Detail of Torana above the main entrance door of the Bhimsen Temple of Lalitpur.
A torana is a classic ornate archway or gateway that is the most prominent decorative piece of Newar Architecture and in numerous other South Asian nations for its cultural and religious significance. The entryways to temples, palaces, and other significant buildings are marked with these elaborate constructions. The Sanskrit word “Tora,” which denotes a passage or crossing, is whence the term “Torana” originates. It is also called “Tolana” and in English, it is called tympanum derived from the Greek word tympana. Numerous facets of the local culture and faith are represented through Toranas, which are frequently intricately constructed
Toranas, the architectural marvels evident in Kathmandu Valley, typically feature intricate carvings, sculptures, and detailed artwork. They are often constructed using stone, wood, or metal and exhibit impressive Newar craftsmanship. The designs on a torana can vary widely, with themes ranging from mythological stories, announcing the main deity of the temple to floral patterns, depending on their purpose and location.
Toranas are more or less semi-circular discs that can be made of metal or wood and are placed atop the main door and windows of temples. A maximum number of Toranas is found carved on wood followed by metal then the stones. It is believed that they act as a bridge between the ordinary world and the divine realm beyond, allowing followers to enter and leave their material worries outside. The Torana represents the spiritual journey in this setting thus having a long history in Kathmandu Valley.
It is thought that anyone entering a temple or home from Torana is cleansed. The middle of a Torana usually has a statue representing the deity of the temple. On top of Torana are Garuda (Vishnu’s mount) or Kirtimukha (lions), the two mythical traditional creatures of the Newar culture. Garuda’s hands encircle the serpents while Kirtimukha is seen devouring them. Then Moving towards the edges, corners, and top of the tympanum are designs of Makaras (crocodiles) spitting out patterns symbolizing flames, vegetation, rain, and water. The entire space is filled with temple-related elements. The purpose of Torana to have a mirror copy of the main icon of the temple is to inform the visitors which god is enshrined in the temple sanctum.
There are a number of metal toranas often crafted from bronze and adorned with gold. Some are even made from silver. Typically these metal Toranas can be found embellishing the shrines of the three Malla kings, in the Kathmandu valley well as the Buddhist shrines sponsored by the Shakya community. They are often positioned above the shrine within monastic complexes like Kwaa Bahal, Uku Bahal in Patan, and Jana Bahal and Tham Bahal in Kantipur. Notable examples of metal toranas with gold decoration include the western gate Torana of the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, Changunarayan Temple in Bhaktapur, and Vajrajogini Temple, in Sankhu. However one cannot overlook Bhaktapur Durbar Golden Gate Torana, which stands out for its simplicity and beauty—praised by Percy Brown over a century and a half ago.
Toranas are more than just ornamental arches; they are a representation of Nepal’s vast cultural and religious diversity that dates back to the sixth century. These stunning gateways where the number of images on one-half side of the Torana always matches the other to maintain harmony and balance continue to have a special position as a link between the physical and spiritual realms.
There is yet another Torana in Nepal which is not to be confused with the doorway design. When consecrating a home the Hindu community ties torana around the house. Torana in this context is a rope that has square pieces of cloth and sacred leaves tied to it at intervals.
Torana above Til Madhav Narayan Temple Door, Bhaktapur, Nepal
Gilded Torana shows Vishnu on his mount Garuda flanked by Ganga and Jamuna and on top is Kirtimukha. Changu Narayan Temple, Bhaktapur.
Intricate wooden torana design atop Rato Macchendranath temple door at the Macchendranath Bahal in Lagankhel, Patan.
The wooden Torana of Kumbheswar Temple has a four-headed Shiva as a primary deity. The other torana, the rope offering can bee seen on the door too. Patan.
Stone Torana of the Balmikeshwar Shiva Linga shrine room at Hanuman Ghat has an image of Kirtimukha devouring serpents. Bhaktapur.
The silver inner sanctum of Baglamukhi shrine and the torana above it is a fantastic example of the fine craftsmanship of the Newar Community of Nepal.
Toran above Taleju Temple Door (also called the Golden Gate) has an image of Goddess Taleju with many hands.Bhaktapur Durbar Square.
Gilded Torana at the Pashupatinath Temple’s exit door.
Garlanded wooden Torana of Unmatta Bhairav Temple in Panauti.
The Aagam Dyo Chhen is a “god’s house” (Dyo means God, and Chhen means a house) located immediately to the north of Bhaktapur’s Tachapal Tol Square has one of the most beautiful wooden Torana in town.
The Ganesh Shrine at the Western entrance of Hanuman Ghat, Bhaktapur, has a mini Torana with Kirtimukha devouring on snakes.
- Tolan in Newar Architecture