All posts by

  • Mary Slusser (1918 – 2017): A Personal Tribute

     

    We lost a prominent Kathmandu icon during the earthquake of 2015: Kasthamandap, the storied building which was then thought to be about a thousand years old, but is now believed to have existed many centuries earlier in some form. Now we have lost another Kathmandu icon, Dr. Mary Slusser, who has done so much in her long career as an art historian, anthropologist and archaeologist to introduce Kathmandu’s Newa art and culture to the world.

    It was during the initial burst of activity to salvage the ruins of Kasthamandap after the earthquake that I tried to get in touch with Mary Slusser, who had written extensively about Kasthamandap.

     

    This inquiry was quickly followed by Mary’s response, which set the tone of our friendship and introduced me to the personal, human side of a scholar responsible for such monumental works of Nepali cultural studies as Nepal Mandala and The Antiquity of Nepalese Wood Carving.

    What became clear in the subsequent interactions and collaborations between us was the deep passion she maintained for Nepal, even decades after having left Kathmandu. Specifically for the website where you are reading this, she reinforced, again and again, the importance of Kasthamandap as the very epicenter of Kathmandu culture. Kasthamandap was Kathmandu, and vice versa. For an article published in ECS Nepal, she had this to say about Kasthamandap:

    Kasthamandap is Nepal’s heritage defined, a witness to its history and evolution as a nation for almost a thousand years— and likely more. No other traditional building in Nepal could compete in size, antiquity or cultural impact. It must not be allowed to perish.

    But Mary Slusser had always loved Kathmandu. That much is clear from the level of dedication she put into her research, starting way back when, as the spouse of a US diplomat in Nepal, and armed with a Ph. D. in South American archaeology from Columbia University, she wrote a series of articles for the AWON Bulletin from around 1965 to 1971. This was later “published” as Kathmandu, a typed/ lithographed compendium.

    The writing style here is one of an amateur enthusiast, rather than of the powerhouse of cultural knowledge she was soon going to be: no doubt this is in part due to the nature of her audience, since these articles were intended primarily for the expat community living in Kathmandu. But her enthusiasm for the subject matter comes across loud and clear.  

    The fish of Asan Tol is a small stone relief carved in a shallow, rectangular stone basin now embedded in the macadam street where the unheeding traffic of the busy square rolls over it. Although none [i.e., no scholar] can say who actually placed the curious image here, for what reason or when, the people of the quarter tell a tale of it and include it in their daily round of worship. Like the washya dya, or toothache god, of Bangemudha Tol, it is one of the many divine specialists consulted for aid in curing specific diseases and ailments of the body, with vertigo as its special field of concern. 

    The fish of Asan Tol, so goes its origin tale, commemorates a strange happening in which a son was teacher to his father. For, once upon a time there lived in Kathmandu a renowned astrologer named Barami……

    What followed in subsequent years was a series of rigorously researched publications, first in academic journals (compiled later into a book titled Art and Culture of Nepal: Selected Papers), then in two books which have together become indispensable to studying the rich Newa culture of Kathmandu. First, in the two-volume 1982 magum opus Nepal Mandala: A Cultural Study of the Nepal Valley, she masterfully weaves the story of the valley using the twin threads of “Hindu” and Buddhist heritage, while pulling in the ancient colorful strands of the ajimas, matrikas, pitha devatas, serpents, and daemons constituting the original often aniconic, occasionally chthonic deities of Kathmandu valley, while underlying the entire woven quilt with the deeply embedded South Asian notion of Royalty which has permeated Kathmandu culture from the Licchavis through to the Mallas and the Shahs.

    This excerpt from Nepal Mandala about the Kumari cult showcases her writing style:

    To my knowledge, the Licchavi records are silent about Kumari worship. However, the late chronicles assert that Sivadeva I (A.D. 590-604) placed Four Kumaris at the crossroads of “Naubali” or “Navatol” (Deopatan) when he established the city, and that Vasudeva, an undocumented successor, placed “Kumari Gana and Naudurga” near Jayavagisvari…

    That much has been recorded in Kathmandu’s Vamshavalis since medieval times, and known to the world since the 1960s with the publication of English translations. Where Mary can go further, as she does, is in tying this together with her personal knowledge to strengthen the hypothesis that, perhaps, the Kumari cult originated in the fifth-sixth century, rather than in the twelfth century during the reign of Laxmikamadeva as is more widely believed. 

    …Considering that there is, in fact, a very ancient Matrika shrine attached to Jayavagisvari temple, itself unquestionably a Licchavi foundation, the chronicles may be correct, and reveal a previously unimagined antiquity for the Kumari institution in Nepal Mandala.

    Mary’s concern for the heritage of Kathmandu also shines through in the way she documented the (then) contemporary state of the cultural icons in Nepal Mandala. For example, the caption accompanying these pictures, from Vol 2 of Nepal Mandal (Images and Plates) reads (and one can imagine her frustration at encountering the stele lying below the truck wheel- a frustration all Nepalis should share):

    (top) A 7th c. proclamation of Dhruvadeva and Jisnugupta addressed to the citizen of Daksinakoligrama (southern Kathmandu) is ignored by their descendants.

