Nepal, a land known as a home to the most of the highest peaks on earth including Mt. Everest and a great repository of medieval art and architecture, is also the cradle of two major religions of the world Hinduism and Buddhism. These two religions in a related short span of time has caused a unique development of cultural legacy of Nepal resulting a great array of art and artifacts.
Besides the history of Nepal is embedded with various colorful episodes at different intervals of time-recorded since 5th century AD. The recent excavations in the western mountains (Mustang) have also revealed the evidence of prehistoric human settlements in those areas. The museums of Nepal have some of those rare specimens, artifacts, weapons dating from all those periods. To a visitor who has a little bias to the history and the historic antiquities, a visit to the museums of Nepal is a must and in fact. are the best refuge after the tiresome shopping spree in the Kathmandu bazars or an arduous trek in the mountains. Similarly, Nepal, in recent times, has also become a unique melting pot of tradition-based painting and the western influences in the contemporary arts.
The city of Kathmandu is a window where one can experience how traditionalism could be easily diffused with the modern trends. In fact, the vibrant art scene of Nepal (today) is a plethora of local and global influences. The art of painting especially, best reflects the sheer profusion of scenic natural landscapes and contemporary figurative and non-figurative compositions. A stroll through the galleries of Nepal would reveal a host of works ranging from internationally established artist to exciting new comers. Overall, the art of Nepal today represents two distinct segments-firstly the tradition based idealistic painting known as 'Paubhas' (also known as 'Thangka' in Tibetan dialect) and the contemporary western style works. The contemporary painting is specially noted for either nature based compositions or compositions based on Tantric elements/social themes. Nepalese painters have also earned international reputation for abstract works based on these themes.
It is this thriving milieu that makes a visit to the art galleries of Kathmandu a pleasurable and rewarding prospect. A list of museums and galleries are presented below which should serve as a preliminary guide to the visitors.
Located in the western end of Kathmandu and a few minutes walk down from the famous Swoyambhunath stupa, National Museum is considered the most important museum of Nepal. The museum has a large collection of weapons, art and antiquities of historic and cultural importance. Initially built as a collection house of war trophies and weapons, the museum has an extra-ordinary collection of eighteenth and nineteenth century weapons, firearms locally made and captured from the various wars, leather canons and relics of natural calamities like great earthquake of 1934. In addition, the museum is the unique treasure house of medieval and modern works in wood, metal/ bronze, stoneworks and the paintings. The museum remains close on Tuesdays.
The Natural History Museum:
Situated at the southern foothills of Swoyambhunath, the museum is a window to the natural history of Nepal. The museum has a size able collection of different species of animals, butterflies and plants. The special feature of this museum is a serial display of diverse life specie from prehistoric shells to the stuffed animals, birds, crocodiles and many other interesting exhibits. It is open on all the weekdays except Saturdays and government holidays.
Hanumandhoka Palace Complex:
This grand medieval palace complex, in addition to its architectural importance and grandeur, is also the heart beat of medieval and modern history of Nepal. In tune with its historic ambience, three separate museums of historic importance are located inside the Palace complex. One single entry ticket entitles the visit to all the museums and they remain open on all weekdays except Saturdays and government holidays.
The Tribhuvan Museum:
The museum is specially designed to display all the events, personal belongings, mementos of the late H.M.King Tribhuvan (1906 - 1955). He is fondly remembered as the father of the nation as he was primarily instrumental in ushering democracy in Nepal in 1951. The museum has a rare collection of photos, paintings / portraits of Royal family members.
The Mahendra Museum:
The museum vividly sheds light on the late king Mahendra (1920 1972 AD). The exhibits include remake of his cabinet room, office chamber and his personal belongings including walls, decorations, stamps and coins. As he is fondly remembered as a poet-king, his original writing ambience and personal notes and manuscripts are displayed here.
The Birendra Museum:
This museum is a recent addition in the Palace complex. This museum particularly contains the personal possessions of the present monarch, His Majesty King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah, including royal attires that he had donned during various state and historic occasions. Also on display are gifts,. medals, honorary titles received from other head of states and other interesting memorabilia.
One of the largest libraries in Nepal, this library contains more than 70,000 books on various subjects. Although most of the books are in English, books in Nepali, Sanskrit, Hindi and Newari are also in the collection. The National Library has some rare scholarly books in Sanskrit and English dating from 17th century AD. Located in the old palatial Harihar Bhavan, Patan, the library is open on all weekdays except Saturdays and govt. holidays.
Located in the Kaiser Mahal (on the ground floor of Ministry of Education building), Thamel, the library is a personal collection of a Rana nobility late Field Marshal Kaiser Shumsher Rana. The entire collection is the reflection of personal taste of late Rana which ranges from as diverse as law and astrology. The library has a collection of 45,000 books covering history, art, religion, philosophy etc. The oldest book in the collection is a Sanskrit manual of 'Tantra', the art of mysticism. This is believed to be at least 1000 years old. The library remains closed on all government holidays and Saturdays.
