Patan Durbar Square’s Bhaidegah was destroyed in 1934 quake and never restored to its original pagoda style. The April 25 temblor put a stop to its restoration work that had begun; work to resume in a few weeks
KATHMANDU: As you enter the Patan Durbar Square, you can notice a stucco dome with a large bronze finial in the southwest corner. But this structure is hardly noticeable. If you notice it is different in structure and look. It doesn’t match the rest of the Malla-era pagoda and shikhara style architecture in this Square. However, 81 years ago, this structure looked like any other pagoda temple. Made of wood, mud, and indigenous roof tiles, it was a three-storied pagoda architecture.
The great earthquake of 1934 (1990 BS) brought down the temple leaving only the plinth and foundation intact. Unlike the other monuments of Patan Durbar Square, this Bhaidegah was built by a commoner and was never restored after the quake. When other monuments affected by that quake were restored or reconstructed, a Moghul-style dome was built on the temple plinth to protect the Shiva lingam. Having stood more than 81 years in this dome style, it is however likely to be restored to its original style in the next few years.
Degah of Shiva
Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the temple is a Vishveshvara temple. It was built in the 17th Century by Patan kingdom’s chautaria (prime minister) Bharo Bhagirath Bhaiya in 1678. As per cultural expert Satya Mohan Joshi, the temple was built after the Kashi Vishwanath Temple.
Nepali people then used to go to Benaras, India to live there or for pilgrimage to perform shraddha. And Benaras’ Vishwanath Temple was very popular. Since, it was destroyed on the orders of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, Bhaiya built one in Nepal for Nepali people here as “then there was no meaning for Nepali people to go to Kasi (Benaras)”.
And so Bhaidegah got its name from the man behind the temple combined with ‘degah’ or ‘degal’ which is ‘temple’ in Newari.
Joshi was 13/14 years old when 1934 Nepal–Bihar earthquake of 8.4 magnitude on the Richter scale struck Nepal. He recalls monuments destroyed then being restored slowly. The government had created a fund — Bhukampa Pidit Kosh — to help people rebuild their life after collecting statistics, as grant. As for sampada (heritage) which was mainly in the Valley, “the monuments were slowly reconstructed or restored one after another. Some of the structures also took time — a few years like Dharahara and Ghantaghar”.
Without the concept of humanitarian aid, reconstruction or restoration of such monuments was done by the government by using their treasury or money collected in fund. Meanwhile, Bhaidegah was not restored to its original style because “it was tough to do it as there was fund problems. So, it was was rebuilt in a simpler form”.
Also, there was no department of archaeology or UNESCO then to look into the restoration of heritage sites and structures and their importance. Moreover, there was no tourism and so there was no concept of sampada about which Joshi explains, “Nepal was a forbidden country in terms of tourism then. Foreigners were not allowed in. There was no concept of tourism and people here were not aware about the idea. People didn’t visit the country because they were not allowed to.”
Even if some wanted to come, they would have to request the government and get permission. They would stay in Nepal as guests of the government at the guest house in Tripureshwor. There were no hotels, while Atithi Griha/Bibhag would look after the guests.
“It was even tough for Nepali people to move from one place to another. They would require visa/passport if they were to come to the Valley or to go to Birgunj,” Joshi shares.
In the making
Be it due to lack of funds or being of the least priority, the intricately carved Bhaidegah was not restored. As one of the finest examples of Nepali pagoda-style architecture, Sanskritik Sampada Samrakshan Samuha is now striving to restore it.
“The temple has its own significance and identity, but it is not in its original style. Other monuments in the Square have their own style of architecture. Bhaidegah is in Moghul-style which is not its original style and it is without any artistic work,” says Joshi, who is the Chair of the Samuha adding, “Our ancestors left us with such work, why should we wait for foreign hands to restore it? Why can’t we do it ourselves?”
They hope for awareness from this endeavour about how and what one can do for cultural heritage sites.
They want the monument to be rebuilt in its original structure from the present “odd man out” status as well as to add liveliness and tourism. Conservation Architect Dr Rohit K Ranjitkar expresses, “This will give a destination for tourists to visit. The temple in the present style also has no charm. With restoration, it will add liveliness to the living heritage for locals too.”
He is the Nepal Program Director of the Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust which is giving technical help to the project. After an old image of Bhaidegah was found, its drawing was made and its restoration project started three years ago.
With consent from the Department of Archaeology and UNESCO, the restoration process of Bhaidegah has begun. In the last 20 months, some carving works have finished. Some parts of the temple are at the Patan Museum which will be reused.
Restoration is being carried out on the basis of collected recorded photographs and sketch of 1850s. With the help of different documents, they hope to restore the temple by putting existing knowledge of building techniques and materials. It will include carved woodwork, terracotta work and metalwork.
Indra Kaji Shilpakar, with 40 years of experience and expertise, was picked for wood carving of Bhaidegah. He and his team of about 10 workers have completed four main doors of the temple. And they are now busy carving windows.
“The designs are meticulous and it is very tough. And it takes a lot of hard work,” he shares of his woodwork for the temple. “It is not easy to work on wood as there are chances of it cracking if it is wet. Also, you will have to do the carvings as per the photographs which takes time.”
No guarantee of complete restoration
Bhaidegah was never restored in all these years. After the 1934 quake, Dr Ranjitkar believes that the “temples near the palace area were prioritised for restoration, while Bhaidegah was not on the priority list because of its distance”.
During the large scale destruction, “it can be impossible to restore each and every monument due to lack of skilled manpower along with financial crunches. Moreover, house and shelter is priority in such cases. Monuments won’t be made instead of houses”.
In eight-10 years priority shifts as new problems come into the picture. “Will people look into their new problems or go back rebuilding a temple destroyed 10 years ago?” he asks. “Not all monuments destroyed by the 1934 earthquake were rebuilt and there are several reasons. Where is the guarantee that we ‘will’ restore all the monuments destroyed in the April 25 quake even if we say we will restore them? We never know about tomorrow.”
Financial issues, lack of skilled manpower and availability of materials needed could obstruct the restoration process. He has experienced this with the Bhaidegah project in terms of materials and skilled manpower. Wood size of 10 inches by 10 inches up to 20 feet of length that they need was difficult to find in the market. They got it from Bhaktapur with much difficulty.
The earthquake of April 25 had stopped the restoration work of Bhaidegah. It will resume in the next few weeks. The temporary structure will be demolished and original architecture will take shape.
A version of this article appears in print on July 05, 2015 of The Himalayan Times.