Spots of white paints along with March’s dusty air has tarnished it and certain parts have been scrapped off, and it is quite apparent that it is devoid of attention. To the left of the main entrance to the Hanuman Durbar Square and set in the outer walls of Mohan Chowk, there is a long stone slab with 15 different language scripts engraved on it.
Installed by King Pratap Malla in 774 Nepal Sambat (17th century AD), the inscription is fenced inside maroon wooden flanks at present.
According to Gautam Bajra Bajracharya’s book “Hanuman Dhoka Rajdurbar,” this is one of the 89 inscriptions inside the premises of Hanuman Durbar Square Area. Though inscriptions on the peripheries of temples or any architecture mostly serve as the records of dates and the patrons’ names, inscriptions have also functioned as the revealers of the unknown facets of history.
Taking reference from Bajracharya’s book, the chief of Hanuman Durbar Maintenance Office Shyam Sundar Rajbhansi informs that English, French, Persian, Arabic, Maithili, Kiranti, Newari, Kayathinagar (script of the then west Nepal), Devanagri, Gaudiya, Kashmiri (Punjabi script family), Sanskrit and two different types of Tibetan scripts have been inscribed on the slab.
Though all the languages are yet to be deciphered and the entire meaning is yet to be interpreted, Gautam Bajra has decrypted bits and pieces of it in his book. And the starting line offers invocation to Goddess Kali.
Reading a part of the older version of Newar (Nepal Bhasha) script that has been included in Bajracharya’s book, Rajbhansi explains, “These particular lines mean that the king would consider priests as priests only if they are able to make sense of the engravings.” He adds, “And the one who damages the scripts will be considered of committing one of the five heinous crimes, such as killing a child or a cow.”
Tej Ratna Tamrakar, the former chief of the maintenance office, adds that in-depth research is yet to be carried out.
Rajbhansi, who also served as a script expert at the Department of Archeology for 10 years, informs that till date they have not been able to decipher the Persian script.
He believes that the inscriptions don’t carry particular meanings. Apart from it, he says that the English script – AVIOM and NEWINTERLHIVER – don’t make any sense at all.
“King Pratap Malla was a man of high regards, well-versed in fine arts. And as he was a poet, he was decorated with several credentials. So, perhaps to boast of his achievements and mastery of different scripts, he installed the engravings.”
The Malla king had assumed the title of Kabindra (Lord Indra of poets) before his name, “so there are possibilities of the engraving to be a poem or a devotional song, as he wrote dramas and poems,” adds Rajbhansi.
The slab was erected on the day of Shree Panchami when the goddess of education Saraswati is worshipped. “This hints that Pratap Malla emphasized on the importance of education,” says Rajbhansi who has been in the maintenance office for the past two years.
Along with highlighting the inscription’s educational aspects, Rajbanshi also informs that the slab also served as a water supply spot. A stone waterway, two openings on the slab and an idol of Bhagirath at the base are to be found. Legends have it that the holy River Ganga is believed to be flowing on the earth due to King Bhagirath’s intense meditation and prayers.
“The presence of the idol adds to the fact that this place used to serve as a public water supply point,” informs the script expert. Though barred for the public, it is said that right behind the stone slab there is a water storage tank.
There is also a popular belief that milk will flow out of the slab’s pipes if someone is able to read the entire corpus of scripts.
Well, this particular inscription is not the only one that is yet to be deciphered. Right across the slab, there stands the recently renovated Jagannath Temple. Its base and the platform above it are covered with different scripts. For casual eyes, it resembles Devanagari. However, Rajbhansi informs that it is not so.
“Half of the base mirrors the inscriptions with that of 15 languages but doesn’t have the English Script.* The other half of the base, along with the entire platform above it, is inscribed in Maithili.” The interesting part is that the rest of the temple’s bases are constructed from bricks and are not engraved.
Without paying much attention to the scripts, people are seen climbing these steps to reach the temple. Maybe the next time, when we climb those steps, we consider respecting the literature.
* Many experts believe that King Pratap Malla did not commission the inscription of English on the tablet because he was against Britain’s growing expansionist moves in the south of Nepal’s borders, that is, in India. This makes him the first known anti-colonist ruler in Nepal.