    (bottom) The Dhruvadeva/Jisnugupta inscription, removed for road repairs, is used as a jack.

     

     

    In her second book The Antiquity of Nepalese Wood Carving (2010), Mary published stunning revelations about the tunaa’s (struts) of Medieval Kathmandu buildings. Specifically (among similar findings), Mary was able to confirm via radio-carbon dating that he following ethereal Salabhanjika (One who breaks the branch of a Sal tree) gracing one of the figural strut of Uku Baha (Rudravarna Mahavihar) was created between 690-890 AD: i.e., possibly more than 1300 years ago. That the Salabhanjika still shows off the individual strands and curls of her hair, the patterns of her thinly veiling sari, the jewelry on her head, and the details of the foliage above her, are testament to the master craftsman who created her, as was commented on by Mary herself in the book.

     

     

    Mary’s contributions are not limited to her own published research. She played an important role in ensuring that the works of Nepali academics were disseminated and recognized worldwide. She did benefit immensely in her early days from the research output of the (now much-maligned, but important) Itihas Samshodhan Mandal associated with Naya Raj Pant and (in the early days) Dhanavajra Vajracharya: that much is clear from the many references to the work of this traditional school in Mary’s publications. However, she more than repaid her debt. If not for her, the rigorously researched body of work from the Samshodhan Mandal might have largely gone unnoticed except among Nepali academics and the few International experts fluent in Nepali and/or Sanskrit. Mary also collaborated and published jointly with Dr. Gautamvajra Vajracharya, Dhanavajra’s nephew and scholar extraordinaire who still writes prolifically about Nepali culture. It was in fact, Mary who put Dr. Vajracharya in touch with Pratapaditya Pal, which resulted in the young Dr. Vajracharya obtaining a position at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  

    When Nepal Mandala was first published, some scholars criticized her for making sweeping generalizations, for loosely shifting between anthropology and art history, and for not communicating anything new in terms of the interplay between Hindu and Buddhist traditions in the Newa civilization of Kathmandu. But when it came out, Nepal Mandala was such a monumental work, so ambitious in its goal, so sweeping in its scope, so vast in having woven together art, culture, history and religion and so inclusive of the ancient motifs of Kathmandu culture (such as Ajimas, Dakinis, daemons, ghosts, etc.), that to find fault with it is to nit-pick. Certainly successive generations of scholars, literally following in her footsteps, have unearthed and modified various cultural and historic aspects of what Mary first presented, but this is a natural process in any field of study. Mary was the pioneer who told the complex, layered story of Kathmandu culture first. To this day, Nepal Mandala stands as a stupendously rich and deep assessment of Kathmandu valley culture: I can think of no later tome that can match its scope and detail.  

    When I met her in the winter of 2015, she had lost a lot of hearing and could only read large text. But her mind was as sharp as ever and she remembered details about specific aspects of Kathmandu culture as if she had just done the field work yesterday. And she still walked the 40 minutes back and forth between her modest home and the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer and Sackler Galleries in Washington, DC (where she was Research Associate to the end).   

    In many ways, this entire website has been made possible due to the work of Mary. Her initial scholarly study of Kasthamandap (published in collaboration with Gautamavajra Vajracharya in 1974), the detailed elevation and plans funded by Mary’s research and drawn by Wolfgang Korn, and the layers upon layers of history, religion and culture which surround Kasthamandap as explored in luxurious detail in Nepal Mandala, were the inspiration for this website.

    So thank you, Mary, for inspiring me to delve deep into the culture and history of Nepal. Thank you for making me fall in love with Kathmandu all over again. And finally, thank you for being my unofficial Guru Aama for the all-too-brief period of two years (and for kindly calling me a “friend and colleague”). Nepal will forever remember you for the light you shone on its rich culture and heritage.

     

    ∫∫∫

    Here is the complete bibliography of Mary Slusser, compiled by Mary herself in 2015. It serves as a final testament to her longstanding and steadfast love of Nepal and Newa culture.

     

    BIBLIOGRAPHY

    Mary Shepherd Slusser

     

    1. The Antiquity of Nepalese Wood Carving: A Reassessment. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press.

     

    1.  “Seeing, Rather than Looking at. Nepalese Art,” Asian Art http://www.asianart.com/articles, December 18, 2009.

     

    1. “Goddess or God? A Case of Stolen Identity,” Orientations 37:4 (May 2006), pp. 55-59.

     

    1. “The Lhasa gTsug lag khang (“Jokhang”), Further Observations on the Ancient Wood Carvings,” Asian Art http://www.asianart.com/articles/jokhang

     

    1. “More on Turning a Blind Eye,” Orientations 36:4 (May 2005), pp. 73-74.

     

    1. Art and Culture of Nepal: Selected Papers. Kathmandu: Mandala Publications.

     

    1. “Steaming down the Mekong,” Asian Art (http://www.asianart.com/articles/mekong/index.html).

     

    1. “Richesse et diversité de la sculpture Népalaise,” in Dossiers d ’Archéologie, no. 293, May 2004, pp. 46-57.

