Sunday, February 24, 2002

KVMP and the changing face of Kathmandu

Razen Manandhar

KATHMANDU, Feb 23: While the river runs on and the world keeps turning, and the water flows and the sun is burning, and the mountain’s old while we still are learning.....’where kathmandu is’.

Chikanmugal and Ombahal area of Ward No. 23 of Kathmandu Metropolitan City, is probably the only area in the capital that has its population decreasing by the day since the last two years.

The remaining locals say many of the people have left the core area as the old style of architecture has become uncomfortable for them and there are little chances of enhancing economic activities and survival.

According to a recent study, only 68 percent of the old residents are hanging on in this area.

But this is not going to last for long. Officials of KMC are planning to improve the core area in 14 wards and a demonstration of the project will start very soon in Ward No.23, designed to show the locals that such an area, close to the UNESCO-declared heritage zone of Hanumandhoka Durbar Square, can also be a major centre of tourist attraction, and developed into a tourism-related commercial zone.

The area is full of Buddhist monastery courtyards, open space surrounded by artistic traditional houses, made during the Malla, Shah and Rana period. Some houses or monuments are found to be over 300 years old. In the core areas, traditional courtyards display a unique feature of medieval settlements that provide open space and sunlight for its residents and also keep the houses warm and cosy in winter.

National co-director of Kathmandu Valley Mapping Project (KVMP) Padma Sunder Joshi said that Yauta Baha, Ratnakar Baha, Ganthi Baha or Gancchen Nani and Punchhe Baha is being envisaged as the first phase of development in this area.

"We are going to develop the core city area of Ward No 23 as a pilot project that includes providing basic infrastructures like the paving of streets, water, drainage, and street lamps etc.We will also assist the people in developing tourism business in the area," he said.

This programme is being launched to conserve our unique cultural heritage, to maintain a clean living environment, to identify important buildings concerning heritage and to conserve, repair and restore the old heritage buildings and the surrounding demography of the area, according to Joshi.

KVMP intends to complete this project within six to eight months.

"Reviving the deserted core area is a challenge for us. Only the slogan of heritage conservation is not going to bring those locals back. We must help them to generate income. Perhaps, we can bring back the days of the famous Freak Street again," said Joshi.

Senior planner of KVMP Kishor Manandhar said that money would not be a problem for launching the project, but he did not mention the exact amount KVMP is investing in the area.

"Participation of the local people is vital in this project. We want involvement of the locals from the very beginning. We will collect financial contribution from the locals up to 30 percent. By doing this, we want the locals to feel their responsibility to preserve the area," he said.

A steering-committee has recently been set up with the mayor as chairman, ward chairman as vice-chairman, and representatives of the locals and KMC officials as the members.

Ward No. 23 chairman Pabitra Bajracharya said that selecting his ward for the pilot project was a very "fortunate" incident for him.

Sundar Shyam Mathema, a local committee member said that the project would change the face of the core city and the locals would surely participate in it.

"But, it should not collapse midway, as it happens with many of the high-funding projects," he warned.
[Kathmandu Sunday February 24, 2002 Falgun 12, 2058.]

Sunday, February 17, 2002

Whose land? Kirtipur farmers don’t know, nor do authorities

By Razen Manandhar

KIRTIPUR, Feb 16[2002]: When the government acquired 4,500 ropanis of Chirrup farmland for setting up the Tribhuwan University three decades ago, the displaced farming families were handed out plots in the outskirts of Kirtipur village. But the distribution of this public land by the local authority, Gaun Sabha, was so arbitrary that the families are now caught in a legal wrangle to prove their ownership over the individual plots.

To complicate matters further, some of the owners of these plots which have no legal certificates, later sold them off to others without any legal basis whatsoever. The Gaun Sabha had also distributed lands to some University deans who later sold it off.

Matters came to a head recently when 95 Kirtipur residents filed a writ (on February 1) against five buyers of such plots, who are building houses there. Acting on the writ the Supreme Court on February 7 passed an interim order to stop construction work. The writ also addresses local authorities like the Municipality, the Chief District Office, the Land Revenue Department and the Land Reform Ministry as respondents.

"We have filed the writ not against those particular houses, but our aim is to save the whole of Kirtipur from such encroachers who have brought a bad name to the town," says Surendra Manandhar, claimant from the petitioners’ side.

