Did you know that there are 100 ponds in the Kathmandu Valley? This number includes all three cities of Kathmandu, including Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur, and Sankhu. The most significant number of ponds is in Bhaktapur, with an estimated total of 42 major ponds.
Among them, it is estimated that 33 are still in use. And every pond in this brick city has a bit of history attached to it. So, taking a Kathmandu Valley sightseeing tour and listening to the history and myths of the locals would be an experience of a lifetime.
Bhaktapur was the biggest of the three cities in the Kathmandu Valley. A big city naturally needs a large number of ponds as well. You must know that these ponds were formed back in the ancient era. Back in those days, ponds and stone taps (hitis) were the sole water sources for city dwellers.
Among these ponds in Bhaktapur, Siddhapokhari is undoubtedly one of the most popular. This pond, however, is now known as one of the best dating spots. However, amid modern chaos, its historical significance is slowly being forgotten.
Do you want to know the forgotten history of Siddha Pokhari? Let’s talk about it!
History of Siddha Pokhari
Siddha Pokhari is located near the main entrance to Bhaktapur Durbar Square and is among the older ponds in Bhaktapur. This is considered to be the oldest pond in Bhaktapur. It holds an area of 275 x 92 and is rectangular. Naturally, a pond this big would have a lot of fish living in it. Along with the fish, there is also a Shiva Linga roughly around the center point of this pond.
Siddha Pokhari is an attraction for both tourists and domestic visitors. The path is paved with a classic brick city layout, and on a clear day, you can even see the mountains afar. Unlike the outside world, the pond is calm and tranquil, making this a perfect spot to relax and calm down. This is also the primary reason why this historical pond is a good spot to relax with your loved one.
Also known as Indra Daha, this pond is related to the goddess Indrayani. Devotees come every year on the day of Ashwin Krishna Dwithiya to worship lord Indrayani. As per the local belief, doing so will grant you happiness and long life. On this day, an additional statue of lord Shaiva, Shakti, Vaishnav, and Buddha is erected near the pond for the believers.
Determining the precise origin of anything ancient is extremely difficult. One needs to look at the historical records and the physical evidence of the said artifact or location. Although we know that Siddha Pokhari is ancient, there have been debates about how old this pond is.
There are tons of theories that try to estimate the existence period of this pond. However, there are two prevailing theories, both with significant evidence and conflicting dates. One such theory suggests that Siddha Pokhari is a natural pond that dates back to the Lichhavi period.
But, the opposing but equally, valid theory suggests that Siddha Pokhari was made during the early 13th century during the rule of King Ari Malla and was further developed during the rule of king Jayayakshya Malla, commonly referred to as Yaksha Malla of Bhaktapur.
Origin theory dating back to Lichhavi Period
It is believed to have existed since the Lichhavi period. If this is true, Siddha Pokhari has been here since at least 250 AD, or 1700 years. The mere existence of Shiva Linga seems to provide additional validity to the claim that this pond has existed since the Lichhavi period.
Although there are no records or inscriptions detailing how this pond came to be, the nature of the stone and carving seems to back this up.
Artifacts and sculptures made from a similar type of stone and carving technique have been related to the Lichhavi period.
Origin theory dating back to Malla Period
While the material of the Shiva Linga backed up this origin theory that dates back to the Lichhavi periodnga, this origin theory is backed up by numerous historical records.
According to the historical records, Siddha Pokhari dates back to the period of Ari Malla, the first Malla king. This was back in the early 13th century, although the extent of the development of this period is unknown.
However, if we are to follow the historical chronicles, we would have to assume that it had been reconstructed or developed further later. According to some historical records, this pond was developed and declared sacred during the reign of King Jayayakshya Malla/ Yaksha Malla of Bhaktapur in the late 17th century.
We have a decent record of the construction process from this era.
As per one of the historical documents, this pond was constructed in 1686 with a manpower of 100 people over six months. Although not a mega construction, this still was a decent investment. In a preserved inscription that was ensued by King Yaksha Malla, there were clear mentions of rules and regulations regarding the maintenance of Siddha Pokhari.
