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Reprinted from Caerdroia 26 - 1993 - pp.13-21

The missionary Father Cassiano da Macerata was travelling in 1740 through Nepal on his way from India to Tibet. In his account of the journey he writes that he saw some ruins in the jungle, which he later was told were the remains of the ancient city of Scimangada, whose walls was said to have formed a labyrinth around the city. Cassiano adds that the plan of this City can be found, wrought in stone, in the royal palace of Batgao (modern Bhaktapur/Bhadgaon) in Nepal.

The presence of labyrinths in Asia is rare in comparison to Europe, and its occurrence is geographically limited.(2) The occurrence on the Indian subcontinent, although more common than in the rest of Asia is, with few exceptions, restricted to the western and southern part of India and to Sri Lanka. Cassiano’s account is the only extant source for the occurrence of the labyrinth in Nepal and therefore his information is particularly interesting and the aim of this article is to discuss and interpret Cassiano’s account of this Nepalese labyrinth.

This labyrinth has seldom, and only briefly, been commented upon in the literature on the labyrinth. The only two scholars (as far as I am aware) to take note of this labyrinth are Simon Nordstrom, who at the beginning of the 20th century mentions it in an article in the Swedish encyclopedia Nordisk Familjebok (3) and Hermann Kern in a footnote in his Labyrinthe.(4) But neither author had access to the text of Cassiano, and knew only of a abridged account given by Giorgi (see below), and could therefore not discuss this labyrinth at any length.

A Nepalese Labyrinth

Staffan Lundén

We also saw in several places some old ruins, and some seemed to be remains of substantial buildings. We could not understand how, in such a large forest which judging from the old trees is of considerable age, there could be buildings of any significance. During the following years when I was staying in Nepal I did not neglect to inform myself about such ruins which I made Bavanidat observe during the journey and whose answer I did not understand, because I did not yet know the language; and although I have received this knowledge 4 years later I am of the opinion that I should treat it here, despite the small digression I have to do from our journey. I was assured by many Nepalese from Batgao that these ruins were some small vestiges remaining of the very ancient and famous city of Scimangada, from which their Kings originated, and which was not possible to enter without wheeling it around again and again for about a month, because it was a city situated in the centre of a quasi-labyrinth enclosed by high walls, a labyrinth which it was impossible to enter except on a single spot, and after having entered there one had to pass beneath four fortresses, which were evenly distributed from place to place between the barriers of the labyrinth; and these barriers had a distance from one side to the other of about one Kos, [i.e. two miles] and the walls were extremely high with a width in proportion. Within the enclosures there were pleasant fields and small streams which watered them. The food supplies produced by the fields within the enclosures were sufficient to feed the large population, which was governed by a great King, who also had a vast domain around outside the enclosures, which were governed by one of his prime ministers. One of these, who had received the disapproval of the King, swore to take vengeance by betraying his fatherland and surrendering it to the Muslims; therefore the plan was agreed with the Emperor, and with numerous troops he [i.e. the prime minister] took up position at the entrance to the labyrinth, and then forcing the defensive wall opposite and on the other side, they entered the city before anyone had noticed the enemies, who massacred the inhabitants. Some succeeded in saving themselves through the breach in the wall made by the enemies, and one of these was one of the sons of the King, who escaped to Nepal, where he eventually managed to settle and subdue the native King and seize the Kingdom. So much has repeatedly been told me in brief about the city of Scimangada in Nepal, where in the royal palace in Batgao, the plan of the city was preserved engraved in stone, such as I have roughly sketched it here. An ancient king of Batgao in his time struck coins with some hieroglyphs on one side, the plan of Scimangada on the other side. These coins, which are of silver have the value of one lire, about two roman paoli; but today these with the plan of Scimangada are very rare...

The text is accompanied by an illustration (fig.2, reproduced opposite) entitled “Plan of the City of Scimangada and its enclosures”, which shows a labyrinth of the ‘classical/cretan type’ with the familiar central cross design and eight walls.(10) The illustration measures 15.5 by 16 cm. A caption explains the illustration:

A. Entrance to enter into the fortifications of the City of Scimangada.
B. First Fortress, which one has to pass to come to the city.
C. Second Fortress
D. Third Fortress
E. Fourth Fortress
F. The City of Scimangada
g-g. The place where the Vice-King led the enemies in and betrayed his fatherland.