For visitors with a slight bent on medieval history and religious traditions of Kathmandu Valley, Asa Archives is probably the best library to visit. Housed in a private house in Kulumbbhula, the western fringe of old part of Kathmandu town, Asa Archives has a rare collection of 6000 loose-leaf handwritten books and 1000 palm- leaf manuscripts. A manuscript dated to 1464 AD is considered the oldest manuscript available here. Most of the documents / manuscripts are in Sanskrit or Nepal Bhasa (Newari Script). The Archives is open daily except government holidays and Satu rdays.
Located in the palace complex of Patan Durbar Square, the Patan Museum is a house to some of the unique medieval works in bronze. The earliest specimens date back to 11th century or even earlier Lichhavi period. Most of the exhibits are deities from the Buddhist pantheon like images of Buddhas and Lokeswore. And in the lesser number, there are icons from Hindu pantheon like Vishnu and other deities.
The National Art Gallery:
Located in the famous place complex of Bhaktapur Durbar Square, the Gallery is in fact a unique museum. The Gallery consists of some of the rarest paintings of Nepal and a wide array of manuscripts with painted covers and illustrations. Although this Gallery is primarily a 'Museum' of paintings from early to late Malla period, the Gallery also contains bronze, brass, stone and wooden images. In fact, the gallery is the virtual treasure house to explore the medieval art tradition of Nepai. The museum remains closed on Thursdays and government holidays.
Situated in the 15th century restored building known as 'Pujari Math', Tachapal Tole (Dattatreya Tole), Bhaktapur the building itself is an exhibit. Built by Yaksha Malla, a 15th century king of Kathmandu Valley, the house is adorned with exquisitely carved wooden windows. The famous windows are Peacock and other latticed windows. In fact, the 'Pujari Math' is an excellent example of master wood workmanship of Newar artisans of Kathmandu valley.
The Bronze and Brass Museum:
Located opposite the Pujarimath, Bhaktapur, the museum contains the typical Newari bronze and brass utensils, ritual pots, lampstands, hookahs (Hubble bubble) other jars used since medieval times and in some cases till today.
Located in Tilaruakot (near the archaeological ruins of Tilaurakot palace complex - the ancestral home of Lord Buddha), the Kapilvastu Museum is about 26 km from Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha. The museum has an interesting collection of coins, pottery, toys and other artifacts dating from 7th century B.C. to Fourth century AD. The museum also displays some unique jewellery pieces dating the same period. The museum remains closed in Thursdays and government holidays.
This gallery is housed in Sita Bhavan, a neo- classical old Rana palace Naxal, Kathmandu. The gallery has two sections: Birendra Art Gallery - a permanent hall which displays works of eminent contemporary painters and sculptors. The second hall is used for occasional exhibitions of established or newly emerging artists of the country. The Gallery runs under the aegis of Arts and crafts Department, Royal Nepal Academy.
Srijana Contemporary Art Gallery:
A cooperative venture of a group of contemporary painters and sculptors, this Gallery regularly organizes various Art exhibitions solo and group shows. Besides, this gallery possess a wide collection of contemporary works from many established names to exciting new names. Also. the gallery runs morning and evening Art Classes. The Gallery is located inside Bhrikutimandap Exhibition grounds, Kathmandu.
J Art Gallery:
Located in the prestigious address of Durbarmarg, Kathmandu - a minute walk from the Royal Palace, the Gallery is specially noted for the exhibitions, display and sale of authentic works of the established painters of Nepal. The gallery is well patronized by the diplomatic and expatriate community of Kathmandu.
NEF-ART (Nepal Fine Art) Gallery:
A few minutes walk down the street of Gabahal from the fabled Patan Durbar Square, the gallery is specially noted for its bias for traditional Nepalese paintings and sculptures. The gallery holds occasional exhibition of traditional (Nepalese) paintings locally known as 'Paubhas'. Paubhas display an idealistic type of expression, flat bright colors, intricate outline - primarily of Buddhist or Hindu pantheon.
Moti Azima Gallery:
Located inside a nondescript narrow facade of a three storied building, in Bhimsenthan (on the way to Visnumati bridge), Kathmandu the exterior is deceptive. For, inside the gallery contains a unique collection of traditional utensils, handmade dolls representing different ethnic groups and social customs of Nepal, excellent samples of local handicraft works and above all the whole house represents a typical medieval house holds environ of a Newar family. Owned by a private entrepreneur, the gallery is a local style boutique - shop - embracing all the typicalities available. The gallery is open till Sunday through Friday.
Nepal Art Council Gallery:
Situated in Babar Mahal- on the way to Tribhuvan International Airport, the Gallery has an excellent space area for exhibitions. The gallery occasionally exhibitions of paintings and sculptures. Owned by a local non - governmental organization the gallery is noted for the display of works of selected artists of the country and abroad.
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