     

    1. “Conservation Notes on Some Nepalese Paintings,” Asian Art (http://www.asianart.com/articles/paubhas/index.html).

     

    1. “Treasures Beyond the Golden Door,” in Goetz Hagmiiller, Patan Museum, The Transformation of a Royal Palace in Nepal (London: Serindia Publications, 2003), pp. 103-05.

     

    1. “Traditional Metal Crafts of Nepal,” in Goetz Hagmiiller, Patan Museum, The Transformation of a Royal Palace in Nepal (London: Serindia Publications, 2003), pp. 118-21.

     

    1. “The Exhibition Galleries,” Patan Museum Guide, (Lalitpur, Nepal: Patan Museum, 2002).

     

    1. “Nepalese Unfired Clay Sculpture: A Case Study,” Orientations 32:7 (September 2001), pp. 71-80.

     

    1. Co-author James A. Giambrone. “Kuber Singh Shakya: A Master Craftsman of Nepal,” Asian Art http://www.asianart.com/articles/kubersing/index.html, April 19, 2001.

     

    1. Co-author Lila Bishop, “Another Luri, A Newly Discovered Cave Chorten in Mustang,” Orientations 30:2 (February 1999), pp. 18-27.

     

    1. Co-authors Nutan Sharma and James A. Giambrone, “Metamorphosis: Sheet Metal to Sacred Image in Nepal,” Artibus Asiae vol. 58, nos. 3/4, pp. 21-51.

     

    1. Contributor to Vidya Dehejia, Devi, The Great Goddess (Washington, DC: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery}, pp. 224-29, 232-34, 253-55, 214-15.

     

    1. Review of Niels Gutschow, The Nepalese Caitya: 1500 Years of Buddhist Votive Architecture in the Kathmandu Valley, with drawings by Bijay Basukala and an essay by David Gellner  (Lumbini International Research Institute Monograph Series 1). Stuttgart/London, Edition Axel Menges, 1997. 328 pp.: 593 illustrations.  In Artibus Asiae 58:1/2, pp 154-58.

     

    1. Review of Masahide Mori and Yoshiko Mori, trans. Rolf W. Giebel, The Devimahatmya Paintings Preserved at the National Archives, Kathmandu, (Bibliotheca Codicum Asiaticorum 9), Tokyo, The Centre for East Asian Cultural Studies for Unesco, The Toyo Bunko, 1995, in Artibus Asiae 57:3/4 (1997), pp. 363~64.

     

    1. “The Museum Behind the Golden Door,” Orientations 28:10 (November 1997), pp. 53-56.

     

    1. “Dry-Lacquer or Clay? Preliminary Notes on a Neglected Nepalese Sculptural Medium,” Contributions to Nepalese Studies, vol. 23, no. 1 (January 1966), pp. 11-33.

     

    1. “Vishnu and the Kings of Nepal,” Asian Art and Culture, vol. 9, no. 3 (Fall 1996) pp. 8-29.

     

    1. “The Purandi Hoard: Eleventh-century Metalwork from Nepal,” Artibus Asiae, vol. LVI, no. 1/2 (1996), pp. 95-143.

     

    1. Review of Raimund O.A. Becker-Ritterspach, Water Conduits in the Kathmandu Valley, New Delhi, 1995 in Artibus Asiae, vol. LVI, 1/2, pp. 177-81.

     

    1. “The Art of East Asian Lacquer Sculpture,” Orientations, vol. 27, no. 1 (January 1996), 16-30.

     

    1. “Paubha: Nepalese Painting on Cloth 1200-1600,” The Dictionary of Art (London, Macmillan).

     

    1. “Nepalese Architecture A.D. 300-1200,” in The Dictionary of Art (London, Macmillan).

     

    1. “The Art of Nepalese Woodcarving,” The Dictionary of Art (London, Macmillan).

     

    1. “Preliminary Notes on an India-import Scroll from Nepal,” 431-44, in Siegfried Lienhard ed., Change and Continuity; Studies in the Nepalese Culture of the Kathmandu Valley (Alessandria: Edizioni Dell’Orso, 1996).

     

    1. “Mustang: An Exhibition of Paintings and Photographs in Nepal,” Asian Art (http://webart.com/asianart/mustang).

     

    1. “The ‘Spice Goddesses:’ Notes on a Tibetan Painting,” Archives of Asian Art. vol. XLVI, pp. 53-62.

     

    1. “A Document on Himalayan Painting,” Artibus Asiae vol. 52, nos. 1/2 (1992), pp. 119-30.

     

    1. “An India-import Devi Mahisasura-Mardini Scroll from Nepal,” South Asian Studies 6, pp. 43-69.

     

    1988a. “Religious Syncretism in Nepal: Art and Belief,” in The Countries of South Asia: Boundaries, Extensions and Interrelations, Proceedings of the South Asia Seminar, University of Pennsylvania 1982-1983 111, pp. 63-67.

     

    1988b. “Bodhgaya and Nepal,” in Bodhgaya, Site of Enlightenment, ed. J. Leoshko, Bombay/ Marg Publications, pp. 126-42.

