Thursday, 18 April, 2024

Stone At The Border

Aashish Mishra

There once used to be a saying in Bhaktapur that a blinkered horse turned east from Ason will go in a straight line to Bagbazaar, Battisputali, Sinamangal, Bayakha, Nikosera, Siddhapokhari and ultimately reach Taumadhi in Bhaktapur. This saying is not as popular these days though, perhaps because it doesn’t hold true anymore. If one were to try the same thing with a horse today, they best not get attached to the steed because it would get hit by traffic before reaching Battisputali. Or, if it managed to dodge the incautious vehicles plying the Kathmandu roads and keep on its path unharmed, it would have to stop at Sinamangal because the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) will prevent it from going any further.
So, unable to retrace the path to Bhaktapur, let us also stop at Sinamangal and take a look around. Sinamangal today is much different from the one that was 64 years ago. For starters, it is much smaller.
Sinamangal once encompassed almost the entire area of the TIA and some parts of the place today known as Pepsi Cola. The TIA part was a forested marshy land called Bwaha: Chwo: by the locals because the area used to attract a lot of cranes (Bwaha: in Nepalbhasa means cranes). During the Rana years, people cleared the forest to create land for farming and pasture for their cattle. This gave the area the name ‘Gaucharan’ meaning land where cows grazed. Gaucharan later became Gaucharan Airport and then Kathmandu Airport and ultimately the Tribhuvan International Airport we know today. Over on the Bhaktapur side, the area was still known as Sinamangal until Varun Beverages opened its plant there. That led to people calling the place Pepsi Cola, a name which has stuck to this day.
Today, Sinamangal only refers to the place where the Kathmandu Medical College is located, in between Old Baneshwor and the international airport.
Now that we’ve discussed the area, let’s look at the name. What does ‘Sinamangal’ mean? Well, literally speaking, nothing. That word has no meaning because Sinamangal isn’t, in the strictest sense, a word. The original name of the place was ‘Simana ya muga’ which translates to ‘Stone at the border.’ But this name raises more questions than it answers. What stone and at which border?
The stone in the name alludes to a stone inscription erected by Sankhadhar Sakhwa. Sakhwa is the fabled initiator of Nepal Sambat and the man who is believed to have used his wealth to release the residents of Kathmandu Valley from the bondage of debt. The tale goes that he took a bath in one of the twin stone spouts of Sinamangal, rested in a nearby rest house (now called Mahendra Pati) and then declared the people of the valley debt-free. He inscribed his declaration on a 13-foot stone tablet and erected it atop a small hillock at Sinamangal for all to read. This is the stone that the ‘Simana ya muga’ refers to.
But what about the border? Well, the hillock that the inscription stood on is supposed to have been the geographical midpoint of three cities of Kantipur, Patan and Bhadgaon. In other words, it bordered all the three major cities of the valley. Hence, the name is ‘Stone at the border.’
Gradually, ‘Simana ya muga’ transformed to ‘Sina Muga’ and later to ‘Sinamangal’. The name Sinamangal gained formal status in 1954 when, while renovating the Mahendra Pati and the stone spouts, the government of the time used it in official paperwork to denote the location.
Every place has a story to tell. Every name carries a meaning. With a lot of patience and a little bit of interest, we will find that every alley, every street, every corner of Kathmandu is yelling out a tale. All we need to do is listen.