In the earthquake of April 25, 2015 a beautiful structure that is iconic historically and culturally was damaged — Rani Pokhari, which literally translated means ‘Queen’s Pond’, that nestles in the heart of the Capital, Ratnapark. Balgopaleshwor Temple (also known as Yamaleshwor or Jamaleshwor Mahadev), that stands in the middle of the pond, was also damaged.
Rani Pokhari, built in 792 NS or 1727 BS by king Pratap Malla, is square in shape (22 feet-4 inches) with four layers of steps around it and a fence on one side. The Balgopaleshwor Temple in the gumbaz style with the idols of Bal Gopal and Mahisasur Mardini along with a Shiva Linga stands in the middle of the pond. A bridge on the west of the pond helps devotees reach the temple.
The gates of Rani Pokhari are opened to the public twice a year — on Bhai Tika of Tihar and Chhath puja. But the gates remained closed on both days in 2015.
Approved by the Department of Archaeology (DoA), the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) office has been working to renovate the structures here.
Rani Pokhari is beautiful space right in the middle of much urban chaos. So, as to make it possible for its gates to open on the two auspicious days of the year, reconstruction work is going at a speedy pace. The layers of steps have been demolished and upper tiers of the Balgopaleshwor Temple and its pinnacle have been taken out. Ninety per cent of the pond’s water has been taken out; 500 fishes in three batches have been taken to Balaju Baaishdhara Udhyan Karyalaya. But since it has started raining, some water and few fish still remain in the pond.
Uttar Kumar Regmi, Chief, Department of Urban Infrastructure Development at KMC informed, “The reconstruction plans are scheduled to complete before October 31 so that the public can pay their homage during the festivities. Plus we have planned to make Rani Pokhari a recreational area where the public can enter after paying certain fee”.
According to Regmi, Rs 11 crore has been allocated for the rebuilding of Rani Pokhari complex. Once completed, the complex will have musical fountains, lights and a garden.
This sounds like a pretty good idea but there are difficulties in getting the materials required for rebuilding historical monuments in exactly the same way. Sampat Ghimire, Senior Divisional Engineer of DoA said, “One main problem will be timber. This monument needs timber that are 12 feet tall, which is scarce. But we are communicating with the Forest Ministry and they will cooperate with us to get the needed timber.”
About earthquake resistance of the structure he said, “When structures are renovated on time, they can resist earthquake. As we are dealing with structures that are 300 years old, we have to maintain the original shape and size using old techniques of building them. We cannot use Reinforced Cement Concrete (RCC), which had been used during previous renovations that we were unaware of. This mismatch during renovation of historical structures damaged them.”
According to Prof Dr Dilli Oli at the Central Department of Nepalese History Culture and Archaeology, Kirtipur, the Shiva Linga, and the idols of Bal Gopal and Mahisasur Mardini in the Balgopaleshwor Temple symbolise king Pratap Malla, his youngest son Chakrapratapendra Malla and the queen respectively.
Rani Pokhari was made for his queen when the queen could not overcome her sorrow over her son’s death. The festival of Gai Jatra too was started to let the queen know that it was not only the queen who had lost a loved one but many in the country had lost their loved ones. “The queen overcame her grief after this and the king built this pond for her, in the memory of their son,” informed Shyam Sunder Rajbanshi, Chief Archaeological Officer at DoA.
This shows the king’s love for his wife and son, however, there is another facet to this king and Prof Dr Oli explained, “During his regime, there was a belief that if you have sex with 100 virgins, you would get rid of all your sins. So, Pratap Malla declared ‘Lakshya Bhedan Yony’ — meaning having sex with one lakh virgins. He could not accomplish his goal but he slept with 3,000 girls. While he reached his 3,001th young girl, she died in the process as she was very young and he regretted his act and stopped. To get forgiveness, he built 84 lakh Shiva Lingas from Pashupatinath area to Hanumandhoka. But we have not yet been able to discover all the Shiva Lingas in the area.”
It is believed that there are many valuable treasures hidden in Rani Pokhari, from the ornaments of Pratap Malla’s queen to safes with wealth of then city dwellers who had to flee Kathmandu due to political instability. However, there is no documented proof of these stories.
There are stories that “Pratap Malla used to fight with the kings of Bhaktapur and Patan and bring valuable artefacts from the regions to decorate his palace and place,” stated Prof Dr Oli.
Agreeing with him, Cultural expert Dr Jagman Gurung added, “Pratap Malla loved to have the best things in his kingdom and used to bring valuable artefacts from Bhaktapur and Patan. Moreover, he became king by imprisoning his father and he feared that his sons might do the same. So, it is believed that he hid his treasures in Rani Pokhari in case he had to flee the nation. And after Rani Pokhari was completed, it is said that the queen too offered her jewelleries and valuables to the pond in the name of the gods.”
Gurung questioned the authorities’ plan to dry the water and renovate the pond. “There are evidences that people used to leave their valuables in a holy pond as no one would go in to take it. One such example is about the Parbat Mallaj Majhaphata pond that has been mentioned in the book Mechi Dekhi Mahakali. When the king of Kaski, Rakase Gurung attacked Parbat, the Gharti living there hid their belongings in the pond. In a similar fashion, Rani Pokhari might hold hidden valuables that could be 300 years old. So, digging has to be done carefully.”
Not only during Pratap Malla’s period, even at other times when people had to flee due to political reasons, they felt it better to leave their wealth in the pond instead of those being seized by their enemies, as per Gurung.
However, Rajbanshi said there could be no treasure in Rani Pokhari. “Till now there is no evidence about things like hidden treasures in the pond. And the drying of the pond has nothing to do with it as it is the process to rebuild Rani Pokhari in a better way.”
Experts believe if anything, even a button, from the past is found in the pond in the process, then these should be shown to the public and kept in a museum for preservation.
Rani Pokhari is full of fish because the followers of Tibetan Buddhism, with the concept of jivan daan (releasing soul) named chhetar, release fish in the pond. However, the pond has just catfish perhaps because of the muddy water in the pond.
And the inscription about Rani Pokhari says that the water of the pond has been brought from various religious places of Nepal and India such as Muktinath, Kedarnath, Ganga, Sapantirtha, Budhanilkanth and more.
– The Himalayan Times