A Solemn Tribute To Nepal Lovers
This write-up concerns a gala function organised the other afternoon in the name of the four’ immortalised’ dead who are gone but remain distinctly in the art history, archaeology, restoration and architecture of Nepal - two of them were Nepalis - Dina Bangdel and Sukra Sagar Shrestha while two were non-Nepalis -.Mary Slusser and Eduard Sekler. The site – Bahadur Shah Parlour also known as ‘Bahadur Shah Palace’ during the heydays of the famous son of King Prithvi Narayan Shah. The parlor was very recently renovated by the Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust (KVPT), well trusted and known firm now engaged for some time in the restoration of the Patan Durbar complex after the mega earthquake of 2015.
Globally speaking there are scores of foreign scholars who loved, visited and worked in Nepal from the 18th century. Prior to that also there were host of expatriates such as the Christian Missionaries whose main mission was the spread the Gospel and influence the local rulers as well as people. They have left marks on the history of Nepal as they witnessed the people and culture and their writing reached Europe as early as 16th and 17th centuries.
When it comes to Nepali art, architecture, archaeology and culture in general, there are many names that shine so brightly and give these areas a direction and recognition far from Nepali borders and territory. These names are and will be remembered for a long time to come. Their physical presence may not be around but their absence is not less significant when it comes to the field they were involved in and contributed most significantly. In many cases, they have left the native scholars far behind.
When Tony Hagen or Edmund Hillary or Fuhrer von Haimendorf are remembered, their hard work and the long time spent in Nepal villages, hills, mountains and river beds instantly come in the mind and eyes of many Nepalis. This was a time when these heroes were forced to walk on foot often carrying loads on their back following the mules’ track and the guidance of their porters. And they did this so happily and with sense of achievement and satisfaction. One can just imagine – what would happen if Tony Hagen had not measured the length and breadth of the country virtually on foot? There would not be a geo-physical map of Nepal prepared so precisely and so painstakingly.
KVPT ‘s founder Eric Theophile and the current chief Rohit Ranjitkar welcomed the guests in the capacity filled Bahadur Shah Baithak. Present on the occasion were UNESCO chief and officials, ex-administrators, noted architects, engineers, DOA DG and staff, professors, scholars, journalists and family members and friends of the honored personalities. Several others personalities involved in the restoration and history writing of the wing were also honoured on the occasion. Noted scholar Kashinath Tamot, retired professor of TU had compiled the history of the Baithak. In his short speech, Prof Tamot speculated that the Hall was once also known as Dilaa Saalja, loosely known as heart’s delight in Arabic.
A long and heartfelt eulogy for the departed individuals was presented by none others than Neils Gutschow. The long and very detailed account of who did what and why type presentation was dedicated to the four mentioned in the beginning of this writing. Neils’ speech made the eyes of the entire audience wet and one even see the family members watching and listening to each word spoken to think of their near and dear ones. It was natural for everyone present to be overcome by emotion. It was a coincidence that the four had left the world within a short span of time early this year.
Both Eduward Sekler and Mary Slusser had visited Nepal in the early 60’s and decided to work in the field of art, architecture, restoration and art history. Slusser’s voluminous work – Nepal Mandala – is now regarded as a classic in the field of history of Nepal in general and art history in particular. Gutschow, in his presentation, explained how Slusser had fallen in love with Nepal in her maiden visit and made up her mind to work in the field of history, culture and art. She was playing important role in fundraising campaigns in the last leg of her life. The earthquake, Gutschow, Eric and others noted, made her sad and shocked and she made all out efforts to raise fund for the restoration activities. She loved Nepal, Nepali art and culture till she breathed her last not long ago.
It is true lack of trained art historians, archaeologists and conservationists in the early 60’s and 70’s brought expatriates’ attention in these fields. Many of them made Nepal as their ‘second or/alternate’ residence and literally poured their energy, age, scholarship and resources here. Next, they also trained several Nepali scholars and technicians in the field of renovation, scientific writing and publication of result.
Honouring the dead and living and showing the link between the foreign scholars and the natives, writer-journalist Kanak Mani Dixit from Himal Media highlighted the role of the local scholarship in the fields under discussion here. Dixit said there are plethora of fields the local scholars can take up and pursue to the end. He cited Itihas Samsodhan Mandal as the role model of history writing and lamented that history has been pushed far back in the last seat of scholarship. The interest has been drying and dying out phenomenally.
Dixit’s pointed remarks were on the current dilemma on reconstruction as a task and methodology. Is it proper to go to modern techniques while carrying out the work in the case of the damaged monuments? His question had weight and meaning considering the wider concern about reconstruction work going on in some sites or demolition of historic buildings in recent times.
Finally, the UNESCO-sponsored event gave the audience an occasion to visit and listen to the story of scholars who have spent time and resources for the preservation of Nepali art and culture. As Dixit correctly pointed out – ‘we need hundreds of native scholars to continue the mission and goal of the four remembered today’.