     

    1987 “The Cultural Aspects of Newar Painting,” Heritage of the Kathmandu Valley, Proceedings of an International Conference in Liibeck, June 1985, eds. N. Gutschow and A. Michaels, Nepalica vol. 4, pp. 1-15.

     

    1985a. “On a Sixteenth-century Pictorial Pilgrim’s Guide from Nepal,” Archives of Asian Art, vol. 38, pp. 6-36.

     

    1985b. “The Nepalese Collections [of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art],” Arts of Asia (Nov-Dec), pp. 90-101.

     

    1982a. Nepal Mandala; A Cultural History of the Kathmandu Valley, Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 2 vols.

     

    1982b. “More on the Nepali Cultural Heritage,” The Rising Nepal, Kathmandu, June 4.

     

    1. “Nepalese Caityas as Mirrors of Medieval Architecture,” in The Stupa its Religious, Historical and Architectural Significance, eds. A. Dallapiccola and S. Zengel-Avé Lallemant, Wiesbaden.

     

    1979a. “Indresvara Mahadeva: A Thirteenth-century Nepalese Shrine,” Artibus Asiae vol. 41, nos. 2/3, pp. 185-225.

     

    1979b. “Serpents, Sages, and Sorcerers in Cleveland,” The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, vol. LXVI, no. 2 (February), pp. 67-82.

     

    1975-6. “On the Antiquity of Nepalese Metalcraft,” Archives of Asian Art, vol. 29 (1975-1976), pp. 80-95.

     

    1. “The Saugal-tol Temple: Further Notes on the Shrine and its Sculptures,” Contributions to Nepalese Studies, vol. 2, no. 1 (February), pp. 39-45.

     

    1. “Jogini of the Sword, A Visit to Her Shrine,” Vasudha, vol. 15, no. 2 (April-May), pp. 20-27.

     

    1. “The Wooden Sculptures of Nepal,” Arts of Asia, vol. 4, no. 5 (September-October), pp. 51-57.

     

    1. “Nepali Sculptures – New Discoveries,” in Aspects of Indian Art, ed. P. Pal, Leiden, pp. 93-104.

     

    1. 1972. Kathmandu: A Collection of Articles (Reprinted from AWON Bulletin), Kirtipur, Tribhuvan University Press, Nepal.

     

    1. “An Introduction to the Languages and Scripts of the Kathmandu Valley,” Nepal Review, vol. 2, no. 10, pp. 459-62.

     

    1. “Itum-bahal: A Famous Vihara of Kathmandu,” Swatantra-visva, vol. 7, no. 7, pp. 38-42.

     

    Jointly with Gautama Vajracharya

     

    1974a. “A Newly Discovered Garuda Image, Kathmandu, Nepal,” Artibus Asiae, vol. 36, no. 4, pp. 292-294.

     

    1974b. “Two Medieval Nepalese Buildings: An Architectural and Cultural Study,” Artibus Asiae, vol. 35, no. 4, pp. 169-218.

     

    1973a. “Some Nepalese Stone Sculptures: A Reappraisal Within Their Cultural and Historical Context,” Artibus Asiae, vol. 35, nos. 1/2, pp. 79-138.

     

    1973b. “Some Nepalese Stone Sculptures: Further Notes,” Artibus Asiae, vol. 35, no. 3, pp. 269-270.

    ∫∫∫

    All images (except for the cover of Kathmandu: A Collection of Articles by Mary Slusser”) from The Antiquity of Nepalese Wood Carving:  A Reassessment by Mary Shepherd Slusser, Fig 40 (p. 47). Available here.

  • Day 730: A Status Check

    Kasthamandap fell two years ago. There has recently been a groundswell of enthusiasm from local residents to rebuild this iconic monument. But there are no concrete plans, engineering-vetted architectural drawings, or timelines yet. Meanwhile, the Government (Department of Archaeology and the Kathmandu Metropolitan City Office) is shamefully absent from the scene, after some disastrous, abortive plans towards reconstruction last year, which was loudly and rightfully criticized by locals, as well as national and international experts. We sincerely hope that the enthusiasm generated by recent local efforts leads to a speedy reconstruction of Kasthamandap, a world heritage site that should rightfully be a symbol of the locality, of the Kathmandu valley, and indeed, of all Nepal. 

    To mourn the second anniversary of the fall of Kasthamandap, we present a poignant sketch of the monument drawn by Desmond Doig in the 1970s.

     

     

    ∫∫∫

    Image from “Down History’s Narrow Lanes: Sketches and Myths of the Kathmandu Valley” by Desmond Doig and Dubby Bhagat, Braaten Books, 2009.

  • First Documented Mention: 1135 CE (Major Update)

    In Artibus Asiae Vol. 70, No. 2 (2010), Jinah Kim writes about a Pancharakshya manuscript copied in Kathmandu in the year 1135 CE. In her article, and in a stellar follow-up 2013 book titled “Receptacle of the Sacred” (a must-read for any scholar or amateur interested in the South Asian cult of manuscripts), Ms. Kim writes about the colophon of the manuscript, which contains the phrase “Kasthamandap”. However, a clear picture of the colophon page, as well as a complete transcription/ translation of the colophon, has been unavailable to date.