The account of Scimangada had to wait about 200 years before being published by Petech, and the illustration of the labyrinth, which is not reproduced by Petech or Magnaghi, has remained unpublished until now. However, a brief mention of Scimangada and an illustration derived from Cassiano’s drawing did actually appear in print in Cassiano’s lifetime, in the work Alphabetum Tibetanum (Rome 1762) p.431-32, written by the Augustinian hermit brother August Anton Georgi. Through this work the occurrence of the labyrinth in this part of the world became known to Nordstrom and Kern and was the starting point for my own research. Alphabetum Tibetanum was written in collaboration with Cassiano, and parts of the book are derived from Cassiano’s manuscript. In the book there is a much abridged version of Cassiano’s account of the journey:

Cassiano came to Batgao a few days later on his journey and was later to stay in Batgao for three years, from 1742 to 1745,(12) and during this period he learned the story about Scimangada and certainly had the opportunity to see the labyrinth in the palace. Although Batgao is described by Cassiano the labyrinth is unfortunately not mentioned again, and we are left with no information regarding its size, precise location nor whether the labyrinth was made in relief or incised.(13)

In the story Scimangada is described as an almost impregnable city, but nevertheless, we are told in the story that disaster one day fell upon this city. It fell through treachery, betrayed by a minister whose troops took control of the entrance to the labyrinth, and after some walls had been collapsed, the enemy entered the city and slaughtered its inhabitants. Among the few survivors, who escaped the same way the enemies entered, was a son of the King who eventually became King of Nepal. At this point we may wonder what the connection between this story, the ruins in the jungle and the labyrinth in Batgao is. First the question of whether the story of the fall of the city has a foundation in real events or is fictitious has to be considered.

That the defensive system of Scimangada, with walls which took a month to pass is more at home in the world of saga than in reality is evident and Cassiano is sceptical about the whole story. After mentioning the coins stamped with the plan of Scimangada,(14) Cassiano continues that he has retold the story of Scimangada such as he has heard it, but he finds it chronologically difficult that the city was destroyed by Muslim troops, as it was also said that Scimangada was destroyed nearly 400 years ago, and the first Muslim emperor who, to Cassiano's knowledge, was active in this area was Oranzeb, whose reign started much later, in 1655.(15) Cassiano also finds a difficulty in that the Kings of Nepal only counted 300 years from their usurpation of the throne.

Cassiano concludes:

But even if it is true that Scimangada once existed, it is not possible to trace the truth among pagans, as one gets entangled in their stories and great tales.

However, Cassiano did not have a good knowledge of the history of the Muslim powers in India, and the story of the fall of Scimangada is, contrary to Cassiano’s opinion, to some degree based on actual events. Scimangada is also known in Nepali sources as Simraongarh, Simaramapura or Simraon. It was founded in 1097 by Nanyadeva from Karnataka as the capital of Mithila (Tirhut). The city remained the seat of the dynasty until its destruction by the Muslims in 1325.(16) The ruins of the city, seen by Cassiano, are still quite substantial, with much relief sculpture still visible.(17) Subsequently the Karnataka family of Simraongarh gained the throne of Batgao through marriage.

Thus, the story told to Cassiano is to some extent based on historical reality; the city was destroyed by the Muslims and the dynasty of Batgao did originate from Simraongarh. Still it is evident that the real Simraongarh did not have any labyrinthine defences and we may ask from where this idea came and why the plan of the city’s fortifications was reproduced as a labyrinth in the royal palace in Batgao.

The connection of a city destroyed long ago with a labyrinth, fits well into the very widespread pattern of the labyrinth as a symbol of a fabulous city from remote times.(18) In Europe this symbolism is common and well attested, and it is possible that - although it cannot be proven - that the concept of the labyrinth as a symbol of a city is of considerable antiquity. The inscription TRUIA in the labyrinth on the Tragliatella oinochoe, dated to the second half of the 7th century BC, should perhaps be read as “Troy” i.e. the labyrinth is the city of Troy/Ilion.(19) It is also possible that the walls depicted around the roman mosaic labyrinths are also symbolized cities.(20)

In Northern Europe, by the 15th century AD (21) and onwards there are ample evidence for the association of labyrinths and cities (and castles), most evident in the names given to the labyrinths:(22)

