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The Creatures of the Rain Rivers, Cloud Lakes: Newars Saw Them, So Did Ancient India
by Gautama V. Vajracharya

January 07, 2009

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The magnificent works of the Newar artists and architects of the Kathmandu valley include not only paintings, sculptures, residential houses, public building and royal palaces but also water fountains comfortably positioned in public places near the residential area or inside the palaces. These fountains have been studied on several occasions; [1] but we approach the subject here from a very different point of view and present a novel study on the artistic significance of the water fountains and the meaning of the various creatures sumptuously carved on the spouts. This is an interdisciplinary investigation comprising not only art history (both Nepali and Indian) but also Sanskrit literature, classical Newari, epigraphy, and an observation of the relation between the artistic expressions and the ecology of the subcontinent.

Most of the fountains that have survived in the valley belong to the Medieval period (879-1769 C.E.); but some of them are the creations of the seventh century and even earlier. The symbolic creatures associated with the iconography of the fountain also appear on the stone sculptures of Bharhut, Sanchi, Bodhgaya and other archeological sites of India and more meaningfully on the ceiling paintings of Ajanta. The earliest examples of these Indic works date back to 2nd century B.C.E. Textual evidence, however, indicates that the concept associated with the water fountains and their symbolic creatures is actually much older than the earliest appearance of the creatures in South Asian art. We will begin our discussion with some important information regarding the ancient Newars, their homelands, and the inherent similarity of their culture with the monsoon based agrarian culture of South Asia. This will be followed by our study of the symbolism of the water fountains, where we expect to find clues to understand the relation between the enduring concept of the age-old aestivation/monsoon culture and the symbolism of the fountain and the creatures. We will conclude our investigation with a study of two different artistic motifs: the device of showing creatures pokkharasātaka “perched on a lotus,” and the flowering vine like motif called dhārānkura “rain sprout”; these two frequently recurring artistic themes provide us with further evidence for our discussion.

Kathmandu Valley and Newars

The Kathmandu valley is located almost in the middle of Nepal between the Mahabharat mountain range and the snowcapped high Himalayas. According to a popular legend the valley was a lake which became inhabitable only after the Buddhist god Manjuśrī made a cut in the surrounding hills and drained the waters. Alluvial soil found in the valley, and the rich vocabulary for fish and other aquatic creatures in the classical literature of the Newars attests that this story may have some element of truth. Although Tibetans call them Bal-po “wool people”, the Newars identify themselves as Nevā or Newā. Almost certainly, this term Nevā derives from the Tibeto-Burman word (nepa) which means “cowherd.” [2]

Our recent investigation indicates that very likely the Nevās migrated to the valley from Nuwakot, a region situated in the northwest of the valley. [3] The Sanskritized name of the region is Navakota “new fort.” Although this Sanskrit name was in vogue even in the 14th century [4] originally the village was named after the Nevās. In a label inscription given in a map like horizontal scroll painting, currently in the collection of Philadelphia Museum of Art, this place is designated as Nevākuti “the village of the Nevās.” This information correlates with Tibetan historical sources such as the Blue Annals, which identifies the region as Bal-po rdzon meaning “the village of the Nevās.” [5] In addition to Nevākuti several other archaic names for the rivers and localities found in the paintings, such as Sirukhu for the Triuśla Gandaki, and Tagvarāpha, a name for the slope of the high mountain near the Gandaki river, suggest that this eighteenth century scroll painting and the epigraphic text are a copy of a much earlier work of a Newar artist.

We have demonstrated elsewhere [6] that the pre-Vedic concept of the rain child was an important aspect of the ancient agrarian culture of the Newars. Readers will find further support of this view in this article. Even more interesting is the fact that the Newars were well acquainted with the age-old custom of the annual celebration of visuvats (Vedic word for vernal and autumnal equinoxes) [7] which is designated as bisika or bisaka in classical Newari. The Newars still celebrate the day of the vernal equinox by erecting a cosmic pole, symbolizing both time and space.[8] It is interesting to note that in Kerala, South India this new-year’s day is known as Vishu. The main significance of the celebration is, however, completely lost because, due to the precession of the equinoxes, the day of the vernal equinox has gradually shifted within last three millenniums. Currently the equinox takes place on March 21. But the Newars, following ancient custom, celebrate the vernal equinox on the first day of Vaiśākha in summer as the new-year’s day of Vikrama era (April 13 in 2008). According to some scholars it is possible that during the early Vedic period (ca. 1500-1200 B.C.E.), the summer and winter solstices corresponded with the autumnal and vernal equinoxes respectively. [9] This possibility needs to be studied carefully keeping in mind the Newar traditional celebration of visuvat in April. This is indeed one of the reasons that invites us to investigate the ancient history of Newar culture more deeply.

Sanskrit speaking people of ancient India called them Nīpa, probably a variation of Neva. Thus, in Sanskrit, Nepāla, or Naipāla means the house of the Nipas. One of the Vedic risi responsible for composing several Rgvedic hymns was given the epithet Nīpātithi “Nīpas guest” showing his familiarity and friendship with the Nīpas, who might have lived in the foothills of the Himalayas.

In light of linguistic evidence, it is also possible to know almost exact location of the early settlement of the Newars in the valley. In classical Newari, the mother tongue of the Newars, the Vāgmatī river is known as Tekho, “eastern river,” whereas, the Icchāmatī rivulet as Ikho “western river.” [10] Thus it becomes logical to assume that they settled down in a narrow strip of land in the vicinity of Hadigaun (also spelt Hadigaon), an ancient town, located between these two water sources.

Fig. 1

Despite the fact that the Newari language belongs to the Tibeto-Burman family, a comparative study of classical Newari (earlier than the fourteenth century) with modern Newari clearly reveals that within less than a millennium this language borrowed a huge number of Sanskrit words. One might expect to see similar phenomenon in the development of the Newar culture of the valley. But the story of art and culture is not that simple. Most of the time, the similarities between the cultures of the Kathmandu valley and that of other parts of the Indian subcontinent resulted not from outer influence but from a distinct age-old culture that they shared with the rest of the subcontinent. The main point of our argument is based on the fact that just like the culture of India that of the valley originated from agrarian way of life based on the annual phenomena of aestivation and monsoon. Unlike the Tibetan plateau, Nepal is not situated on the other side of high Himalayan mountain ranges which block the path of the monsoon clouds (fig.1). Thus, when the Newar Buddhists of the Kathmandu valley practice the rainy season retreat or perform the pūjā ritual of Vasudhārā, the yellow goddess of rice paddy, [11] one can see the pragmatic aspect of the rituals. The same rituals, when performed in Tibet, loose their practical significance.

It is true that, unlike the Indian plain, most of the time the valley remained isolated from direct contact with other civilizations for many centuries because of the high mountains and the malarial jungle that lies between the Indian plain and the middle section of Nepal. This isolation helped the inhabitants of the valley to protect their land from foreign invasions and direct influence. This is one of the reasons that Buddhism survived here side by side with Hinduism almost as in pre-Islamic India. Perhaps even more fascinating is the fact that not only Buddhism but also some elements of the enduring aestivation/monsoon culture, sometimes forgotten in other parts of South Asia, remained almost intact in the culture of the valley.


Fig. 2

While the people from the Indian plains might have had trouble visiting the Himalayan regions, the Newars, however, from a very early time knew that the malaria jungle can be crossed safely during winter. Kautilya’s Arthaśātra 2.11.101 refers to a woolen blanket called bhingisi, almost certainly a si = “cloth” ending Newari word for “woolen cloth of fine quality” as a collectable Nepali product for the royal treasure. Usually in the ancient world, as we know from multiple jātaka stories such as Bāveru (Babylonian) Jātaka (No. 339), a collector buys exotic goods from the merchants, who come to the threshold of their customers’ region to sell their merchandise. Through such direct contact, Nepal might have been familiar with many aspects of the contemporaneous developments of ancient culture in the Indian plains. Admittedly, some of the similarities that we see between Newar culture of the valley and Indian culture originated from such contact. As we know from a Licchavi inscription, Indianization of the valley also related to the sophisticated powerful ruling dynasty’s policy to rule the country with an Indic system and values. For instance, a Licchavi king introduced a new system of law and order, which lowered the social status of indigenous women who exercised the freedom of divorce, even though their ethnic group traditionally permitted them to do so. [12]

It is also true that just as in other part of the Indian subcontinent the initial culture of the valley went through multiple layers of developments particularly when it became familiar with the exotic foreign elements that gained popularity in the neighboring region. Due to the isolated location of the valley, new elements arrived there with some delay and continue to survive for a considerable period even after some of these elements have been completely forgotten in India many centuries before. This tendency to preserve earlier heritage, not allowing it to be replaced by new elements, is indeed the main reason that the aspects of the monsoon culture are still discernible in Newar heritage more vividly than in India.

Fig. 3

Ironically, however, the earliest textual reference to the aestivation/monsoon culture are found in Vedic literature, a contribution of Indo-Iranian peoples who came from the other side of the Hindukush mountains, and were thus unfamiliar with the phenomena of monsoon prior to their migration to the subcontinent and adaptation of the local culture. A careful study of Vedic literature, however, indicates that more than twenty-five percent of the literature is directly related to the aestivation/monsoon culture. Strictly speaking, the materials that I will be using here are not originally Indo-Aryan but the elements of aestivation/monsoon culture of South Asia well preserved in Vedic literature. In other words, we find the literature helpful for understanding Newar art and culture not because the Newars are Vedic people, but because the literature contains multiple elements of the aboriginal, non-Indo Aryan people of South Asia. For instance, in our earlier works, we mentioned that Rgvedic people believed that frogs are divine and capable of making rain and providing them with healthy cattle. [13] Therefore, at the end of dry season they chanted a frog hymn to procure monsoon rain. The Vedic people must have learnt this idea from native people because monsoon is a typical phenomenon of the subcontinent. Although this custom of frog worship is not prevalent in India any more, [14] in the valley during the rainy season, the Newars still worship the frogs for rain and the success of their rice harvest.

Perhaps the most striking example of the archaic element in Newar culture is the custom of vālā (or wahlāh) cvanegu. This is a ceremony still practiced by the Jyapus, the Newar farmers of the valley also known as Maharjans. It is observed at the age of nine to twenty two just before the tuition session of music and dance begins during the rainy season on the fourteenth day of dark half of Śrāvana month (July/August). The ceremonial rite is repeated for three years. At the end of the ceremony but before the tuition begins the maternal uncle of the young farmer boy offers his newly initiated nephew a special homemade cotton cloth called pau gā. [15] The meaning of pau is not clear to me; but the second word is indeed a Newari synonym for a shawl.