    The manuscript in question is in the collection of the San Diego Museum of Art in the United States. We have been fortunate enough to locate and photograph this manuscript (Edwin Binney 3rd Collection, Catalog number 1990.156).  We present here a high resolution image of the colophon page (Folio 102 verso). This is followed by a transcription and translation of the colophon, kindly provided by eminent Newa scholar Mr. Kashinath Tamot.

    Folio 102 verso of the Pancharakshya manuscript, 1035 CE

    Detail of the folio containing the mention of Kasthamandap

     

    Transcription:

    iti tatra buddhānāṃ buddhānubhāvena devatānāṃ ca devatānubhavena mahatī iti vyupaśānteti ||

    [[āryamahāmantrānusārinīmahāvidyārājñī samāptā]] ||

    ? deya dharmoyaṃ pravaramahāyāyinaḥ śrīkāṣṭhamaṇḍape |

    paścimarathyāyāṃ śrīkṛ(4)ṣṇaguptamahāvihārādhivāsī |

    śākyabhikṣu śrīānandabuddhināmnā yadatra puṇyan

    tad bhavatvācāryopādhyāyamātāpitāpūrvaṅgamaṃ

    kṛtvā sakalasatvarāser anuttarajñānaphalāptaya iti ||

    samvat ā lṛ hṛ pauṣakṛṣṇapratipadi puṣyanakṣetre budhadine |

    rājādhi(5)rājaparameśvaraparamabhaṭṭāraka

    śrīmad indridevasya vijayarājye likhitam idaṃ pañcarakṣāpustakam iti ||

     

    Translation:

    This Pañcarakṣā is donated by Ānandabuddhi Śākyabhikṣu, the follower of Mahāyāna, residing Kṛṣṇagupta Mahāvihāra at Paścimarathyā in Kāṣṭhamaṇḍapa. It was scribed during the reign of the king Indradeva [text reads “Indrideva”] on Wednesday, first lunar day of waning moon of (the month of) Pauṣa, in puṣya constellation, (in the era) ā (200) lṛ (50) hṛ (5), that is, in NS 255 (1135 CE).

    Hitherto, historians have recognized that the iconic tiered structure of Kasthamandap (Maru Sattal) existed as far back at 1143 CE, based on a mention of the name in a Namasangiti manuscript stored in Tibet’s Saskya Monastery  (discussed here).

    With the evidence of the San Diego manuscript in hand, the documented existence of Kasthamandap can now be pushed back a further eight years, to 1135 CE.

    Even more tantalizing is the possibility that Kasthamandap existed as far back as 1090 CE, as reported by Mary Slusser and Gautam Vajracharya in a 1974 journal paper (also discussed here). Unfortunately, this possibility has not been substantiated yet, due to lack of access to the Astasahasrika-Pragyaparamita manuscript reportedly copied in 1090 CE. But until the day we locate the elusive Pragyaparamita manuscript, we can pause and marvel at the fact that the venerable Kasthamandap existed at least 881 years ago in 1135 CE, and maybe more.

    The colophon is also valuable in that it identifies a hitherto unknown Buddhist monastery, the “Krishnagupta Mahavihar” which was apparently in the vicinity of Kasthamandap, besides a road named “Pascimarathya” (Western wide road for chariots). Neither the monastery, nor the road has been identified elsewhere in the corpus of Nepali historic material to date. Mr. Tamot does mention that the Western wide road could have been used for Pachali Jatra or Upaku Wanegu (the annual funeral procession around Kathmandu). This is an area ripe for future academic research.

    The San Diego manuscript described above is stored with two elegant painted book covers (see below). The story of the book covers, with their curious history, must be saved for another blog post in the future.

     

    ∫∫∫

    We thank Mr. Kashinath Tamot for the transcription and translation of the 1135 CE Pancharakshya manuscript colophon. We thank Ms. Marika Sardar, Associate Curator for Southern Asian and Islamic Art, for generously providing access to the Pancharakshya manuscript.

  • Day 365: A Status Check

    April 25, 2016 marks the one-year anniversary of the devastating first earthquake of 2015 that caused the complete and total collapse of Kasthamandap. An article in the latest issue of ECS Nepal (here) summarizes all efforts and plans aimed at rebuilding the landmark Kathmandu monument.

    The bottom line: no concrete plans, no timelines, no official response to the alarming UNESCO report highlighting the need for sub-surface archaeology at the site, no published budget, no professionally executed architectural plan that ensures earthquake resilience and respects local building traditions, no earthquake modeling/simulation studies, and no commitment from national or international agencies toward funding the project.

  • दैबलाई नि नछोड्ने यो कस्तो दैबी प्रकोप?