Caerdroia “City of Troy” (Wales); Troytown, City of Troy (England)(23); Wunderburg “Wonder castle” (Germany); Jerusalem (Poland)(24); Nineve, Viborg, Trondhjem, Konstantinopel “Constantinople”, Trojaborg “City of Troy”, Trelleborg (Sweden (25); the latter two names also in Denmark (26)); Jerusalems Förstöring or Jerusalem Hävitys “The Destruction of Jerusalem”, Nineves Stad “City of Nineveh”, Jerichos Ritning “the plan of Jericho” (Finland)(27); Jeruusalemma Linn “City of Jerusalem”, Türgi Linn “City of Turks”, i.e. Constantinople? (Estonia)(28), Vaviloni “Babylon” (Kola peninsula and Solovetski Islands in the White Sea, Russia).(29)

Drawings of labyrinths in manuscripts start appearing in the 9th century AD. In the earliest (30), as well as later examples (31), the labyrinth is used to illustrate the city of Jericho. The concept of Jericho as a labyrinth apparently became widespread and Jericho illustrated by a labyrinth can be found in manuscripts in Europe and in Asia, both in the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox tradition, as well as in the Jewish and the Christian Syrian and Armenian traditions.(32)

The concept of the labyrinth as as a symbol of a city was also known in the Islamic culture. The Arabic geographer Al Qazwini, gives some curious information about Quastantiniyya “Constantinople”, in his work Cosmography, finished AD 1276. The account of Al Qazwini can be summarized as follows:(33)

This city was built by Constantine. Wise men have produced it. Neither before nor after it has anything similar been built. The accounts of the city's size and beauty are numerous. The city looks as follows: [picture of the labyrinth] but nowadays it does not have that appearance. Instead it is a great city, in which is the castle of the king, surrounded by a wall.

Another, earlier, testimony for the labyrinth as a symbol of a city in the Islamic tradition comes from Arabic historian Al-Biruni’s work on India, finished AD 1045 in Ghanza (Afghanistan).(34) In India the symbolic value of the labyrinth has shifted slightly; labyrinths represent castles instead of cities. In the above-mentioned work by Al-Biruni we have evidence for this concept as early as 11th century AD. Al-Biruni writes about the castle of the demon Ravana on Lanka (Ceylon), and the castle is illustrated as a labyrinth. In the centre of the labyrinth is the word “castle”. Although the text of Al-Biruni that follows is somewhat corrupt the meaning seems clear: that in India Ravana’s labyrinth-castle is called Yavani-Kote Greek castle”, but in the Islamic countries it is called Al-Multawi “the confusing, the perplexing”, which can translate as Rumiya Rome” (which probably means Constantinople) It is likely that Al-Biruni got his information about Ravana’s castle as a labyrinth, and the Indian labyrinth name during his visits to India.(35) Nowadays in Southern India, the labyrinth symbol which appears as a threshold design is still called Kote “castle”.(36)

Thus, from Northern Europe to India a common pattern appears: the labyrinth is a symbol of a distant, more or less mythological, city, destroyed in the past. Although the identity of the city symbolized by the labyrinth varies, it is never a nearby or contemporary city.(37) Examples from Northern Europe are, needless to say, not directly relevant while discussing the symbolic significance of the labyrinth in Nepal, but likewise in the regions closer to Nepal, the labyrinth symbolizes a well­-known city, distant both in time and space. Ravana’s labyrinth-castle on the island of Lanka clearly belongs to myth, and - just as in Europe, cities considered as labyrinths are placed in Asia - the labyrinth-city of Islamic tradition was placed in Byzantium, and it was not the present Constantinople which was considered a labyrinth, but the Constantinople of bygone days.(38)

I think it is fairly safe to say, that the Nepali labyrinth and the city of Scimangada/Simraongarh fits well into the same pattern. The physical remains of Scimangada/Simraongarh was long since only ruins and although the ruins were not that remote, their location in a dense jungle inhabited by tigers and other wild animals made them inaccessible. As the Kings of Batgao claimed their origin from Scimangada/Simraongarh, this city and the story of its fall must have had some importance in the cultural milieu of the kingdom of Batgao. And so it was said in Nepal that the plan of the defences was that of a labyrinth, the same story told in Europe and Asia. [Editor's note: similar interpretations are applied to labyrinths in America and southern Africa].

