The Krishna Mandir, located on the western side of Patan Durbar Square, holds the prestigious status of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This architectural gem, like many other structures in Patan Durbar Square, offers a captivating glimpse into Nepal’s rich cultural history, particularly through its stunning temples and shrines. Among these, the Krishna Mandir stands out as a significant Hindu temple.
Constructed in the Shikhara style, a hallmark of Hindu temple architecture prevalent in North India and Bengal, the Krishna Mandir showcases design elements also found in monuments as distant as Bagan, Myanmar. This magnificent temple owes its existence to the vision of King Siddhi Narsingh Malla, who ruled from 1620 to 1661. The temple’s most striking feature is the soaring structure that rises directly above the sanctum sanctorum, reflecting the architectural style known as Granthakuta, unique to Nepal’s history. The Krishna Mandir was completed in 1637.
This architectural marvel, carved entirely from a single dark stone, distinguishes itself with an abundance of intricate sculptures and carvings both on its exterior and interior walls. Unlike the more common use of brick and timber in temple construction, this temple reflects the profound influence of Indian temple designs and represents Nepal’s first stone temple of its kind.
Legend has it that the inspiration for building the Krishna Mandir came to King Siddhi Narsingh Malla in a dream. In this dream, the gods Krishna and Radha appeared before the royal palace, which was the ancient Patan Durbar. The king, moved by this divine encounter, ordered the temple’s construction on the same site to bring his dream to life and show his reverence. A decade later, the king turned to Lord Krishna for help in defeating his adversaries in a neighboring kingdom, and with divine intervention, he emerged victorious. In gratitude, he built a replica of the temple within the Sundari Chowk courtyard.
The Krishna Mandir is often depicted on elaborate brass butter lamps found in Nepalese households. It features three floors beneath its 21 golden pinnacles, with worship spaces dedicated to Krishna, Shiva (in the form of a linga), and Lokeshwor on the first floor. Surrounding the inner ambulatories are chhatri pavilions. As you gaze from the courtyard, the stories of Mahabharata are intricately carved into the first-floor beam, while higher up, the Ramayana unfolds in stone.
At the front of the shrine, a statue of Garuda, the man-bird devoted to Krishna, proudly stands. The second and third floors are adorned with eight ornate chattri each at the corners and cardinal directions, while the fourth level incorporates four directly into each face of the sikhara. Each facade has a central door, and the inner walls of the wrap-around gallery on the ground level are divided into five bays on each side, featuring scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata inscribed in Newari script.
Throughout the temple, Vishnu and his steed, Garuda, are prominent figures, reinforcing the belief that Krishna is an earthly manifestation of Lord Vishnu. Four life-size statues of Vishnu riding Garuda encircle the base of the Shikhara, and the cornices of the ground floor bear bas-reliefs depicting the same theme. The exterior face of the ground-level gallery is adorned with images of the ten forms of Vishnu. In front of the temple stands a solitary Garuda statue on a pole, erected approximately a decade after the temple’s completion by Siddhi Narasingh Malla.
Today, the Krishna Mandir remains an active place of worship, overseen by local Brahmins. While non-Hindus may not enter the temple, they can often hear the strains of religious music wafting from its interior. Nearby, the Bhimsen temple, though awaiting restoration after being completely destroyed in the 2015 earthquake, shares a similar fate.
A significant celebration called Krishna Janmashtami takes place during the Nepali month of Bhadra (August to September) to honor Krishna’s birth. Devotees from across Nepal converge on Krishna Mandir for these festivities, gathering at night to pay homage beyond midnight. Throughout the day, worshippers flock to the temple to offer prayers and make offerings. The air is filled with incantations and prayers as small oil lamps (diya) are lit in celebration and devotion to the god.