Fig. 4

If we compare this ceremony with the ancient upanayana rite, it becomes evident that vālā cvanegu is no other than the ritual of “initiation to solemn study.” Here we need to be aware of the fact that original upanayana was very different from the modern day “sacred thread ceremony.” The sacred thread, for instance, originally was not the thread but a garment, worn diagonally in accordance with the mannerism of the ancient school of South Asia covering the left shoulder; hence, it was called upavīta. [16] The pau ga of the vālā cvanegu ceremony is actually identical with the original upavīta. In modern times, the upanayana ceremony can be performed any time of the year if the astrologer can find a muhūrta, an auspicious time for the ceremony. But in early Vedic period upanayana was a seasonal ritual signifying the beginning of intensive study during the rainy season. Thus, the first day of upanayana coincided with the croaking of the frogs and the fresh growth of vegetation in the month of Śrāvana. We have discussed the subject in detail in our earlier work. [17] It is interesting to note that the session for learning music and dance of the Newar farmers also takes place almost exactly same time of the year. Furthermore, in accordance with the academic custom recorded in Vedic literature, a disciple is actually a fetus conceived by the teacher. This was so real to the ancient people that solemn ritual of conception and birth was performed at the beginning and end of school. [18] We know for sure that the Newar ceremony of vālā cvanegu is based on the same concept because the Newari words literally means “staying (like) a fetus.” [19] Due to the direct association of the original upanayana rites with the typical monsoonal phenomena of South Asia and their survival in the utterly non-Vedic ritual of the Newar farmers, we can safely conclude that, just like frog worship, although recorded in Vedic literature, they are actually pre-Vedic elements of South Asian culture. The similarities that we see in Vedic and Newar rites should not be, however, considered as a Hindu or Vedic influence. In reality, the rites are the pre-Vedic customs of the age-old monsoon culture, which survived in the Newar traditions much closer to the originals than in the modern day Hindu ritual of sacred thread. In the following pages, we intend to present similar examples, but this time, mainly from the artistic heritage of the Newars.

Fig. 5

Admittedly, the utilization of Vedic materials for understanding South Asian art is not a new invention. Many decades ago, great scholars such as A. K. Coomaraswamy, Stella Kramrisch, Heinrich Zimmer, and V.S. Agravala have profusely used the materials for explaining the significance of South Asian art. Nevertheless, these scholars, to my knowledge, have not answered an important question satisfactorily. Despite a huge time difference, and the discontinuance of important Vedic rituals such as the horse sacrifice long before the Gupta period (ca 320-647), how is it logical to use Vedic materials (1500-600 B.C.E.) for explaining South Asian art of much later period or even for the early classical period that begins around third century B.C.E.? The answer to this question comes from our investigation of the pre-Vedic aestivation/monsoon culture, and its close association with the artistic expressions of South Asia. Throughout history, the artists of this particular geographical region firmly believed that a work of art is not only for viewing pleasure but also for creating an auspicious ambiance. A symbolic depiction of the phenomena of agrarian prosperity is particularly auspicious; but a work of art closely or remotely associated with drought and famine is utterly inauspicious. [20]

Hiti and Hitimanga


Fig. 6

The Kathmandu valley is dotted with water fountains, with sunken bathing places, often arranged in terraces (fig. 2-5 ). In general, such a place is called hiti; whereas, the spout of the fountain itself is known to the Newars as hitimanga, (Sanskrit dhārā-makaramakara fountain”) or simply dhārā. The fountains are also designated as lomhiti “stone fountain,” or lumhiti “golden fountain” in reference to the medium of the spouts of the fountains and the repoussé covers of the stone-work respectively, both of which are designed like a makara with a wide open mouth, vomiting a stream of water (fig. 6). The main characteristic of the makara spout is so called foliage motif, which appears like the elongated tail of the mythical creature. As we will see shortly, this motif is not however entirely decorative but symbolic as well. Above the fountain usually on the terrace just above, varieties of statues of Hindu and Buddhist divinities including Śivalinga and monolithic Buddhist caityas are found (fig.7, 3). Apparently, the terrace represents the region closer to the celestial world. Depending upon the devotion of the donor, the images of Śiva and Pārvatī, and Vīsnu and Laksmī are placed immediately above the spout, sometime in a typical kirtimukha shrine. Perhaps even more noteworthy are the stone sculptures representing a yaksa or a pair of yaksas attached on the wall below the spout (fig.8). The yaksas are shown as if they are lifting the earth on their shoulders. Quite often, however, exactly in same location we see a statue of Bhagīratha, the mythical prince responsible for bringing the celestial river Gańgā down to the earth (figs.9, 12, 23). We are of the opinion that these different portrayals elucidate two layers of development of symbolism of the water fountains of the valley.

Fig. 7
Most of the water fountains are simple, having only essential elements such as the makara spout and the images of yaksa or Bhagīratha (figs. 8, 9). But some of them are much more elaborately designed as exemplified by the golden fountains of three royal palaces of the valley. Perhaps the best example is King Jitamitra Malla (reigned c. 1673-1696)’s contribution in his Bhaktapur palace (figs.10-11). It shows huge head of the makara with its voluminous trunk raised upward. The makara has large eyes, curly horns, and short legs. On top of the spout, just behind the trunk an iguana like creature is crawling slowly. Both sides of the spout are crowded with aquatic and semi-aquatic creatures such as a snakes, crocodiles, ducks, turtles, and frogs and domesticated animals such as horses, goats and cows. Note also a conch shell near the foot of the makara. The human figure with bird’s feet and tail is indeed a kinnara; but in illustrated Newar iconographic texts this mythical figure is identified as jalamānusa “aquatic man.” [21] From the open jaws of the makara emerges a cow or a bull. This is indeed fascinating iconographic element of the Newar fountains. In the case of the Kathmandu palace fountain (fig. 5), it displays several heads of bulls jumping out of makara’s wide open mouth (fig.12). The Thusā Hiti “Bull Fountain” in the Sundarī Chok of the Patan palace is actually named after this iconographic element. [22] This element is not, however, a typical feature of the palatial fountain; the discharge of a bull out of a makara’s mouth is also found in several other examples of water fountains (figs.13, 25).


Fig. 8

Epigraphic evidence tells us that some of these elements of water architecture go back to the Licchavi period (ca. 200-879 C.E.) or the transitional period (ca. 879-1200). The water fountain of Mangal Bazaar Patan, for instance, was originally a contribution of Bharavi, the grandson of the famous Licchavi king Manadeva, who ruled around 464-505 C.E. (fig.14). [23] Likewise the Sankhu fountain (fig. 8) was built in 1168 C.E. [24] Most of the surviving examples are, however, the creations of the Malla period. During such a long period of history, the valley-dwellers developed admirable skills and techniques to bring water from considerable distances. An unpublished Sanskrit text entitled Vāriśāstra “Treatise on Water” describes how to build such water fountains. Currently, this small text is preserved in the collection of the National Archives in Kathmandu. Very likely it is composed in the valley because some part of the text is related to the technical and artistic features of the water fountains of the valley. Thus, it deserves special attention for a detailed study in the future.

Fig. 9

Most of the yaksa images found below the spouts (fig.15) can be dated on stylistic grounds to a much earlier period than the most of the images of the prince Bhagīratha. This may lead us to believe that the image of the prince is a development of a later period. But there is at least one example of Bhagīratha’s statue, which belongs to a much earlier period, almost certainly seventh or eighth century C.E. (fig.16). Here the prince is shown standing in the namaskāra gesture. In order to indicate that the prince’s long practice of austerity, as usual, he is shown bearded. According to a popular myth, Bhagīratha was not able to perform the cremation ritual of his ancestors due to a lack of water on the earth. His dream came true only after he was able to bring the celestial river Gańgā down to earth. Thus, the presence of Bhagīratha standing below the fountain suggests that the makara spout and the stream of the water flowing from the mouth of the mythical creature represents the Gańgā’s descent from the heavens. The religious calendar of the subcontinent informs us that the Gańgā descended on the tenth day of Jyesthaśukla, known to the astrologers and people of the subcontinent as Gańgā Dasarā. [25] In astrological texts such as the Brhatsamhitā (23, 1-10), technically this time of the year (May/June) is designated as pravarsana “pre-monsoonal rain”. It is indeed a very important time for the agrarian society of the subcontinent; rice seeds are planted around this time so that they can be replanted immediately after the real monsoon rain begins. Thus, the association of the Gańgā’s story with this particular season of the Indic calendar clearly indicates that the legend of Bhagīratha and the Gańgā’s descent is actually a mythical interpretation of the distinct natural phenomena of the subcontinent, namely the annual summer drought followed by the monsoon rains. This observation becomes more meaningful if we note the fact that the author of the Nātyaśāstra refers to makara not as makara but as dhārā “rain shower.” The word dhārā, as we mentioned earlier, is also a Nepali synonym for the hitimanga. Evidently, the makara spout actually represents the phenomena of monsoon rain, which in turn, in Bhagīratha’s story, is no other than the descent of the river goddess Gańgā. The rare Licchavi period statue of Bhagīratha below the hitimanga is important for two different reasons. On one hand, it tells us that the ancient people of the Kathamandu valley were familiar with the belief that Gańgā’s descent means early monsoon rain, the makara fountain being the artistic expression of the notion. On the other hand, the greater popularity of the custom of placing images of yaksa, rather than Bhagīratha under the spout of fountains during the early and transitional period clearly indicates that although the makara fountain symbolized the phenomena of monsoon rain it was not then exclusively identified with the Gańgā, as is implied by the presence of Bhagīratha . This is interesting because in the history of South Asian art, the association of the Gańgā with the makara was in the process of being fixed only after the second or third century C.E. Before that, the makara was represented in 2nd century B.C.E. Indian art as the animal vehicle of Sudasanā, “the beautiful yaksi.” This yaksi reappears in Samudra Gupta (reigned c. 340-380 C.E)’s coins as the lotus goddess Śrī/Laksmī. Judging from her iconographical features, mainly her standing posture and the makara vehicle, she is actually identical with the goddesses of wealth and auspicious beauty, known to the Newars as Śrī. In Newar iconography, Śrī and Laksmī are two different deities and the goddesses standing on makara and turtle are not necessarily Gangā and Yamunā; rather they are Śrī and Laksmī respectively. In another work, which I hope to publish in the near future, I have discussed this complex yet fascinating subject in detail.