Notes & References:

1. Petech, Luciano. I missionari Italiani nel Tibet a nel Nepal. I cappuccini Marchigiani I-IV, Il Nuovo Ramusio 2, Rome 1952-1953.

2. For details of labyrinths in Asia, see: Causasus, Kern, 95, fig.99; Afghanistan, Kern, 435, fig.630. Kern, Hermann. Labyrinthe: Erscheinungsformen and Deutungen 5000 Jahre Gegenwart, Munchen, 1983. Labyrinths sculpted in wood in mosques, and a rock carving of a labyrinth, have been reported in Northern Pakistan by Umberto Scerrato, “Labyrinths in the wooden Mosques of North Pakistan: A problematic presence” East and West 33, 1983, 21-29. Scerrato also mentions labyrinths in Turkey and Syria (p.24). Several examples are known from Sumatra and Java. Kern 435-438. For other Asian examples, see the discussion on labyrinths as symbols of cities, below. Reports of labyrinths in Asia will certainly increase with future research.

3. Vol.15 (1911), col.744 q.v. “Labyrint”.

4. 424, no.32. Kern erroneously places Scimangada in India and Batgao is callad Batgai, which is the genitive of the latinized name Georgi uses.

5. For a short biography on Cassiano (secular name Giovanni Beligatti); see Petech I, p.CXII.

6. Magnaghi, Alberto. “Relazione inedita di un viaggio al Tibet del P. Cassiano Beligatti da Macerata” Rivista Geografica Italiana 8-9, 1901-02: on the manuscript, 8, 1901, 546-547; the account on Scimangada, 615. Magnaghi has also published the article seperatly as a monograph: Relazione inedita di un viaggio al Tibet del P. Cassiano Beligatti da Macerata, Florence 1902.

7. Petech IV.

8. Petech IV, 4. A map on which several of the relevant placenames can be found is: Rennell, J. Hindostan 1782 (copied at Berlin by Benj. Glasbach 1785), scale: 60 geographical miles/69.5 British miles to a degree [i. e. 1:4,500,000]. It should be noted that cartographically this map is not very reliable.

9. Petech IV, 12-14.

10. On p.60 in Cassiano's manuscript.

11. The illustration measures 8.5 x 8.7 cm. Scimangada is also in the index of the book (p.809) and basically the same information is given: “Scimangada, a city built in a labyrinthine manner in the most ancient times. Hardly any remains of it are preserved. Many stories are told about it”.

12. Petech 1, p.CXII.

13. A labyrinth appear in the stone reliefs on each of three temples, built in the 12th-13th centuries AD, in and near Halebid, Mysore (South India). Kern 422-423, Figs.601-603. As has been mentioned before, Scerrato 24, Figs.9-10 reports a labyrinth incised on a boulder in North Pakistan. Batgao was mainly a Brahmanist (Hindu) city but did also have Buddhist inhabitants which makes it difficult to say to which of these traditions the labyrinth should be attributed, and in this region Brahmanism and Buddhism are not always distinctly separated. Slusser, Mary, Shephard. Nepal Mandala: A cultural Study of the Kathmandu Valley, Princeton 1982, 214. The labyrinth is not a common symbol in the Buddhist culture. In Sri Lanka, from the end of the 18th century AD, the labyrinth in Buddhist tradition, is a symbol of Vanga-giriya “the curved mountain”, the place of exile of the penultimate Buddha Vessantara. The place is described as a dense jungle, full of wild beasts, at the foot of the Himalayas (Kern 433-434), but I doubt that this tradition has anything to do with the history of Scimangada.

14. Neither Magnaghi (1901), 615, n.4, nor Petech IV, 246, n.16, knows of the labyrinth as a motif on Nepali coins. Petech suggests that Cassiano refers to a coin with some kind of ornamental design.

15. More precisely Auranzeb, ascended the throne in 1658. Petech IV, 246, n.16.

16. According to late, unreliable, Nepali sources Nanyadeva - who was regarded as the founder of the Karnataka dynasty - conquered Nepal and established his court in Batgao. Although he did raid the country he did not take permanent control. Petech, Luciano. Mediaeval History of Nepal (c. 750-1482) (Serie Orientale Roma 54), Rome 1984 (lst.ed. 1958), 55-56; Slusser, 46-47, 66.