     

    अतिथि पोष्ट: सुशील ताम्राकार  

    विनाशकारी महा भूकम्पले खण्डहर बनाएको मेरो देश, सहर अनि टोल वस्तीबारे आज धेरै दिन पछी मात्र केही शब्द कोर्ने हिम्मत जुटाएको छु | देशको माटो बाटो कांपीरहंदा की-बोर्ड माथि हातका औम्ला पनि काँपिदो रहेछ | देश दुख्दा परदेशीको मन पनि त्यतिकै दुख्छ, त्यतिकै छटपटाहट हुन्छ| परदेशी नेपाली मनहरु अझ अनिदोमा आफन्त खोज्छ| जिन्दगीको सारा हिस्सा र किस्सा काष्ठामंड़प वरिपरि बित्यो | हनुमान ढोका, वसन्तपुर, मरु , चिकं मुगल, भीमसेन स्थानका हरेक गल्ली बाटाहरुमा मेरा लाखौँ डोबहरू छन् , अहिले भग्नावशेषहरुमा थिचिएका छन् , पुरिएका छन् | त्यसैले पनि हजारौं माइल पर पनि दुखिरहेको छु |

    सानो छंदा मरु डबलीमा बसेर दिन भरि गाडी गुडेको हिसाब छेउमा राखिएका मत्तितेलका ड्रमहरुमा धर्सा कोरेर जतनका साथ् राख्थ्यौं | हिसाबको पहिलो पाठशाला थियो त्यो | काष्ठमण्डप जसलाई मरु सत: ( सत्तल , पाटी ) भनिन्छ, जो एउटा बिशेत नामक रुख रुपी राक्षसको काठबाट बनेको बिशाल मन्दिरको कुनै नामो निशान रहेन | किंबदन्ती सुनेर उहिले जिब्रो टोक्थ्यों अहिले माटोको ढिस्कोमा बिशेतका अवशेषहरु खोजीरहेछु |

    सानोमा आमाले मरमसला किन्न पठाउँदा केही क्षण भए नि त्यै सत्तलमा ह्वाग्रा खेलिराखेका दौतारीहरु संग भलाकुसारी गर्थ्येम| कहिले एकै छिन गाब: दोब: खेलेरै मात्र घर जान्थें ( ह्वाग्रा र गाब: दोब – गुच्चा खेल बिशेष ) | गोरखनाथको मुर्ति अघिल्तिर झुन्ड्याईएको घण्टा सकिनसकी उफ्री उफ्री बजाउँथेम| अकस्मात झरी पर्दा धेरैअन्जान बटुवाको लागि ओत लाग्ने छत थियो त्यो |

    त्यो भन्दा नि काष्ठमण्डप, त्यै वरिपरि बस्ने ताम्राकार, बज्राचार्य, मानन्धर अनि किसानहरुको आदिम वस्ती भएको जीवन्त प्रमाण थियो | घ्यो चाकु सल्हूँ अर्थात माघे संक्रान्तिमा काष्ठमण्डपको बिशेष पूजागरी गजुरमा नयाँ ध्वाँये (ध्वजा) फहराउने चलनको निरन्तरता कसरी दिने अब ? पुजा गर्ने पुजारीलाई एक चुनांचा ( त्यतिबेलाको न्यूनतम मुद्रा इकाई, एक पैसाको १/४ खण्ड ) अनि ध्वजा फहराउने ज्यापु दाईलाई २० मुरी धान कसले दिन्छ अब ? मन्दिर रहेन, हाम्रो पुर्खाको धरोहर धरहरा संगै खण्डहर भएको छ |

    काष्ठमण्डप छेवैको हजाम देग : ( सस्तो दरमा कपाल काट्ने नाइँहरु बस्ने मन्दिर ) पनि बाँकी रहेन | निम्न आय भएका मजदूर किसानहरूको सेवा गर्ने थलो पनि गयो | माजु देग:, दश अबतार देग लागायत धेरै विश्व सम्पदा सूचीमा रहेका मन्दिरहरु जग मात्र शेष रह्यो | यस्तो लाग्छ, मेरो वस्ती वरिपरी मान्छे भन्दा बढी देबी देवता पुरिए | दैबलाई नि न छोड्ने यस्तो दैबी प्रकोप ? पुरिएका मान्छेहरु धेरैलाई जिउंदै निकाले, केहीको लाश निस्कियो | मलाइ बचाउ, म पुरिएँ भन्न पनि नसक्ने वा भनेको भए नि यो प्रकोपको कोलाहलमा नसुनिएका देबी देवताहरु अझै “रेस्क्यु”को आशमा बसेका छन् |

    म सम्झिन्छु, एक पल्ट २०३१ सालमा राजा बीरेन्द्रको राज्यभिषेकमा सजिएको हनुमान ढोका प्रांगण र मन्दिरहरु | चिटिक्क बेहुली झैँ शृंगारमा सजिसजाउ भएका ती मन्दिरहरुले साँच्चै नै देबभूमि जस्तो लाग्थ्यो | दोस्रो पल्ट २०४२ फागुण तिर बेलायतकी महारानी एलिजाबेथको भ्रमणमा काठमाडौ सहरको साँचो चढाई स्वागतको गरेको इतिहास बोकेको त्यो मरु सत: त्यसपछि हजारौं रकत्दान शिबिरको भरपर्दो आश्रयस्थल थियो | दुर्भाग्यबस बैसाख १२ गते १२ बजे पनि रक्तदान शिबिर थियो | गर्लाम्यै ढलेको मन्दिरले अरुको जीवन जोगाउछु भनेर शुद्ध मनले रक्तदान गर्न आएका रक्तदाता एवं रक्त संकलन गर्न आएका निष्कलंक स्वयम् सेवीहरुले जीवनगुमाएको खबर अझ कहाली लाग्दोछ |