Fig. 10

In the earlier history of Indic civilization, the Sarasvatī river played a much more important role than the Gańgā river. Although the Sarasvatī river gradually dried out and is now almost nonexistent, we know from textual evidence that the earlier civilizations of the subcontinent flourished on the bank of this river before the people of the region moved to the Gangetic valley. Even when the initial part of the Mahābhārata was composed the center of the activity of the epic was Āsandīvat, the Vedic capital city in Madhyadeśa through which flowed the Sarasvatī river. Originally, the Sarasvatī river was known to the local people of the Punjab as Vaiśambalya or Vaiśamphalya. [26] The Vedic Aryans, who settled down on the bank of the river, preferred to call it Sarasvatī, nostalgically recalling the river Harahvatī in their earlier homeland in modern day Afghanistan. The symbolic significance of the original legends of the Harahvatī and Sarasvatī must have been very different, because the Sarasvatī river, just as the Gańgā, is mythically associated with the monsoon flood, a phenomenon unknown in Afghanistan. Vedic literature such as Jaiminīyabrāhmana and Taittirīyabrāhmana describes how the Sarasvatī river descends to the earth on the day of the summer solstice together with the monsoon rains and then enters the nether world as it disappears in a place called Vinaśana, (literally “passing out of existence”) located in the sand of the Thar desert. [27] An epic version of this Vedic story is available in the Mahābhārata, which might have partially contributed in keeping the age-old story alive in later periods.

Fig. 11

The icongographic elements of yaksa images placed below the fountains and sometimes flanked by directional elephants (fig. 17) certainly bear some similarities with the legend of the celestial river that descended from heaven to the earth and eventually entered the nether world. As we know from numerous artistic representations, the yaksas reside in the nether world and carry the burden of the land above, including the mountains. In early Indian art from Bharhut, Sanchi, Amaravati, and Ajanta the yaksas are shown as the bearers of the cosmic pillars, Buddha’s seat under the Bodhi tree etc. The same concept is clearly depicted in the art of the Newar fountain with stylized mountains and the body posture of the Atlas like yaksas lifting the earth/mountains.


Fig. 12

The well known Gopālarājavamśāvali, compiled in the fourteenth century, associates the water fountains of the Kathmandu valley not with the celebrated Gangā river, but with the mythical river Val Val (Valavala nadī, Valavala devī, Valavala khā). [28] This proper name of the river is fascinating because it elucidates the age-old significance of the Newar fountain. The word val val derives from a Vedic (actually pre-Vedic) onomatopoeic word bal bal indicating the torrential rain, the flow of a stream and the birth of a child. Apparently, this is a pre-Vedic word because it is always used with iti (“thus”, or “so-called”) implying the quotation is from non-Vedic aboriginal language. [29] Since the concept associated with the word is important for our investigation, I will quote the related Vedic paragraphs in translation:

Atharvaveda 18.2.22
“May the rain fall down with the sound of bal.”

“I breach your pudenda, womb, gavini (?), the mother, the son, the embryo and the placenta; let the baby be out of you sounding like bal”

Jaiminīyabrāhmana 3.360
Therefore, the waters flow down with the sound of ‘bal bal bal’

Fig. 13

These statements correlate with the belief that the shower of rain is actually a birth of divine child. According to Vedic literature, clouds are rivers and they carry a child as they descend to the earth. [30] This concept is indeed still alive in the Kathmandu valley. The Newars of Deupatan celebrate the descent of the trifurcated rain river Triśul (Trisul Jatra) on a particular day of monsoon called Bhal Bhal (or Bal Bal) Astamī, when they carry in a procession eight or nine years old boys and girls, lying flat on top of a trident like poles of cosmic significance. The boys and girls are regarded as kumāras and kumārīs; hence, they are chosen on the day of Sithinakha “the festival of Sasthī”, when the birthday of the rain child Kumara is celebrated throughout the valley. The season of planting rice seeds in the valley begins on the day of Sithinakha (the 6th day of the bright half of Jyestha month, May/June) and the replanting rice seedlings on the day of Bhal Bhal (the 8th day of the dark half of Āsādha month, June/July) when torrential monsoon rain is expected. [31] The rice seedling is called puva “seed or baby,” in Newari, whereas in Sanskrit it is known as garbhadhānya “fetus rice” (Kautaliya Arthaśāstra 9.1.12.)


Fig. 14

Early Vedic texts also tell us that the rivers of the Punjab, the Sarasvati river being the most important of them, are the earthly representations of multiple cloud rivers. The name Punjab itself derives from Sanskrit pancāpas (panca-āpas). The second word āpas (in plural) denotes waters, clouds and rivers at once. Thus, in Vedic Sanskrit āpas stand for both the celestial and terrestrial rivers, who were believed to be the mothers of the rain-child (hiranyagarbha“goldern fetus/germ”). [32] More important, the onomatopoeic word bal is also associated with the earlier name of the Sarasvatī river. In light of philological investigation, the ancient non-Sanskritic names for the Sarasvatī, Vaiśambalya or Vaiśamphalya, have been convincingly reconstructed as Visambal or Visambhal. [33] Note the fact that the reconstructed names of the river end with bal or bhal.

Fig. 15

Almost certainly, this non-Sanskritic name is related to the Vedic story that the Sarasvatī river is not exactly a river but a giant tree symbolizing the cosmic pillar, thus the river was designated in early literature as Plaksaprāśravana, “the torrential descent of the plaksa tree (ficus infectoria).” ).” Since the word, bal or bhal is an onomatopoeia for falling water, we are of the opinion that Visambal is actually a synonym for Plaksaprāśravana.

The significance of the Sarasvatī river survived in the legends and rituals of post Vedic period. In the Mahābhārata, the Yamunā river is idntified with the Sarasvatī river. In Nepal the Sarasvatī river was identified with the Triśula Gandaki, which was known to the Newars of the valley as Sihluti, “Tree Fountain.” [34] Just like Vedic Aryans, even now the Newars enthusiastically participate in the long journey that leads to the source of the river in the Himalayas, at the lake known in Nepali as Gosainkunda. Both in Vedic literature and Newar legends, multiple lakes are described as situated on the bank of the rivers. [35] Their descent from the celestial region were visualized as the branches of the riverine tree. In the story of the Sarasvati or Plaksaprāśravana, the river tree is described to have two branches that hold the solar disc; but in the case of Sihluti, as we know from the artistic representation of the river in the Philadelphia Museum scroll painting, it has three forks emerging directly from a rain cloud (figs.18-19). A label inscription given near the scene identifies the forks as triśura dhārā (Sanskrit triśūla dhārā “three-forked water fountain”). [36] This epigraphic evidence explains that the river became known as Triśūla Gandakī because it was visualized as a rain river cascading from atmosphere in three forks. The rain river is not, however, exactly a river but a tree or a tree fountain (Sihluti). Therefore, the forks of atmospheric river actually represent triple branches of the riverine tree. Saivaites, however, eventually identified the forks as a trident; hence, they Sanskritized the original Newari name Sihluti as Śivalhuti “Śiva’s fountain.” With this Śaivite interpretation, within the last fourteen hundred years the story of the lake developed, in which Nīlakantha Śiva reclines like Visnu.


Fig. 16

The artistic and anthropologic aspects of Nīlakantha Śiva and Visnu has been a subject of discussion at least for three decades. [37] The Philadelphia Museum painting was not then available to us. An interesting point of our previous discussion concerns a monumental image of an enigmatic deity reclining in the water of a small pond located in a place called Hluti at the northwest corner of the Kathmandu. This place is believed to be one of the two local substitutes in the valley of the Himalayan natural lake of Sihluti (Nep.Gosainkunda) (the other substitute being the fountain and pond in the vicinity of the Kumbheśvara temple in Patan). In reality, the Himalayan lake is devoid of any image; but the Hindu and Buddhist devotees of Nepal, depending on their religious belief, visualize an image of Śiva or more recently Bhagavān Buddha reclining there peacefully. The recumbent image of Hluti is worshiped as the representation of the same Hindu and Buddhist deity. Traditionally, this image is, however, known as Bālāju. The people of the Valley including the Newars, if they are inclined to Sanskritization, prefer to call the deity neither as Bālāju nor as Nīlakantha Śiva but Bāla Nīlakantha “Minor or Child Nīlakantha.” They explain that the Bālāju image is secondary to Budhā Nīlakantha “Old Nīlakantha” located at the northern border of the valley in a place called Bhuijasi in Newari. The identity of these two recumbent images as Nīlakantha is indeed problematic because iconographically the so-called Bāla Nīlakantha can be identified as Harihara, [38] whereas Budhā Nīlakantha, for sure, is no other than Jalaśayana Nārāyana. [39]

Fig. 17

We may be able to find out how the confusion began if we try to understand the real meaning of the Newari word Valaju or Bālāju and its association with the ancient story of the gestation of water. In our earlier work [40], we have mentioned that the iconography of reclining Visnu is related to the characteristic of a fetus floating in water and sustaining life with umbilical cord. In Sanskrit a fetus is known as uttānaśaya “reclining supinely,” and the umbilical cord is called nāla, which also means a stem of a lotus. In the iconography of recumbent Visnu, the lotus stem that emerges from the navel actually represents both the stem and the umbilical cord. Thus, it is not surprising that Jalaśayana Visnu is described in Sanskrit texts as garbhodakaśāyin “reclining in amniotic water (of cosmos).” This is a Puranic expression based on the pre-Vedic view that creation begins with the germination of a golden fetus (hiranygarbha) in cloud/river (āpas). [41]

Fig. 18


Fig. 19

We have a good reason to believe that the original Newar legend of Bālāju is also related to the similar age-old concept, prevalent before the Hindu iconography of Jalaśayana Nārāyana was fixed. The ancient Newari synonym for the fetus, seed, and grain is vālā, also spelt as bālā or bārā. This we know from several sources. First, the Newar ritual of dispersing the seeds on the day of Bālā Cahre (14th day of the dark half of Mārgaśīrsa) is called bālāgu vanegu. According to astrologers responsible for making the traditional Newar calendar, the Sanskrit translation of bālā is bīja “seed”; hence, the ritual of bālāgu vanegu is alternatively known to them as dispersing śatabīja “hundred seeds.” Second, the Newari Buddhist ritual of giving the alms of grains is called bālā or bārā chuigu “giving grain/seeds.” Third, in the Newari translation of the Amarakośa dated N.S. 501, the Sanskrit word garbha “fetus, womb” is translated as vālā. [42] It is this textual evidence that helped us in our earlier discussion to translate the vālā cvanegu as “staying (like) a fetus.”