Between 1968 and till around 1986, the Gaun Sabha’s Pradhan Panchas distributed innumerable public plots of size 24' x 36', to anybody who ever applied paying the stipulated Rs 100 fee to the village office. In return, the applicants received a chit in small-type, which gave them the right to ownership. There is no "complete" record of the number of plots distributed nor on who got them.

Manandhar says the court’s verdict will help in solving a problem that has vexed Kirtipur farming families for the last three decades.

The local residents say that some 150 houses have been built illegally in Kirtipur Nayabazaar alone, and over 400 more "illegal" houses have come up on the public land around the heart of Kirtipur town.

Seventy-one-year-old Dwarika Maharjan, former Pradhan Pancha, who initiated the illegal distribution, says that the step he took 30 years ago, was the need of the time.

"That was a necessary decision at that time when we saw hundreds of people being displaced from their homes," he says.

At that time, Maharjan even had to appear before the then prime minister, Kirtinidhi Bista, to explain his actions.

But locals say the Pradhan Pancha earned thousands from the whole deal.

The former Pradhan Pancha says his decision to hand out plots to three Tribhuvan University deans—Prachanda Pradhan, Upendra Man Malla and Shekhar Pradhan-was made so that the village would benefit from these educationists. It makes him furious that they sold off the plots. "We thought them to be Gods but they turned out to be demons," says Maharjan.

Maharjan adds that like him, the Pradhan Panchas of neighbouring villages such as Layaku, Paliphal, Bahiri Gaon, Panga, Chobhar and Macchhe Gaon, had also distributed public lands in the same way.

Amidst all this, the Kirtipur Municipality is caught in a dilemma-it can neither call these plots and houses legal or illegal, as the Municipality has to own up to the decisions taken by the earlier local authorities.

Says Kirtipur Mayor, Hira Kaji Maharjan: "We cannot say they are legal. And we have been trying to stop this as far as we can. We have been requesting the police force and the Chief District Officer from time to time that something has to be done to stop illegal construction. But they don’t act saying that it is a political problem."

He says the Municipality did now and again try to stop such constructions, even by seizing construction equipment, but they continued. Asks a helpless Mayor, "What more can we do?"
[Kathmandu Sunday February 17, 2002 Falgun 05, 2058.]

Buddhist interpretation of Saraswati

Temple of Manjushree

By Razen Manandhar

People, tired of chilly winter long for some fresh winds and warmer sun as the Spring approaches. All over the world, people worship the god of spring in different ways. In Nepal, the fifth day of lunar Magha (17th February this year) is celebrated as Sri Panchami, is the day of Spring festival. On this day, people worship Manjushree and Saraswati, the god and goddess of education, wisdom and intelligence. Among the most visited Saraswati Shrines in the Kathmandu Valley, one lies at the western knoll of the Swayambhu hill, that is known as the shrine of Manjushree.

The temple is in the form of a white-washed Buddhist stupa. Guarded by stones on both front and rear sides, the temple has now fenced with iron bar. On the top of the stupa, there is a metal crown with eyes on four sides and thirteen-circular plates. The whole stupa-temple is covered by an open metal roof (Ilaan or Chanduwa) in the form of a Mandala that is hung over the stupa, which gives the shrine an appearance of a temple.

On the eastern side of the stupa, there is an artistic stone gate. And it has a stone torana which has images of Bagishwar, the form of Manjusri, flanked by Ganesh and Buddha on both of his sides. It is an unique example of the combination of Buddhism and Hinduism in one Torana which is rare among the thousands of Toranas scattered in the Kathmandu Valley.

A stone lotus on a small platform, possesses two relief feet with eyes on them. These two feet are the centre of devotion of thousands of Buddhists and Hindus. The eyes are believed to be of Dharma Shri, a disciple of Manjusri. One day, he neglected Manjushree in a religious gathering as the guru was in filthy dresses. Later, as he bent down to greet the guru, his eyes fell on Manjushree’s feet, as a punishment to the sin he committed.

The legends say that the Manjushree came to the Kathmandu Valley from China thousands of years before the Buddha was born. He worshipped the Swayambhu on a thousand-petaled lotus and drained away the water from the lake and make the valley suitable for human habitation. Another legend states that that Kind Prachanda Dev of Gaud (Bengal) came to Nepal and built the stupa of Swayambhu and Manjushree in the date beyond the history can trace. The shrine is now covered with painted iron roof that also has clumsy fringes around it.

