Monday, December 24, 2001

With ‘useless’ committees dissolved, Lumbini lies abandoned

By Razen Manandhar

KATHMANDU, Dec 23 - The renovation work at Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha and a 2500-year-old archaeological site, has run into troubled waters after the committees formed to oversee the work were dissolved a month ago.

With no monitoring body around, all restoration work at the Temple of Mayadevi and surrounding areas have come to a standstill in Lumbini, one of UNESCO’s four World Heritage Sites in the country.

On November 23, the Minster for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, Bal Bahadur KC, dissolved the eight voluntary organizations set up to renovate the temple of Mayadevi, calling them "useless", say officials at the Lumbini Development Trust (LDT), the authority in charge of development plans for Lumbini which has the Culture Minister himself as Chairman.

"It’s only in the newspaper that we read about the dissolution of the committees, we have not yet received any such formal notification," says Professor Sudarshan Raj Tiwari, the coordinator of the LDT’s Technical Committee.

Professor Tiwari says the voluntary committees formed seven months ago were a remarkable achievement of the LDT, one that could rope in professionals to work selflessly towards the upkeep of Lumbini.

Special plans for Lumbini were mooted back in the 1967, when the then UN General Secretary U Thant put forth the idea of Lumbini as an international centre for peace. By 1978, a Japanese Professor, Kenzo Tange, had come up with a master plan that covered 1150 bighas of land divided into three zones: for a garden, monasteries and a research centre. But nothing exceptional has taken place in more than two decades.

Nabin Chitrakar, Chairman of one dissolved committee which was looking after promotional aspects, says that Lumbini has now been deserted after many worked for their "personal benefits". He says millions of dollars might have been spent on studying various aspects related to the development of Lumbini. The kind of money that came by way of international donations is incalculable, says Chitrakar.

"Till now, there have been 20 major studies on Lumbini and 22 bank accounts in its name but we don’t even know where they are," he added.

Chitrakar says after Nepal entered an agreement with the Japanese government that a Japanese Buddhist Federation would fund the renovation of Lumbini, a series of problems cropped up as governments kept changing every other year, and there was no communication between the Federation and the Nepali government.

"One after another glamorous plans poured in—from Nepali as well as foreign designers—to beautify the shrine. Each tried to outdo the other, while the politicians and the so-called Buddhists scholars made lots of profit out of the ruins," says Chitrakar.

The sacred garden where Lord Buddha was born 2545 years ago has indeed been subjected to all kinds of renovation ideas. Such as covering the birth marker stone with bullet-proof glass, covering the whole archaeological area with a special rectangular or square tent, and constructing a gold-roofed temple.

Chitrakar also accuses the international experts who "dropped in at the site" as hampering the renovation process. He says an authorized technician from Japan was responsible for delaying the development plans by many years because he never got to submitting the technical report.

Former treasurer of LDT and a member of the Upper House, Laxmi Das Manandhar, says none of the politicians have been sincere in seeing through the restoration work on the temple of Mayadevi, and all that they have done is to hold seminars.

"The LDT does nothing more than making and breaking committees. It should at least do something for the idol of Mayadevi, which has been lying in a cow-shed-like hut for the last five years. Even the pilgrims don’t want to go there," says Manandhar. "The permanent temple might take another decade to complete. But by this time, a temporary temple could have been erected."

The voluntary committees that have been dissolved are: the National and International Coordination Committee; Economic Management Committee; Recruitment Committee; Archaeological Conservation, Research and University Establishment Committee; Promotion Committee; Technical Committee; Employee Security Committee, and the Mayadevi Temple Renovation.

LDT Vice-Chairman Omkar Prasad Gauchan says these bodies have been dissolved for "Lumbini to have a new beginning".

Millions of Buddhists and all those who respect heritage sites, can only hope that it indeed is true.