Fig. 20

The original story of Bālāju, apparently, went through Sanskritization already in the seventh century, or perhaps even earlier. Here we should keep in mind that the history of the Sanskritization of the culture of the Kathmandu valley is not a recent development. It is at least as old as the Licchavi period (ca 200-879 C.E.). Apparently, the divine fetus was identified then sometimes as a reclining Visnu, at other times as a deity who holds the attributes of both Visnu and Śiva. We do not find any textual references to such a composite Hindu deity shown reclining in water. But we know for sure from Amśuvarman’s Hadigaun inscription that in Bhuijasi long before Visnugupta (c. 633-641) established the recumbent image of Visnu, currently known as Budhānīlakantha, there existed a reclining image of a deity, not necessarily recumbent Visnu. The exact word used in Amśuvarman’s inscription for the reclining image is bhumbhukkikājalaśayana “recumbent in the water of Bhumbhukkikā”. [42a] Apparently, bhumbhukkikā is a Sanskritized onomatopoeic word for the sound of water; hence, for the water tank as well; whereas the Sanskrit word jalaśayana means “reclining in water.” The word that indicates Visnu is completely lacking here. Thus, it is highly possible that the recumbent image was not an image of Visnu but a small image representing a tutelary deity of Newar farmers. Only after it received new identification as reclining Visnu, Licchavi king Visnugupta replaced it with the monumental image of Jalaśayana Nārāyana. The prominent iconographic feature of the god, namely reclining in water, derives from the belief that he remains dormant for three or four rainy months in the womb of the cosmic water. In fact, the cosmic water is no other than the seasonal rain of monsoon. This is the time the Newar farmers observe the rite vālā (or wahlāh) cvanegu “staying (like) a fetus.” The link between the ritual concept related to fetus and Visnu’s iconography is the psychological impact of the phenomenon of the monsoon itself. Constant torrential rain and the confinement within a limited space during the rainy season retreat affect human beings overwhelmingly and make them feel that they are actually floating or drown in the water of the cosmic womb. Thus, it is not surprising that the concept of a divine child being born in water is still discernible in the work of a traditional Newar artist. In Kirtipur there is an unpretentious open shrine sheltering a twentieth century stone image of a mother goddess, Dharati Mata, literally giving birth to a child (fig. 20).The figure of the child is shown almost fully emerged from the womb and both the child and mother are depicted reclining on the surface of the water delineated by a common device of concentric semicircular ripples of water. [43]


Fig. 21

Our discussion is also related to the second or third century C.E. stone image of the mother goddess near the Balaju pond in Hluti. [44] She sits majestically on a low bench with both legs pendant (pralambapādāsana) and holds a baby in her lap protectively. She is worshiped currently as Hluti Ajimā Dya “Divine Grandmother of Hluti.” Statements found in Sasthīkalpa, “Sasthī Rituals” a chapter of a Grhyasūtra text, [45] composed around 3rd century B.C.E., and Bāna’s seventh century work, Kadambarī inform us that very likely she is Sasthī, the goddess representing both the sixth day after the birth of a human child as well as the sixth day of the bright half of the Jyestha month. The latter is the day when Newars celebrate the birthday of the rain child Kumara as Sithinakha “the festival of Sasthī, ” mentioned above. [46] In the Grhyasūtra the goddess Sasthī is identified with the female deity representing mud, lotuses and fertility caused by seasonal rain, whereas in Kadambari the deity with same name is described as a mother goddess who is worshiped after a child delivery. The Hadigoun inscription of Amśuvarman refers to one of her shrine as Sasthīdevakula. More important, Newars identify a midwife as the mother goddess; hence, the midwife is known to the Newars as Aji “grandmother,” although she belongs to a low caste. On the sixth day after the birth of a child, she cuts the umbilical cord of the newborn baby and purifies the delivery room literally as well as ritually. Throughout the ritual of the day, she is treated like the mother goddess Ajima because it was believed that if she is not pleased the baby might not survive. Thus, the goddess Ajima is still associated with the sasthī ritual of the Newars.

Fig. 22

Stylistically, the image of Hluti Ajima is about four centuries older than the recumbent image of Balaju; this indicates that this place was an important religious place before the recumbent deity was consecrated in the pond. The existence of the mother goddess’s image in Hluti, however, does not necessarily contradict the supposition that the site is the substitute of the remote Himalayan Silhuti. Rather it supports the assertion because the significance of Hluti originates from the natural water found there. This water became associated not only with the legend of Sihluti but also with the divine fetus Balaju for an explainable reason. A mother goddess, in the aestivation/monsoon culture, vouchsafes and protects both children and harvest. According to an expression of agrarian society, Gangadevi represents the rice after transplantation, Sridevi is the cut rice which is not yet thrashed, whereas Umadevi and Girinatha (or Skanda/kumara) are the holy names of rice-seed and the young rice plant respectively. [47] When we compare this expression with the Newar celebration of the rain child Kumara’s birth as the beginning of early monsoon rain, the identification of the mother goddess with Sasthī, the goddess representing the sixth day of the Jyestha month, becomes meaningful.


Fig. 23

More recently, the Himalayan lake of Sihluti became affiliated with the Gosain, a mediaeval period religious sect; hence it is now called Gosain-kunda. As a result the original significance of the river is completely forgotten. However, the Newars are still fascinated with the story of the river and lake perhaps because they originally migrated from Nuwakot or Nevākota to the Kathmandu valley. Although the river does not enter the valley, traditionally the Newars believe that the source of the water in the valley is the Triśula Gandakī. It is believed that ducks lost in the small pond and water fountain at Patan Kumbheśvara will be found in the lake of Gosainkunda. [48]

Fig. 24

According to popular legend, the Sihluti descends to the earth from the heaven on the day Srāvanaśulka Pūrnimā, which is considered to be the ideal day for taking bath in the lake of Gosainkunda. On the same day the Newars of the valley block the drainage system of the water fountain of Kumbheśvara in Patan. As a result the sunken water fountain appears flooded by the monsoon rain and the Newars take a ritual bath in the water every year at this time. Although the tank and fountain are now associated with a Śiva temple, this particular timing of the year corresponds with the time of the summer solstice when Sarasvatī’s fall from the heavens as the snow of the Himalaya starts melting and the monsoon arrives. [49] This explains why in the scroll painting the Triśula Gandaki is shown descending from a cloud (fig. 19). This cloud river actually enters the Kathmandu valley as the monsoon river Bhal Bhal. This view is based on three different sources. First, the Gopālarājavamśāvali constantly associates the Val Val or Valavala river with the water fountains of the valley. Second, the water fountains symbolize the rain river. In fact, the three spouts of the Kumbheshwar fountain are the architectural representation of the scene of the atmospheric waterfall identified in the Philadelphia museum painting as triśura dhārā “three-forked water fountain.” Third, the Deupatan festival celebrated on the day of Bhal Bhal  is designated as Triśul Jātrā (the festival of trifurcated  riverine tree). Thus, it becomes possible to see how the cloud river turns into the local river Tekhu (Vagmati, Sanskrit Vāńmatī), and disappears from Kathmandu in a place called Koinā or Koinlā, situated at the southern border of the valley. Koinā is a compound word consisting ko “downward” and inā “disappearance.” The latter is actually the Newari version of Vinaśana, the name of the location where the Sarasvati river disappears. Sanskrit vi regularly turns into i in Newari; for instance Vināyaka deva became Ināy dya in Newari. Likewise, itan or ilan is the Newari word for Sanskrit vitāna. Thus, it is reasonable to believe that Newari inā or inlā is cognate to Sanskrit Vinaśana.


Fig. 25

Irrespective of the monsoon river’s identity with any particular river, the water fountain of the valley is indeed an admirable artistic representation of the view that the monsoon rain means the descent of the celestial river. For many centuries, this view remained a common property of the Newars. A Newar artist responsible for the eighteenth century scroll painting, narrating the story of the local rain god Buńgadya and the severe drought caused by the terrible battle between two monarchs, symbolically represents the drought by depicting a man begging for water in front of a dry makara fountain. In the same painting, the artist depicts a scene of lovemaking and huge volumes of water emanating from a fountain symbolically connecting the phenomena of rain and happy times. [50] This piece of visual evidence is very valuable because it helps answer the question of why South Asian art repeatedly shows sexuality on the wall of temples.

Fig. 26

After Gańgā was identitified with the water fountain in the late mediaeval period, not only the fountain but also the flow of water from a jahrum (Sanskrit Jaladronī) was considered Gańgā’s descent. Now every single drop of water is Gańgā-jal. Therefore in an example of jahrum in Bhaktapur, Bhagīratha, identified by the conch shell that he is blowing, is depicted standing immediately under the spout (figs. 21-22). His image is flanked by rows of mythical creatures such as makara, jalamānusa, and conch shell. As we will see shortly, all these creatures and the conch shell appear not only on the spout of the fountain but also on the ceiling paintings of Ajanta and Kinnaur.

The popularity of Bhagīratha’s image in the medieval period, however, did not replace the yaksa images. Rather, they continue to survive side by side. The Malla king Siddhinarasimha (reigned ca. 1619-1661 C.E.) of Patan, for instance, embellished his golden fountain with an image of yaksa flanked by two diggajas “elephants of the quarters” (fig. 17); whereas his contemporary Pratāpamalla (reigned ca. 1641-1674 C.E.), the Malla king of Kathmandu chose Bhagīratha’s statue below his palatial fountain (fig. 23). In fact this statue is one of the most impressive examples of Malla period stone sculpture. The unknown artist responsible for this work, must have been highly praised by the king and his people for creating such a well proportioned, almost life size statue of Bhagīratha, peacefully seated in a yogic posture under the deep shadow of the water spout.