Behind the main stupa there are several small stone stupas, which has also been surrounded by iron bar with praying wheels. A score of small and big idols are pasted on a wall with stone texture.

A recently renovated sattal is there opposite of the temple which is now filled with graffiti. Writing holy name of the Manjusri and Saraswati on the temple wall on the day of Sri Panchami is a popular tradition among the young students that is believed to help people obtain sharp mind.

Due to its legendary origin, the date of the temple’s construction and its original shape is unknown. But the temple in the present form is said to be established in the 17th century. The oldest found inscription shows that the temple has been there since the year 1784 AD. A Buddhist monk named Jayapatidev renovated the temple in the present form of a Buddhist Stupa.

The hill of Manjusri is a part on the hill of Swayambhu. It is surrounded by green trees and a naked cliff in northern side. Stone steps from Kimdol Bazaar leads directly to the shrine but can be reached from the top of the hill also.

Manjushree was a prehistoric saint but was given a god’s form as the tantraism gripped the Buddhism of the Kathamndu Valley. He is more commonly depicted as a god of transcendental wisdom and lord of speech, Bagishwor or Dharmadhatu Bagishwor. In his simplest form, he carries a book of Pragyaparamita and the divine sword with which he drives away ignorance and illiteracy.

In the shrine of Manjushree at Swayambhu, his identity and cult are merged with that of Saraswati a Hindu goddess, whose attributes are similar to Manjushree. The merge can also be interpreted as a confusion. Another reason of the confusion is their names., Dharmadhatu-Bagishwor, with Saraswati’s alternate, Bagiswari.

The heritage of the Kathmandu Valley remains live until both the Hindu and Buddhists worship the god or goddess without asking about whether a particular shrine belongs to a Buddhist or Hindu theology. And looking at the mass of people on the day of Sri Panchami, we can proudly say that the tradition of merge, confusion or harmony between Manjushree and Saraswati will continue forever.
[Kathmandu, Sunday, February 17, 2002 Falgun 05, 2058.]

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Health Warning: Beware of hazardous medical waste

Razen Manandhar

The "thrilling" story about an amputated limb found in the busy street of Bagbazaar is quite old. We have also read news stories about a government-owned maternity hospital throwing foetuses and other parts just next to the hospital compound. We read and soon forget such stories, as we have to get on with our busy lives.

But whether we think about it or not, the most aware, intelligent and comfortable citizens of the capital city, have to realise that they are living on a time bomb planted by the health organisations with its high-sounding slogans of quality health service. Any time, a plague can threaten the lives of thousands in this city because of the infectious waste the hospitals, nursing homes, clinics and medicine shops, throw out carelessly on the street every day.

One can hardly believe that in this so-called modern city, health institutions dump over 1,000 kilogrammes of deadly hazardous waste directly or indirectly on the streets every day.

We, the educated people of the valley, it seems know only one way of being health—conscious—chuck all the garbage out of our territory. Our conscience never bothers us that the garbage will not let us live in peace unless it is treated or managed properly. Staying with the garbage problem in the capital has become as common as "dalbhat". We have a decade-long experience in this field.

Medical waste—that is bio-medical waste, hospital waste, clinical waste, pathological waste, infectious waste, pharmaceutical waste, geno-toxic waste, chemical waste and even radioactive waste–are thousand times more dangerous to public health than plastic bags, paper boxes and rotten vegetables. In general, waste of the organic matters decompose while the non-organic ones remain intact.

But the case is quite different with medical waste. Since they are either infected with various bacteria and viruses, they can generate pests that can be harmful to our lives.

Around one-and-half million people from the valley and perhaps the same number from other districts, undergo treatment in the city’s numerous medical establishments. Do we have any idea where does the human tissues, organs, body fluids, other wastes which may transmit viral, fungal, bacterial or parasitic diseases, expired or unused drugs, gaseous chemicals, etc. go? They remain in the valley itself, on or under the ground, and their regenerated forms are flying in the air we breathe. We can’t run away from them. And we are not ostriches to bury our heads.

According to a research done last year by Environment and Public Health Organisation, over 60 hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, etc. produce 1,312 kg of such infectious and clinical wastes in the Kathmandu Valley. But only a few of these places have any equipment to treat the waste. What is happening is that many of the medical establishments mix hazardous waste with the general waste, which, according to experts, multiplies the danger by hundreds of times, because after such waste gets mixed with the general garbage pile, all the pile turns dangerous. Most of the hospitals and nursing homes usually dispose their waste on the roadside containers, and at times, burn and bury them in their institution premises.

