Discussing Rennovation At Hanumandhoka Complex : Prem Khatry

The Mega Quake '15 shook our structures and damaged them so intensively. More than that, the unforgettable calamity also shook our minds and hearts to a great extent. Nepalis have a hard time compromising with the loss and the long range impact it is going to have on our life. But this is the time we come out strong and commit ourselves to the most challengeable and urgent rebuilding task. This article concerns a comment on a seminar organised to discuss the process focussing on one of the most prominent historic sites, the pride of our nation – the Hanumandhoka Palace.

With the scale of devastation on our national as well as world heritage sites during the quake, the renovation/preservation campaign has to start from some site at some point in time. This has to be done without delay as it adversely impacts tourism, research and education locally and on the overall mindset of the countrymen. The horizon above the shrines and buildings as well as the ground near them has been suffering from the unprecedented solitude and void at the same time. The eyes of the passersby get stuck on what they used to view with pride and prerogative before the quake and what now is displayed - ruins. 

Academic concern

The void and loss have not only marred the beauty and serenity of the sites, the loss has created a feeling of sadness, to say the least. This is the most shocking experience of the people, but the positive side of the quake is that it has united the minds and hearts of the people through a host of actions. Similarly, scholars and technicians are also getting closer to discuss the burning and highly urgent issue of renovating and rebuilding the lost heritage sites with a new zeal and new commitment.

The Nepal Academy last Tuesday organised a national seminar entitled 'Imapact and Challenges of the 2072 Quake on the Historical and Archaeological Monuments of Hanumandhoka Complex'. The main speaker of the event was Prof. Beena Poudyal-Ghimire, Head of the Central Department of Nepalese History, Culture and Archaeology, TU, Kirtipur. The speaker, who is a well-known scholar of culture herself, specialising in art, architecture and archaeology, was a fitting selection for the occasion. And, in fact, she did her est to throw light on several aspects of the old royal palace complex, which at this point in time suffers from major damages.

The seminar chaired by the Vice Chancellor of the Nepal Academy, Bishnu Bibhu Ghimire, was attended by scores of academicians, archaeologists, historians, professors, graduate students and literary figures, among others.

While introducing the site with special focus on its historical-cultural-archaeological significance, the speaker highlighted the provision of the Interim Constitution of Nepal (Art.17, No. III), where every citizen of Nepal has the right to preserve his language, script, cultural property and heritage. In light of this, she argued, reconstruction and renovation plans and policies must give priority to the local people themselves in order to maintain the character of the complex/monuments and also boost the morale of the people. In fact, today the neighbours of the Hanumandhoka Palace area feel depressed and shocked to see the empty horizon and cracked monuments in front of their eyes.

The paper threw light on the history of the palace site, discussing how the complex was turned into a composite structural form, maintaining its Malla, Rana and Shah architecture including some units demonstrating even modern or western influence. From the perspective of tourism, the palace area was one of the few prime locations with thousands of visitors on a daily basis. Considering its significance it was listed as World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.  

According to preliminary data, about 750 monuments in 21 districts of Nepal were damaged by the April 25 quake. Of them 133 were fully destroyed whereas 95 sustained partial damage, and 522 were partially destroyed. In Kathmandu alone, the damaged sites numbered 140, where 33 were fully destroyed. The Hanumandhoka Palace complex itself incurred a complete loss of nine monuments with 28 partially damaged ones. The Shiva Temple, Narayan Temple, the octagonal Krishna Temple, Kasthamandap, among a few others, are the ones lost for ever.

The loss, thus, is great and will take not only time and resources but also a long-term plan and Herculean effort and national as well as international commitment to provide the lost monuments their physical shape they once possessed. It is thus a huge challenge for the government and for the rest of the stakeholders in Nepal and abroad.

Suggestions and discussion

The presentation generated a well expected discussion especially in the field of immediate actions to be taken for the preservation and restoration of the damaged monuments. Hanumandhoka, being an eye witness of a long history and culture of the people of Kathmandu, carries not only sentiments attached to the lost cultural property, but also attracts visitors in the hundreds of thousands. It is thus important to begin the renovation as soon as possible. But the first need, the participants argued, is documentation of the complex we put our hands in.

Explaining the importance of documentation, senior Prof Chuda Mani Bandhu said the reconstruction work should not begin without proper documentation focusing on a) what was there before, b) when was it constructed and why, c) who did it and how, d) what is the significance of the particular monument of the site itself, and e) what model and technique would be proper to follow while going ahead with the renovation project. A profile type documentation would thus guide further work and retain the history as well as the profile of the objects or the monument.

Speaking on behalf of the Ministry of Culture Joint Secretary Bharat Mani Subedi outlined the need to come up with a clear model and blue prints for every site before embarking on the reconstruction itself.

Finally, speaking from the special guest's chair, Chancellor of Nepal Academy Ganga Prasad Uprety and the chair, VC Bishnu Bibhu Ghimire, informed the participants that the Academy was planning several discussion sessions to have a clear idea on reconstruction and renovation in the Bhaktapur and Lalitpur palace complexes. In all, the exercise was highly appreciated by the participants as a gesture to voice concern on the damage our heritage has suffered during the Mega Quake, 2015.

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