Sunday, 3 December, 2023

A Useful Guide To Panauti’s Culture


Ballav Dahal

With its distinct identity as an alluring city having a lot of historical, cultural and archaeological importance, Panauti has been quite popular among culture enthusiasts and archaeologists alike. Lying just 32-kilometre southeast of Kathmandu, the old town is home to both tangible and intangible cultural heritage sites like temples, monasteries and festivals. Recognising the many different age-old monuments and artefacts Panauti possesses, the United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has listed this Newari town as a UNESCO tentative site since 1996.

Since then, the town has been under UNESCO’s regular observation as the UN agency is still working towards listing Panauti as UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site. The local government and other stakeholders have also continued to put in their efforts to get the city recognised as UNESCO’s Heritage Site.

Many monuments and shrines in Panauti had also been ravaged by the mega April 2015 earthquake and its aftershocks. Panauti Municipality has joined hands with various relevant agencies and locals for rebuilding the monuments, houses and other structures in their original shape. The Department of Archaeology has been involved in the reconstruction of monasteries, and traditional and artistic houses in this mediaeval town.

In Nepal, there are altogether 10 UNESCO Heritage Sites (eight cultural and two natural). The country has requested the UN body to add as many as 15 more historical, cultural and other touristic places, including Panauti, to the list.

In ancient times, the city had been an important trade centre along the Salt Trade route between Tibet and India. Together with its economic prosperity, Panauti’s art and culture had developed exponentially during that period.

Panauti has been among several tourist sites found in the Kavrepalanchowk district. Prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city used to welcome a lot of foreign tourists every year. Panauti is so rich in terms of culture that it hosts various festivals and rites throughout the year.

A large number of domestic pilgrims following both Hinduism and Buddhism visit Panauti as an important pilgrimage site. The holy town is located at the confluence of the Rosi River, Punyamati and Lilawati. The famous Indreshwar Temple is one of the main attractions of Panauti. This temple is considered one of the oldest standing pagoda shrines in the country. Built-in 1294, the temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva.

Archaeological findings suggest that Panauti’s core settlement dates long back to the early Kirant period. It is believed that the fertile valley along the Rosi River was given by Bhupatindra Malla, a king of Bhaktapur, as a dowry to his sister.

The book under review offers a lot of interesting information about the historical, cultural and religious facets of Panauti. As a resident of the city, Dr Tamrakar has made his painstaking attempts to bring many unnoticed myths of Panauti to light. The author is not only a medical practitioner-cum-professor (obstetrician and gynaecologist) by profession but a great culture enthusiast as well.
Also a Rotarian, the author has touched upon different cultural aspects of Panauti and nearby areas such as Namobuddha in this book.

There are different myths associated with the origin of the name of this town. One of them is related to the story of a saint. According to a popular traditional belief, the saint had fixed a dry bamboo on the day of Makar Sankranti, the first day of the month of Magh in the Nepali calendar, before leaving for another pilgrimage site. Having walked around other places for 12 years, the saint had come back to Shachi Tirtha, which is yet another ancient name of Panauti.

To his utter surprise, the sage found the bamboo to have been growing. Then, he named the place ‘Pa Lohati’ which means ‘bamboo germinating on a stone’. ‘Pa’ means bamboo and ‘Loha’ means stone. There are also several other fables concerning the origin of the city’s name. The author has described them vividly.

As Panauti is also known as the Triveni Sangam (confluence of three rivers), Hindus take it as a holy place. As the sun starts moving towards the Capricorn from the day of Makar Sakranti, Panauti sees a huge month-long Makar Mela (festival). That time is considered to be sacred. So, it is believed that those who take a dip into this confluence during the month of Magh in the Nepali calendar may get a lot of divine blessings. The month-long festival takes place in Panauti every 12 years. As Panauti and Godawari of Lalitpur possess the same quality water, these two places alternatively host the festival at an interval of every six years in Magh and Shrawan, respectively. This tradition shows that there is also a connection between the Roshi River of Panauti and Makar Mela.

In addition, the book includes a host of legends related to Indra, Sachi, Kadru, among others. It highlights the legends which are associated with the traditions and customs of the Newar community.
Thus, this book could serve as an invaluable cultural guide to Panauti and its vicinity areas. Researchers and those who are interested in the culture of Panauti may find it to be very useful. It is sure to contribute to the preservation of the unique cultural heritage found in this sacred place.