This pond was not called Siddha Pokhari back in those days. Rather, the names of the record this pond as Ta: Pukhu (त: पुखु), meaning Big Pond.
Side note* Ta: (त:) is an acronym of a Newari word for big Ta:nhau/Ta:hrau (त: न्हउ/ त: ह्रउ) and Pukhu (पुखू) translates to Pond.
The rules for maintenance are as follows:
- Should the pond be damaged, it should be maintained by his successors
- Should the pond be damaged deliberately with malicious intentions, then s/he will face “Panchamahapaap” which is equivalent to facing the charges of five evil crimes killing a cow, killing a guru, killing a brahmin, killing a child, and killing a woman.
The Mythical Origin
Although this mythical origin of Siddha Pokhari is nothing more than a folk tale, it still is an interesting one.
As per this mythical origin, there was once a Tantrik guru in this part of the city who got married to a woman from Thimi during the Lichhavi period. In the age of mythology, the Tantrik Gurus were equivalent to shamans who could invoke spells. This one, in particular, could change himself into different bestial forms.
He was a married man, living peacefully with his wife. Although his wife knew that her husband was tantric, she had never seen him do the transformation spell before. So, she insisted her husband show his transformation spell and turn into a beast. A man can be the king of the gods, but he bows down before his wife, and so the shaman too, lost his wife and decided to show his bestial transformation.
However, before he did that, he asked his wife to throw some holy rice over his transformed form. Unless someone did that, he would be stuck in his beast form. After giving the warning, he invoked his spell and transformed into a beast. However, his wife was unaware that her husband would turn into a gigantic snake.
This naturally frightened his wife, and she forgot that the beast in front of her was her husband. She was scared and forgot that she was supposed to throw the holy rice on him and let him transform back into his human form. Although this form granted him incredible attack, defense, special attacks, and speed, it also had a huge drawback, which was why he rarely, if ever, used his form.
The wife ran away to her maternal home in Thimi after seeing the huge snake. Although he tried to chase her, a big snake chasing after a woman was not what he wanted to be seen as. So he got annoyed and tired of his wife. After chasing her for a while, he simply returned to his city.
The only issue was a big snake couldn’t enter the city. So he sought a hole and took shelter there. There was a huge rainfall on the next day, and the hole turned into a pond.
Since the pine was near the city’s entrance, people went there to wash their faces and pay homage to the deities. The presence of a big snake never deterred them since the local residents knew who he was. One day, some residents of Thimi came to this pond to pay homage.
However, Tantrik was still salty about what his wife did to him. Knowing that his wife was from Thimi, he stung one of the people from Thimi, and he died on the spot. This was misplaced anger, but he had his reasons for being angry.
Seeing the near-instant death of their people, the rest of the people ran away. It is said that the saltiness of the tantric still haunts the people of Thimi to this day and people still occasionally get ill if they enter this pond on a bad day.
Siddha Pokhari is known as Ta: Pukhu
Did you know that the name Siddha Pokhari is relatively new? Before the unification, this pond was still known as Ta: Pukhu. After the unification of Nepal, General Bhimsen Thapa renamed this pond Siddha Pokhari, carrying the essence of the Indra Daha. Siddha (सिद्ध) translates to enlightenment, which as per the myths, you can gain after praying to certain gods/ goddesses and reaching the truth of life.
In the end,
Regardless of if you call this pond Siddha Pokhari, Ta: Pukhu, or Indra Daha, this is one of the most significant ponds in Bhaktapur and possibly the biggest one there. While this pond is a common attraction for couples, tourists, and people who love calmness, people often ignore the rich history behind this pond. Regardless of when this pond was formed, we can say that this pond is old.
While the records do state that this pond was built during the Malla period, you have to understand that there is limited perspective and evidence to support the records. Similarly, the evidence for this pond being from the Lichhavi period is also limited.
The most likely explanation behind the origin of this pond is that it was a natural pond that was later developed through the dynasties.
While looking at the history of anything, you need to have information from multiple sources, which we lack for Siddha Pokhari. History is written by the victors, after all.