Sunday, November 6, 2016

Restoration of monuments of the Kathmandu Valley : Do or die

Razen Manandhar

When the whole world is focused on how Nepal is going to conserve, restore or at least reconstruct those innumerable monuments concentrated mainly in the Kathmandu valley after the great earthquake of April 25th, 2015, the Kathmandu Metropolitan City Office, the authority responsible to conserve the monuments, shocked all by trying replace a 350 year-old Balgopaleshwor temple at Ranipokhari with a concrete building overnight.

This is an example of how state mechanism of Nepal has been looking at, treating or targeting the heritage of Kathmandu, which, in fact, has given an identity to the whole country in the world.  

It has been a one and a half year the villainous earthquake ransacked quiet and peace-loving Kathmandu Valley (not forgetting the devastation it spread in other more rural settlements). Lots of things changed in Nepal's political scenario in this period – promulgation of regressive constitution, shooting over 50 demonstrations to death, blockade in the southern border, shortage and black market of essential commodities, protests of indigenous peoples change of governments, official visits of Nepal's prime ministers to bordering countries are only some to mention. Following news in national and international media about misappropriation of the foreign donations that showered in the name of the victims and survivors of the earthquake, the government launched series of speeches and gimmicks for providing cash and kinds support to them.

The ruins of earthquake stricken monuments have witnessed three prime ministers – Sushil Koirala, KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal – all belonging to upper caste Hindus (as this has been an unwritten tradition of Nepal) and all coming to Kathmandu form various districts. They have no emotional, social or cultural attachment to the ancient monuments of the valley. All they know about this ancient valley is that it is made to shelter kings and prime ministers who do not have to be grateful to this poor valley.

While hundreds of ancient temples, stupas, rest houses as well as private or community houses spread in ruins, the former prime minister KP Sherma Oli showed his height of acknowledgement to this capital city by announcing a campaign to restore Dharahara tower, some 80 years old Muslim-architecture with no aesthetic and archaeological or cultural value. And a mass of neo-riche immigrants supported him, either they wanted political benefit form the barely matriculated prime minister or they also belong to the same community of outsiders. This is just an example of how the government or governments of Nepal neglected or misused heritage of Nepal. When our good neighbors like China, India, Japan, Germany and Sri Lanka are showing interest to fund restoration of the monuments; the government is indirectly prohibiting and brazenly asking them for cash that they could manipulate to distribute among their party cadres.

In the whole chain of events, the Newars, the indigenous people of the valley, often applauded or even pampered by the international scholars as being the richest (financially and culturally) among the ethnic groups of Nepal, have remained mere spectators. Each and every monument, the country is proud of, stands are evidence of the glorious past and economic abundance of the makers' community now are fighting to survive in the ever-changing development of the capital city. The residents don't know how to find a job in the toughest job markets of the country and how could they think about restoring the temples their forefather built? They have to maintain social status, participate in extravaganza cultural activities, remain attached to orthodox guthi tradition and also have to satisfy their desire for the newest technical gadget they find in the market of the capital.

Two generations of Newars are heading apart – old generation wants to follow the tradition that they love so much and the newer generation is more interested in keeping pace with the modern world -- being qualified for the most earning jobs or, if ever possible, abandon the country and seek better lifestyle in most advanced cities of the world. In these two races, the fallen roofs of the temples, crumbles monuments, standing with aid of struts or even the ruins of broken bricks of 500 years old temple remain as helpless as they can be.

Leadership of Newar community could have played a key role at this moment of time – to pressurize the government to utilize the funds for restoration of the monuments, to enliven the intangible heritage, that has been swept by the tremor of the earthquake and also to raise awareness among to people to value the local architecture. But, unfortunately, the leadership among the Newar community have been seen divided politically than ever, are just looking at one another to make the first step  - to do what is of immediate need.

This is the time the Newar community needs to identify a new leader from a new generation to make the government as well as the elected local representatives in the parliament accountable, to pressurize the government to act immediately for restoration of valuable monuments and also to restore private houses with most possible attributes of traditional architecture. Now or never – if we miss this opportunity of restoring the monuments, our heritage will remain parts of our stories and some technical reports of foreign architects or archaeologists. Time is now – either do or die.

Published in Guthi Magazine, Pasa Pucha Guthi UK, London (2016, 11 06)

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