Nepal | April 25, 2019

Rebuilding Patan Durbar Square

Jessica Rai
Keshav Narayan Chowk. Photo: Bal Krishna Thapa / THT

Keshav Narayan Chowk. Photo: Bal Krishna Thapa / THT

LALITPUR: Three men — Ram Gopal Shilpakar, Ram Prasad Bhaila and Bishnu Suwal — are at work in the backyard of Patan Museum. They are carrying long and short wooden beams from the stack of wooden beams and joining them, a little further away. There are eight pieces and when they finish, it takes the shape of a square.

It was a carnes (the part above the entrance) of the Char Narayan Temple at Patan Durbar Square that collapsed in the 7.6 magnitude earthquake of April 25. After assembling the various pieces, it is measured whether it forms a square or not. Then Suwal starts marking all the each eight pieces as ‘Z’ and putting numbers 1 to 4 in the joints while his friends stack those pieces in another pile.

Many heritages sites were either destroyed or damaged in the quake in the Valley. At Patan Durbar Square, two temples — Char Narayan (the oldest temple of the Square) and Hari Shankar along with two paatis were destroyed, while many temples were weakened like the Vishwanath Temple and the Bhimsen Mandir. Together with Nepal Police, locals, Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust (KVPT), Patan Museum and Department of Archaeology collected the parts — windows, doors — a few days after the quake. Even the broken pieces were not discarded.

In another step, these parts which were broken into pieces, are being assembled with the help of traditional craftsmen like Shilpakar, Bhaila and Suwal.

“We have photographs and documentation of these temples for reference. We can make out the parts of the temples — windows and doors — and can restore those accordingly later,” shares Suresh Man Lakhe, Museum Officer at Patan Museum who is also in assembling work. And of the process, he adds, “The different parts of the temples are collected first in a safe place which is very important. Then the different elements of these temples and paatis are segregated. The pieces of different parts from the collapsed architecture are assembled and stored to be fitted later.”

The restoration process has not begun yet. Only the accumulation work of the various parts after their identification is going on.

Bishnu Suwal busy in his work. Photo: Bal Krishna Thapa/THT

Bishnu Suwal busy in his work. Photo: Bal Krishna Thapa/THT

“All the pieces of wood look similar. Marking a part of the temple will let us know where the parts go while restoring them,” shares Suwal, who has been working for 17-18 years in the craft adding, “We would also know which parts are broken or not.”
If needed, they will also have to add elements that have been destroyed during the earthquake. And Lakhe assures, “We will restore them without having them lose their identities or aesthetic value.”

“It is tough to create exactly the same architecture of the temples when we have to. We will try to rebuild the exact copy of the originals but there will be some discrepancies in designs or way of working,” he shares explaining, “The craftsmen who worked on those temples had different ways of working than ours. For instance, they used wooden chukul to join two pieces of wood but we use iron nails in our generation. However, when we are rebuilding the temples, we try to replicate but the results vary.”
Once they have seen the photographs, “we can figure out which piece goes with which piece. Also, some of the parts have numbers which makes it easier for us to assemble the various pieces of temples’ parts” as per Shilpakar.

For him, who has given about 25 years to this craft, this work is not tough as “this is something we know but it can get tough if we have to copy the old designs of old parts and make new ones because of the intricate designs”. But it can be boring. Describing their work, he adds, “This can get very lousy. The parts are scattered and we have to search here and there for the right pieces, which takes time.”

They are done with the windows and are working on assembling other parts.

On the way to restoration
They have recovered the valuable damaged parts of temples. And they are moving ahead step by step in order to restore Patan Durbar Square. “If even one temple is missing in Patan Durbar Square, it would look incomplete. We want to make it complete like it was before the quake. It may take time but we can at least rebuild Patan Durbar Square in the next four years,” expresses Dr Rohit K Ranjitkar, Nepal Program Director of KVPT, who is a Conservation Architect.

As per him, rebuilding work or restoration work of the collapsed temples have not yet started. Work, as of now, is limited on the assembling of different sets of temples and storing them safely to be used later in the restoration of temples.

“Restoration is in process,” he says which also depends on the donors and funds to KVPT.

Craftsmen working in the backyard of Patan Durbar Square. Photo: Bal Krishna Thapa/THT

Craftsmen working in the backyard of Patan Durbar Square. Photo: Bal Krishna Thapa/THT

Their plan, which is in “the planning phase”, also includes “protecting the temples that are on the verge of collapsing. We can save them by retrofitting or reinforcing them in some way. Or if that is not an option, we can also take them out piece by piece and assemble them in a better place.”

As he believes that “we have to build something that is long lasting,” earthquake resistant technology will be included in their plan.

One temple would cost approximately Rs 3-4 crores to build from scratch, while weakened temples supported with tekos (wooden support beams) would cost about Rs 2 crores. And “our plan depends on the kind of funding we bring”.

Niran Rajbanshi, Office Chief of Department of Archaeology’s Monument Preservation and Palace Supervision Office, informs, “The restoration work from our side has not started yet. It is planned and will take place after budget has been passed.”

Limited resources and labour
In order to rebuild the Patan Durbar Square as it was before the quake, resources and labour are required along with funds. And Dr Ranjitkar sees problems in resources like wood and labour (craftsmen). “The kind of wood that these cultural architecture need is different from the commercial sized wood. It took two years to get wood of the kind we want before quake. The kind of art or craftsmanship that is required in architectural preservation is limited to the Kathmandu Valley. If we have resources and money but no people, how can we do it? As such, the restoration work might be delayed.”

After the earthquake, “the demand has multiplied. Many monuments have been damaged in Kathmandu Valley. We were doing one or two temples before the quake. When we are working on 60 to 70 monuments, we need resources like wood, mud and bricks unlike concrete or cement and labour other than funds”.

If these problems are addressed, they can restore the Square.

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