State Of The Art Of Folk Culture Study In Nepal (III) : Prem Khatry

For those who travel to the mid-west, a visit to Deutibajai, Lati Koili Mahadev shrine and Bulbule taal in Surkhet Valley is a must. The visit could be meaningful only if one visits the 14th century stone shrine, the Kakre Vihar, in a little distance to the east of the Mahadev shrine. What exists today is the lower remains of a late Gupta period (11th-13th century c.) all-stone Shikhara style temple structure.  From its architecture plan and the remaining body, it can't be a vihara by definition. Perhaps there was a huge Buddhist vihara complex built as a residence of the monks for the spread of Buddhism in the region and beyond. The present remains then and now stood as the central shrine with the vihara around. Excavation of the mound around the shrine will determine whether this is true or not.

Archaeological disaster in Surkhet

Kakre Vihar is located on a mound now fully forested and isolated from the main settlement. This was perhaps the purpose of the builder to keep its serenity and purity as a place to study (vihara), meditate and provide spiritual energy to the locality around and visitors from far and near following the tradition of the Buddhist faith. Further exploration and excavation on the mound may provide some inscriptional evidences to clear many speculations and expectations.

At this time, some restoration work appeared to be going on here at Kakre Vihar. It looks like a mega project has been entrusted to fully restore the shrine to its original shape and beauty. By having a cursory glance, a question thus arises: Is it within the capacity of the Department of Archaeology (DOA) of the Government of Nepal to complete the restoration? Who is the chief renovator? Is this a person or an institution helping DOA? These are vital questions.

Most importantly, who ordered and supervised the earlier restoration work with huge concrete pillars in the middle of the delicate but precious stone carvings? That seems halted for now as one can see the pillars being pulled out eventually. But again, aren't these two blunders together? First, drilling holes to erect the huge concrete pillars and now hammering them to undo the earlier blunder.

In both the cases, who suffers beyond description and compensation are the beautiful stone carvings, including the serene meditating Buddha images, decorating floral and other designs, and  carved wall structure as well as floors. It would be interesting to know what the government is going to do to the officials who closed their eyes and moved the concrete pillar plans in the middle of the delicate and precious stone carvings that once glorified not just Nepal but Asia and Europe during the Silk Road age. It is difficult to assess the loss thus incurred by the sheer folly of amateur ‘archaeologists’ supposedly deputed by the DOA. Words are always inadequate to denounce the use of concrete to erect massive pillars then and demolish to hide the story now.

Now that some form of correction is going on, one can only wish it will be done scientifically, paying full and complete attention to archaeological norms and standards followed and accepted internationally.  Compared to what the renovator, standing in the middle of thousands of huge to small meticulously carved stone blocks, faces at Kakre, the world's most complex jigsaw puzzle could but look like a child's play.

Therefore, in order to complete the mega restoration task, it would be worthwhile for the DOA to explore the possibility of seeking international technical support from technically advanced Buddhist countries or countries with known expertise in the related field. This can be done through the UN. We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes made at the renovated Mayadevi shrine at Lumbini, where we made UNESCO feel extremely uncomfortable. Kakre Vihar was, and is, the pride of Nepal and even South Asia. Therefore, what is needed is advanced technology and experienced experts to continue and complete the very sensitive archaeological task on the shrine and its surroundings.

This site fell on the historic trail and linked the warmer Surkhet Valley with the cold high hills of the mid-west. At one point in time, Surkhet was also the destination of the historically famous 'Silk Road' travellers who frequented Lumbini and other Buddhists both in Nepal and India. This is the reason why famous shrines like the Kakre Vihar were constructed. But it is sad to see the state of this historic, cultural and archaeological wonder of one time now. Thousands of carved stone pieces are not only scattered in the compound and outside in the forest, they are suffering human encroachment in the form of filthy graffiti, cracks and dislocation. A very sad feeling surfaced on the face of the visiting scholars as they left the site for the folklore seminar.

Now that Kakre is attracting the attention of the world with tourists making inroads, there is danger of further destruction of the carved stone panels. The locals may also be motivated to collect handy pieces of beautifully carved stone pieces for fun or for other purposes. The safety of the invaluable stone asset should thus be the prime concern of the DOA and local authorities.

Silk Road seminars

There have been a series of national and international seminars on the theme of the Silk Road and its links in Nepal. In one such international seminar sponsored by UNESCO, scholars projected the possibility of Surkhet and Kakre Vihar as a potential, being a strong link between the northern region and the Terai plains. There were schools of thought that gave credit to the western Malla rulers for the construction of Kakre Vihar there. In more later times, international authorities on the Silk Road see the possibility of Nepal being a strong link and an important 'leg' the medieval pilgrims, businessmen and travelers used while making the long journeys. Ladakh of India and other regions of Tibet, China were also linked with Kakre and Surkhet Valley. But there is an urgent need to find more evidences on the status of these links.  (Contd….)

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