31 Oct - 6 Nov 2014 #730

The stone amidst the wood

Architectural historian, Niels Gutschow, brings together the work of artist and draughtsman, Bijay Basukala, and photographer Kishor Kayastha in a series of books.
Someplace Else by Kunda Dixit

Kathmandu Valley’s temples are divided into two types: the indigenous design composed of wood and bricks and the stone shikhara temple design that came from India. The latest in a series of books by architectural historian Niels Gutschow and his team to document Kathmandu Valley’s built heritage is Towers in Stone, a book that brings together the work of artist and draughtsman, Bijay Basukala from Bhaktapur, and photographer Kishor Kayastha from Bhaktapur. And the focus here is on the stone shikhara temples.

The documentation of the unique architectural heritage of the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley by measured drawings began only as recently as the early 1970s – in contrast to almost all the other rich urban cultures of the world. Even when seven sites of the Kathmandu Valley were inscribed in the list of World Heritage by UNESCO in 1979, the Department of Archaeology of the government was not able to attach to the document of inscription more than mere lists of monuments. A lot of the techniques and plans were just passed down from one generation of builders to the next either verbally or by apprenticeships.

With the documentation of quite a number of Bhaktapur’s monuments by the Bhaktapur Development Project (1974-86), the research team of Niels Gutschow (Gorkha, Nuwakot, Chaityas of the Valley, Mustang, Mugu) and the Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust (since 1990) has since 1980 documented hundreds of temples, shrines and palaces. However, much more work remains to be done to arrive eventually at a complete inventory that presents more than a photograph. One gap has been in the study of the Valley’s stone temples.

The documentation of two temples in Bhaktapur in this book intends to contribute to that inventory. After all, in view of future earthquakes or simply neglect, a perfect documentation is possibly the best way of preserving the architectural heritage of the Valley. The present documentation of two shikhara temples on Bhaktapur’s Darbar Square transcends earlier efforts. The book presents not just a handful of pictures, but hundreds of photographs and drawings of the temples. Not one lion at the threshold but all of them, not one door frame, but all of them are meticulously recorded for posterity in case something should happen to them. The book’s illustrations force us to appreciate the enormous variety in the carvings of details. The stone carvers of Kathmandu Valley must have sketches at hand, but no templates. The carvers in fact enjoyed a considerable freedom to bring well-known features such as a makara or nagaraja into the preferred shape.

The documentation was sponsored by the Gerda Henkel Foundation, which was founded in 1976 as a private, non-profit organisation to promote specific projects in the field of the humanities, mainly history, archaeology and history of art. The foundation already supported Gutschow’s documentation of tiered temples such as the Indreshvara temple at Panauti and keeps supporting at present the documentation of 14th to 16th century temple portals such as the one of the Krishna temple on Bhaktapur’s Darbar Square.

Towers in Stone

Bijay Basukala, Niels Gutschow, Kishor Kayastha

Published by Himal Kitab,

November 2014

The Saraf Foundation for Himalayan Traditions and Culture joined in supporting the publication of this third volume of Himal Book’s Himalayan Tradition and Culture series.

The book is being launched on 14 November at the Taragaon Museum, Boudha.

Read also:

Palazzos decorated with pilasters, Kunda Dixit

The valley from the air

Before and after in Kathmandu Valley, ALOK TUMBAHANGPHEY

The rebirth of Bhaktapur, Lukas Grimm

Patan’s crown jewel, Kunda Dixit

Kathmandu’s newest museum documents its recent past, Elvin L Shrestha