Nepali Times Asian Paints
Restoring the god of destruction


Artists, poets and photographers have all marvelled at it: the golden monsoon light of the slanting afternoon sun at Hanuman Dhoka.

It is a magical light that bathes the ancient heart of Kathmandu in a holy glow-an oasis of calm amidst the busy streets, honking impatient vehicles and the blinding neons of New Road.

On the fringes of the square, opposite the Hanuman Dhoka is the two-storey figure of Kal Bhairab, god of destruction and justice. For centuries, the arresting god has looked down at passers-by with his terrifying gaze and ferocious dance.

Legend has it that the granite figure was not built but discovered near a water reservoir outside Kathmandu during King Pratap Malla\'s reign, which makes it at least four centuries old. Ever since it was put up at its present place, buffalo calves have been sacrificed here to appease the deity. And in the evening, devotees come by to offer flowers and oil lamps.

The Kal Bhairab has been 'modernised\' by a succession of patrons, someone constructed a marble awning above it and another tried to make the god even more fearsome by painting it gaudy blue, red and yellow. At first it must have looked appalling but even the enamel now seems to be a part of our heritage. The Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust (KVPT) has just finished restoring the 17 th century figure and has decided to let the colours be.

On 1 July, KVPT will be celebrating the completion of the restoration with a traditional Kshama Puja. It is a puja where we ask for forgiveness for the sins we might have unknowingly committed while working on the restoration, says Gautam Rana, director of KVPT.

The resident priest, Satyotara Bajracharya, 86, will perform the ritual and he reluctantly agrees that the restored fa?ade is better but is none too pleased about having lost the marble awning that sheltered the god, priest and devotees from the heat and rain.

There were other elements of the Kal Bhairab that needed to be restored, like the toran over the god\'s head. Historians dug up photographs from 1910 to see how it looked and have brought it back. With support from the US Ambassador\'s Fund for Cultural Preservation, Nepal Investment Bank, the Soaltee Group and other donors, KVPT was able to finish the restoration in one year.

It was a lot more work than we thought. We had assumed that the original stone would be reusable but it wasn\'t and there were many things that had to be worked on from scratch, says Raju Roka of KVPT.

The project has employed craftsmen from Patan to work on the designs and architecture. We are lucky to still have craftsmen who have the skills and can replicate them, says Rana, KVPT is serving as a training ground for apprenticeship. Once we hand over the restored monuments, they will continue to exist for as many centuries if people don\'t tamper with them.

Most locals who live around the square are happy with the project and often stopped by to worship Kal Bhairab even while the restoration was going on. They believe the deity can heal aches in their joints if they apply oil to the exact joint on the Kal Bhairab figure. The ungainly police station opposite the shrine was apparently located there because criminals would more willingly confess to their crimes if they swore by Kal Bhairab.

That is the beauty of our temples, says Rana, they are more than just a part of history, they are still alive.

KVPT used to concentrate most of its restoration work in Patan till 1999 and is now moving some its activities to Kathmandu. It is working on restoring all the other temples in the Darbar Square.

Trust in preservation

Over the last 13 years, Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust (KVPT) has restored more than 25 significant monuments such as the Patan Darbar, Chobar Ganesh, Keshar Mahal\'s Garden of Dreams, Baber Mahal Revisited and Yetkha Bahal. With the purpose of safeguarding threatened architectural heritage sites in the Valley, it has initiated projects that rescue historical buildings that might otherwise be lost to modernisation and increasing urban encroachment. KVPT has also started repair and restoration operations with training and research programs for its Nepali team. The Trust is based in the United States, but its office in Patan has become a training centre and clearinghouse for information about historic preservation in Nepal. Most notably, it has rallied Nepali businesses and individuals to contribute to preservation of our ancient monuments.

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(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)