Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Traditional Bath Fountains of Kathmandu

By Sabin Chakradhar

Water system in Kathmandu incorporates the elements from at least as early as the 4th and 5th century C.E. Nepal being a mountainous country with the range of Himalayas to the North, it consists of ample snowpack resources and rivers for water supplies. However due to difficult terrain, the delivery of water to the Kathmandu valley demands careful planning. Water from mountains were brought in the valley by gravity flow pipelines that use siphons, when necessary, to surmount the hills. The water in the valley is delivered via series of bath-fountains known as ‘Hitties’ in Newari language for public use. 
Fig. Bath-fountain of Kathmandu

These bath fountains are placed three or four blocks apart so that people do not have to walk far to reach one. In Kathmandu life, culture and urbanity cluster around the water and the bath fountains not only served as the water source but it was also an interactive public space that people use for conversation, argument, playing, sunning, bathing, washing clothes etc. 

Fig. Multiple spout in the bath fountain

Bath fountains are roughly rectangular pit with a flat floor with stairs leading down into the pit from the ground level. Entry is mostly from the south direction and waterspouts are placed in the northern retaining wall.  Walls are often terraced in several increments depending on the depth creating the parapets which also serve as benches. Overflow from the fountain is carried to a series of small artificial lakes or large reservoirs known as ‘Pokhari’.

Fig. Intricate carvings on stone in bath fountain

Water systems of Kathmandu were largely made of baked brick known as ‘itta’ in Nepali, along with some use of finely cut stone; either sandstone, quartzite or limestone. The spout is made from the long stone conduit which is the chief ornament of the fountain. The spouts are fashioned of stone, gilded brass or copper, carved in relief with fantastic animals that have symbolic meanings. Bath fountains of Kathmandu combine utility, flexibility, and beauty in an urbane form unsurpassed even by the famous fountains.

Traditions in Architecture- Dora P. Crouch, June G. Johnson

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