    भाग्नाबशेष पन्छाइदै छ | पुरिएका चार बिनायक (गणेश) र गोरखनाथलाई सकुशल राखिएला | पुनर्निमार्णको पाइला चालिएला | फेरी जस्ताको तस्तै मन्दिर बनिएला | तर मा कहाँ खोज्न जाउँ बिशेत राक्षस? त्यसको शरीरको बडेमानको पुरानै काठको खम्बा ? इँटा इँटामा खोपिएका हजार स्मृतिहरू आउने बर्षाले बगाई सक्ने छ | कहाँ खोज्न जाउँ मेरो बाल्यकालको ती अमुल्य क्षणहरु ?

    भाद्र महिनाको चतुर्दशीको दिन मनाइने पंचदान पर्ब ( बुबाको मुख हेर्ने दिनको दुइ दिन अगाडी, बौद्धमार्गीहरुले बौद्ध गुरुजु { बज्राचार्य र शाक्य समुदाय}लाई दान दक्षिणा दिने पबित्र दिन ) दिनमा त्यै मन्दिरको दक्षिण चोकमा लामा लामा चार वटा काठको चारकुने मण्डप बनाई, पूजा अर्चना गरी दिनभरी फू बारे नआउन्जेल ( अन्तिममा पाल्नु हुने शाक्य बज्राचार्य) आएका जति शाक्य बज्राच्रार्य गुरुजुहरुलाई दान दक्षिणा दिने परम्परा ताम्राकार समुदायले काष्ठमण्डप बने देखि नै चलाउँदै आएको प्रमाणिक इतिहास छ | सम्भवत त त्यही चारवटा काठको मण्डप नै काष्ठमण्डप हो र कालन्तरमा त्यो सत: नाम नै काष्ठमण्डप रहन गएको हो | यसपालीको पन्चदानमा दान दिन भीमकाय खासी (भाँडो)मा चुलो कहाँ बाल्छ होला ? त्यो ६ सय बर्ष भन्दा पुरानो काठ अझै बाँकी छ वा खण्डहरमा मिसिए ? मन भित्र यस्ता धेरै प्रश्नहरु छन् | चिन्ता मेरो घर चर्किएको र भत्काउनु पर्ने अवस्थामा रहेको भन्दा नि मेरो अस्तित्वको छ , मेरो जीवनको हरेक हिस्सा संग गाँसिएको किस्साको छ | हे दैब, दैबलाई नि न छोड्ने यो कस्तो दैबी प्रकोप ??

    अस्तु!!

  • “Good news” about Rebuilding Kasthamandap

    The February 7, 2016 edition of the Nepali-language newspaper Annapurna Post carried the first-ever news story on the reconstruction plans for Kasthamandap.

    Some salient details:

    • To be rebuild by the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC), using the design, drawings, cost estimates and guidance of the Department of Archaeology (DofA)
    • Cost estimate: approximately USD 1.4 Million (NRS 154,200,000) over three years
    • To be made out of saal wood (Shorea robusta), the same material used in the original construction
    • “Fiber” (fiber-glass?) to be used in conjunction, to make the structure earthquake-proof
    • The Durham University team (involved in a recently-completed UNESCO-sponsored assessment of damage to heritage sites) has hinted that the original construction could be from the seventh century CE, which, if verified, would push back the date of construction to over 300 years, and squarely during the heydays of the Licchavi era. This is a sensational finding, if confirmed.

     

    Some comments:

    • In general, this is very exciting news!
    • We commend the swiftness with which the DofA and KMC have created a plan, which was no doubt a challenge given Nepal’s current situation
    • More details on the design selection process and reconstruction plans would be welcome: may we suggest public sharing of these details in an online forum (official web-site/ blog) ?
    • A breakdown of the reconstruction budget, perhaps shared online, would be welcome
    • The use of fiber-glass is intriguing. Why not traditional wood reinforced (when only absolutely needed) with completely concealed metal?
    • We look forward to more announcements/ scholarly publications from UNESCO Professor Robin Coningham of Durham University about the tantalizing hints of an 700-800CE original construction date for Kasthamandap.
  • Remains of Kasthamandap

    What remains of the treasures of Kasthamandap has been safely stored for now. Here is a pictorial account.

