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Nepalese art and architectural designs

By Devik Balami at
buddhist art

Nepal has developed its own unique art and architectural designs over the period of time. Early in the history, Nepalese art has been highly influenced by the religion. Hence we can see religious subject matter almost in all the arts developed by the Nepalese artists. Regarding the architectural designs, it is the outcome of the climate and the raw material available in the country, and also the influences from nearby countries and religions. The pattern of the art and architecture has also been changed according to the dynasties that ruled Nepal. For example, stone carving was at peak during the Lichhavi period while wood carving was well known during the Malla dynasty.

Nepalese art and architectures are highly influenced by both major religion of Nepal, i.e. Hinduism and Buddhism. We can also observe that some artworks have a component of both religions proving the state to be religiously tolerant. For example, the temple of avaloketishor (Buddhist deity) located at the heart of Kathmandu, Jana Bahal has the metal artwork of Vishnu Avatar (Hindu deity) placed in the wall of the temple. Therefore in order to understand Nepalese art, one requires a clear understanding of these two religions, their nature, and idiosyncrasies.

Categorizations of Nepalese art and architectural designs.

Nepalese arts:

Nepalese art circulates around the religious theme basically Hindu and Buddhist. So, the subject matter of the art are mainly the characters and events of scriptures, Vedas, and Puranas, etc. Regarding the nature of artworks, Nepalese artists have used a various medium to showcase their artistic creations. Generally, it can be categorized into two category- painting, and sculpture.

Painting: It is believed that the Nepalese artists created paintings before they made sculptures. The paintings can also be divided into three main categories- Book, scroll, and wall painting. Out of these three paintings, we can still observe artists preserving and creating scroll painting. Scroll painting is known as paubha painting in Newari and in English, it is better known as Thangka painting.

Sculptures: Nepalese artists used local raw materials to create sculptures. These raw materials were clay, stone, metal, and wood. It is believed that the introduction of sculpture was during the Lichhavi dynasty. But it fostered in the Malla period. The first ever know clay sculpture is the statue of Baman which was installed by Lichchhavi king Mandeva. Along with statues of Buddha, bodhisattvas, and Hindu deity; statues of the royal family were also created. These statues were installed in front of the major Hindu deities. It is also known that the Bhrikuti, Nepalese princess took Nepalese artists along with Buddha statues to Tibet and spread Nepalese arts and architecture. Due to this event, we can see the similar style of architecture and art forms along with statues of Buddhas in Nepal and Tibet. The development of Nepali sculpture reached the peak in the Malla period.

Nepalese architectural designs

Nepalese architectural designs are the product of climatic condition of Nepal, Influences from neighboring countries and religions. Basically, the architecture can be categorized into three styles- Shikhar, pagoda, and chaitya style of architecture.

Shikhar style

It is believed that Shikhar style of architecture has been introduced to Nepal from India. The unique characteristics of Shikhar style are the structure with several towering and tapering tops with golden pinnacles. This structure is constructed mainly using stone. Generally, this architectural design is used for Hindu shrines but there are also cases of structures with Buddha statues. The Mahabauddha temple of Patan is an example of Shikhar style of architecture which houses Buddha while Krishna Mandir house Hindu deity, Krishna.

Pagoda style

It is believed that pagoda style of architecture is developed due to the climatic condition of Nepal. The unique characteristic of this style is multi-storied, mainly constructed with bricks and clay, and wooden column to support the structure. Normally the space of the floor decreases, as we move upstairs and we can see a slanting roof on each floor. On the top, the structure usually has a golden pinnacle. Another important aspect of this structure is Tudal, above the main entrance, which is beautifully carved with different subjects. All the woods used in this structure are beautifully carved to showcase the artistic creations.

Chaitya style

The chaitya style of architecture is the result of the influence of Buddhism. It has different names around the south-Asian countries. The unique characteristic of this style is- it constitutes of a hemispherical dome at the base. Above this dome is the rectangular object painted with eyes and nose along with the third eye and then umbrella-like disc around the central single pillar and on top of that is the pinnacle. The dome consists of images of five Dhyani Buddhas and prayer wheels are installed near the dome which encircles the chaitya. While constructing the chaitya, a Buddhist rituals must be performed and should house a Buddhist relic which makes the stupa sacred. Swyambhunath and Boudhanath are the excellent examples of chaitya style of architecture.

Along with above style of architecture, Mughal style of architecture is also found in Nepal. At modern period during Rana regime, European style of architecture was introduced and was constructed.