This is what the doctors, and other health workers, whom we consider highly health- conscious and masters of health education, are leaving behind. What is there to expect from these people who are not serious about the waste they are responsible for produce?

But the blame lies not just on the health professionals. There are various laws concerning industry, health services and environment. They all say that the institutions must manage the waste that they produce. But no action has yet been taken against those who do not abide by the rules.

What can be done? Recommendations again: The government must amend its laws and punish the wrongdoers; make hospital management, doctors and cleaners aware, and immediately establish a centralised incinerator or get the hospitals and nursing homes to establish their own plants to manage such wastes. And of course, the citizens have a role to play. Have you ever heard of any citizen or civic organisation raising a voice against this deadly mismanagement? I suppose, no. Now is the time, before it gets too late.
[Kathmandu Wednesday February 13, 2002 Falgun 01, 2058.]

Sunday, February 10, 2002

[Bungamati] hometown of Red Machhindranath

By Razen Manandhar

After a ride along the road with old sporadic settlements and new bungalows for about 12 kilometres from the capital’s centre, the 1400 years old village of Bungamati becomes distinct from a height that gives you a fair picture of the clustered settlement with Bagmati river and the hill that goes to Dakshinkali in the background.

After you discover the rows of old houses, you come to know that you are in an ancient Newar settlement that has barely been influenced by the modern lifestyle. One can easily penetrate the settlement with narrow streets that lead you to the main shrine courtyard, where lies the temple of Red Machhindranath.

The houses are traditional and uniform — three floors and with a tilted tiled roof. Small doors and windows keep the mud-and-brick houses warm also in the chilly winter. They generally stand on stone steps, where the locals can sit and go for never-ending gossips in tedious afternoons. And several water ponds are there to let locally bred geese swim.

An inscription of Licchivi king Anshubarma (605-621 AD) proves that the settlement is at least 1,400 years old. In those days it was called "Bugayumi". In different times it was earned names like, Bugayugrama, Amarapur and so on.

The ancient settlement with around 3,000 population there is self-preserved and stick to the earth because it is the holy home of Rato Machhindranath, often considered as the god of compassion and rainfall. The relation between the locals and the deity is retrospective — either the locals nurtured the deity or the settlement is bestowed by the grace of the god.

The white-washed Shikhar temple of Machhindranath lies almost at the middle of the settlement. It is supported by wooden column that is common only in pagoda temples. A temple-house of Hayagriva Bhairav also lies in a corner of the courtyard. The Panjus and Shakyas are the priest and they take care of the temple.

The settlement is directly related with the local deity, whom the locals remember everyday and over every hard times they face. The red, fully-covered idol has obtained around a dozen names in last two millenniums. But the most popular among the locals is "Karunamaya", the compassionate one. Other Newars in the valley address the same deity as Bungadyo, the god from Bunga. Besides, Bungamati Lokeshwor, Avalokiteshowr, Aryavalokiteshwor, Lokanath are other names attributed to him. Specially among non-Buddhists, he is Rato Machhindranath, the Red god of fishes. They worship the deity as a supreme Hindu saint, the guru of Gorakhnath.

Regardless of being Buddhists or Hindus, the Karunamaya is the god of all and Bungamati is proud to house him for six months every year (the idol is taken to the core of Patan city during the other half of the year). People from Buddhist, Shaiv, Shakti and Vaishnav sects worship the holy idol in different forms.

No matter how important place he obtains in both Buddhist and Hindu religion, the history of Machhindranath is not clear. According to a legend, the early 7th century king Narendradev and his companion Bandhudatta brought the god Karunamaya form Assam to let Saint Gorakhnath stand up, who was sitting on nine serpents, causing a long drought. The king thought that Machhindranath being the guru, Gorakhnath would stand up to greet him. There oldest inscription so far found there is dated 1675 AD in the temple.

However, the settlement can no more be untouched from the clutches of modernization — concrete houses, snooker parlours, beauty parlours, VCD rentals etc. are found easily. Adding more storeys and rolling shutters in old houses have become a fashion among the locals. This new whim of desire to call themselves "modern" is a new threat to the village environment. Besides, this old vulnerable settlement has been a bull’s eye of art thieves, the negligence by the security department is to be blamed.