17. Ballinger, Thomas O. “Simraonqarh Revisited: a report on some observations made at the ruins of the former capital of Mithila in the Terai of Nepal” Kailash: Journal of Himalayan Studies 1, 1973, 180-184. The work of Hodgson was not available to me: Hodgson, Brian H. “Account of a visit to the ruins of Simroun, once the capital of the Mithila province” Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 4:39, 1835, 121-124. (Reprinted in Illustrations of the Religion of the Buddhists of the North, Serampore 1841, but not in the Trubner collection of 1872). Ruins of Simroun are marked on the map The Goruckpoor and North Behar Frontier. Comprising the Districts Goruckpoor, Azimgurh, Jounpoor, Benares, Ghazeepoor, and part of Allahabad, North west provinces; with Sarun, Chumparun, Tirhoot and part of Monghyr, Bengal Provinces, based on the Great Trigonometrical and Revenue Survey Operations to 1858. (On transfer paper by Bullorum Nath, Mohamed Azeem and lith: by H.M. Smith at the Surveyor General's Office, Calcutta, April 1858), scale: 8 miles to 1 inch.

18. Exactly what is symbolized by the labyrinth can differ slightly; sometimes the labyrinth is understood as a city/castle and sometimes as the walls around the city (as in the case of Scimangada), but the basic association of labyrinth and city is the same.

19. This means that the neither the labyrinth nor the inscription has anything to do with the Roman equestrian game lusus troia. Weeber, K.W. “Troiae lulus: Alter and Entstehung eines Reiterspiels” Ancient Society 5, 1974, 171-196, 185-186; Dinzelbacher, Peter. “Ober Troiaritt and Pyrriche” Eranos 80, 1982, 151-161, 155. The alternative argued by Small 68-83 - which I find less plausible - is that the lusus troia (and not the City of Troy/Ilion) is depicted on the Tragliatella oinochoe. Small, Jocelyn Penny. “The Tragliatella Oinochoe” Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archaelogischen lnstituts. Roemische Abteilung 93, 1986, 63-96. The Tragliatelia oinochoe is also discussed in: Bouke, van der Meer L. “Le jeu de truia: le programme iconographique de l'oenochoe de Tragliatella” Ktema 11, 1986, 169-178.

20. Kraft, John. “The Cretan labyrinth and the walls of Troy, an analysis of Roman labyrinth designs” Opuscula Romana 15, 1985, 79-86. Small, 73, 74 n.39 prefers to see these labyrinths as symbols of the Cretan or Egyptian labyrinth.

21. France: le cipte de Troie, “City of Troy”, Matthews, William Henry. Mazes and Labyrinths: Their History and Development, London 1922, 156; Sweden: Andersson 8-9 discusses a toponym Troioborgh, “Castle of Troy” probably derived from a field labyrinth. Andersson, Thorsten, “Litterara ortnamn” (Place-names from literature), Sydsvenska Ortnamnssallskapets Arsskrift 1972, 3-20.

22. A survey of the labyrinth-names of Northern Europe is given by Kraft, John. “Labyrintnamn: frAn Troja till Trelleborg” (Labyrinth names: from Troy to Trelleborg), Sydsvenska Ortnamnsskllskapets Arsskrift 1986, 8-72, with an English summary and maps of the distrubution of labyrinth names in the different countries.

23. Saward, Jeff, The Caerdroia Field Guide, Thundersley 1987, 43-45

24. Kraft, John. “Wunderburg and Jerusalem” Caerdroia 13, 1983, 11-19; Kraft (1986), 22-25. 25. Kraft (1986), 38-63.

26. Kraft (1986), 26-29; Knudsen, Gunnar, “Navnet Traelleborg” (The name Traelleborg), in: Poul Nörlund, Trelleborg, (Nordiska Fortidsminder 4, Kopenhagen 1948), 189-214.

27. Kraft (1986), 33-37.

28. Kraft (1986), 33; Kraft, John & Selirand, Urmas, “Labyrinths in Estonia”, Caerdroia 1990, 32-37.

29. Kraft (1986), 32-33; Baer, Ernst von, “Über labyrinth-förmige Steinsetzungen im Russischen Norden” Bulletin de la historico-Philologique de l’Academie impériale de Sciences de St-Petersburg 1, 1844, col.70-79.

