Itum Bahal

sights / Squares & plazas

Itum Bahal information

Lonely Planet review

The long, rectangular courtyard of the Itum Bahal (Buddhist monastery courtyard)is the largest bahal in the old town and remains a haven of tranquillity in the chaotic surroundings. A small, white-painted stupa stands in the centre of the courtyard. On the western side of the courtyard is the Kichandra Bahal , or ‘Keshchandra Paravarta Mahar Bihar’, one of the oldest bahals in the city, dating from 1381 and renovated in 2007. A chaitya in front of the entrance has been completely shattered by a Bodhi tree, which has grown right up through its centre. In autumn and winter the square is decorated in ornate swirling patterns of drying grain.

Inside the Kichandra Bahal is a central pagodalike sanctuary, and to the south is a small chaitya decorated with graceful standing bodhisattvas. On the northern side of the courtyard are four brass plaques mounted on the upper-storey wall. The one on the extreme left shows a demon known as Guru Mapa taking a misbehaving child from a woman and stuffing it greedily into his mouth. Eventually the demon was bought off with the promise of an annual feast of buffalo meat, and the plaque to the right shows him sitting down and dipping into a pot of food. With such a clear message on juvenile misbehaviour it is fitting that the courtyard houses a primary school – right under the Guru Mapa plaques!

To this day, every year during the festival of Holi the inhabitants of Itum Bahal sacrifice a buffalo to Guru Mapa on the banks of the Vishnumati River, cook it in the afternoon in the courtyard and in the middle of the night carry it in huge cauldrons to a tree in the Tundikhel parade ground where the demon is said to live.