house. Symmetry is the aim of this design of façade. Generally, these are three-storied, uniform depth, with extension of equal heights with narrow windows. Courtyard or Chowk providing both security and privacy and a single narrow and low gateway (the only access to the courtyard) completes the Newari house. Entrance doors are barred with two massive wooden planks while windows are closed by fine wooden latticework; shutters too are an equal option. The most important communication to the street, other than the door, is through the San Jhya window in the main living room. They have pitched roofs and the most commonly used materials are burnt brick and timber. In short, it is a multipurpose area, effective for most of the daily activities. The interior furnishing and decorations are simple and contrasting to the lavish facades.

The Buddhist monastery, popularly known as the Vihara is generally a two-stored court style building. Its harmony with the surrounding architecture makes it relatively inconspicuous and is often unrecognized – the reason we have barely 400 Viharas in the Kathmandu valley. The main examples of this styles are: Bahil, which is built on a raised platform above the street level and is a two-storied building surrounding a sunken square tiles. The ground floor is totally sealed off from outside except for the doorway in the front wall. Projecting balconies enlarge the upper floors. A dark room is built over the shrine in the ground floor and the doors open it to the large balconies. The roof comprised of a wide overhanging roof and used roof space. A fine example is Pintu Bahil in Patan. Bahal, is a two-storied court style a building with its floors divided into different rooms overlooking the courtyard, which is sunken except for the narrow walkways around it. The building rests on a low plinth-like base. Each of the staircases in the four corners leads to a group of three rooms above. These four groups have no intercommunicating doors or passages. The roof spaces is used except for the bell shaped pinnacle above the shrine or Gajur, as found in Chhusya Bahal in Kathmandu; Bahal-Bahil is a combination of the above two styles into single Vihara type. The example of the above two style is Nauddha Kacha Bahal in Patan.

The Hindu Priest House or Math, has the location, orientation and its internal planning corresponding to that of a standard dwelling house. Large Maths comprise of several smaller house units called Ghars, centered possibly on a courtyard. It has no fixed orientation but they are normally three-storied building. The central load bearing wall and the design of the façade resembles that of a residential building. The location of the shrine is generally not fixed. The ground floor consists of servant’s quarters, stables or stores; the first floor as a grain storages, guestrooms or bedrooms; the kitchen is located in the top floor or the artic. The biggest concentration of Maths is located around the Dattatreya temple in the Tachapal Tol of eastern Bhaktapur.

Lakyu on the other hand is the old Newari term for the word ‘palace’ and refers to only palatial buildings. Large squares and temples surrounding the palaces are named either after the various Tols in which they are situated, the streets they adjoin or the important buildings or section of the buildings. The Hanuman Dhoka refers not only to the Hanuman gate of the palace, but also to the Durbar (palace) itself and to the square formed by the two wings of the Durbar. The Durbar squares of the three large cities of the valley: Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, differ greatly in appearance depending on its position in the city and the grouping and style of the buildings within. After the earthquake of 1934, several structural alterations were made to the palaces, specially the palaces of Kathmandu. The palaces of Patan and Bhaktapur are difficult to examine, as they haven’t been the official abodes of monarchy for more than 200 years now. The old palace of Kathmandu now comes to life only during Royal weddings, funerals, coronation and similar occasions requiring traditional ceremony. Recently, the coronation of the new Monarch, His Majesty King Gyanendra also took place in the Durbar Square. But now, it remains abandoned after the royal family shifted 50 years ago to the Narayanhiti palace built ion neo-classical style in the northern part of the city. The sections of the old palace of Kathmandu serve as a police station, school and museums now. The palace show the original plan as groups of terraces of various courtyard buildings intermingled with or supplemented by multi-tiered temples. Like all other palaces, there is a large hall where the daily Sabhas or the meetings were held between the king and his ministers. The most significant building of this is the Kasthamandapa, which is believed to have been built out of a single tree. It is this very building that gave Kathmandu its original name. This establishment, which serves as Sattal or the rest house stands near the palace of Kathmandu, but is not a part of it.

The roofs of decreasing dimensions, stacked one above the other constitute the traditional style of the temples in Nepal. The Nepalese have their own terms for temples; Mandir in Nepali and Dega in Newari, do not give any hint about the style of the temple. The first impressions of the holy buildings depict uniformity but there are various conceptual differences demanding individual treatment. Earlier, many people mistakenly mentioned the temples as ‘multi-storied’, which in reality were merely tiered roofs, with a habitable floor below. The shrine is generally placed in the center of this floor, with the exception of few temples. The styling of the roofs may seem pretty similar to the Chinese monasteries, however it should be noted that these temples are more squarish unlike the rectangular style of the Chinese. The most significant example of this style is found in the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu.

