Saturday, January 06, 2001

How local initiative can change the fate of neglected monuments

By Razen Manandhar

KATHMANDU, Jan 5 - While the Department of Archaeology, the government body responsible for safeguarding the cultural heritages of the country, is turning a blind eye to the crumbling monuments, a group of conscious people is setting an example in preserving these age-old treasures.

A royal-dome-shaped 19th century temple of Lord Ram Chandra, popularly called Ram Mandir of Battisputali, is likely to undergo a facelift soon – indeed the renovation work has already begun. Thanks largely to the Committee for Renovation and Promotion of Ramchandra Temple (CRPRT), a small committee of locals.

Out of the donation collected from the locals, the eight-year-old Committee has so far spent Rs 1.1 million on the restoration works of the temple. And another 1.2 million rupees has been spent on a rest house with carved pillars and windows at the temple premises. But the amount spent so far is only a fraction of the estimated 8 million rupees needed to complete the renovation works.

"When we started the ambitious project eight years ago, we had only Rs 501 and we were not sure whether we would be able to make any tangible difference," says cultural expert Dr Govinda Tondon, a local resident and the member-secretary of the CRPRT.

"We are now proud that we have come a long way spending millions of rupees on the temple neglected by government bodies." Ram Mandir is one of the hundreds of archaeologically and culturally significant monuments of the Kathmandu Valley, a UNESCO World (Cultural) Heritage Site.

The temple was built in 1871 AD by Commanding Colonel Sanak Singh Tondon. Some locals say that the Colonel constructed the temple after he discovered three potsfull of golden coins in that place. The site is equally famous for the archaeological findings dating back to the 7th century.

The temple consists of five black-stone idols of Lord Ram, his consort Sita, brothers Laxman, Bharat and Satrughna and a standing Hanuman, Ram’s devotee, outside.

It is one of the few Shah dynasty monuments which bear outstanding fresco (wall) paintings around its walls. The temple is noted for its 32 butterfly images, and locals say that the place is named after these images.

Dr Tondon says that the temple was never renovated, and that it survived 8-plus rector scale earthquake in 1934 that wrecked the parts of Bihar and Nepal and claimed thousands of lives. But as time passed, rest houses in the temple premise collapsed, its roof began leaking. Worse, the area around the temple turned into a garbage dump.

"Instead of waiting hopelessly for the government to renovate the cultural heritage site, we have mobilised a large number of locals behind," says Tondon. The initiative has not only brought changes in the temple’s appearance, but also helped bring a change in the attitude of the locals towards our monuments, he adds.

Almost deserted by devotees till few years back, now about 180 locals wait for their turn to offer daily pooja in the temple. But this is not all. The committee has also started holding religious functions and other religious events. "Temple is not only a place for worship," says Puspa Pani Gautam, Chairman of the Committee. So the process of demystifying the conventional concept of temple as such has already begun. "These days we have started holding classes of culture and classical music, recitations of Ramayana and many more."

Ambika Shrestha of the Dwarika’s Hotel, which stands close to Ram Mandir is all praise for the renovation works. "Locals who live around such historic monuments should take inspiration from this step to preserve our monuments."
[ Kathmandu Saturday January 06, 2001 Paush 22, 2057.]