Nepal | January 18, 2021

Pashupati Complex Masterplan: Need for dialogue with community

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The masterplan of Pashupati should be based on the Vastupurushamandala concept of design as it leads to disaster-resilient and climate responsive form. It must also reflect the genus loci and identity of the place. Needless to say, it has to be done cheek and jowl with the local community, which otherwise may invite yet another disaster

The much-awaited Masterplan of Pashupati Complex has unfortunately been mired in controversy.

The local people have staged a protest alleging it to be insensitive to them despite their habitation being almost parallel tothe emergence of Lord Pashupati in Gopal Times, going back at least to 11th century BC.

They are also averse to the construction of multi-storied structures in the proximity of the Pashupati quadrangle. The former office bearers have also echoed the same tune by organising a press conference.

The protest was so overwhelming that the minister had to keep the masterplan in the deep freeze for the time being and form a committee of knowledgeable and eminent persons to submit a report within three months.

This is not the first time that the Pashupati Development Trust has found itself in the midst of controversy.

It had to withdraw its proposal of constructing a road tearing through the heart of Pashupati area after UNESCO, the international guardian of World Heritage Sites, rang an alarm bell. Similarly, bedlam was created while clearing structures in the area adjoining the southern temple gate.

Pashupati is not only the centre of belief of more than a billion Hindus round the globe. It is also part of the Kathmandu World Heritage Site. It has come into being due to its outstanding universal value.

Whether it be Pashupati or its peers like Mecca, the birthplace of Prophet Muhammad, Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ, and Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha, their conservation and development have been carried out through the preparation of a long-term masterplan and revision with the passage of time.

The history of masterplans goes back hundreds of years. The first masterplan is said to be that of the Temple of Amon in Egypt constructed in 16th century BC during the reign of King Tuthmosis. It was so beautiful that even its architect, Ineny, is said to have been amazed at the grandeur of the temple that he had designed.

A masterplan is defined as the controlling diagram or scheme of arrangement illustrating the ordered development of buildings and infrastructures over time. It should have an ordered sequence of construction apart from being able to be built in stages. It should be such that that each stage is functionally and esthetically viable. Moreover, it should be able to enhance the immediate site and surroundings while having minimal impact on them.

The earlier masterplan of Pashupati, prepared by senior professor and architect Bharat Sharma, conceived of three areas- the core, the consonant and the continuum, according to which the core would be left untouched. The adjoining consonant area was to be developed in harmony with the core. The continuum could, however, entertain new entities without diluting the essence of the core and the continuum in anyway.

Ace architects like Norman Foster and late Zaha Hadid were invited to prepare the masterplan of Mecca, the pilgrimage par excellence of the Muslims.

They designed multi-storied structures on the periphery of Mecca, which reduced the holy Kaaba to a dot-like structure. This would not have occurred had the local populace been consulted adequately in the process of design.

Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ, had umpteen number of masterplans beginning with the one by Patrick Geddes, the exponent of urban planning in 1922. A new masterplan was prepared in 2000, which is waiting impatiently for statutory approval. It has also been opposed by the Palestinians as they think that it seeks to establish Jewish supremacy.

The most famous masterplan ever created in Nepal is perhaps that of Lumbini, the birth place of Buddha, prepared by the world renowned architect, Kenzo Tange of Japan. He divided the 3km by 1km site into three parts of 1km by 1km representing the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, the trinity of Buddhist pantheon based on the theme Buddham Sharanam Gaccchami, Dhammam Sharanam Gacchami and Sangham Saranam Gacchami.

Accordingly, he provided space for the birth spot of Buddha in the first one, the monasteries, both Hinayan and Mahayan, in the second, and the library, museum, administration building and market for the pilgrims in the third one.

As the site was vulnerable to floods from the Harahara and Telar rivers, he followed the Japanese flood disaster risk reduction practice, consisting of a levee and a canal. The local people are, however, unhappy because of very little benefit accruing to them though they helped by providing land for its implementation, in which several of them slid from prosperity to abject poverty.

One can see that all of the aforementioned masterplans of the prime religious sites have suffered because of the inability to take the local community into confidence.

So whether it be the Burra Charter or the Charter for the Conservation of Historic Towns and Urban Areas, to mention a few, all must stress on the need of working with the local community hand in glove.

The community can be involved in varying degrees.

The involvement can be in the decision-making process at the highest level.

It can also be confined to economic development and promotion of the destination at the lowest level.

The masterplan should emit the local flavour. A recent example is that of the design of the Ayodhya Temple in the Nagara style following Vastushastra and Silpashastra by a father and sons’ team of Chandrakanta Sompura as well as Nikhil Sompura and Anil Sompura.

The masterplan of Pashupati should also be based on the Vastupurushamandala concept of design as it leads to disaster-resilient and climate responsive form. It must also reflect the genus loci and identity of the place. Needless to say, it has to be done cheek and jowl with the local community, which otherwise may invite yet another disaster.


A version of this article appears in print on December 25, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.

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