  • Labor of Love, Model of Devotion

     

    Late May, 2015. A few close friends gathered for their usual afternoon meeting at the house of Surya Bahadur Shrestha behind Kasthamandap … Rather, behind the pile of rubble that was formerly Kasthamandap. They sat around on the carpet, un-sattaled by the bright light pouring in through the window, now that Kasthamandap’s giant roofs were no longer blocking the view. For as long as they could remember, Maru Sattal had been back there, sitting majestic, a benevolent guardian sheltering Maru Tol…no, the entire city. The memory of Kasthamandap lay heavy on their souls. The grief was heaviest for one friend whose father was inside Kasthamandap when the earthquake struck: he lost his life in the collapse of Kasthamandap that day.

    Juju Tuladhar sifted through the morning papers and read out sections of Suresh Kiran’s article to his friends. “Big businessmen and celebrities are clamoring to get ordinary citizen involved in the restoration of Dharahara tower. Some bankers have even announced that they will ‘invest’ in Dharahara. The media has made the Dharahara stump the de facto ‘earthquake symbol’. But why?”

    Juju continued further down, “On Jeth 6, the two main national dailies Kantipur and Nagarik printed a photo of a mural being painted on a wall in the Babarmahal area. Both papers had this as the caption: Painting of a temple being created. Neither newspaper were aware that that was not a temple, but Kasthamandap. Kantipur’s logo itself is Kasthamandap: should they not know the name of their own logo? Those who made Dharahara a symbol of our fallen cultural heritage do not know about Kasthamandap. How did this happen? What is the reason for this?…”

    Juju looked up. All his friends were looking down into the carpet, as we Nepalis always do when deep in thought and in agreement. “It still amazes me that only a few historians and scholars know the true value of Kasthamandap”, Juju said slowly. They all knew, as Suresh Kiran himself wrote later on in the same article, that in today’s Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, any such talk is quickly labelled “cultural prejudice.” But their beloved Maru Sattal had fallen. The void and the pain were real.

    Surya Bahadur Shrestha spoke up, “There has been a lot of talk, friends. Let us now do something.” Saroj Ratna Shakya joined in, “We could start raising funds locally. But without official government blessing and strict oversight, we know how funds end up in Nepal. I favor a small and symbolic step.” Surya now: “You know, I have actually been thinking about this for some time. How about making an exact replica of Kasthamandap, down to the last detail. It might spur others to more action. We do know an expert who can do this.”

    All eyes turned to Hira Ratna Brahmacharya, an expert wood carver who had come all the way from Bungmati to join his friends. Hira was silent for a while. “We will need accurate measurements, and I will need to cost out the project…but yes, I think I can do it.”

    A smile inadvertently broke from everyone.

    “La, la, I have the book that was published during the 1966 renovations.”

    “And I have access to the recent scale drawings of Wolfgang Korn.”

    “OK, how about we bring all this and meet at Hira’s house next week.”

    And that is how the model was born. After a month of work. A labor of love. A model of devotion.

     

    The making of the model:

     

    ∫∫∫


    Editor’s Note:  During the making of this article, we did not ask who was Newa and who was Bahun. Or who was Buddhist and who was Hindu. Or who lived in Kathmandu and who lived outside (Bungmati). We just wanted to come together to celebrate Kasthamandap, a bond that we all share.

    A very small gesture, no doubt, in the grand scheme of things. But perhaps something could be learned from this humble social exercise during Nepal’s continuing days of ethnic turmoil and constitution-making angst. 

     

     

  • Commercial use as Icons

    Some of the Kathmandu businesses that have used Kasthamandap as part of their logos. Should the businesses be more involved in the rebuilding of their namesake?

  • Day 100: A Status Check

    Today is Day 100 since the initial Nepal earthquake of 2015. We have biked in rallies and run in marathons commemorating Kasthamandap. We have lighted candles. We have written heartfelt articles and memoirs (including by yours truly). We have argued for the importance of Kasthamandap over Dharahara. We have painted murals for it and even created a miniature Kasthamandap Model that is astoundingly life-like. We have connected on social media and in the real world with others who share a passion for Kasthamandap and who appreciate its central and monumental significance in Kathmandu culture. We have organized one-day and two-day conferences on how, when and why to rebuild Kasthamandap.

    But a hundred days on, Kasthamandap is still a gaping wound at the heart of Kathmandu. Let us come together to start the rebuilding process. In the current issue (June, 2015) of ECS Nepal, this writer has tried to pave a path forward. Please provide feedback, suggest alternatives, or voice your support by leaving a comment below.

    Private groups are trying to collect funds towards this, but there are no commitments or a formal plan yet. Kathmandu residents with deep connections to this venerable sattal must get involved to make sure that the funds do get collected, that the rebuilding does happen, and that it happens in a faithful, earthquake-resistant manner. Along the way, we must not be shy about demanding accountability and results from our public servants, who are paid with our money to take care of heritage sites like Kasthamandap. An immediate challenge here seems to be confusion about which institution owns the main responsibility for heritage conservation: The Ancient Monuments Act assigns the responsibility to the Department of Archaeology, but local governance laws point to municipal bodies. Then there are NGOs such as Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust and others. Let us fix this by assigning clear roles and responsibilities, transparent chains of command, and clear coordination between all relevant groups. Modern Information Technology makes the management and communication of all this straightforward. What is more challenging, of course, is for all stakeholders to agree on policy and priorities. But it must be done.