In 1742 there were only 12. Now there are even fewer. You must imagine the palace extending through the grounds of the high school to the left of the main gate.
Beside the high school gate are two notorious relief carvings. The first is of Bhairav with 12 arms and a necklace of skulls. The second is of the 18 armed Durga with a variety of weapons killing a demon.
The story goes that King Bhupatindra commissioned them in 1701. Then, to prevent the sculptor from producing such masterpieces for a rival, he ordered his right hand to be cut off. The sculptor bravely worked on with his left hand and so the king ordered that to be chopped off too.
You come to a large white building which is the National Art Gallery. Flanking its entrance is a lively Hanuman and a Nrisimha (man-lion incarnation of Vishnu) with a nasty grin on his face as he tears out the entrails of a demon. They date from 1698. These protect what was once the main entrance to the palace. The white facade dates only from the Rana period in the early 20th century.
The Gallery contains a random assembly of artworks, mainly 18th and 19th century pauva paintings of Hindu deities and small Malla stone carvings. Some of the finest exhibits are thought to have been stolen.Surviving items of interest are : the tall Lichchavi inscribed panel dating from the 6th century AD facing you as you enter, a very large 19th century painting of the life of Krishna, and a fine carving of Hari-Hara in the fireplace recess upstairs.
Beyond the Art Galley is the Golden Gate or Sun Dhoka (Loon Dhwaakaa), a masterpiece of Newari gilded copper work dating from 1753. It leads to the religious areas of the palace. In the torana above the gate you see the four headed sixteen armed figure of Taleju, the goddess worshipped by the royal
family. We will come to her temple shortly. Walk through the gate and you come to a deep archway containing two massive ritual drums made of elephant skin, secreted behind lattice screens. They were of course carried by elephants.
Continue along the courtyards and past a pair of elegant stone figures in Malla court dress bearing oil lamps. They are said to represent the King Jitamitra Malla and his minister Chandrashekhar Rajopadhyaya, both signaling the Dashain festival.
You come now to the entrance of the Mul Chowk. Inside is the most holy temple of Taleju. Non-Hindus are not allowed in. But they can peep through the door and see some of the wonderfully ornate carvings in the great courtyard. An array of exquisite carvings, some of them said to have been carved by King Bhupatindra himself, will keep Hindu visitors spell bound and make them forget the other works of art in the valley. Inside there are passages leading to more courtyards, namely Kumari Chowk and Bhairav Chowk, both of which are restricted to Hindus except during certain occasions. Bhairav Chowk is open only during the annual Dashain festival. Inside Hindus can see beautiful idols of the eighteen Bhairavs.
It is said that the main Taleju idol housed in the temple is made up of a single block of gold. Much of what goes on inside is kept secret by the priests who come from the Karmacharya caste. Strict regulations are maintained regarding those allowed inside the temple which was largely rebuilt by Jitamitra Malla in the mid-seventeenth century. He is said to have neglected his kingdom to concentrate on art and worship. Still it is the scene of massive sacrifices of buffalo at the annual Dashain festival.
A few yards further on is the water spout (hiti)at the Sundhara (Loonhiti) Chowk. Here the royal family performed their ritual bathing under the watchful eyes of the gilded snake-god Vasuki on a post in the middle. The small statues that once filled the niches around the spout have been stolen for sale to westerners. The beautiful gilded water spout hasn't yet been pillaged.
As you walk back into the main square you pass the magnificent 55 Window Palace on your left. It was built by King Bhupatindra Malla at the end of the 17th century. Both the interior and exterior are outstanding examples of Newari woodcarving. On the first floor are important Malla wall paintings of scenes from the Mahabharat with Shiva as the central figure. On the upper floor are paintings of the Krishna Charitra which were sadly damaged by another earthquake in 1988.The process of painting is interesting. Michael Hutt tells us that the figures were first traced in black soot from oil lamps onto a surface of polished slaked lime mixed with water and animal glue. A massive restoration project launched in 2006 will, we hope, conserve the wall paintings and prevent more earthquake damage. The restoration is expected to cost at least 200 million rupees.
