Culture & TraditionIssue 2Nepal

Historical ponds of Kathmandu

It could be said that the Kathmandu Valley itself was born of a pond. According to mythology, the valley was once a lake known as Nagdaha that was full of snakes. It was believed to have been drained by the Buddhist sage Manjushree.

All over the city and in the Kathmandu Valley, there are dozens of ancient ponds that have historical significance.

Thousands of people congregate around a pond in Handigaun at the end of the month of Chaitra/beginning of Baisakh (mid-March/mid-April) for the famous Gahana Khojne (‘Search for Ornaments’) festival, an annual event known for being celebrated loudly and joyously. This famous pond (Gahanapokhari) in Handigaun, Ward No. 5 of Kathmandu Municipality is a site rich in history and culture as Handigaun was until the eighth century, the ancient capital of Nepal during the reign of the Verma, Gupta and Lichhavi kings.

It could be said that the Kathmandu Valley itself was born of a pond. According to mythology, the valley was once a lake known as Nagdaha that was full of snakes. It was believed to have been drained by the Buddhist sage Manjushree. Myths aside, in the architecturally rich eras of the Lichhavi (second to ninth century) and Malla (14th to 16th century), numerous pokharis (ponds) were constructed.
One of Kathmandu’s biggest ponds was Lainchaur Pokhari.

However this one is no more and now on its site stands the Nepal Scouts building. In Patan, among the ponds remaining today is the most ancient Guita Pukhu built by King Sarvananda. Lagankhel Pukhu, built by King Ashok Varma, is another old pond. Taudaha (Chobar), Nagdaha (Dhapakhel), Siddhapokhari (Bhaktapur), Pim Bahapokhari (Patan) and Kathmandu’s Ranipokhari, Nagpokhari, Kamalpokhari, and Gahanapokhari are just a few of the better-known ones among the Kathmandu Valley’s remaining ponds. Most have a cultural significance. Taudaha, Nagpokhari, and Nagdaha are visited during Nag Panchami in the month of Shrawan (July-August); Ranipokhari during Bhai Tika (October-November); and Gahanapokhari during Chaitra Purnima (March-April). The Taudaha Lake in Chobar, six kilometers southwest of Kathmandu also holds importance for its rich diversity of flora and fauna. It is the valley’s only remaining natural lake that still supports significant wetland birds.

Sleeping Vishnu

Sleeping Vishnu

The Nagadaha in Dhapakhel VDC of Lalitpur District is a natural pond that covers an area of five hectares. Eight kilometers south-west of Kathmandu is Matatirtha Pokhari which is visited once a year in April-May by those whose mothers have passed away. Then about eight kilometers north from Kathmandu in Budhanilakantha, is a large fifth century stone statue of the Sleeping Vishnu reclining on a bed of snakes, seemingly floating on the water at the center of a small pond. It is one of the most interesting of all religious sites in the valley.
In Kathmandu, Ranipokhari is the best known. Its original Newari name was Nhu Pukhu (‘New Pond’). Dating back to the 17th century, it was built by King Pratap Malla to console Queen Anantapriya on the death of her youngest son. At the four corners of the pond are temples dedicated to Ganesh, Bhairab, Narayan and Saraswati.

Nagpokhari in Naxal has a tall statue of a Naga King at its center. This pond, now well preserved and with a small park around it, especially comes to life during Nag Panchami. Gahanapokhari is located but a short distance away and Kamalpokhari is also quite close to Nagpokhari. Unlike the others, it does not hold much of a historical or cultural significance but it does add to the beauty of the general environment.

In the past Bhaktapur too had numerous ponds or pukhus (in Newari) and today, there are still 33 of them in the city. Siddhapokhari or Ta Pukhu located at Dudhpati (at the entrance to the city), is said to have been built in the 15th century. Another big pond is Barhe Pukhu which is located at Kamal Vinayak on the northeast of the city. Ancha Pukhu to the north of the city has a stone image of a reclining Lord Vishnu at its center. Kancha Pukhu, to the south of Dattatraya Square, is architecturally very interesting.

One can see a perfectly reflected image of the Nayatapola Temple on its surface although it is situated in 500 meters away from the temple. Nagpokhari in the Palace of 55 Windows is encircled by writhing stone cobras rising up on pillars. Other notable ponds in Bhaktapur are Paleswon-Pukhu, Bhajya Pukhu, Guhya Pukhu, Bhanda Pukhu, Kaldah Pukhu and Dwinmaju Pukhu.

In Patan, there are still 25 pokharis today, with the major ones being Prayag, Jawalakhel, and Pim Bahal. Pimbahal Pokhari was built in the 14th century and is one of the most famous ponds in Patan although it is in a decrepit state. Patan has had trouble maintaining its historical ponds but now many are being earmarked by the municipality for repair and renovation.

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Marianne

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