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.