The Creatures of the Rain Rivers


Fig. 27

According to the stories of the rain-rivers, both aquatic creatures and domesticated animals descend from heaven together with rain. Such stories are still alive in most part of South Asia. In Nepal, for instance, there is an image of a fish carved on an octagonal stone relief about three feet wide, paved on the ground almost in the middle of Asan Tol, a popular market place situated at the north east section of the old Kathmandu city. Local people tell us that this fish descended from the atmosphere together with a torrential rain, which terminated a long lasting drought. Likewise, the elders of Patan explain that the golden fountain in Sundarī Chok is called Thusā Hiti “calf fountain” because the golden calf emerging from the mouth of the makara fountain represents a real calf, which rained down from the sky at the location where we have now hitimanga. The repoussé image of the golden calf of Thusā Hiti is almost gone; but the Newari name of the fountain and the representations of the calf in other examples of water fountains (figs. 10, 12, 13, 25) help us to discern the original existence of a calf at the end of the metal spout at the Thusā Hiti fountain (fig. 24).

Fig. 28

In South Asia, the bull is associated with atmospheric water not exactly because Vedic Aryans believed that the father sky is a bull, which impregnates the mother earth with its rain/semen, but because the healthy growth of the population of cattle is part of the monsoonal phenomena of the subcontinent. During a long-lasting severe drought the herd of cattle and other domesticated animals dwindles. This situation changes dramatically soon after the monsoon arrives when, due to the availability of nutritious vegetation, the animals thrive. Many times in the long history of South Asia, the people of the subcontinent must have experienced this phenomenon, which caused them to believe that domesticated animals descend to the earth together with torrential rain. We find such a belief clearly recorded in Vedic texts. In the following hymns of the Rgveda, for instance, Pavamāna Soma, who is regarded as the great god presiding over the ritually extracted soma juice, symbolizing rain, was expected to bring not only rain but also livestock:

9.39.2 “O Soma, make the rain descend from heaven”
9.60.4 “Bring the rain/semen that provides us with the prajā (the baby animals and offspring).”
9.67.8 “You are the life, give us life.”
9.69.8 “Pour us (the rain) that brings prosperity, gold, stallions, cattle, grains, and heroic strength.”
9.72.9 (O Soma,) provide us with hundreds of horses, thousands of livestock (paśu) and gold.
"O Soma, flow with your torrential rain shower (dhārā) with which cows came along here."


Fig. 29

Compare these Rgvedic expressions with the artistic representations of horses, goats and cows on the spout of the golden fountains of Bhaktapur, Kathmandu palace and the stone fountain of Chāngu (figs. 10-13). Despite the huge time difference both these Rgvedic statements and Newar artistic expressions are indeed based on the same concept that the animals descend from the heavens together with torrential rain. Particularly, the repeated depiction of the calf emerging from the dhārā /makara of Newar fountains (figs. 10,12, 13, 25) clearly indicates the prevalence of the concept. Certainly, such similarities between Newar art and Vedic verses cannot be the result of the popularity of Vedic concepts in medieval Nepal, rather they exemplify the continuity of enduring monsoonal culture, renewed every year as the dry summer season turns into the rainy season. Unequivocally, it is this enduring link that provides us with the logic behind the usefulness of Vedic literature for explaining South Asian art of a much later period.

In addition to Rgvedic expressions, we have an interesting statement from the Baudhāyana-grhyasūtra, a later Vedic text, which throws more light on our study of Newar fountains. I quote the related passage in translation:

This is a pūrta (wish fulfilling) ritual associated with the denizens (yaksa and yaksi) of bridge, river, cavity of ground, tank, lotus pond, pool, well, shrine and temple and also with perennial plants and trees. An adhvaryu (officiating priest), desirous of prosperity, should perform the ritual at night during or at the end of the summer solstice and fortnight or on the auspicious conjunction of the moon with the lunar mansion. He should prepare the objects required for the yajna ritual (such as) golden images of snakes, śimśumāra, turtle, makara, crab, silver images of fish and frogs, (various type of lotuses such as) kamala, kuvalaya, kumuda, utpala, kahlāra, the (miniature) statues of the denizens of shrines and temples, exactly as they appears in their representations (ākrti), and the fruits of perennial plants and tree... Then on the bank of a pond, the adhvaryu should erect ... a three cubits tall sacrificial post (yūpa) made of khadira (acacia catechu) or palāsa (butea frondosa) tree...He should wrap the post in cloths and fasten the (golden and silver) images on (the post).
                                                                                                                         The Baudhāyana-grhyasūtra 4.4.1-2

Fig. 30

The ritual was accompanied with chanting of various Vedic mantras associated with rain and waters because the main purpose of the ritual erection of the sacrificial post was obtaining rain-water for agrarian prosperity. At first glance, such ritual association of the sacrificial post with the phenomena of rain may appear surprising. But here we should be aware of the fact that the ritual was intertwined with the riddle like complex symbolism of the sacrificial post and the concept of making rain. It is true that symbolically the post represents the axis mundi described in the Atharvaveda as skambha. [51] It is also true that the cosmic pillar originally symbolized solar light, but in India, as we know from textual sources, the solar symbolism went through drastic modification and the pillar was then reinterpreted as the riverine tree Sarasvatī that holds the solar disc between its two branches. [52] It is this rain/river which annually descends from the heaven when the monsoon arrives. Once we are familiar with this notion of the monsoon culture of South Asia it becomes evident that the significance of the aquatic creatures associated with the ritual of the cosmic pole may not differ much from the symbolism of the same creatures depicted on the hitimanga of the Newar fountains. In a sense, if the pillar represents the rain/river vertically, the hitimanga shows it horizontally.


Fig. 31

Here it is important to note that in Nepal erecting a stone yūpa near the water fountain was customary. At the sunken fountain of the Bhaktapur palace, the yūpa is erected above the fountain on the terrace to the right of the spout, whereas, at Manga Hiti (fig. 25), Patan it is erected between two water spouts. Obviously, the ancient Newars believed that yūpa is an important feature of a water fountain. This concept seems to be the origin of Nagaya Pukhu, “Serpent’s Tank,” where we see a pillar designed like an erect body of a serpent in the middle of the water. In Bhaktapur palace such a tank is part of the royal fountain (fig. 3). In Kathmandu too, Pratapa Malla built a Serpent’s Tank and fountain as a single entity. In the Manga Hiti example, we do find the fountain and pillar interrelated; but here the pillar is erected not exactly in a tank, but in a sunken area, which always gets wet and inundated easily. After the sunken area turned into a tank, the yūpa or yahsim became the serpent’s erect body. Support of this view derives from the festival and history associated with Tava Pukhu “Large Pond”, currently known as Siddhapukhu in Bhaktapur. Originally, this pond was adorned with the serpentine pillar. In 1663 Pratapa Malla, the king of Kathmandu plundered the pillar and decorated his palace erecting it in the palatial pond, mentioned above. The Tava pukhu of Bhaktapur is currently devoid of any such pillar. But on the day of Bhādraśukla Ekādaśī which was the autumnal day for erecting the yahsim during the medieval period, Newars of the Valley still gather around the Tava Pukhu to celebrate the important day, which is marked in Nepali calendar as Siddhapukhu or Siddhapokhari Mela. Thus, it becomes evident that the serpentine pillar is actually a yahsim. Such new development did not replace the traditional way of erecting yūpa. In Bhaktapur we see the survival of the yūpa and Serpent’s tank side by side. Thus, we find it logical to think that the aquatic creatures are associated with the Vedic yūpa and the Newar fountain because both of them symbolize the rain river.

Same Creatures Same Meaning

Fig. 32

This observation prods us to expand the horizon of our study beyond Nepal because most of the creatures that we see on the spouts of the Newar fountains appear throughout the history of Indic art. The prime examples are the Ajanta ceiling paintings, which are based on two different interrelated concepts. First, according to astrological theory, which is actually a variation of the Vedic concept of cosmic gestation, the rain clouds, just like women, conceive some time before they give birth to a rain-child. A chapter of astrological texts dealing with atmospheric gestation tells us that if we see various creatures in the formation of clouds it means the clouds have conceived. This idea is expressed on the Ajanta ceiling depicting makara, elephants fish, bull, turtle, water buffaloes and lotuses emerging from a so-called foliage motif, but described in a Sanskrit text as meghapatra “cloud foliage motif.” Almost certainly, the Newars were familiar with this concept. Therefore the meghapatra motif is known to the Newar artists as lapva “amniotic water”, the fluid which surrounds the fetus in the womb. Second, the clouds are the aerial lake of Kubera and all the creatures depicted on the ceiling are the denizens of the lake. [53] The rain-rivers flow down out of this atmospheric lake. Thus, it is not surprising that almost all objects including the conch shell (fig. 11) rendered on the spout of the Newar fountain also appear on the ceiling paintings. The representation of jalamānusa is difficult to find in the Ajanta ceiling painting. But at least one example is available to us on the ceiling of the cave no 1. If we look for such images on the ceiling of later period we do find several of them without much difficulty. A ceiling painting from Nako, Kinnuaur, depicting various creatures (fig. 26) is perhaps a better example. In the Indian artistic tradition, the images of jalamānusa are always identified as kinnara. The Newar artists of the valley were familiar with this Indian designation; but they insisted calling them jalamānusa “aquatic human figure.” The literal meaning of the word indicates that it is an original designation because its association with water explains why these mythical creatures are depicted not only on the ceiling but also on the spout of a fountain. In a sense, the former is a cloud lake, whereas the latter is the rain-river descending from the same atmospheric lake.


Fig. 33

The symbolic creatures that we see on Newar hitimanga and Ajanta ceiling paintings also appear on the shaft of the uprights of the stone railing or vedikās of the ancient stūpas at Bharhut, Bodhgaya, and Sanchi. They are depicted within the medallions and half medallions carved on the stone railing. The list of the creature shown there includes the aquatic, semi-aquatic, mythical and domesticated animals such as elephants, cows and horses (figs.27, 28). But it is interesting to note that in these works the creatures almost always have a fishtail. In my opinion, this feature is actually an iconogrphic device used by ancient artists to convey the idea that the creatures are the denizens of celestial lakes, the rain clouds. The fishtail motif was later replaced by “cloud foliage” motif. [54] For instance, in the earlier examples, makara is invariably shown with fishtail (fig. 29), whereas in later examples with the “cloud foliage” motif (fig. 30).

