Singha Durbar – The Lion Palace
On Wednesday Asar 10, 1957 B.S., Chandra Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana came to the throne. As soon as he came to the power he realized the importance of a palace. He wanted to build a private residence so he bought a land at the rate of Rs. 90 per 350 ropenis. He started the construction work. At first, he wanted to build the palace for his residence only but on the process of construction it became a magnificent and lavish palace. This magnificent palace, a neo-classical architectural typical style of the 19th century was designed and built by the engineering duo Kumar Narasingh Rana and Kishor Narasingh Rana in 1903 AD.
Singha Durbar in 1927
A neo-classical building is likely to have a symmetrical shape, tall columns that rise to the full height of the building triangular pediment and doomed roof. In its purest form, it is a style principally derived from the architecture of Classical Greeceand the architecture of theItalianarchitectAndrea Palladio. In form, neo-classical architecture emphasizes the wall rather thanchiaroscuroand maintains separate identities to each of its parts.
Once Chandra Shumsher, with his queen Balkumari Devi was enjoying the eye catching view of the valley. When he caught sight of a really beautiful palace and immediately asked his queen about it. The queen answered that it was known as Bagh Durbar. The queen then said to Chandra Shumsher that, “If that is Bagh Durbar then should we keep the name of this palace as Singha Durbar?” Chandra Shumsher liked this idea and hence gave the name “Singha Durbar” to this grand imposing palace.
Statue of Lion
After living for few years in the palace, Chandra Shumsher declared through ‘Bhardari sabha’ that whoever will be the prime minister will stay in that palace. So, he sold this grand palace to the Nepal Government and after selling he took Rs. 20 Million from the National Trust established by Junga Bahadur Rana. With this profit, he built nine more palaces in Kathmandu for his sons.Singha Durbar was occupied by the successive Rana prime ministers until 1951 A.D. After this, the durbar became the government secretariat which boasted of housing every ministry within the same compound until the fateful day of July 4th, 1974 A.D when a fire gutted it. Most of the vast building was severely damaged. After the deadly fire, the whole area was rebuilt. Singha Durbar was built in one year of time at a cost of 2.5 million rupee and in 1903 A.D it was claimed to be the biggest and most luxurious palace in Asia and until 1973 was the largest government secretariat in Asia.
Architecture of Singha Durbar
Singha Durbar, an absolute example of monumentality in palace architecture stands in axial configuration with the dharahara (Bhimsen Stambha).The Durbar’s monumental façade reflects the style of European Historicism. Its outward magnificence is totally matched by the lavish furnishings within. This palace has 7 courtyards and 1700 rooms. The Crystal fountain takes the centre stage at the largest and most ornate hall in this palace. The system in which the courtyard was planned seems to relate well to the micro climate of Kathmandu valley. The magnificent façade of well proportioned archways, between which rise double Corinthian colonnades, gives a tremendous sense of palace and splendor. The color of the windows of this white palace is green which shows the rhythmic harmony. It has marbles, painted ceilings, silver furniture and huge expanses of crystal lightings. It contained numerous gardens with exotic plants, a deer park, a polo ground, playing field, tennis courts, neo Grecian statutory, streams, fountains and vast verdure with finely spaced trees.
State hall is the largest and the most decorated place in this palace. The double height space along with the excellent lighting designs and crystal amuses people and then they are compelled to appreciate the skill of the Nepali craftsmen and at the tremendous hard work they had put in to get the materials in to Kathmandu even at that backward era. The crystal fountain takes the centre stage in this hall.
In this hall, there were crystal chandeliers from Murano, colored mirrors from Belgium and stained glass doors from England. It had Italian marble floor and the floral patterns in the walls and ceilings gave graceful embellishment. All the interiors were of wooden panel. The furniture of this hall were all shipped all the way from Europe to Calcutta and transported from there to Kathmandu by porters. The crystal clock is one of only two produced and the presence of water fountain shows the rich and often pompous Rana lifestyle. The fountain with its soft melodic tripling sound must have aromatized the evening of festivities and ceremonies.
