Once famous, Bhasmeshwor temple now lies in ruins
Lalitpur, July 6: The Kathmandu Valley boasts of a heritage site almost at every location, but one of such sites, right next to Patan Durbar Square, seems to have caught no one’s eyes or evoke any action.
Little more than a week ago, the foundation of an old structure was discovered during excavations at the southern side of Mangalbazaar.
“We initially thought it was the wall of a pond because it looked similar to other ponds we had seen,” said Bishal Shakya, a local.
But upon examination of old photos and listening to the stories of elders, there is no evidence of a pond ever existing in that area. There was, however, a large Shikhar-style temple built above what are now the ruins of the area’s police station.
“The temple existed till 1934 AD when the notorious nabbe saalko earthquake brought it down,” informed Mohan Maiya Jha, priestess of the Char Narayan Temple and Bhai Dega at Patan Durbar Square. “Sadly, the Rana government of the time did not rebuild the temple and instead constructed a municipality building on its area.”
The building Jha is referring to is the old building of the Lalitpur Metropolitan City that was later converted to the Mangalbazaar Police Station. This building, too, collapsed in the 2015 earthquake.
Having never been re-constructed, the post-1934 generations are unaware of the existence of the temple and, hence, are indifferent. This is highlighted by the fact that many people, living right next to the excavation site, did not even know that a historic foundation had been discovered smack in front of their front doors. Some people, who had come across some old photos, were quick to claim the foundation was that of the Krishna Temple, which is not the case.
“People saw a Sikhar temple and immediately presumed it to be Krishna Temple,” said Viki Shakya, a local of the area and an advocate for heritage conservation. “But the famous Krishna Temple is on the northern side of Mangalbazaar and the other lesser-known one is in front of Bhai Dega.” He argues that both these temples are simply too far from the excavation site for their foundations to be discovered there.
The temple is actually that of the
Bhasmeshwor Mahadev. The large Shikhar temple was reconstructed as a small dome-shaped one after the 1934 quake. It today lies in obscurity in a lone corner of Mangalbazaar surrounded by parked vehicles, street vendors and garbage.
The temple was that of the Bhasmeshwor Mahadev as informed by Sanubhai Maharjan, 93, a resident of Bhau Nani, Patan. Maharjan was 7 years old in 1934 when the temple collapsed and remembers playing around the temple as a child.
“The temple had large artistic columns and people used to sacrifice buffaloes on religious occasions,” he recalled. He said that the large Shikhar temple was later reconstructed into a small dome shape after the earthquake.
So, the discovery of its foundations has presented an opportunity to right the historical wrong in its conservation. There is a real chance to restore the temple to its former glory. But only if there is an initiative from the local level, which there sadly isn’t.
“The government and the Department of Archaeology should look into this matter,” said a local. “Rebuilding the temple might affect the nearby houses,” suspected another. One person went so far as to question the need for restoration at all. “Structures collapse, people move on, it’s the natural process of development,” he said adding, “Progress calls for looking forward, not backwards.”
Such apathy is especially appalling because it comes right on the heels of the massive Guthi Bill protests in which many of the locals of Mangalbazaar also participated.
One of the major calls of the protests was about heritage conservation and preservation of culture. However, the slogans do not seem to have materialised into actions in the case of Bhasmeshwor Mahadev.
Alok Tuladhar, a leading cultural activist and a strong advocate for the preservation of Kathmandu’s monuments, believes he knows why. “Our forefathers preserved the heritage as long as they could; and the younger generation too is quite aware about the need to protect our monuments. But it is the middle generations, that grew up in the late- Rana and the Panchayat times that are ignorant.”
Lokesh Chitrakar, a student and an activist, shares his thoughts, “The Rana and the Panchayat eras were Xenophobia-centric times. The doctrine of the time was indigenous vs. development – you could either be developed or indigenous but not both. Thus, in order to get good jobs, you had to be fluent in Nepali (and give up your mother-tongue in the process).”
He added, “Rest houses, water spouts and temples were just obstacles that stood in the way of roads, malls and apartments and hence, needed to be demolished. Our parents and our grandparents were taught that they were sub-standard because of their ethnicity and in order to develop, they had to disengage with their own culture.”
Meanwhile, a water tank is being built by the Lalitpur Metropolitan City right next to foundation site, without any safety measures in place to prevent damage to the historic foundation.
(Mishra interns at TRN)
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