30. Italy, Kern 188, fig.216.

31. Syria, 19th century AD, Kern 198, fig.230.

32. Kern 182-198.

33. I have not consulted the original text, but rely on the translations of Batschelet-Massini, Werner, “Labyrinthzeichnungen in Handschriften”, Codices Manuscripti 4, 1978, 33-65, 49, Nr.14, and Kern 166, fig.196.

34. Another example of the labyrinth in the Islamic culture is reported by Saint-Hilaire. This labyrinth, forming part of a water game in the central court in the royal palace at Meknés, Morocco, was drawn by captive Europeans, prisoners of the Sultan Moulay Ismail, in the 17th century. Saint-Hilaire, Paul de, L'Univers Secret du Labyrinths, Paris 1992, 192. A water game in the form of a labyrinth in the Azem palace at Damascus, Syria, is also reported by Scerrato, 24, fig.11. An explanation for the lack of labyrinths in the Islamic culture is discussed by Bausani, who also proposes an unconvincing astronomical interpretation of the labyrinth. Bausani, Alessandro, “Islamic culture and a possible astronomical interpretation of the labyrinth: some notes” Hamdard Islamicus 7, 1984, 17-24.

35. Kern 425-426, fig 608.

36. Kern 425, fig.607. A labyrinth carved on a housewall in a village of Kota was used for the game of Kote Castle”. Kern 428, fig.617.

37. From a rationalist point of view a labyrinth cannot be a symbol of a real city, as real cities do not look very much like labyrinths.

38. Accordingly, Constantinople does not seem to be an exception from other cities considered as labyrinths and Kern’s suggested explanation (166, fig. 196), that the tradition of Constantinople having been built as a labyrinth originated in a (hypothetical) performance of the lusus troia, is no longer necessary.

39. Kraft, John, The Goddess in the Labyrinth, Ĺbo 1985.

40. Kern 435, fig.630.

41. Kern 179, fig.215.

42. Slusser 94, 102, 345. See Auer and Gutschow 38, for a 18th or 19th century painting of Batgao as a mandala. Auer, Gerhard & Gutschow, Niels, Bhaktapur Gestalt, Funktionen and religidse Symbolik einer nepalischen Stadt in vorindustriellen EntMcklungsstadium, Darmstadt 1974.

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Fig 1: the route followed by Cassiano and the missionaries through northern India and Nepal in 1740.

In the middle of the forest numerous ruins are seen; remains (it is said) of the vast and ancient city of Scimangada, of which we here give a reproduction. Many things are told about this city. Even today they show in the public square of Batgao a plan incised in stone. Old coins are found, although rarely, which show this plan, constructed in a labyrinthine manner, as in the drawing above.(11)


The text is accompanied by an illustration (fig. 3, reproduced opposite) The illustration, which measures 8,5 by 8,7 cm, is that of a labyrinth of the so called  classical/cretan type with the central cross design and eight walls.

The accompanying story goes that the man who managed to get a glimpse of Khunkhar’s daughter Shamaili would be allowed to marry her. Six sons of Namazlun had been killed in the attempt, but the seventh managed to come near her by hiding in a statue which was brought into her house, and eventually he married her and took revenge for his brothers.(40)

Another story with the same theme can be found in a 19th century magical parchment scroll from Ethiopia, in which the labyrinth is the palace or harem of Solomon. A man called Sirak dug a tunnel into the centre of the labyrinth and abducted one of Solomon’s wives.(41)

The story of Scimangada is also a story of how the almost impregnable defences of the labyrinth were forced. Cassiano writes that the produce of the fields in the area enclosed by the walls was sufficient to feed the whole population, which I infer meant that the city could not be starved by a besieging enemy, and the height of the walls supposedly made them invulnerable to direct assault. Thus, the only way in was through the entrance, but the enemy entering here was forced to try for a month to pass along the whole circuit of the labyrinth and beneath the four fortresses. The treacherous minister nevertheless managed to get the enemy through these formidable defences by taking possession of the entrance to the labyrinth (supposedly to let the enemy in through the gate, if there was one) and by collapsing the two walls situated “opposite (i.e. of the entrance) and on the other side,” where Cassiano has marked “g-g” on the plan (see fig.2). (Presumably the location of the breaches was pointed out to Cassiano, either on a sketched drawing of a labyrinth or possibly on the relief in the palace at Batgao, by the person(s) who told him about the defences of Scimangada and the fall of the city.) In this way a quick passage was created between the entrance of the labyrinth and centre of the city, through which the enemy - and the king’s son - could pass without the need to traverse the tortuous passages of the labyrinth. Thus, the blending of historical events and the widespread concept that the labyrinth represents a famous city from the past formed the story of how the labyrinthine defences of Scimangada were overcome and how the dynasty of Batgao originated.

