Monday, November 12, 2001

New scheme to save ancient idols

By Razen Manandhar

Time has changed and the technologies to conserve the ancient monuments should also undergo a worldwide change. So, many international agencies have landed in this country and each of them has taught one or another lesson to Nepali neo-conservationists. Just to name a few are those who built the inner courtyard of the Keshav Narayan Chowk at Patan and Chyasilin Mandap of Bhaktapur. Let’s learn from them.

The Department of Archaeology (DoA), the body that has been entrusted by the government to safeguard the historical monuments of this country, is launching a new project largely to save thousands of idols in the Kathmandu valley. It is just "the thousands" because the department has neither made a complete list of the existing monuments, nor of the stolen ones; so it often quotes foreign heritage experts. Well, the leader of this innovative project has a grand design in his mind to protect the monuments, which will put an end to the decades old saga of priceless idols being stolen from the valley almost every week.

Actually, devising a great plan to launch this new scheme was quite difficult. To make it happen, the enlightened officers of DoA had to travel in one or another country almost every month. They were so busy in attending seminars that they did not remember the topics and outcomes.

The unprecedented scheme will be implemented in three phases: In the first phase, all the ancient idols will be removed from the old and out-of-fashion temples. The department has recently announced a vacancy for the post of plucking officers. Only professionals will be allowed to touch the idols. It would have been better, if the temples had also been preserved, but that needs more money than it is possible for a government body where nobody can escape the Auditor General’s report. Though the authority has not yet imagined how big a warehouse they need to store those idols, the department will manage to keep all of them in its dusty godown.

In the second phase, the newly made fake idols will be reinstalled on those vacant nitches or pedestals of the temples. DoA sources said that the government was ready to spend quite a lot of money to instal fake idols for cultural monument preservation. Local craftsmen will be approached first to copy 200 to 2000 years-old idols. If they can’t install them satisfactorily, international craftsmen will be invited from across the border. If the budget does not allow the authority to have all the replicas of the idols made, they will place colour photographs instead.

The city dwellers have no sense to differentiate between the century old idols influencing the creed, sentiment and culture and the fake idols and photographs. The project manager has a premonition that devotees will love to rest their foreheads on the fake idols and photographs.

The readers might wonder where on earth are the displaced idols supposed to be kept in future. Here is the answer.

In the third phase, all the plucked-out idols will be distributed to royal palaces to make them decorative pieces. Antiques will be kept in air-tight cases of glass, with artistic looks. The cultural property that the UNESCO recognizes as symbol of the local civilization will enhance the value of such luxurious buildings where public access is almost impossible. Even if they can go, they will strictly be prohibited from performing foolish acts like worshipping and asking for blessing.

Authorities say this scheme will also prevent such valuable archaeological objects from being smuggled out.