Fig. 34

Further evidence for the symbolic significance of the creatures comes from the representation of various creatures perched on the lotus. The Bharhut and Sanchi railings, for example, show not only birds but also elephants, stallions and human beings, standing comfortably but impossibly on a lotus leaf or the flower (figs. 31-34). Such super naturalistic scenes immediately remind us the description of the aerial lake where one can expect to see “(creatures) perched on the lotuses” known to Pali literature as pokkharasātakas. [55] Apparently, the story of such creatures was widely known in ancient India. Puskarasāda, a Sanskrit version of Pali pokkharasātaka, was a popular name of people in Vedic literature. It is true that in the Taittirīyasamhitā 4.5.13 and other Vedic texts puskarasāda is listed as acreature to be sacrificed in the aśvamedha “horse sacrifice” yajna. Thus puskarasāda could be the name of a real creature. The list, however, includes mythically associated creatures such as caturaksa “a four eyed dog.” According to Vedic legend Yama, the god of death, has two ferocious dogs, described in the Rgveda as caturaksa (RV 10.14. 10-11). Likewise, it is highly possible that puskarasāda is a real creature; but it received such an interesting name because the creature is associated with a myth, in which not only birds but also big creatures like elephants are capable of standing on lotus flowers and leaves. The iconography of Gajalaksmī, where we see not only the goddess but also the elephants standing on huge lotuses, is directly associated with the story of the celestial and terrestrial lakes.This view is further evidenced by the fixed identity of the elephants with the rain clouds as Coomaraswamy has convincingly explained to us many decades ago. [56]


Fig. 35

Besides, the earliest available artistic example of the puskarasāda motif, as usual, does explain its meaning more assuredly than later versions. To my knowledge, such earliest example is a relief on the Bodhgaya railing where “the cloud foliage motif” is used meaningfully depicting the atmospheric lake inhabited by a cloud bird perched on a giant cloud lotus (fig. 35). Thus, we have good reason to believe that not only the fishtailed creatures but also the mythical figures standing on the lotus flowers and leaves suggest that the plants and creatures carved on the vedikās around the ancient stūpas were intended to provide us with a glimpse of the auspicious scenes of the atmospheric lake.

Fig. 36

Such auspicious scenes are depicted not only on the ceiling but also around the entrance of the Indic shrines. As we have explained in our earlier work, [57] the entrance of the shrine represents the gate of the heaven located beyond the clouds. Therefore, we expect to see all the objects shown on the ceiling paintings around the entrances of shrines as well. An excellent example of the puskarasāda motif in medieval period Newar art is the scene of the same cloud lake carved on the high lintel of the wooden entrance of the celebrated Buddhist shrine Śāntipura at the northwest section of the Svayambhū hill in Kathmandu (fig. 36)

Before we conclude our discussion, it is also important to note an ancient graffito (figs.37-38) carved on an upright of the Bharhut railing. It shows the meandering foliage motif superficially chiseled on the railing. This graffito indicates that the immature secondary artist responsible for this work was familiar with the significance of the foliage motif descending from the half medallion containing the image of a fishtailed dhārā /makara. In order to emphasize the relation between the fishtailed creature and cascading foliage the artist makes a drainage perforating the rim of the already existing original medallion. Such meaningful effort of the artist, however, becomes evident only if we are familiar with the fact that a Sanskrit word for a rain drop is dhārānkura, which literally means “a rain sprout.” Moreover, in light of Vedic pariśista text we have shown that ancient India visualized the shower of the rain as a flowering blue lotus vine descending from the atmosphere. Reasonably therefore, the foliage motif carved on the railing can be no other than the artistic expression of rain sprout and blue lotus vine. Similar lotus vine is also carved on the body of the Aśokan elephant to indicate the rain symbolism of the animal (fig. 39). [58] This was a widely known subject for several centuries in ancient India and is attested by the appearance of the same dhārānkura motif on the Kushan period stone pillar of Mathura.

Fig. 37

Fig. 38

Fig. 39

The atmospheric lake is located in the aerial capital of Kuvera, the king of the yaksas. The monarch and his subjects do not walk but travel on the back of a variety of vāhanas, which include not only animal vehicles but also human beings, both male and female. This statement given in the Ātānātiya sūtra (Dighanikāya 9.2.7) tallies with the images of yaksa and yaksi standing on various creatures and men and women, as depicted in the railing of the Bharhut and Sanchi stūpas and Mathura sculptures. [59] Even in later periods Kuvera continued to be known as naravāhana “having a man as a vehicle.” Moreover, the images of yaksis, carved on the wooden struts of Newar temples, stand elegantly with tribhanga posture neither on the ground nor on a pedestal as one might expect, but on the head and back of male and female figures (fig. 40), sometime humorously on the limbs of an old man and old lady. Such an unusual feature indicates their affinity with the iconography of much earlier sculptures of Bharhut and Mathura, which in turn are based on the popular story described in the Ātānātiya sūtra.


Fig. 40

The main symbolic feature of stūpa architecture is the yūpa -yasti placed in the middle of the stūpa. The similarity between the ritual decoration of the yūpa mentioned in the Baudhāyana-grhyasūtra and the artistic features of the vedikā may not be accidental. Just as in the case of the Vedic sacrificial post (yūpa), the yūpa-yasti of the Buddhist stūpa simultaneously symbolizes both the cosmic pillar and the water pillar or rain river which flows down from the inverted atmospheric “rain pot” varsasthāli, prescribed to be placed on top of the yūpa -yasti. [60] As we know from Pali and Sanskrit texts, kings in ancient India and Nepal, in the time of severe drought, made attempts to solve the problem by performing various rituals and recitations of mantras while circumambulating the stūpa.


In light of this discussion, we may safely conclude that for a proper understanding of the development of Newar culture and artistic heritage, not only the linguistic classification but also the geographic locations of their homelands deserve proper attention. Just like the culture and artistic concepts of the most part of South Asia, those of the Newars are closely affiliated to agrarian culture based on the annual phenomena of aestivation and monsoon of the subcontinent. Unlike in Tibet, the religious ritual of rainy season retreat, for instance, is here as practical as in other parts of the subcontinent. If it is true that the Newars migrated from other side of the Himalaya they might have adopted the aestivation/monsoon culture, just as the Indo-Aryans did, soon after they settled down in their new homelands. Thus, it should not be surprising that the monsoonal aspects of Vedic literature, most of which remained intact throughout the history of South Asian culture, are helpful in investigating not only ancient stone sculptures and painting from Bharhut, Sanchi, Ajanta and other important historical sites of the subcontinent but also the art of the Kathmandu valley.

Due to the isolation of the valley, some age-old aspects of aestivation/monsoon culture are easily discernable in the art and culture of the valley even now. Evidence of this can be seen in the iconography of the Newar hiti that correlates with Rgvedic statements. Just like the frog worship, the story of the rain-river and rain-child, as we have shown here, is still alive fragmentarily in the legends and rituals of the Newars. Such evidence, in turn, supports our view that the enduring link between Vedic materials and South Asian art is no other than the huge impact of the annual repetition of the shared dream and nightmare of monsoon and drought. This is particularly true because a work of art in this culture is created not only for viewing pleasure but also for creating an auspicious ambiance.


1. Following are the recent works on the water fountains of the valley: Raimund O.A. Becker-Ritterspach, Water Conduits in the Kathmandu Valley, (New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1995); its review by Mary Shepherd Slusser, Artibus Asiae, Vol. 56, No. ½, 1996 p. 177-181; Sukra Sagar Shrestha, “Tusa Hiti,” Ancient Nepal: Journal of the Department of Archaeology, vol.139, 1996, 1-10; Gudrun Bühnemann, “17th Century Tantric Iconography of Nepal: New Research on the ‘Royal Bath’ in Patan,” Orientations, 2008, pp. 88-95. (click on footnote number to return to text)

2. Kamal Prakash Malla, “Linguistic Archaeology of the Nepal Valley: A Preliminary Report.” Kailas, no. 8, 1981, PP. 5-23. (click on footnote number to return to text)

3. Gautama V. Vajracharya, “Nepali Inscriptions, Transcribed, Translated and Interpreted”, in Pratapaditya Pal, Himalayas: An Aesthetic Adventure (Chicago: the Art Institute of Chicago in association with University of California Press and Mapin Publishing, 2003), p. 284. (click on footnote number to return to text)

4. Dhanavajra Vajracharya, Kamal P. Malla (ed.), The Gopālarājavamśāvali, Franz Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden GmbH, 1985, folio 27 kha. This text also refers to the village as Navakwātha, which also means “new fort,” folios 38 kha, 40 ka. (click on footnote number to return to text)

5. Gautama V. Vajracharya, “Nepali Inscriptions, Transcribed, Translated and Interpreted”, in Pratapaditya Pal, Himalayas: An Aesthetic Adventure (Chicago: the Art Institute of Chicago in association with University of California Press and Mapin Publishing, 2003), p. 284. (click on footnote number to return to text)

6. Gautama V. Vajracharya, “Dance of Conception and Baby Shower: Tracing a Latent Aspect of Durgāpūjā in Light of Cult of Kumāra”, forthcoming in a Marg publication edited by Pratapaditya Pal. (click on footnote number to return to text)

7. Alex Wayman, “Climactic Times in Indian Mythology and Religion,” History of Religions, Vol. 4, No. 2 (Winter, 1965), pp. 302-303. (click on footnote number to return to text)

8. According to the late 14th century Newari translation of Amarakośa Newari word for Sanskrit visuvat “equinox” is visaka or visika ( Newari Lexicon, Exactly same words are used in the late 16th and 17th century Newari inscriptions and diary called thyāsaphu for the modern day festival of Bisket or Viśvayātrā (for example see Pūrnimā, Vol. 30, No. 2, (2005), pp. 34-35). Malla period inscriptions of the Hanumāndhokā palace inform us that during the mediaeval period not only Bhaktapur but also Kathmandu celebrated the day as Viśvayātra and erected a pole near Duimāju shrine in modern day Tundikhel (G. Vajracharya, Hanumāndhokā Rajadarabāra, Kirtipur: Institute of Nepal and Asian Studies, 1975, pp.154-155.). “Viśvayātrā” is actually the re-Sanskritization of Bisket, which in turn is the apabhramśa of Sanskrit visuvat. For the popular story of the Newar festival, readers may refer to Mary M. Anderson, The Festivals of Nepal, Calcutta: Rupa and Co. 1988, pp. 41-49. (click on footnote number to return to text)

