Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Public Rest House

By Chhanya Nidal

Public space plays a significant role in people’s everyday life. Indeed, it is intertwined with daily life and is a place for social interaction and integration. In the traditional settlement of Kathmandu valley, the public rest house is the common type of building to all towns and villages.
The public rest house commonly named as Dharmashala is also known with different names like Mandap, Sattal, Pati, or Chapat. The traditional Nepali rest house is one of the element of urban interest. The general term Dharmashala is applicable to all types of rest houses and is free of charge to all the travelers. One can see the rest houses in the traditional settlement, durbar squares, pilgrimage sites, temples, sacred bathing places. The earlier use of these rest houses were to provide shelter for pilgrims and the travelers. They were generally donated by wealthy person, religious groups, families or society who bear the responsible of its construction and maintenance.
The first reference to Nepali public rest house dates back to the Lichhavi period. The public rest houses are built with different shapes and sizes however their appearance has not been changed a lot.
The Mandap kind of rest house is a covered square pavilion built on a raised platform with open sides. This facilitates as a community hall or for larger gatherings.

Pati is a more specific term that refers to the smallest and widely found rest house which also has similar function. It is built in a raised platform especially with three sides open with a wall on back. This is either freestanding or attached to any existing structure or residential house. Besides providing shelter, the Patis are closely interwoven with Newari society. This is an important aspect of their living neighborhood and is used as meeting place, reading local newspaper, social and religious gathering. They are the most common type of rest houses found in Kathmandu valley. They are not only found in settlements but also built throughout countryside near road, paths, or near public water fountain, rivers or streams as well as by the side of temples and shrines.

Sattal is another public rest house which vary with height and the number of storeys. It may be two storey, Sattal of Mandap type or of house type. Unlike the Pati, Sattal have been built not only for the traveler but also for the spiritual master (Guru or Sadhu) for temporary stay.

Chapat is another kind of rest house whose original function remains unclear. Rather than a public rest space for traveler, Chapat acts as a community hall for particular group of people for different festivals, dance and drama.

All these public rest houses are built with similar function with similar appearance using local architecture and vernacular constructions materials and techniques. The widely used material are local bricks and wood or timber with carvings on the post, lintels and struts.

The traditional architecture of Kathmandu Valley by Wolfgang Korn
Fig: Laxmi Narayan Sattal:
Fig: Pati: taken during visit

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