Kwa Baha is one of the most lavishly decorated of Patan’s bahas. Its affluence derives from the fact that it is the community focus of Shakya and Vajracharya traders who grew rich form the Tibet trade over the centuries. The baha today has some 4000 community members, mostly from the old business clans. The monastery owns prime real estate, antique shops, and various other businesses.

The organisation that runs a baha’s affairs and endowment is known as a guthis (religious trust). Historically, it is the guthis which have maintained Patan’s many cultural traditions and its architecture. They did this by carefully tending endowments and properties which they owned. Over the course of the last century with changing political fortunes and demographic shifts, many guthis of Patan have been weakened, and some have disappeared altogether. Kwa Baha’s own guthi remains strong and vigorous, however, as evidenced in its upkeep and the performance of rituals.

You will have entered from the west, but the main entrance to the rock-paved courtyard of Kwa Baha is from the east. A narrow walkway leads around the small courtyard of Kwa Baha; its railing is lined with oil lamps and prayer wheels. The corners have charming monkey statues with offering of fruit in hand. Visitors are generally requested to stay on the parapet, but if you do step down into the courtyard, be sure to take off shoes and any leather item on you.

From the main entrance, you will observe the main temple, the Hiranya Varna Mahavihar, on the far side, topped by a two-tiered pagaoda that rises above the main roof (see picture at left). At the centre of the countyard is a shrine which is encloses a swayambhu chaitya, which is visible if you peer through the lattice- work doorways. Above, the gilt copper roof rises to a pinnacle adorned with four snakes whose curved tails rise to held a multi- staged umbrella over the main bell-shaped finial.

The name swayambhu chaitya refers to shrines which aroe on the spot spontaneously, without human effort. There are said to be four such self-created venerable objects in the Valley: this one in Kwa Baha, another in the town of Sankhu, to the Valley’s northeast; and the third the renowned mahachaitya (maha=Grand) of Swayambhu. The fourth swayambhu chaitya has been lost.

The main four-storey temple, adorned completely in metal, contains on the ground floor the kwapa dya, a shrine dedicated to Sakyamuni Buddha, the guardian deity of the sangha, or Buddhist community. The entrance to the temple is marked by two large bronze lions, each standing on an elephant. The doorway is finished in gilt and above it is one of the finest torans of the Valley towns, crafted entirely in silver.

Sadly, the fine statuary in some of the recesses above the toran was vandalished by idol thieves in 1994. The theft of religious objects, as does the loss of the town’s architectural heritage, poses a major problem for those striving to protect the rich heritage of Patan. Images and idols which are part of living traditions in Kathmandu Valley are spirited overseas by criminals to be sold and exhibited in museums and drawing rooms. The fear of theft has forced many communities to protect their valuable religious objects by locking them within metal frames and welded bars, all of which detract from the beauty of shrines and temples.

Several tortoise, which serve as the temple guardians, have free run of the courtyard of Kwa Baha. Inside the main shrine of the Kwapa Dya, this is true for several well-fed rats as well. Devotional services at Kwa Baha begin early, between three and five in the morning. Few other bahas in the Valley have lengthy rituals conducted as conscientiously as they are here at Kwa Baha. The Kwa Baha sangha i s one that has maintained its traditions.

As you leave the courtyard by the main entrance, you enter a passage with an ancient water cistern to your right. Turn back to study the intricate stone carvings on the doorway. Containing figures of the Sakyamuni’s monastic companions, the stone artwork forms a fine counterpoint to all the gilt and bronze in the baha. Just before you exit by the outer door, look up at the cupola. This is a unique upside down placement for a mandala (geometric design of ritual significance), superbly done in stone.

Having descended the steps into the street, turn left and walk down the lane paved with stone slabs. Although modern multi-storey buildings have disfigured the skyline elsewhere, old Newar buildings with their latticed and carved windows frames (tiki Jhya) still command both sides of the lane (see picture, above). since tourists frequent this area, you picture, above). since tourists frequent this area, you will find shops selling curious, thangka paintings, Buddhist and Hindu idols, and a variety of other artifacts in wood, metal and stone.

As you go down the gentle slope, on your left you’ll soon see a small entryway. Walk in and take a look at a small, attractive and seldom-visited courtyard, which lies adjacent to the Kwa Baha complex. The single- tiered temple is devoted to Saraswati, the goddess of learning. There is a canopied chaitya, surrounded by oil lamp holders, in front of the temple (see picture). Emerge from the courtyard and continue on the stone-paved path.

You will come to a crossing, with a ground- level Ganesh shrine at the fork. To the left, on a grassy mound, is a cluster of megaliths. These are long, thin rocks planted vertically on the ground. The megaliths are, quite possibly, the oldest objects of worship in Kathmandu Valley. Over time, they have been incorporated into Shiva worship, but their origin is unclear.

Just past the Ganesh shrine on the right is a very long pati-like building, with five inter-connected carved windows on the first floor. It is a building worth admiring before you continue down the stone path to the Kumbheswar temple complex.
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