Many of us in the Kathmandu Valley have seen Cha Dhoka of Patan or at least heard of it. If you are a resident of Patan, then you have almost certainly passed through this monument. This is not a hidden or overlooked structure in a back alley somewhere. No, it stands prominently in one of the busiest streets of the city. We, no doubt, know of it, but do we know about it? The great white gate standing in Kotlachhi with its three passages, two for pedestrians and one originally designed for elephants and carriages but now used by vehicles, is quite popular. Adorned with images of the eight mother goddesses – the Astamatrika – and the words Yala Dhwakha scrolled at the top in Ranjana script, the gate, rather uncreatively called the Patan Dhoka, is well known. But less known is its past. Who built it, when and why? Why is it significant? Why is it called Patan Dhoka?
Unfortunately, I do not have the answer to the first question. Even the most exhaustive record of the gate – the 1652 poem Kritipataka – makes no mention of the builder or the date of its construction. What it does mention though is that the gate was part of a larger fortification. So, this is where the story of Patan Dhoka begins for now. In the Malla era, Patan, like parts of Kantipur and Bhadgaon, was surrounded by defensive walls which were up to 10 feet wide and 13 feet high in some places. The only way into and out of the city was through 21 gates built at strategic locations, of which, Patan Dhoka was one.
However, after Prithvi Narayan Shah conquered the valley, there was no need for such barriers anymore. The neighbouring kingdoms no longer posed a threat because they no longer existed. Under Shah’s unified Nepal, Patan found peace. So, the people stopped maintaining their fortification. As a result, the walls and gates crumbled and were never rebuilt, causing many gates to be lost to time. We only know of their existence today from the localities that bear their name - Tadhoka, Sasu Dhoka, Bhola Dhoka, etc.
Patan Dhoka too collapsed, or perhaps was demolished. But fortunately, it was rebuilt, sort of, in a Shah-Mughal style with thick walls and metal roof carrying a pinnacle flanked by two dragons. Was this similar to or different from the original gate? We don’t know because no records of how the original gate looked exist. But this Shah gate too came down in the mega quake of 1934 and was replaced by the Rana-style gate we have today.
This is the story of Patan Dhoka. Not long or exciting but I guess that’s what history is at the end of the day. Or is it? Just because something wasn’t recorded doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Maybe Patan Dhoka was built by a god, maybe it holds tales of love and betrayal or maybe it is a testament to devotion and we just don’t know! Now, coming to the name, Patan Dhoka is a misnomer. The Gorkha soldiers stationed at the city after Prithvi Narayan Shah’s conquest inaccurately assumed the Dhoka was the main entrance into Patan and christened it Patan Dhoka.
In reality, the main entrance was the Ta Dhoka near Purnachandi which was the largest and the most fortified of Patan’s 21 gates but they didn’t know. The name Patan Dhoka stuck. But if Patan Dhoka is a misnomer, then what was the original name? Cha Dhoka! There was once a pond near the gate named Cha Pokhari. So, the gate near the pond was called Cha Dhoka. The fields just below the pond were called Cha Kwo Pa which later became Chakupat.