The period between A.D. 1200 and A.D. 1769, when Kathmandu Valley was under the long and prosperous reign of the Malla kings, was a golden period in the history of the valley, especially with regard to art, architecture, and culture. In A.D. 1482, the valley was divided by King Yaksha Malla’s sons into the three kingdoms of Kantipur (Kathmandu), Bhadgaon (Bhaktapur), and Lalitpur (Patan). It wasn’t a bad thing to happen, considering that successive kings of the three kingdoms would vie with one another to build the most beautiful temples and monuments in their respective domains.
Thus, the Malla era succeeded in bestowing the valley with a unique and distinct identity, due to the artistic and architectural marvels created during the period. So prolific was their patronage, that UNESCO, in 1990, listed the entire Kathmandu Valley as a World Heritage Site, based primarily on seven groups of heritage monument zones, namely, Swoyambhunath Stupa, Boudhanath Stupa, Pashupatinath Temple, Changunarayan Temple, and the durbar squares of the three kingdoms. The Malla period also saw the initiation of many of the valley’s festivals, among which the chariot festivals of Indra Jatra and Machhendranath Jatra are especially spectacular.
Among the Malla kings of the era, a few were particularly successful in leaving an indelible mark in the valley’s art, architectural, and cultural history. Among these luminaries was the ninth king of Kantipur, Pratap Malla (r. 1641-1674), whose statue sits on top of a square stone pillar called Pratap Dhyaja in front of the famous Taleju Temple in Kathmandu Durbar Square that he built, along with the Hanuman Dhoka palace.
Another of his celebrated creations is Ranipokhari (Queen’s Pond), the original Newari name of which is 'Nhu Pukhu' (New Pond). New, because at that time of its construction, the valley already had plenty of ornamental ponds. Nevertheless, Ranipokhari became by far the most beautiful of all the ponds. The king had it built in an effort to console his queen, Anantapriya, who was deeply bereaved by the death of Chakrawatendra, her youngest son.
Located in the center of Kathmandu city, this remarkable pond is rectangular in shape. It and its premises occupy some three and a half hectares, and in the middle of the pond is the Balgopaleshwar Mahadev Temple. This temple’s uniqueness lies in the fact that it is open to the public once a year only, on the day of Bhai Tika (when sisters worship their brothers), the final day of the festival of lights, that is, Tihar. People with no siblings visit the temple on this day. Smaller temples of Ganesh, Bhairab, Narayan, and Saraswati are situated at the four corners of Ranipokhari. Also on the premises is a white marble statue portraying King Pratap Malla and his two sons on elephant back.
King Pratap Malla is also credited with the famous Mahakali dance that is the highlight of Indra Jatra festival held in Kathmandu Durbar Square in September/October every year. Legend goes that one night he had a dream in which he saw the three goddesses, Mahakali, Mahalaxmi, and Kumari, battle demonic figures. So vivid was the dream that he wanted to have it recorded for posterity through a dance to be performed every year. This vigorous masked dance enacts the battle between the goddesses and the demons that the king saw in his dream.
Indeed, King Pratap Malla’s contribution to the valley’s arts, architecture, and culture, has to be applauded. His reign, a peaceful and prosperous one, is widely regarded as the high point of the Malla dynasty. This king, who also fancied himself a poet, and carried the title of Kavindra (king of poets), is rightly renowned for building numerous temples and monuments throughout Kathmandu, and thus contributing significantly in giving the city its unique identity.