This hall had welcomed a lot of distinguished guests both from national and international. In this hall, King Mahendra had given a great banquet for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip when they had visited Nepal in 1961. This majestic hall is very historical.
The style of Singha Durbar is a neo-classical style which is a European style so it was a borrowed architecture from Europe. The grand palaces of Ranas were used to be called “White elephant” and used to stand almost at the centre of the vast expanse of the landscaped areas through which Rana rulers used to show their supremacy over the common people or please their British friends as well as to all the fellow Ranas at the time of its construction. The buildings that they built used to show their importance. As a projection of their autocratic hold on power and competition amongst themselves in the grandeur of buildings, the Ranas presented a different style of architecture which brought about an architectural clash in the nation. Singha Durbar, a part of this new course tried to show social dominance in every way.
After Singha Durbar was ready, Chandra Shumsher wanted everybody to say “How majestic is Chandra Shumsher’s residence!” This monumental palace brought a life changing moment in the Ranas. Their personal life, dressing style and even communication style with each other changed drastically as their lifestyle was almost similar to that of the European rulers. Crystal fountain, crystal chandeliers and stained glass doors imported from Britain reflects their desire for the lavish lifestyle like that of the European rulers. The architecture however is a borrowed one. Hence it fails to reflect the local Nepali culture. However, the uses of local materials like mud, wood and local manpower has compensated the loss of Nepali culture.
Materials And Technologies
The construction of Singha Durbar implies western technology, mostly European. Chandra Shumsher had used traditional mortar and white plaster for the construction purpose. He had used slave labor and confiscated guthi land dedicated to temples of Kathmandu to build this Singha Durbar. The cost of the construction of this grand palace was not huge as Chandra Shumsher brought all the required woods from “Chariya” forest near to Kathmandu. They were brought to the site of construction with the help of “begari”. As a pay they used to be given salt and dhindo in required amount.
singha durbar top floor
Cement was not available during those days so instead of cement mass, chaku, saresh, surki, pina and chuna were used and bricks were used to join. Locally available wood, mud and bricks were extensively used for its construction. All the doors, windows and beams were built of Salla. Carved metallic ceilings were built. For roofing work, timber truss was used and on top of that either CGI or clay was used. Similarly for flooring, load bearing structure like steel and wooden beam were used.
In the fire of 4th July, 1974 the front portion was only conserved and renovated whereas the remaining part of the courtyard was built over the old foundation. All of the seven courts were not built due to seismic causes. Around 1998, the roofing was changed and the wooden battens were strengthened by the use of tie rods. After the fire, the decorations in the ceiling of the top floor were redone. The cleanliness of Singha Durbar was also carried out. In this process, trucks of bird droppings were removed from the building. The Corinthian columns with their floral composition and sharp flutes lost its splendor because of the fire.
Effects of Climate, Topography and Site in Architecture
Singha Durbar is built in baroque style, with presence of courtyard planning. This proves to be suitable for moderate climatic condition of the valley. The building has lots of hollow circular spaces at the basement which helps in regulating the internal temperature of the building especially in winter season by allowing air spaces between the basement and the floor. Moreover, sloping roofs are also used in the building which helps in the regulation of rain water.
Chandra Shumsher had sold this palace to the Nepal government so indeed it is a government building. This building holds 20 different ministries.
A lot of renovation works have been done in many parts, but it has been incomplete as the building now is weak in all aspects, inviting another disaster like fire, earthquake and other natural disaster. Frequent lime washing have deteriorated the sharp edges of the flutes and the green moss that grow after every rainfall has ridiculed the beauty of this baroque palace.