A building type common to all towns and villages is the Dharmashala. This is the traditional Nepali rest house, which is free of charge to travelers. The Dharmashala under its different names of Sattal, Patti, Mandapa, Chapat, to mention but a few of the Sanskrit, Nepali and Newari variations, is built in many different shapes and sizes. Today, this term is mainly applicable to the test houses near temples and other sacred places. The best example is the Kasthamandapa in Kathmandu. In this historical building all three storeys are open hallways with no divisions for rooms or Cellars. In contrast to the ordinary temple, the Kasthamandapa has wide wooden stairway leading to the first floor and a flimsy ladder leading to the second floor. Its construction demonstrates a very systematic means of collection of loads and their distribution through posts and walls to the foundations. Four massive wooden posts, on which another four posts form the first floor rest, from the core of the ground floor. But the second floor square is made of twenty posts to form the structure. All three roofs are covered with traditional tiles, the brickwork is plastered and whitewashed and the timber is unpainted.

Although buildings styles have separate outlines, it is possible to unite them when describing their construction in details.

The main features of the Nepalese traditional architecture are: the use of natural brickwork consisting of a few layers of natural stones – large pebbles of broken stones; low ceiling, actually used to protect the inmates from the cold weather outside. A single or double row of posts supporting the upper brickwork with the doors (dhokas) consisting of an interior frame (Duchu) and an exterior framework (Bha) which are joined together by four wooden ties (Tas). These are printed together with wooden nails (Chukus) and there are small and narrow windows and fine external designs flaunting rich artistry. The extensive use of woodwork; and the lack of smoothness in texture characterize constructions.

Today, we have lost most of our traditional rich architecture to the invading western designs. Most of the new buildings may compete with the western technology – but this is spoiling the beauty of our cities and areas of architectural interest. This brings an adverse effect on tourism, as people from the west are very attracted to this rich artistry. No wonder Bhaktapur still remains a popular tourist destination. A place where buildings are still made in the traditional styles, making it one of the most beautiful cities of the country.

However, many architects and citizens now realize the importance of preserving our traditional style. In Bhaktapur, the municipality and the locals have joined hands and are preserved traditional designs. Even now we see that many hotels are investing in traditional styled buildings. Mr. Vibhuti Man Singh of Technical Interface, the architect of Dwarika hotel explains, ‘Our Traditional Architecture is all about animating. Even the edges of windows are carved, beautified and brought to life’. This is just what makes our Nepalese architecture so rich. It is also gaining popularity in the west, ironically faster than it is in our own country, the place where it belongs.

The ornamented brickwork or as locally known as the Boutte Etta has high demand these days in the west. In fact, bathtubs and fireplaces are made out of it. The markets are increasing in countries like the US, UK and Singapore. But sadly, we do not have much skilled artisans to works on them. At one time hardly any buildings were made in Nepalese style. It was limited only to the palaces and the temples. This affected the industry and brought down the demand so much that most artisans switched over to other occupations. Thus most of the skills are now lost, which in turn has pulled up the prices of the brick work and wood work by such large margins that now it has discouraged people from using them even for residential building purposes. More and more buildings are made in the western and modern techniques, which prove to be much cheaper.

The other discouraging factor is the extensive use of wood in Nepali architecture. Environmentalists have literally banned the felling of timber. This seems a very positive move, but there are still alternatives including the use of certified timber from managed forests and the use of idle government stock. Tons of wood is still lost to smugglers and it is better to fell trees and use it for purposes of beautifying our cities and preserving our culture rather than losing it to a bonfire. Probably if we dwell on wood and respect our traditional Nepal architecture then we may realize the worth of wood and our natural forests.

We depend largely on tourism and this rich architecture is a plus point in attracting tourists. If we start moving ahead with glossy modern architecture, it will make our cities no different from that of the cities elsewhere, and we lose tourists. We need to develop but not loose our identity. Our traditions and culture tells us what we are and what we should be. The day is not far when Kathmandu will be not far when Kathmandu will be no different from the workaholic cosmopolitan of the world. We have to preserve our homely atmosphere and our closeness to nature – something, which all tourists look for!

In Bhaktapur, the citizens and municipality have co-coordinated with each other to maintain the specific design of the place and its buildings. It is a haven of Nepalese architecture. Patan Durbar is now well preserved as it has been converted into a beautiful museum - a showcase of our rich traditional architecture for tourists and the generations of Nepalese. A lot of government buildings are now being designed in the Nepalese style realizing the growing demand for our art in the west. Currently in Kathmandu the most widely used traditional style is the Malla architecture. But we should also look forward to developing the other rich styles followed in the less developed and remote regions of the country.



Nepal verslag index

28 september - 5 oktober 2004 - Verslag week 3 (Nepalese taalles, lezing Lama Rimpoche, Budhanilkantha, computerlessen in kinderhuis)

21 - 28 september 2004 - Verslag 2 - o.a. Bouddhanath, Kirtipur en Indra Jatra festival

15 -21 september 2004 - Verslag 1 - o.a. aankomst in Nepal, Swayambhunath en kinderhuis



Lubhoo in the Kathmandu Valley / Kirtipur / Tatopani / Budhanilkantha / Tansen / Chandra Giri Hill









Nepal Cultuur / Historie / Politiek / Economie

Nepal reizigers-informatie








Loshar - Tibetan - New Year


 vrijwilligerswerk-nepal / ontwikkelingshulp india





Shoestring, reizen naar Azie