As I am not an expert on Nepal I refrain from trying to put the labyrinth into the larger context of Nepali culture, but it can perhaps be noted in the final paragraph of this paper that the idea of a labyrinth as a symbol of a city could have been felt to resemble the deep-rooted Nepali conception of a city as a mandala, and that the protective qualities of the labyrinth corresponded to the belief that a city was protected by the mandala’s concentric rings of divine power, existing both inside and around the city.(42)


Staffan Lundén, Gothenburg, Sweden; 1994.


For the preparation of this paper I have been offered invaluable assistance by Kerstin Röllander and the staff at the University Library at Gothenburg, and by the Section for Maps and Pictures at the Royal Library in Stockholm. I am also grateful to Ann-Marie Dahlander B.A. for help with the translations from Italian, and to Ph.Lic. Kimmo Järvinen at the Classics Institute at the University of Gothenburg for the translation from Latin, and to Prof. Karl Sunesson at the Department of Indology at the Institute for Oriental Languages at the University of Stockholm for a number of indispensable references. (Editor's note: We are also grateful for the assistance of Mauro Pedretti of Milan for checking the translations from the original Italian texts).

Although rarely explicitly stated in the material, it seems clear that the labyrinth is not only a symbol of a city or of the city-walls, but also symbolises that the city, due to its labyrinthine defences, has a strong protection. A common theme in a number of labyrinth stories is how the defences of the labyrinth, in one way or the other, were finally breached,(39) however, despite this common theme, these stories are quite different from each other and I do not think that they should be regarded as having evolved from a common source. A story with this theme, in which the labyrinth represents a house/palace, is known from the eastern part of Afghanistan. A contemporary drawing (fig.4, reproduced opposite) of a labyrinth has the explanatory text:

The House of Shamaili, its entrance was hidden, only Shamaili knew it.

The work of Cassiano (1708-1791) (5) has the title Giornale di Fra Cassiano da Macerata nella Marca d'Ancona, Missionario Apostolico Cappuccino nel Tibet e Regni adiacenti, dalla suaa partenza da Macerata suguita li 17 agosto 1738 sino al suo ritorno nel 1756; diviso in due libri. Libro Primo, and is an account of his journey to and subsequent stay in Nepal and Tibet. He left Macerata in Italy in 1738 and returned to Europe in 1754. Of the two volumes written by Cassiano the second is lost and the first, stored in the Biblioteca Comunale Mozzi-Borgetti di Macerata, is a manuscript of about 200 pages with pencil drawings, watercolours and plans of buildings. The manuscript was discovered at the beginning of the 20th century by Alberto Magnaghi, who published a large part of the text.(6) Subsequently the whole text has been published by Luciano Petech.(7)

In February 1740 Cassiano and seven other cappuccini missionaries, together with a Nepalese Bavanidat (Bhavani Datt) and porters, left Patna on the Ganges in India (in Cassiano's time in the Mogol Empire) on their way to Batgao, capital of one of the kingdoms in Nepal, and their ultimate goal, Lhasa in Tibet.(8) The missionaries pass Lalgang (modern Lalganj), Messi (modern Mehsi), Barrihua (modern Purnahia?) and then cross the border to the kingdom of Maquampur (the modern city of Makwanpur). They continue through a jungle in the Rautahat district of the Tarai in Nepal, close to the modern Indian border. Cassiano writes that the journey is not without danger, as the jungle is inhabited by tigers, elephants and rhinoceroses. On the 29th of February, after having commented that the large number of animal bones indicated that tigers were not rare, Cassiano continues: (9)

In 1703 the Vatican took the decision to start missionary work in Nepal and Tibet and over a period of about 70 years sent a large number of missionaries to these remote Himalayan countries. The considerable number of reports and letters left behind by the missionaries give unique information about these countries during the 18th century.(1)