On a quiet Thapathali pavement, I froze before Kaal Mochan shrine.
Instead of the shrine, an empty space, a vision of sunya. The white dome, the dragons flaring in mock anger out from black wooden struts, the glowing pinnacles — nothing remains. Only a Garuda squatting on a stone column facing the ravaged foundation of the shrine with folded hands, a serpent necklace dangling round his neck. Behind him, on a taller column, the first Rana prime minister Jung Bahadur enamelled in gold, standing, a long sword dangling looking over the shoulder of the bird god at the empty space. Penitent, contrite, keeping an eye on Garuda’s flight …
The shrine’s courtyard is filled with piles of debris, wooden beams and mouldy bricks gathered into unruly mounds, the stench of dust stinging your nostrils and the corners of your eyes…
From the pavement, I see three oblong copper figures lying face up on the ground in a tent set up in a corner. Is it Vishnu with two female figures? Next to him, a squared stone with a vague outline of a figure, an outline of Brahma, creator of the universe.
A twinge of terror pierces my headpiece — my life’s most horrific sight. A seething streak travels my brain with the frantic speed of the monkeys moving in the adjoining Ram Mandir’s wild grass.
The midday sun above my head, I step down the flight of stairs to be at the level where the Lord sleeps. I have passed by the shrine almost daily for the last three decades. I have never ever bothered to ask to who it belonged. It seemed an unusual shrine in a City full of over 200 temples. Not to mention the small roadside niches, mandalas and numerous sacred spots sprinkled with vermilion, rice and marigold that housewives make to ward off evil almost every morning.
Its white dome and the Tibetan touch of architecture, gifts from Nepal-Tibet wars, stirred an unknown fear in my heart. Especially the flaring dragons kept me away even if the spacious courtyard remained a sanctuary of silence in one of the busiest parts of the City. I had never gone in except when German photographer Andreas Stimm after a Nepali dinner in a famed restaurant in front asked me — as he needed a few photos of us in an exotic location for a German magazine. I did not even know if it ever opened up and was functional.
I shake from an unimaginable grief. Though I am not very religious in the traditional sense of the word, my upbringing in strict Sanatan ways restrict my reflexes. I grew up in a devout family of priests and my association with naga sadhus and a brief spell of my shamanic initiation in my hometown accounts for it.
To see what I’ve held high and upright, bountiful and sacred on the filthy ground amidst piles of debris stirs my primordial fears. Is an-apocalypse-approaching kind of vision starts sprouting in my mind.
Right at that moment, I feel the earth shake beneath my feet. Exasperated, I look around for a safe place to run to. Is it real? Ironically, in a ruined courtyard there is nothing that can fall on me. Except the column of Jung Bahadur out of whose guilt the shrine was built in the first place.
The ruler was instrumental in causing a gruesome massacre in Nepali history. Having murdered over 150 brothers and relatives, especially ones who could possibly claim to succeed in lineage, Jung led a troubled moral life. They say he would wake up in the middle of the night and ask his attendants to take him in a palanquin to the Kot in Basantapur where the historic bloodbath took place. The priest suggested the ruler build a shrine in Narayan’s name. He picked this spot on the banks of the Bagmati, the holiest of rivers and had it designed after his own image, making two of his favourite wives stand with his image shaped as Vishnu.
The shrine was named Kaal Mochan, literally meaning Conquering Time, the ultimate master of the cosmos.
Now nothing remains except the empty plinth with illegible inscriptions on its steps. And a tall column of remorse above the bird god ready to fly into the wailing skies.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
A version of this article appears in print on September 06, 2015 of The Himalayan Times.