People have settled in the Kathmandu Valley for over 2000 years. Throughout this period, the valley has witnessed the migration of people from both the high plateaus of Tibet to the fertile plains of the Ganges. This intermingling of people and cultures created a vibrant and diverse society within the valley. By the 12th century, the inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley had developed a unique civilisation indigenous to the region and were known throughout the region as the Newars. They shared – and continue to share – a linguistic and cultural community bound together by a common language and culture called Newari.
Newari civilisation flourished during the reign of the Malla Kings from the 12th to the 18th century. The Malla Kings profited from being a major destination along the trade route between India and Tibet, and invested heavily in their arts and culture. Part of the valley’s exports included skilled craftsmen like sculptors, painters and carvers to India and Tibet. Together, the wood works contain the centuries of love and dedication that these craftsmen had towards this artistic tradition.
With a keen aesthetic sense, the Malla kings invested heavily in the arts and encouraged a rich tradition that encapsulated all forms of art. Testaments to their deep involvement within the cultural landscape of the valley are evident in the number of architectural and cultural monuments that remain standing to this day in the valley. The seven world heritage zones and more than 3000 temples and shrines that dot the Kathmandu Valley all date back to the Malla era, and give a clear testament to the artistic sense of the Newars. Much of the Dwarika’s collection of wood work dates back to this period of artistic creation, preserving a cultural legacy that has defined Kathmandu.
During the 15th century, the valley disintegrated into the three kingdoms of Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur. This disintegration led to the creation of a Durbar Square (palatial complexes) in each of the cities and remains emblematic of the rich architectural traditions that existed in the valley. Durbar squares, temple squares, sacred courtyards, stupas, open air shrines, dance platforms, sunken water fountains, public rest houses, bazaars, multi-storied houses with elaborate carved windows and compact streets are the characteristics of the traditional design of towns.
The Dwarika’s Hotel utilises traditional Newari architectural styles that include inner courtyards or chowks surrounded by vertically oriented building structures that are hallmarks of Newari residential complexes. The buildings integrate the traditional wood work into the building façade, echoing a style that is indigenous to the valley.
Architectural splendour is only the most evident form of Newari heritage. The Newars were a highly urbanised civilisation and much of their culture remains embedded within the rituals and festivals that form the nexus around which Newari social life revolves. The Newars follow both Hinduism and Buddhism, celebrating festivals and worshipping deities from both traditions, and forming a unique example of religious tolerance and harmonious living. Newar religious culture is rich in ceremony and is marked by frequent festivals which are mostly tied to religious holidays or the harvest cycle. Street celebrations include jatras or processions in which a shrine is paraded through the streets, sacred masked dances, and musical troupes. Other festivals are marked by family feasts and worship. At Dwarika’s, we seek to keep this heritage alive through the way the hotel itself functions.
Our Artistic Heritage
Most forms of Newari art are religious in nature. They are dominated by a variety of motifs and symbols that incorporate the valley’s animistic, Hindu and Buddhist inheritance. The design elements adopted for each work of art is largely defined by who commissioned it, what and where it will be used. For instance, the patterns, designs and structural elements a person could use to build his house was predefined by his position in the Newari caste system and his standing within his own familial clan structure, the Guthi.
The old cities of Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur, in contrast to their present condition, were meticulously planned. This detailed urban planning had artistic, social and religious significance. A clear example of this is the way the width of streets were controlled in relation to the height of buildings, and how street width progressively decreases as one moves from higher caste areas of the city to lower caste areas. Another example is the intricate network of traditional water taps, dhungedharas, which were designed to ensure every family had a public water spout within walking distance. The water never stopped flowing from these taps, and they relied on an extensive system of recycling and collecting underground water.
Newari buildings utilise terracotta and wood extensively. This design element was developed over time to address the risk of being on an earthquake fault line. The wood and terracotta, held together with mud, has proven to be durable, with the capacity to absorb significant shock without collapsing. The wood works on these buildings were developed to denote affluence and a caste standing within the Newari social order. However, some design elements and motifs were reserved strictly for temples, and the designs that was used in temples and public areas were never replicated in people’s homes. Most wood work on temples captured narratives on the deity and explained the significance of the deity through its iconography. The windows, doors and pillars that are a part of the hotel are from a variety of locations. Rescued from buildings that were being torn down across the valley, they are derived from places of worship to the buildings of the ordinary public.
Newari sculpture utilises various mediums that includes stone, metal, and terracotta. Metal sculptures are either heavily gilded or have a slightly reddish/brown patina that derives from their high copper content. Some are decorated with inlaid semi-precious stones. Works in terracotta are comparatively rare except in the making of jars, cups and tiles. Terracotta works in the valley mostly originated from the city of Bhaktapur and the neighbouring town of Thimi. This concentration is primarily because of the availability of large sources of clay in the region. Newari sculpture, metalwork and woodwork exhibit a unique aesthetic understanding. While they carry strong religious motifs and most changes in the proportion or decorative details of Newari sculpture took centuries to develop, in the past half century they have surpassed religious limitations into artistic and utilitarian components.
Newar paintings are made in the paubha and thangka painting styles and are devotional works that carry extensive iconography and religious symbolism. Newari paintings are renowned for their intricate craftsmanship and exquisite beauty. The Newars also have their own culinary tradition that incorporates a variety of different cuisines and food preparation styles. Culinary traditions define meals for particular festivals and occasions and are largely dictated in term so seasonal availability and natural preparation techniques. From farming to cultivation to preparation, presentation and consumption, food plays an important part in the ritual and religious life of the Newars and the dishes served during festivals and feasts have symbolic significance. This culinary tradition remains an integral part of Newari society till now and is a vibrant and flourishing cultural space within the valley.