Across the river and the city-lines, the mural in Bhaktapur is in better shape. On the walls of the 55-Window Darbar sits a celebration of colours and shapes: a vast mural spanning an entire room, casting a glorious and imposing sense of grandeur.
Divided into five horizontal panels, the 18th century mural is largely intact despite the years of neglect. The palace was once used by the police too, and the room was turned into a kitchen. Few sections of the mural are still behind a thick layer of stove smoke and soot marks.
Ram Govinda Shrestha of Bhaktapur Heritage Conservation points out the unique figure of Vishwaroop, the embodiment of the universe according to Hindu beliefs, with each head sporting a moustache. According to artist Madan Chitrakar, this is a rare iconography of the god since he is almost never shown with so much facial hair.
Further, the face of the god is the image of King Bhupatindra Malla himself, and in his hands he holds the chariots of Ram and Ravan before their final battle.
In the deity’s other arm sits his divine consort modelled after Bhupatindra Malla’s queen Vishwa Laxmi. On her coiffure in the painting the name ‘Shree Bhupatindra’ is clearly written.
On either side of the painting, a continual set of images – bilampu, says Chitrakar – unfolds, depicting scenes from the Hindu mythology. In one corner, one can make out an image of Ganesh which signifies the start of the story. It is a vast narrative, capturing the many stages of motion and plot: the same faces appear several times in different locations, doing different things, on the same two-dimensional stretch – an art style common in the Subcontinent which feels almost like a precursor to cinema itself.