On a tall pillar facing the Golden Gate is one of Nepal's great treasures, the statue of Bhupatindra Malla (1696-1722). He kneels on his lion throne with an air of calm authority, gazing at the palace that he did so much to restore. Try to spot a tiny bronze bird under the lotus pedestal. The statue was set up in1753byBupatindra's son Ranajit Malla, the last King of Bhaktapur.
Nearby is the large bronze Taleju Bell hung by King Ranajit Malla in 1737. A priest still tolls it three times a day having removed his shoes and said the mantras. Another smaller bell nearby is known as the Barking Bell because dogs were supposed to bark when it is rung. Now it is locked.
In the same group of buildings is a beautiful pit water spout (hiti), now dry.
The two storey octagonal timber building close to the 55 Window Palace is the Chyasilin Mandap. It was originally built in the 17th century probably as a viewing stand during public events and to entertain royal guests.
Totally destroyed in the 1934 earthquake, it was carefully reconstructed in the 1980's under the direction of the Austrian architect Götz Hagmüller with German funding to mark the state visit of Chancellor Helmut Kohl. It is a masterpiece of scholarly restoration though very controversial at the time. You can try to pick out which carvings are original and which were done by a modern local wood-carver. Eight of the twelve pillars and six of the sixteen capitals are original. The exposed steel frames
are there to resist future earthquakes.
Along the main square facing the palace is an extended two level dharmashala building with a long open ground floor platform. This would have provided lodging for travelers and visitors to the palace - and simply a shelter in the rainy season. Trading was not normally allowed in Durbar Square.
Durbar Square : the temples
Durbar Square is an important religious as well as political centre. We start our journey again at the western Main Gate.
Across the square facing the high school are four shrines known as the Chaar Dhaam. They represent four important pilgrimage centres in India; devotees unable to make the massive journey south can worship here instead.
The two-tiered pagoda temple is for Krishna; it has very elegant wood carvings, showing the ten incarnations of Vishnu.
Further down the square, outside the Shiva Guest House, are two large temples in very contrasting styles. The sandstone one is the Vatsaladevi Temple. It's in the shikhara style : large tapering upper section representing Mount Kailash flanked by nine smaller towers. Built in 1696, it is dedicated to the
Goddess Durga whose fierce images can be seen around the upper sections along with idols of Bhairav.
The other large temple is built of brick and timber in the Newari pagoda style. This is the Yaksheswar Mahadev Temple dedicated to Shiva and dating back to the 1450's. It always attracts a large number of worshippers. It's a replica of the great pilgrimage centre of Pashupatinath on the edge of Kathmandu. They say that it was built for pilgrims who couldn't get to the real Pashupatinath during a period of hostilities between the two kingdoms. There are some rather surprising erotic carvings on the roof struts that local people believe were meant for preventing lightning strikes. In fact they are associated with deeper religious erotic cults, well known to students of tantric practices.
Go back towards the 55 Window Palace and turn right into the next wider section of the square. This area was particularly damaged in the 1934 earthquake.
The first smart little shikhara style temple on the left is dedicated to Siddhilaxmi. It has a delightful series of figures guarding its steps : a couple of chained rhinos (suggesting that the Mallas perhaps kept a menagerie), a pair of camels and what appears to be two naughty boys refusing to accompany their mothers.
The next plain white temple is that of Silu Mahadev, also called Fashidega ('Pumpkin Temple'). It replaces what must once have been a larger building. Luckily the guardian figures have survived.
In the middle of this open area are some lonely steps guarded by two large lions - all that remains of the huge vanished pagoda temple dedicated to Harishankar or possibly Krishna.
At the eastern end of the Durbar Square is the Chatubrahma Mahavihara once occupied by the living goddess, Kumari. It now houses one of the five Dipankara Buddhas, on the left as you enter. You should give a small donation when you visit it.