The moment you arrive in Kathmandu, capital city of Nepal, you will be greeted by the beautiful architecture and craftsmanship that make up this fascinating place. Nepal is rich in artistic and cultural heritages. Every nook and corner of the country contains examples of these treasures--from ancient temples to intricate embroidery works, many art forms are found throughout Nepal. Among thousands unique architectures from different cities around the world Ankhi Jhyal stands out as one of its kind, it is also famously known as Newar window (Newa Jhyal). Ankhi meaning “eyes” and Jhyal meaning “windows” is a detailed wooden window with various intricate designs carved in a wood. They are found at traditional homes, shrines, palaces and many more, and every design are equally unique and detailed. The pattern and designs also vary from cities like Patan, Bhaktapur and Kathmandu, as it is believed in old times kings and rich families used to commission these artists to create elaborate and one-of-a-kind design for them. It was a very sought-after feature of the home.
It is said that the tradition of constructing Ankhi jhyal started during Licchavi Era (c. 400 to 750 CE), which is called Golden period of Nepal. But some historians and scholars believe it dates back even before this golden period of Nepal and there is no clear evidence of when it started. These beautiful windows are not just known for their details but they have their own purposes as well. Some are meant for decorative purpose and to heighten the grandeur of the palace or building. While some are used for engaging with the world outside and getting fresh air, especially by women in old times as they mostly remained within the four walls of the homes.
Among the many window designs most common ones are:
- Sanjhyā: This iconic design of ankhi jhyal consisted of three parts and usually placed in center of the house as a statement design. This design of windows is usually placed in the third floor of the house. These windows are easily opened, and used to gaze outside the house and interact with the world.
- Tikijhya: It is the most common window among the Ankhi Jhyal, it was used to allow light and air pass within the house and still maintain the privacy. This design was commonly used on the second floor of the house.
- Gājhyā: This particular design of window was used as ornamental design in the house or as an attic window. They are usually found placed under the roof.
- Pāsukhā Jhyā: This window is commonly found in place of worship or shrines, it consist of five unit's of window, which symbolizes the pancha buddha (Five Buddha).
The craft of making Ankhi jhyal in Nepal is traditional occupation of Newari communities especially Shilpakars. These Newa Artists are trained by the generations of the master crafters before them and the precision and creativity used by these artisans are worth admiring and promoting. One such master carver is Surya Bahadur Silpakar, a resident of Bhaktapur, who has been practicing this trade for as long as he remembers. He learned his skills from his father and grandfathers, who have been in business for many generations. As the new generation with modern technology has arrived, the old labor-intensive skills are dying down and he is worried about the future of this unique cultural heritage. The time and details that are required to make ankhi jhyal is tremendous. Also, the raw materials required are getting scarce day by day. These windows are created using special tools which are not readily available these days, so artisans make their own or modify as needed. Ankhi Jhyal are made by interlocking the pieces of carved wood in precise angles with minimal use of other supports like nails and screw. To achieve this level of precision years of training and patience is required.
So as a member of community and culture, its our duty to give due respect and promote this unique tradition and craftmanship . There is an urgency in keeping these skills alive and pass them to our next generations as a skill or as an artifact. Many of the young generation are playing vital role in educating and preserving such cultural heritage and skills, and they are slowly making comeback as an architectural trend due to growing heritage awareness, but there is so much more to be done in preserving unique Nepali craftmanship and architectural marvels of Nepal.