Power Places of Kathmandu: Hindu and Buddhist Holy Sites in the Sacred Valley of Nepal
Text by Keith Dowman
Photography by Kevin Bubriski
Inner Traditions International, Vermont
Keith Dowman is a well-known translator of Tibetan texts, and a writer on Buddhist lore. Kevin Bubriski is an award-winning photographer, recognised for his stark, black- and-white portrayals of the face of Nepali dukha. After penning his pioneering guidebook, Power Places of Central Tibet, Dowman has been focusing his research on the “power places” of Kathmandu Valley. In the meantime, Bubriski has turned on to the magic of colour transparency, and taken a new look through the lens at his old hometown and surroundings.
The result of Bubriski’s conversion to less harsh realities, and Dowman’s continuing research into the less obvious ones, is a handsome over-sized volume, Power Places of Kathmandu. The text consists of 19 entries detailing a selection of temples, shrines and stupas in Kathmandu, Patan, Bhaktapur, and their environs. There is a glossary of Sanskrit and Newari terms, and a Valley map showing the location of each site.
The book is the result of Dowman’s love of the special ambience of the Valley and its people, blessed by gods and buddhas. He defines a power place as “a focal point of divine energy, where humans can make contact with the realm of the gods.” These are sites where “geomantic forces, divine myths, and human history and legend combine to make these locations sources of spiritual revitalization and psychic renewal.”
Dowman is particularly good at describing the religious tapestry of myth and custom, woven by various ethnic and religious groups, which covers the Valley and its power places.
Each place is described on several levels of detail. First comes the myths and legends, after that a history of the particular site, and finally a detailed description of it, explaining its various features and constructions, and high-lighting the artwork in and around the shrine. All in all, this text is to enlighten the layman and stimulate the scholar.
Bubriski’s offering is a portfolio of beautiful photographs, some of them quite memorable. The close-ups of the gods, the details of temples and stupas, emerge from the mist of time, fixed, at least for a moment, against the accelerated blur of modern vision. Bubriski is particularly inspired when he catches the divine elation of street festivals, and the serene acts of human devotion.
Here is a photo album which will add significance while adorning the book-lover’s cocktail table. Frankly, though, this book only whets one’s appetite for a complete treatment of the subject, with the photos paying a little more attention to the text. One picture is worth many words, and when one reads that a certain sculpture is “the most impressive of its type in the subcontinent,” it would be nice to see it on the page. Also, the camera could have paid more attention to the geomantic parameters (geomancy = divination by means of lines and figures), which in some respects are of primary importance, of some of these power places. Swayambhu, Changu,Sankhu,Chobar are all there, but one does not see the hill, the grove, the gorge, etc. There are no sangams, tirthas, or kundas, either.
These and other shortcomings of this book might be due to its “cocktail table” presentation. Ke garne, as they say in Nepal, what to do? Now that we have had our cocktail, we look forward to a full bhoj…