Wednesday, September 7, 2011


By Jabina Shrestha

To understand the past, is to know the present. This is a step to regain a lost identity. Nepal opened up to the world in mid fifties of the last century. What has been but a mere fifty years, has brought about enormous changes to our society and our cities. Preserving the odd monument is no replacement to our identity. The much talked about urban fabric of Newari settlements has now fast disappeared in the concrete jungles. To control changes; a realization of our worth is in need: a permitted fantasy in today’s mess.

It is for all Nepali people to perceive the original of the past. Studying the development and the structure of settlements that have grown because of their own unique needs, we can appreciate how people have adapted themselves according to the rising needs, and changing situations.

The subject is Kirtipur, which is a Newari town where original essence of the newari architecture and urban planning is still appreciably visible. Consisting entirely of Jyapu population, who are considered the core of the whole Newari system, the town is hardly occupied by other groups. This social stratification in this town is unique for a Newari settlement which usually has a hierarchy of castes living together, which affects the structuring the settlement, both in social, as well as the physical sense.

KIRTIPUR meaning the city of glory is a small town in the Kathmandu Valley, about five kilometers southeast of the capital, Kathmandu. Kirtipur, also known as KIPU and KYAPU, is one of the oldest settlements in the valley, and is recorded as an ancient capital of Nepal. The town inhabited by Newars the earliest population group of the valley, occupies the top of a steep rocky hill, a location very different from the other main towns of the valley
Kirtipur, which emerged as the fourth royal city, is one of the last remaining refuges of a conservative Hindu urban culture, which has been enriched by an inflow of Buddhist and indigenous elements of the local newar population.Kirtipur, a comparatively compact small settlement has developed on a non-irrigated high plateau with surrounding farmland. Kirtipur commands an excellent birds- eye- view of the capital city Kathmandu and the panoramic view of recanting snow plates of the Himalayas.

The traditional Newari house has evolved over hundreds of years into a uniform construction reflecting and integrating the demands of culture, religion and daily activities as well as the environmental considerations and availability of building materials. The dense urban settlement of kirtipur is characterized by the terraced houses set up from the street on stone podia, their flat, red brick facades incorporating splendid carved timber struts. The houses are built in a most compact form using as little horizontal space as possible but showing the strong tendency towards vertical expansion. Behind the houses lining the streets lie internal courtyards giving access to further houses, or open spaces providing vegetable gardens. When a family needs more space, they will extend, if land is available, or demolish and reconstruct their house, rather than move to a different, larger house.

Additional information regarding the topic will be continued in next blog.

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