The lost beauty

Dubby Bhagat


The loveliest women in all of Kathmandu valley are undoubtedly Ganga and Jamuna, two life-size gilded statues that grace a courtyard of the old Malla palace at Patan. They stand as lissomely poised as Bharatnatyam dancers, bejewelled and bare torsoed, their skirts draped about their legs in a manner suggesting movement. Divine dancers. Sister goddesses of mighty rivers that bear their name. Givers of bountiful harvests. The answer to the prayers of a saint of old. Visions of a Newari artist who epitomised all that is beautiful in women. Did he use a model? Was there a woman so exquisite in all the land? No one will ever know. The centuries keep their secrets well, or have carelessly forgotten them. Now the ravages of modern time threaten the very existence of these lovely goddesses who should delight the worshipful and the merely curious for as long their city endures.

Ganga and Jamuna once wore jeweled headdresses and gilded scarves. They held symbolic objects in their outstretched hands and behind them were screens of fabulously worked metal. There were gems in their belts and necklaces, their armbands and bangles. Their coiled hair was painted and some believe there was colour on their eyes and lips. All this has gone. There remains a suggestion of their golden scarves. Their heads are bare, the objects they held are remembered only by the spikes that supported them.

Ganga and Jamuna stand beside the entrance to a 17th century temple to Taleju, the royal goddess. Vandals have stripped the door and its torana of almost all their detail. The little which remains gives an idea of how fabulous the originals must have been a concourse of deities and mythical beasts that somehow failed to guard themselves again human assault. Somewhere scattered about the globe they give pleasure to those who own them and perhaps tell, in their isolated way, of the glories of the Malla palace at Patan from whence they came. One would wish them back, of course, in the main courtyard called Mul Chowk, where kings of old held court and worshipped. All about are buildings of intricately carved and painted wood. Struts supporting the pagoda roofs depict the many Bhairabs and Matrikas. From latticed windows, ladies of the court watched the proceedings below, and one can still imagine their whisperings and laughter. Do the golden sisters ever speak? The Mul Chowk at Patan is a sad example of a disease that has swept the world, not only endangering the temples of Nepal but the art of every land. A visitor from England told me of how in the royal chapel of Windsor there are now almost as many guards as tourists, because given half a chance, your blue rinsed lady and your jean clad you will snap marble fingers or toes from the statues on royal tombs. We were in the Mul Chowk when he said it, and not a guard in sight.