9. Arthur Anthony Macdonell and Arthur Berriedale Keith, (ed.) Vedic Index of Names and Subjects, vol. 1, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1967, pp. 422-426. (click on footnote number to return to text)

10. In ancient Newari, te means “east.” This we know from several examples such as Tetā Dhvākā (eastern city gate), Tetā Thur (eastern stūpa in Patan), Tendokhyala (modern Tundikhel, the eastern open area in Kathmandu), Temdo Vihāra (modern Tebahāl, a Buddhist monastery at the eastern section of the old city of Kathmandu), and Tegvala (eastern locality of a town). Reference to the last word can be found in both ancient and medieval period inscriptions of Nepal (Dhanavajra Vajracharya, Licchavikālakā Abhilekha, Kiritipur: Institure of Nepal and Asian Studies, 1973, pp. 342, 544, Ramaji Tevari and others (ed.) Abhilekha-Samgraha, part 9, Kathamandu: Samśodhana-Mandala, 1963, pp. 24-25). Bilingual inscriptions found inside the temple of Changu Hill refer to the hill as Pūrvaśikhara “eastern hilltop” in Sanskrit, Tekhri or Tekhr in Newari. In these inscriptions, the main deity inside the temple is designated Tekrbhattāraka “the great god of the eastern hilltop.” (Mohana Prasāda Khanala, Chāngu Nārāyanakā Aitihāsika Sāamagrī Kiritipur: Institure of Nepal and Asian Studies, 1983 pp. 153, 160.)

Many Newar towns and villages have a place called Tyāgal, which is indeed the modern version of Tegvala. Due to the constant expansion of residential area, Tegvala or Tyāgal is not always in the east any more. But our investigation indicates that it was an age-old Newar custom to have a phallic icon, later identified as Śivalinga, at the eastern quarter of a Newar town. Patan Tyāgal Tol, for instance, has a rudimentary Śivalinga shrine. An eleventh century inscription found near the shrine refers to the region as Tegvala (Ramaji Tevāri and others (ed.), Abhilekha-Samgraha,, vol. 9, pp. 24-25.) Moreover, unpublished medieval period inscriptions in the vicinity of the well known Paśupatinātha temple designate the location as Tyagvala and the entire town is still called Gvala, known to Nepali speaking people as Deupatan. Moreover, The ancient Newari name for the Vāgmatī river survives in Tekhu Dobhān, the confluence of Vāgmatī and Visnumatī. In classical Newari, Tekhu or Tekho “the Eastern River” is regularly used for the Vāgmatī river.

It is also interesting to note that already in the fourteenth century the word te was drastically replaced by another classical Newari word va or vam, and, therefore, Changu hill was then also known as Vancangu “eastern Changu” (Vajracharya,. Malla [ed.], The Gopālarājavamśāvali, folio 30 kha). Neither of these synonyms for “east” is used in modern Newari any more; but they clearly indicate three layers of development of Newari language, which we will discuss in detail some other time.

Likewise, the Newari word , according to the Newari translations of the Amarakośa, means west. In modern Newari, it regularly turns into i, as exemplified by Yancangu, modern day Icangu (western Changu Nārāyana), celebrated Yātumbahāra currently known as Itumbahāra “Western Well Monastery”, and Yākhāpukhu or Ikhāpukhu for the western pond in Kathmandu, now filled with residential areas and school ground. The western pond was a beautiful lotus pond located at the western city limit of the Kathmandu city.

The most recent works on classical Newari is Kamal P. Malla (ed. et al), A Dictinary of Classical Newari, Compiled from Manuscript Sources, Kathmandu: Cwasā Pāsā, 2000. This dictionary may not include some of the classical Newari words mentioned in this article. The early Newari translations of the Amarakośa are indeed very important for investigating classical Newari. This was realized for the very first time in G. Vajracharya, “nevāri bhāsāko tāmānga bhāsā tathā limbu bhāsāsamgako sādrśya” Pūrnimā, V.S. 2021, vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 43-49. Many classical Newari words such as kemo “husband”, lani “moon” li “bow” are studied in this work as important non-Sanskritic terms that bear similarity with the words of other Tibeto-Burman languages of Nepal. Most of the words are found in Newari translation of the Amarakośa. Unexpectedly, however, more than hundred of such significant words are missing in the dictionary. Furthermore, popular Newar folk etymology (such as nakhata is a festival because it literally means ‘eating’ or ‘festival of eating”) is incorporated in the dictionary as an acceptable etymological explanation. In reality, the meaning of nakhata as a festival originated from the ancient South Asian custom of nakkhatta-kila or simply nakkhatta, a Pāli version of Sanskrit naksatra denoting “a celebration of the beginning of a lunar mansion or constellation of new month, hence any kind of festival or festivity.” (T. W. Rhys Davids et al, ed. The Pali Text Society’s Pali-English Dictionary, London: The Pali Text Society, 1986, p. 344). Such words deserve special attention because they elucidate not only the development of language but also cultural and visual heritage of the valley. This is not, however, a proper occasion to provide the readers with a list of Pāli words in classical Newari. (click on footnote number to return to text)

11. Gautama V. Vajracharya, “Elements of Newar Buddhist Art : Circle of Bliss - a Review Article”
(click on footnote number to return to text)

12. Dhanavajra Vajracharya, Licchavikālakā Abhilekha, Kiritipur: Institute of Nepal and Asian Studies, 1973, pp. 438-439 (click on footnote number to return to text)

13. Gautama V. Vajracharya, “The Adaptation of Monsoonal Culture by Rgvedic Aryans: A Further Study of the Frog Hymn.” Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies, Vol. 3, issue 2 (May, 1997)
(click on footnote number to return to text)

14. In northern India the procession of frogs’ wedding arranged for making rain is still in vogue. Thus, it should not be surprising if the custom of the frogs’ worship is also prevalent somewhere in India. (click on footnote number to return to text)

15. Gérard Toffin, Newar Society: City, Village and Periphery, Kathmandu: Social Science Baha, 2007, pp. 86-87. (click on footnote number to return to text)

16. It is a well known fact that upavīta originally means “a shawl like garment or hide worn diagonally covering the left shoulder.” Scholars have presented textual evidence to support this view. A brief statement from Taittiriyāranyaka 2.1.1 may suffice: ajinam vāso vā daksinata upavīya “Having worn a hide or a garment diagonally (upavīya) from right side.” Such mannerism of wearing shawl in upavīta style is still prevalent among the Newars in religious context. (click on footnote number to return to text)

17. Gautama V. Vajracharya, “The Adaptation of Monsoonal Culture by Rgvedic Aryans: A Further Study of the Frog Hymn.” Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies, Vol. 3, issue 2 (May, 1997) (click on footnote number to return to text)

18. W. Caland (ed.) Vaikhānasagrhyasūtram and Vaikhānasadharmasūtram, New Delhi: Meharchand Lachhmandas Publications, reprint, 1989, pp. 22-24. (click on footnote number to return to text)

19. Readers will find more about the vālā in following pages. (click on footnote number to return to text)

20. Gautama V. Vajracharya, Watson Collection of Indian Miniatures at the Elvehjem Museum of Art, Madison: Elvehjem Museum of Art, 2003, pp. 6-19. (click on footnote number to return to text)

21. Gautama V. Vajracharya, “Threefold Intimacy: The Recent Discovery of an Outstanding Nepalese Portrait Painting,” Orientations, Vol. 34, No. 4, April, 2003, p. 42. (click on footnote number to return to text)

22. Thusā (and variants) is a classical Newari word for a bull as we know from Newari translation of the Amarakośa (See Newari Lexicon Due to the language barrier, Nepali speaking people including the authors of the Bhasa-Vamsavali mistakenly refer to the fountain as Tusā Hiti, which has created wide spread confusion both in western and Nepali writing. Newar intellectuals of Patan, however, seem to remember the classical word and its correct meaning. For instance, Hariram Joshi, a Newar scholar from Patan, shows his familiarity with the actual name of the fountain and relates it with the original appearance of the fountain with a figure of a bull. See Sukra Sagar Shrestha, “Tusa Hiti,” Ancient Nepal: Journal of the Department of Archaeology, No. 139, June 1996, p. 4. (click on footnote number to return to text)

23. Dhanavajra Vajracharya, Licchavikālakā Abhilekha, Kiritipur: Institute of Nepal and Asian Studies, 1973, p. 208-210.
(click on footnote number to return to text)

24. Ramaji Tevari et al (ed.), Abhilekha-samgraha, part 2, p. 10. Regmi, D.R.1966. Medieval Nepal. 4 parts. Part III. Calcutta: Firma K. L. Mukhopadhyay. p. 7 inscription xiii. (click on footnote number to return to text)

25. The word Dasarā (Sanskrit Daśaharā) is the reminiscence of Vedic system of the enumeration of time, in which ten days, rather than seven days, makes a calendar period. (click on footnote number to return to text)

26. Michael Witzel, “Substrate Languages in Old Indo-Aryan (Rgvedic, Middle and Late Vedic)”, Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1, (September 1999), 1.4.
(click on footnote number to return to text)

27. Gautama V. Vajracharya, “Symbolism of Ashokan Pillars: A Reappraisal in the Light of Textual and Visual Evidence”, Marg, Vol. 51, No. 2 (December 1999) pp. 66-67. (click on footnote number to return to text)

28. Dhanavajra Vajracharya, Kamal P. Malla (ed.), The Gopālarājavamśāvali, Franz Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden GmbH, 1985, 24 ka, 31 ka, 58 ka. The editors of the text believe that valavala is the Valkhu rivulet because they thought the shrine of the goddess Valavala is located in Kirtipur (kirtibhagatāpura 24 ka). But if we study the related passages carefully it becomes evident that Valavala is indeed a mystic river associated with multiple sources of water not only fountains (panālikā, yiti 31 ka and 58 ka), but also wells (kupa 31 ka) and lotus ponds (pvaskarani, khā 24 ka 58 ka) and dhārā (canal). King Śivadeva, for instance, successfully control Valavala river; as a result, he was able to adorn his kingdom with fountains and wells in multiple location (Śivadevasa krtya, valavalanadi bandhaniyam. panalikā kupa deśa sthāne sthāne shobhā krtā). If Valavala is the minor Valkhu rivulet it would not have been associated with the wells and ponds of the entire kingdom of Śivadeva. It is however true that the Valkhu is also a source of water named after the same onomatopoeic word. Furthermore, in Panauti there is an aniconic image of a god, worshiped as Val Dya “the deity of Val.” The people of the town understand that the presence of the god is very important for the welfare of the locality; hence, his image is kept there securely tied with a chain. (click on footnote number to return to text)