Photographs of Singha Durbar
a courtyard of singha durbar
view of entrance gate from the top of singha durbar
Suraj Singh Karki
(IOE Pulchowk 068 Batch)
In the year since Nepal suffered two devastating earthquakes, civil society, Unesco and different wings of government have come together to help preserve, and restore, damaged heritage structures.
It’s estimated that 31 of Nepal’s 75 districts were affected—14 of them, including Kathmandu valley, severely—in the 25 April and 12 May 2015 quakes that killed around 9,000 people and destroyed more than 500,000 homes. As many as 2,900 cultural and heritage structures were affected too, with damage estimated at $169 million (around Rs.1,132 crore now), according to a June 2015 report by the country’s National Planning Commission.
“Major monuments in Kathmandu’s seven World Heritage Monument Zones were severely damaged and many collapsed completely,” the report said. The zones comprise the Durbar Squares of Hanumandhoka (Kathmandu), Patan and Bhaktapur; the Buddhist stupas of Swayambhu and Boudhanath; and the Hindu temples of Pashupatinath and Changu Narayan. The revenue loss from ticket sales for the first year alone was estimated at $6 million, the report said.
“It was the people who first came to the rescue of their heritage sites,” says Kai Weise, a conservation architect. He traces this spontaneous reaction to Kathmandu valley’s ancient Guthi system of local kinship organization, which was responsible for the upkeep of community-owned monuments. Clearly, a sense of responsibility remains.
During more uneventful times, organizations like the Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust (KVPT) have been working in tandem with the archaeological department—in the KVPT’s case, since 1991.
The tremors took a toll on the Patan Durbar Square, which has been under the KVPT’s care—six monuments suffered major damage. The first step, says KVPT Nepal programme director Rohit Ranjitkar, was to salvage what they could, and store it properly. Some portions where restoration work had started before the earthquakes had been documented completely, so work on these could begin immediately. Like Patan Durbar Square’s Sundari Chowk, an architectural and sculptural masterpiece that was under restoration when the earthquake knocked off the first floor of its eastern wing.
Care has been taken to maintain authenticity during the restoration, while also strengthening the structures against future seismic shocks. The restoration of the first set of buildings at this site—the Taleju Temple Tower and Sundari Chowk—is slated to be completed by the end of the year; work on others has just started, while yet others are still in the planning phase.
The main stupa and the associated buildings of Swayambhu too suffered extensive damage. The shikhar of the Anantapur Temple in this complex fell and the stupa itself suffered cracks. This posed a challenge of sorts: Since Swayambhu is frequented by a large number of fairly bold and inquisitive monkeys, the material used to fill the cracks had to be monkey-proof.
At the Hanumandhoka Durbar Square, the Panchamukhi Hanuman Temple and the south wing of the Malla Residential Palace were already slotted for restoration, so the documentation was complete, says documentarian Alok Tuladhar. The Panchamukhi Hanuman Temple is an outstanding structure with five concentric circular roofs, each ascending storey being of diminishing diameter. The earthquakes brought down its top storeys.
Restoration work, recently completed, was undertaken on priority by the Hanumandhoka Palace Museum Development Committee and Nepal’s ministry of culture, tourism and civil aviation, with support from the US ambassador’s fund for cultural preservation.
A lot, of course, remains to be done.
One of the structures on which work is yet to begin is the Kasthamandap, considered a foundational structure of Kathmandu. Here too, some individuals are trying to help in their own way. A July 2015 report on Nepalitimes.com described how a Nepalese settled in the US, for instance, had collected and published information on the Kasthamandap, which had collapsed completely, in an attempt to facilitate the reconstruction process.
The disasters, then, seem to have actually given a fillip to conservation. For it is in the loss of their heritage that the government, communities, civil society and expert groups are appreciating the foundational role heritage plays.
The main stupa at Swayambhu suffered many cracks.
Restoration work on the Taleju Temple Tower is nearly complete.
Peeyush Sekhsaria is an architect and geographer who works as an independent consultant in disaster management and natural resource management.