25 Sep - 1 Oct 2015 #777

Rebuilding what is holy

Kathmandu Valley has always rebuilt its temples after earthquakes, but this time the international community wants to help, too
Sahina Shrestha

Big earthquakes have destroyed Kathmandu every 100 years or so. Thousands have been killed,  temples have come down, palaces have crumbled, killing kings. But the communities always came together to rebuild.

Our ancient builders realised that the construction material used in temples and monuments had a life span and needed to be maintained. They perfected flexible joints on beams and columns to withstand shaking.

After the 1934 earthquake, many of the temples were rebuilt. It was done somewhat haphazardly, and some brick and timber pagoda structures were replaced with Moghul-style stucco domes.

Neary 750 historical and cultural monuments in 20 districts were damaged during the 25 April earthquake including in the seven world heritage sites in Kathmandu Valley. The Post Disaster Needs Assessment report prepared by the National Planning Commission estimated that Rs 20.55 billion would be required to rebuild these structures.

“We are preparing the designs and drawings and have started doing cost estimates for the three Darbar Squares in the Valley,” said Bhesh Narayan Dahal, Director of the Department of Archaeology (DOA). “But since the Reconstruction Authority is yet to be formed, progress is a bit slow.”

In 1934, it is said that Prime Minister Juddha Shumsher Rana insisted on not taking foreign help to rebuild religious sites. However, in 2015, the Nepal government actively solicited international help for post-earthquake reconstruction, including of temples.

Donors send in proposals addressed to government of Nepal which is forwarded to Ministry of Finance, and if deemed appropriate a general agreement is signed. The request is then forwarded to the DOA through the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation where a MoU is signed. The donors can choose whether to extend funding, technical support or both.

So far, Sri Lanka has expressed interest in funding the reconstruction of the Red Machhidranath temple in Bungamati and Anandakuti Vihar in Swayambhu. “The technical part including the designs and drawing are complete and the rate estimation is in process,” said Suresh Saras Shrestha of DOA. “We have sent the MoU to the Sri Lankan government for their consideration and are waiting to hear from them.”

China has sent a proposal to reconstruct the Nautale Durbar at Hanuman Dhoka (pictured above) and the historic Sattale Durbar and its premises in Nuwakot. The MoU with the DOA is still pending. India had also expressed interest in reconstructing monasteries along the northern border, as well as the Kastamandap temple. But no agreements have been signed yet. Nepal has requested assistance from UNESCO’s World Heritage Fund which will be used for protection and salvaging the affected World Heritage Sites.

Earlier this month, the Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust (KVPT) was awarded  $320,000 by the US Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation for the restoration of Patan Darbar Square and the temples surrounding Kal Bhairab including Jagannath Temple, Laxmi Narayan Temple, Kageshwor Temple, Narayan Temple and the two smaller temples dedicated to Mahadev located at the side of Taleju temples that were damaged during the earthquake.

The DOA is waiting for the Ministry of finance to release Rs 2 billion promised in the budget for heritage restoration. The DOA is also working with 25 architects and engineers and is in the process of hiring 50 more to aid in the restoration and reconstruction.

It is also getting Robin Coningham of Durham University coming in to study the historic chronology of the damaged heritage in Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. DOA’s Dahal says the original designs will be strictly followed in rebuilding.

Rohit Rajkarnikar of KVPT says simply following the original designs may not be the answer. He says: “It is important that we restore the temples as close to the original form as possible including the materials used. Instead of tearing everything down and rebuilding again, we should salvage existing materials.”

Bhusan Tuladhar of UNHABITAT agrees, but adds that rebuilding cultural heritage should not only be about structures. “It should be about people as well. This is an opportunity to bring communities together,” he says. “That is why we shouldn’t just rely on foreigners, we must raise funds from Nepalis. This will give us a  sense of ownership.”

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