The 17th century Kal Bhairab statue in Kathmandu Darbar Square looks as ferocious as it did centuries ago with its wide eyes, upraised sword and fierce grimace. But over the years, the wild manifestation of Shiva was tamed and encased in a cage of marble and concrete. It seems that 2061 BS may see the figure, which legend claims metes out Shiva's wrath on anyone who dares tell a lie, finally set free.
This is the latest project for Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust (KVPT) in its mission to protect Kathmandu's eroding cultural heritage. Formed in 1990, the US-based KVPT has completed over 18 restoration projects, including the Sulima Ratnesvara temple in Patan and the Radha Krishna temple at Patan Darbar Square.
As the Kal Bhairab shrine shows, locals in the Valley are more in favour of 'modernising' monuments than preserving them. Even so, things may be changing. Gautam Rana, KVPT's director for development, is ecstatic with his latest fundraising coup: Rs 400,000 from the Nepal Investment Bank (NIB), along with another Rs 1,300,000 in pledges for the trust. Add a $22,392 grant from the American Ambassador's Cultural Fund and KVPT will stretch donations till the last rupee to restore seven temples marked for the Kathmandu Darbar Initiative.
The Indrapur temple is already completed and the Narayan temple is nearly done-again a result of co-funding, this time with the Robert Wilson's World Monuments Fund matched by Rs 1.2 million from the Soaltee Group. While the figures sound impressive, they reach only a small proportion of sites in Kathmandu that need restoration.
In order to meet the demand for heritage conservation, KVPT is organising its annual fundraiser that is set to be a major event, although a little less flamboyant than past endeavours which once included a 19th century costume ball. Susan Boggs, Chrish Kresge, Courtney Preston and Filipino pianist, conductor and singer Agnes Quimpo are classically trained musicians busy rehearsing for this Sunday's show 'A Little Night Music'. Their selection has everything from opera to Broadway, and Susan Boggs expects popular US music from the 40s and 50s to be a hit. Even if it isn't your cup of tea, the Diplomatic Notes promise "something for everyone". Fittingly, the event is at Baber Mahal Revisited-Gautam Rana's personal project that turned the old family cowshed into a thriving, upscale culture centre.
Meanwhile, just a riot-prone area away, Kal Bhairab is already undergoing a facelift. Since work started three months ago, the KVPT team led by Rohit Ranjitkar has already removed the marble shroud. Like with any restoration, they are already up against some unforeseen problems: some of the original stonework has been damaged by the cement used 12 years ago and the carvings they expected to find under the marble are gone. However, Ranjitkar is upbeat as he recalls past projects, including restoring a private shrine at a Patan home that leaned seven inches off centre.
Bigger challenges lie in ignorance and apathy, as the team often struggles to convince people that restoration is important. Thankfully, more people are waking up to the aesthetic value of original structures instead of slapdash plaster jobs. Many want to reconstruct rather than restore, preferring to tear down the original and simply rebuild an exact replica in its place. Ranjitkar is violently opposed to the idea. He estimates at least 75 percent of the original material is lost even when the old material is used in reconstruction, eroding the site's historical value. "Structural work isn't the most challenging part, as modern engineering has a lot of solutions. Actually, nobody wants the old ways, everyone wants to modernise," he says.
It takes a special group like the KVPT to remind us to extend our ancient heritage with the respect and care it deserves-show your support and dust your party togs for a fundraiser that will restore a bit of Kathmandu's old glory.
A Little Night Music performed by the Diplomatic Notes 5.30 PM on 18 April at Baber Mahal Revisited Tickets Rs 1,000 available at Baithak Restaurant & K2 Bar, Chez Caroline 4267346 4263070