IN JANUARY 2012, THIS IMAGE WAS SELECTED AS THE TRAVEL WORD’S PHOTO OF THE YEAR 2011.
The Photo and Related Facts
Captured in this photo are two monuments inside the Durbar Square of Patan – one of the seven UNESCO-listed Word Heritage Sites in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal. The monument on the left is the famous temple of Lord Krisha (Krishna Mandir) and that on the right is a temple of Lord Bhairab. The tall pillar in the middle has a statue of Garuda – a mythical bird described in Hindu mythology as a protector of the good ones, and also the ride of Lord Vishnu. Krishna himself was an incarnation of Vishnu, who came into this world to wipe away all the evils that prevailed during the era known as Dwapar Yug.
Built in the 16th century during the regime of Siddhi Narasingha Malla, Krishna Mandir is considered an architectural masterpiece and is made entirely of stone. It is a mixture of the Shikhar (of Indian origin) and Pagoda (of Nepali origin) styles. This three-storey temple has twenty-one roofs and hence twenty-one golden gajurs (pinnacles). The deity’s statue is inside a chamber on the first floor. Only Hindus are allowed to enter the temple.
If you think the structure alone is enough to benchmark 16th century Nepali architecture, take a closer look at the sculptures on the stone surfaces, done in bas-relief, that depict important scenes from the Mahabharata and Ramayana – two highly regarded ancient Hindu chronicles. The narrations are carved in Newari script. (One of the best places to study the medieval architecture, arts and history of Nepal is Patan Museum, where you will find not only various well-preserved antiques and related descriptions, but can also buy an illustrated catalogue of the items.)
There are so many tales about Krishna that I would rather not dare to summarise in a few lines. As far as I can tell, he is one of the most mischievous, charismatic, influential, cunning, mighty and playful, but nonetheless visionary and decisive characters ever portrayed in Hindu chronicles. While a compilation of his deeds (leelas) comprises hundreds of pages of what is commonly known as the Krishna Leela, his words of wisdom and enlightenment to Arjun (one of the five warrior princes, known as the Pandavs) comprise the epic known as the Holy Geeta.
Apart from his heroic deeds, the Krishna Leela also describes Krishna as a symbol of love. Krishna bestowed great love upon his devotees, including the women (collectively known as Gopis or Gopinis) of the village where he was raised. Hardcore devotees and religious teachers believe that the love that existed between Krishna and the Gopis was absolutely fee of sensuality and hence the purest form of love.
On the occasion of Krishna Janmashtami (the birth anniversary of Krishna), thousands of pilgrims and devotees pay homage at a temple in Patan (near Kathmandu), other Krishna temples and even at home. Among the thousands of such devotees visiting Krishna Mandir every year on this day, women outnumber men by a huge margin. Perhaps by symbolically dedicating their inner selves to Krishna the way the Gopis did, these women believe they’ll be blessed and always be guarded by their lord.
The Story behind the Photo
I remember very well how ended up with this snapshot. Back in 2009, soon after launching both of our whl.travel destination portals for Nepal – www.kathmanduhotel-link.com and www.pokharahotel-link.com – we had to collect a lot of content, including images. Although not my primary responsibility, I didn’t mind visiting places and gathering photos whenever I could manage my time, since we had a very small team.
So, with my first ever D-SLR – a Canon 1000D – I would start my bike and go to places, mostly alone but sometimes with my colleagues or friends. I live within a kilometre of Patan’s Durbar Square (the protected site shown in the photo above) and knew that there ought to be something worth capturing on that day. So I went there in the morning and again in the afternoon. The site isn’t new to me, but the crowd definitely was. I had never imagined the area would be flooded with people like that. I took several photos, but somehow felt that I didn’t have enough yet. Let’s just say that in the pictures I took in daylight, my main subject appeared to be the crowd rather than the monuments behind (which seemed to be overshadowed).
After dinner, I went there again to take more pictures. I started taking random shots, none of which were close to satisfactory. It took me more than an hour just to locate a perfect spot. Then I noticed some guys equipped with expensive cameras and accessories, including huge tripods and external lighting, standing just on the outer patio of the Patan Museum. I neared them, watched them at work for several minutes and tried to follow their techniques. After some time, we exchanged names and addresses and I deliberately started a conversation about photography. I thought perhaps those guys would pass one or two tips to me. Otherwise, without any formal training on photography before, trial and error would by my only option.
Well, it worked. Bijay Shrestha (owner of a camera shop at New Road) and his friends showed me their way of shooting in low-light conditions. As I wasn’t carrying a tripod of my own, I borrowed theirs and started using their technique. It didn’t take me long to get promising results. Finally, after several could-be-better shots, I got this one, thanks to those generous and sharing guys. It was just what I needed – to emphasise the monuments and to give a general idea of how big the crowd was in a non-obtrusive way or without stealing the focus from my primary subject.
It was well past midnight when I finally packed and headed home, but the crowd showed no sign of thinning. The incoming and outgoing numbers seemed to be equal. Later, I learned that many devotees spend the whole night in front of the temple sleeplessly, just singing and praying.