BUDDHISM has had a far stronger presence in Patan than in Kathmandu or Bhaktapur. this has been the case even though all the kings of Patan in both the Livhhavi and Malla periods (4th to 9th century, AD and early 13th through late 18th century, respectively) were Hindu. Even today, half of the Buddhist clergy of Kathmandu Valley is from Patan, and the city’s patron deity, it can be said, is Karunamaya, the Buddha of Compassion.

The architectural flowering and unique urban environment of Patan are essentially the legaciesn of three Malla kings of the city-state- Siddhi Narasing Malla (1619-1660, Sri Nivas Malla (1660-1684), and Yog Narendar Malla (1684-1705). The numerous temples of the Patan Darbar were all built during this period of consecutive kingships.

While all the structures and images put up by the rulers themselves were Hindu, the kings did adopt measures which helped maintain harmony between Buddhism and Hinduism. In the first place, the kings accepted and worshipped Karunamaya (also known as Bungdeo, for the village where the images is mostly housed, or Machhendranath, the Hindu name) . They had the Budddhist Vajracharya priests officiate at all rituals associated with Karnnamaya, as well as at other religious rites and occasions.

At the same time, however, the Malla kings saw to it that the Buddhist rituals were carried out within a Hindu framework. Thus, for example, Siddhi Narasimha introduced the practice of having two Brahmins ride the chariot of Karunamaya. Meanwhile, Karunamayawas identified with the Hindu god Krishna, while Buddha was recognized as an avatar of Vishnu.

The enthusiasm with which Hindu and Buddhists today celebrate the chariot festival associated with Karunamaya (the Machhendranath Jatra) is representative of the harmonious relationship that has evolved between these two religions of Patan. While Patan neighbourhoods have festivals continuously, the Jatra is the biggest and the longest-running. This pre-monsoon festival is also a reminder of the ancient and their rules, whose distinctive stamp remains strong even in the modern era.
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