29. F. B. J. Kuiper, “The Genesis of a Linguistic Area,” Indo-Iranian Journal vol. 10, 1967-68, p.95. According to Kuiper the Vedic expression bāl iti has to be derived from pre-Vedic Indic language because iti is a technical element for quoting foreign words particularly onomatopoeia. (click on footnote number to return to text)

30. Gautama V. Vajracharya, “Dance of Conception and Baby Shower: Tracing a Latent Aspect of Durgāpūjā in Light of Cult of Kumāra”, forthcoming in a Marg publication edited by Pratapaditya Pal. (click on footnote number to return to text)

31. Gautama V. Vajracharya, “Dance of Conception and Baby Shower: Tracing a Latent Aspect of Durgāpūjā in Light of Cult of Kumāra”, forthcoming in a Marg publication edited by Pratapaditya Pal. (click on footnote number to return to text)

32. Gautama V. Vajracharya, “The Adaptation of Monsoonal Culture by Rgvedic Aryans: A Further Study of the Frog Hymn.” Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies, Vol. 3, issue 2 (May, 1997) (click on footnote number to return to text)

33. Michael Witzel, “Substrate Languages in Old Indo-Aryan (Rgvedic, Middle and Late Vedic)”, Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1, (September 1999), 1.4.
(click on footnote number to return to text)

34. Hluti is a classical Newari word for a natural lake with fountains. However, it is used not only for a lake but also for the fountains that turn into rivers. Literally, it may means “a bathing place.” (click on footnote number to return to text)

35. Michael Witzel, “Substrate Languages in Old Indo-Aryan (Rgvedic, Middle and Late Vedic)”, Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1, (September 1999), 1.4.
(click on footnote number to return to text)

36. Since I did not have detailed digital photographs of the painting, in an earlier work I mistakenly read the label inscription as śipura dhārā, G. Vajracharya, “Nepali Inscriptions, Transcribed, Translated and Interpreted”, in Himalayas: An Aesthetic Adventure, p. 284. (click on footnote number to return to text)

37. Mary Shepherd Slusser, Gautama Vajracharya, “Some Nepalese Stone Sculptures: A Reappraisal within Their Cultural and Historical Context,” Artibus Asiae, 1973, Vol. 35, No. 1-2, pp.88-125. (click on footnote number to return to text)

38. Mary Shepherd Slusser, Gautama Vajracharya, “Some Nepalese Stone Sculptures: A Reappraisal within Their Cultural and Historical Context,” Artibus Asiae, 1973, Vol. 35, No. 1-2, pp.88-125. (click on footnote number to return to text)

39. The Philadelphia Museum painting shows three lakes fed by the Sihluti river. The first lake closer to the fountain is occupied by recumbent Śiva. His complexion is white and wears snakes. The second lake is the abode of blue Bhairava holding a damaru and reclining on water. He is identified by a label inscription as sri bhairava. The third lake belongs to Sarasvatī who is represented in a seated position and plying the musical instrument vīnā. Her identity is also confirmed by the label inscription. (click on footnote number to return to text)

40. Gautama V. Vajracharya, “Atmospheric Gestation: Deciphering Ajanta Ceiling Paintings and Other Related Works,” part 2, Marg, vol. 55, no. 3, March 2004, p. 50. (click on footnote number to return to text)

41. Gautama V. Vajracharya, “The Adaptation of Monsoonal Culture by Rgvedic Aryans: A Further Study of the Frog Hymn.” Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies, Vol. 3, issue 2 (May, 1997)
(click on footnote number to return to text)

42. In the Newari Lexicon , this word is misunderstood and misspelled as Sanskrit bāla “child.” For correct spelling readers may like to check Kashinath Tamot (ed.), Putrapautrādibodhinī, Amarakośayā Nepālabhāsā Tīkā, Ne. Sam 501, Kathmandu: Pāsāmunā, 1983, p. 64. For closer examination, I quote the passage: garbha, garbhasa congu, vālā (=garbha means (something) residing inside; it also means fetus.) Since the explanation of the word is found in the chapter of the Amarakośa dealing with multiple meanings (anekārtha), we know for sure that the translator of the Amarakośa intends to provide us with the multiple meanings of garbha; hence, one should not interpret the passage as “a child in the belly.” It is true that in the later versions of Newari Amarakośa the Sanskrit word bāla is used for translating the passage, which indicates that the real meaning of the Newari word vālā was then forgotten. Furthermore, the long ā ending Newari word cannot be cognate to Sanskrit word bālā “girl.” The grammar and meaning of this Newari word does not have any association with feminine gender. Although the earliest date of the Newari translation of the text is fourteenth century, it certainly contains many archaic Newari words such as tilam “canal,” a popular non-Sanskritic word in the seventh century Licchavi inscriptions, but not used any more after the fifteenth century when it was replaced by dhara (D. Vajracharya, Malla, Gopālarājavamśāvali, 58 ka, 60 ka.) Thus, the word bālā or vālā for “fetus/seed” is indeed an archaic word that helps us to understand why the sculpture reclining in the pond substituting the Gosainkunda lake in Kathmandu is known as Bālāju “the divine fetus.” (click on footnote number to return to text)

42a. Dhanavajra Vajracharya, Licchavikālakā Abhilekha, Kiritipur: Institute of Nepal and Asian Studies, 1973, pp. 320-321. (click on footnote number to return to text)

43. I am grateful to Ian Alsop and Kashinath Tamot for providing me with much needed information regarding the label inscription that identifies the mother goddess of Kirtipur as “Dharati Mata.” (click on footnote number to return to text)

44. Mary Shepherd Slusser, “Nepali Sculptures-New Discoveries” in Pratapaditya Pal, Aspects of Indian Art, Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1972, pp. 98-101, plate Lib. (click on footnote number to return to text)

45. J. Gonda, Aspects of Early Visnuism, Delhi: Motilal Banarasidas, 1969, p. 218. (click on footnote number to return to text)

46. Gautama V. Vajracharya, “Meet the Genies from Kathmandu” in Pratapaditya Pal (ed.) Nepal: Old Images New Insights, Mumbai: Marg Publication, 2004, p. 113-114. (click on footnote number to return to text)

47. J. Gonda, Aspects of Early Visnuism, (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, reprint 1969), 220-221. (click on footnote number to return to text)

48. Mary Shepherd Slusser, Gautama Vajracharya, “Some Nepalese Stone Sculptures: A Reappraisal within Their Cultural and Historical Context,” Artibus Asiae, 1973, Vol. 35, No. 1-2, p. 121. (click on footnote number to return to text)

49. Gautama V. Vajracharya, “Symbolism of Ashokan Pillars: A Reappraisal in the Light of Textual and Visual Evidence”, Marg, Vol. 51, No. 2 (December 1999), p. 67. (click on footnote number to return to text)

50. For illustration see Anne Vergati, Art et Société au Népal, Paris: Picard, 2005, p. 16. In my earlier work, (G. Vajracharya, Watson Collection of Indian Miniatures, pp. 14-17), I have explained how the scenes of sexuality in South Asian art is closely related to the Indic belief system regarding the phenomena of drought and fertility. During intense drought that turns into famine very quickly, people loose interest in sex (śrńgāra) and therefor the ability to reproduce declines. In accordance with reverse perspective, prevalent among the artists and astrologers of the subcontinent, however, one can expect to regularize seasonal rain depicting auspicious scenes of śrńgāra in art and architecture including the outer walls of religious shrines. The above-mentioned Buddhist scroll painting from Nepal supports my view emphatically. I was not however familiar with the details of the painting until last winter when in a talk given at the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco Katherine Paul drew my attention to the meaningful depictions of juxtapositions such as fight versus drought and lovemaking versus rain in the narrative scenes of the scroll painting. I appreciate her keen observation. (click on footnote number to return to text)

51. J. Gonda, Aspects of Early Visnuism, (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, reprint 1969), pp. 81-82. (click on footnote number to return to text)

52. Gautama V. Vajracharya, “Symbolism of Ashokan Pillars: A Reappraisal in the Light of Textual and Visual Evidence”, Marg, Vol. 51, No. 2 (December 1999), pp. 66-67. (click on footnote number to return to text)

53. Gautama Vajracharya, “Atmospheric Gestation” part 1, Marg, vol. 55, no. 2, December 2003, p. 41- 57; part 2, Marg, vol. 55, no. 3, March 2004, p. 40-51. (click on footnote number to return to text)

54. Gautama Vajracharya, “Atmospheric Gestation” part 1, Marg, vol. 55, no. 2, December 2003, pp. 44-49. (click on footnote number to return to text)

55. Gautama Vajracharya, “Atmospheric Gestation” part 2, Marg, vol. 55, no. 3, March 2004, p. 48. (click on footnote number to return to text)

56. A. K. Coomaraswamy, Yaksas, 2 parts, New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1971, part 2, p. 32. (click on footnote number to return to text)

57. Gautama Vajracharya, “Atmospheric Gestation” part 1, Marg, vol. 55, no. 2, December 2003, p. 41- 57; part 2, Marg, vol. 55, no. 3, March 2004, part 2, p. 48. (click on footnote number to return to text)

58. Gautama Vajracharya, “Atmospheric Gestation” Marg, vol. 55, no. 3, March 2004, part 2, pp. 42 (click on footnote number to return to text)

59. An excellent work showing the relation between the architecture of ancient Buddhist stūpas and atmospheric region of the yaksas described in the Ātānātiya sūtra is an article by Peter Skilling, “The Raksā Literature of the Śrāvakayāna” Journal of the Pali text Society, no. 16, 1962: 109-82. (click on footnote number to return to text)

60. Gautama V. Vajracharya, “Symbolism of Ashokan Pillars: A Reappraisal in the Light of Textual and Visual Evidence”, Marg, Vol. 51, No. 2 (December 1999), pp. 59-64. (click on footnote number to return to text)