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One of the reason tourists visits Kathmandu is the breathtaking architecture of medieval palaces and temples in three traditional Durbar squares located in three different cities Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Lalitpur. These three culturally distinctive piazzas contain wooden and brick temples, so delicately designed and elegantly morphed together.
Legend has it that the name of the city, Kathmandu is derived from the Kasthamandap, the oldest known wooden temple built during Lichhavi, which was then formed by two words, Kastha means wood (a chief material from which a temple is made) and mandon ( temple or an edifice).
So, Kathmandu literally means “ city of wooden temples”. As you can see in most of the temples, using of wood doesn’t hold much importance than the artistic touch it possesses. The intricate and artistic carvings in the pillars, brackets, struts, beam frames of the peristyles, window and door frames with the Hindu deities and religious motifs prove this statement.
But nowadays, woodcraft is not just limited on the beams of temples and palaces but the artisans carve the figure of Buddha, the elements of Buddhism, windows, doors, statues of different Hindu gods and goddess, tables, artistic clocks and the articles of day to day use.
The Nepali woodcraft tradition has three types of craftsmen: The Designers, The Woodcarvers, Traditionally from the Silpakar family and the carpenters, commonly called sikarmi.
But the tradition has slowly changed as different castes are coming ahead to perform this work.
The designer and woodcarver are often the same people. The wood carving organization, so far, has been kept as a family business, the ideas being transferred to sons from the father. The work of woodcarvers is a broad specialization and belongs to the knowledge concerning iconography and religious significance of decoration.
One of the veteran designers Haribhakta Maharjan said that the complexity of an ornately carved deity, multi-handed and holding symbols all of religious significance, requires not only great knowledge of the religious texts but also the skills of a craftsman competent to execute the work.
Most of the wood crafts are influenced by the Vedic and Buddhist ideologies. So, if you happen to see any sort of act depicted on the temple, be sure that the art holds some kind of meaning in the oriental religions.
Woodcarvers believe and worship the god called Vishwokarma, who according to a legend of Mahabharata, built a beautiful palace, the Mani Mai Sabhat, for their king who was so impressed by the window carvings as well as the beauty of the queen, that he was distracted enough to stumble over and fall into the water pool in the middle of the court. Vishwokarma is revered as kul deuta (deity guide/ personal god) by the traditional woodcarvers during the festive seasons.
Even though the majestic display of wooden craft in Kathmandu valley can be observed in the traditional doors and windows of Newars, the durbar square, and temples, nowadays skill can be found in different forms like small decorative items, handicraft gift like picture frame, rack with hangers, wooden ties, small boxes, animals, buttons, furniture, decorative wall hanging etc. from the limited items temples, wooden windows and panels. Maybe following descriptions of these crafts will be a great help for you:
As already explained above, Newari windows display the magnificent blend of Newari culture: the fusion of Hinduism and Buddhism. You can find different designs of Newari windows if you happen to travel three durbar squares of Kathmandu, look out for local workshops where skilled artisans can be observed busy with tools and woods. A few weeks ago, I met one of the American tourists, Richard, 80 years old in one of such workshops where he shared me his fascination on observing those beautiful and delicately carved windows.
Blessed with the rich tradition and cultural plethora, the temples of Nepal contains different gods and goddess each having their own significance. Nowadays, the small-scale woodcraft industries create the different forms of deities in different shapes and size with the varying price range. You can get a piece of Buddha Statue for Rs. 1000 or else you can get the statue of Ganesh that costs more than Rs. 10,000.
Who wouldn’t love to use the intricately designed wooden table in their office and home which radiate the sense of calmness and serenity? Carved in the durable wood of tropical trees like sal, these tables are durable and artistic with different religious motifs. Also, the wooden sleeping beds are available in major woodcraft industry which is carved with auspicious motifs like astamangala.
This can be yet another elegant classic item that can add beauty in your abode: watching the passing time on a clock embedded in the wooden frame prepared by some artisans in another corner of the world that radiate the medieval vibes of oriental region.
In addition to above-described items, you can observe different pieces of crafts on the courtyard of Bhaktapur, Kathmandu and Patan Durbar square where many tourists and the vendors bargain for the price of the items. To those, who are a bit skeptical of their authenticity, there are so many local workshops where one can obtain the item, learning to carve, if desired.