Nepal | September 24, 2020

Shared motivation

ARCHITECTURE

Kai Weise
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There is a possible threat of reconstruction of historic monuments falling into disarray

model-dharahara

Kathmandu
A model of the Dharahara tower created by artist on the traffic island near Sundhara stands like a cenotaph to the tower that collapsed during the last earthquake. It could be seen as a memorial to the people who died that day, crushed by a structure that has also previously been susceptible to large earthquakes. The tower was built in 1832 by the authoritarian Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa for his niece Queen Lalit Tripura Sundari, regent of Nepal from 1806 to 1832, who died the same year of cholera. There was supposedly an earlier slightly taller tower built in 1824, the actual Bhimsen Tower, which the Rana Prime Minister Juddha Shumsher had removed after it collapsed in 1934. The tower of Queen Lalit Tripura Sundari was, however, rebuilt, succumbing again to the recent earthquake. This quirky phallic monument in a stylistic mix of European colonial and Mughal, initially dedicated to a queen regent, has become a national symbol for the destruction caused by the Gorkha Earthquake.

That the epicentre of the earthquake that struck on April 25 was in Gorkha district is rather ominous, since it shook the very heart of the Gorkha Empire. This was from where the unification of Nepal was initiated in the 18th century. This recent earthquake damaged the palaces in Gorkha, Nuwakot and Kathmandu, seemingly targeting a history that is also desperately being erased by political developments.

The palace at Hanuman Dhoka, which epitomised the power of monarchy and was the museum dedicated to the recent kings, is critically damaged and the future of this impressive palace complex is uncertain. Even though only part of palace wing with the
Tribhuvan exhibits collapsed, along with the top three floors of the nine-storey tower, most parts of the palace complex are in a critical state. As the recently proclaimed republic flounders with defining its identity and committing to handing over power to the provinces, the previous symbols of unity and central power have been damaged andare crumbling.

The reconstruction of monuments and historic buildings that took place after the 1934 earthquake illustrated the prioritisation and visions of the Rana regime. The palaces of Bhaktapur and Patan were hastily restored reusing the same materials and not taking much care to ensure improvements or correct implementation of traditional construction principles. Many temples were not reconstructed and to ensure that the deities were provided protection, peculiar white cubicles with dome roofs were constructed.

The extent of resources that were employed in Kathmandu was, how-ever, impressive. A wide new road Juddha Sadak lined with white stucco buildings in eclectic European styles was inserted into the damaged historic fabric to connect the
Hanuman Dhoka Palace complex with the parade grounds of Tundikhel. The perpendicular road connected Bhugol Park with the earthquake memorial to Indra Chowk was later named after Sukraraj Sastri, a martyred freedom fighter.

The Rana Prime Minister had a bizarre vision of creating a small piece of European grandeur to emulate the colonial powers of that period. Hopefully no such outrageous concepts are being contrived. Taking the example of the questionable erection of the Republic Memorial, there is a possible threat of reconstruction of historic monuments falling into disarray. The motivation for re-erection of the monuments is diverse. For some it is to draw back the tourists.

For others it is because they need to pray or carry out rituals. For the responsible authorities it is their duty, while for experts it is a challenge. For the communities that lost their heritage, it is a question of ensuring the continuity of their culture. These diverse strands of motivation must be united into a single vision which will guide reconstruction.

Reconstruction will require skilled crafts persons and construction material. To make this possible a system of coordination along with the legal mandates and financial resources will be required. This alone is however not sufficient, since we still
have not agreed upon a shared motivation for reconstruction.

(The author is an architect and can be contacted through paharnepal@hotmail.com)


A version of this article appears in print on August 01, 2015 of The Himalayan Times.


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