Nepal in the Mahabharata Period, Part 26


Mahabharata setting
(film stage)

Mar 07, 2013 — CANADA (SUN) — The Yadava dynasty's presence in Nepal, and the events that preceded and followed.

Our reference in this series to the 'Mahabharata Period' deserves some explanation. The title for this period is used loosely to describe the period leading up to the Kurukshetra war, particularly those pastimes that directly resulted in the battle taking shape. These pastimes took place over generations, and some are so far distant that they far precede the period we are referring to in the context of Nepal's place in that history. The vast history memorialized in the Mahabharata itself is described by one writer, S. Kak, in this way:

    "The Mahabharata telescopes early genealogical history. The Puranic king-lists provide useful clues to the sequence of events. Some of the main events are: Generation 45, Bhagiratha, Ganga changes course; Generation 65, Rama Dasarathi, Dvapara begins; Generation 94, Mahabharata War. Given that the Mahabharata War took place several centuries before the Buddha, it is clear that even if we allocate only 20 years to each generation, the Puranic king-lists reach back into the early phases of the SS [Sindu-Sarasvati] Tradition.

    The astronomical references in the Vedic texts reach back to the 4th and 5th millennia BC. The Mahabharata, in turn, describes events that belong to the earliest layers of the Vedic lore. For example, there is much material in the Adi Parva on Yayati, one of the first kings in the Puranic lists. There is also description of the westward emigration of Aryan tribes through the device of Yayati expelling his sons. Such emigration stories are part of the Rgvedic narrative."

Likewise, in the context of this series on Nepal, the 'Mahabharata Period' also loosely encompasses the long period after the war, beyond Sri Krsna's departure and the start of Kali Yuga, and up to the appearance of Gautama Buddha (6th to 5th c. B.C.) For our purposes, the label is applicable to that late date because the art and architecture of Nepal that we are primarily concerned with bears the marks of Vedic Culture known from the long pre-battle Mahabharata history, and was only significantly transformed in Nepal upon the arrival of Buddhism.

Looking at a more formal definition of periods, Indian history is generally divided into the Bronze, Iron, and Vedic ages, the Early Vedic Age overlapping the late Iron Age. The ages are also described according to the presence of dominant kingdoms, such as the Maura Empire (4th to 3rd c. B.C.), then the era of the Middle Kingdoms, up to the more recent Gupta Empire (4th to 6th c. A.D.) The Mauryan Period is also described as being followed by the Golden Age, which encompasses the Mahabharata and Ramayana epics, being followed by the Classical Age starting 3rd c. B.C.

So none of these formal divisions of Indian history include a label for the 'Mahabharata Period', as we are applying it in this series. In our context, the Mahabharata Period is that period associated with the central event of the Mahabharata epic -- the Battle of Kurukshetra -- and events leading up to and following the battle. These events have a direct connection to the Vedic influence on Nepal, and that is what we are striving to describe here.

Distant View of Kathmandu in Nepal
Watercolor by Henry Ambrose Oldfield, c. 1853
[ Click for large version ]

As we now proceed with our survey of the temples, shrines and artifacts associated with Nepal in the Mahabharata Period, we would like to share a collection of works by the 19th Century painter, Henry Ambrose Oldfield. Several pieces from his watercolor series on Nepal were published under the title, Sketches from Nipal. The book focuses on the era of Maharaja Jang Bahadur's rule and deals with various religious monuments and architecture in Nepal, many of which are rooted in the Mahabharata Period. But Oldfield did many more paintings of Nepal than the ten appearing in that book.

Oldfield served as a surgeon in the Bengal army, and later as a doctor at the British Residency in Kathmandu from 1850 to 1863, during the early years of the reign of Jang Bahadur Rana.

Most previous Nepali art was religious in content, but Oldfield's watercolours captured the landscape of architecture in the Kathmandu Valley in so accurate a fashion that it has been used as a guide during restoration projects.

The painting above, 'Distant View of Kathmandu in Nepal', is inscribed on the back: "View of the City of Kathmandoo; sketched from the road leading to Patan. April 1853". Oldfield wrote:

    "Kathmandu, from being the capital of the kingdom, is the most important city of Nipal. It is situated towards the western side of the valley, about a mile from the base of Mount Nagarjun, and stands on the east or left bank of the Bishnmatti, near the confluence of that river with the Baghmatti... On the west Kathmandu is bounded by the Bishnmatti, and its streets, or those of its suburbs, slope down rather steeply from the higher level on which the greater portion of the city is built, to the very edge of the river, which flows in some places directly below its walls. The Bishnmatti is crossed by two pucka bridges, over one of which goes the road from the city to the arsenal, and artillery barracks and parade-ground, and over the other the direct road to the temple of Shambunath. On the east and south the city overlooks the lowlands which lie along the courses of the Dhobikola and Baghmatti rivers."

Over the next three segments of this series, we will feature a selection of Oldfield's paintings of Vaisnava and Buddhist temples, Durbars and the Nepal landscape. Following that, we will focus on the presence of Sri Krsna, Lord Visnu and Lord Nrsimhadeva in Nepal.


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