In times, the hard-working locals have made good names as a village of farmers, carpenters and carpet-weavers. Now, it is getting famous as a wood carving centre. There are over 60 wood carving studios, some of which even export the quality handicraft to European countries.

Though a favourate tourist destination, there is little facilities for the visitors. Tourist services like quality souvenir shops, coffee houses and toilets are need to be added to see tourists spending more hours in the quiet old village.

UNESCO has recently launched a programme to initiate Community Learning Centre with cooperation with the local village development committee. Hopes are high that the villagers would realize the significance of the ancient settlement and learn to be proud of being residents of Bungamati. That would inspire them to conserve cultural heritage of the area and develop it as a tourist destination in the near future.
[Kathmandu, Sunday, February 10, 2002 Magh 28, 2058.]

Sunday, February 03, 2002

Bagmati ghat Grand shrine along the holy river

[herigate tour]
By Razen Manandhar

few people of the modern Kathmandu may know that just at the other side of the busy Teku Thapathali road, there is a vast treasure of cultural heritage along the bank of the holy Bagmati river, stretching for around two kilometres. Around two dozen major temples, mostly built in the politically defamed Rana period of the 19th century.

From the confluence of Bagmati and Bishnumati River at Teku, just behind the central office of Kathmandu Metropolitan City to the Temple of Gorakhnath at Thapathali, on the way to Patan, the temples are positioned in a series, and countless small Hindu and Buddhist idols are also scattered by the river, some of them might be the popular Uma-Maheshowr of the 7th century too.

The main temples in this area are Janga Hiranya Hem Narayan, Narmadeshowr Shivlinga, Tripura Sundari, Radhakrishna, Purneshwor, Dakshinkali, Radhakrishna, Ram, Shivalaya, Ban Bikateshowr, Panchamukhi Mahadev, Radhakrishna, Jagannath and Pachali Bhairav.The temples came into existence from early 19th century to 20th century. Among them, the open shrine of Pachali Bhairav bears inscription of 1649 AD whereas many of the temples in the river bank were erected after the First Rana Prime Minster Janga Bahadur Rana chose the holy river bank to experiment with the European architecture with fusion of Nepali traditional architecture.

The characteristic of this heritage area is that one can find temples built in various lapse of time and obviously, it can be seen in thevariety of architecture and use of building materials. Where the shrine of Pachali is a simple open shrine where the formless idol of the Bhairav is lying on the ground, the temple of Tripura Sundari, made in 1818 AD is a masterpiece of Nepali pagoda. Similarly, the temple of Ban Bikateshwor, made in 19th century is a unique type of temple that has three separate temples inside one. And the dome shaped Janga Hiranya Hem Narayan, built in 1874 AD, is also an example of its kind with Mughal dome and four brass lions on four corners.

The bank of river has been a holy site, an abode of the "Mother Bagmati", since civilization germinated in the Kathmandu Valley. So, the part of the river bank that lies the nearest to the old Kathmandu has been considered as pious. This is also the southern end of the old Kathmamndu.

Beside the religious shrines, the river bank itself is no less religious. After the famous Aryaghat of Pashupatinath, this is the most cared, protected and widely visited river bank of the Bagmati. Thus this part of the bank plays a vital role to make whole river, no matter how it looks like now, religious and make it a cultural part of the Kathmanduites.

There are four major ghats in area, stretching from west to east : Bagmati Ghat, Kalmochan Ghat, Bhagwateshwor Bhat and Pachali Ghat and Teku Dovan Ghat. Among them, the last one, Teku Dovan Ghat must be the oldest considered as a legendary saint called Ne first chose this pious confluence where the Vishnumati river comes to mix with the Bagmati to set up the valley as a centre of civilization, thousands of years ago.

Among others, the temple of Rikheshwor draws thousands of female pilgrims on the day of Rishi Panchami that falls on the month of July. On this day, the pilgrims offer special rites to the phallic idol of Lord Shiva for the long life and prosperity of their husbands.

And the Bagmati ghat is specially remembered on the month of Magh (December-January) when people visit there on chilly mornings, take holy bath and enjoy wood-firing by the river.

But when we talk about its present, we can hardly see something like conservation is taking place, excluding one or two temples getting face-lift at snail-speed. There is a series of ruined temples, debris and carelessly scattered archaeological idols.

The grandchildren of the makers of the temples are trying their luck to make the area their private by destroying historical evidences. And to your surprise, professionals like lawyers and close relatives to police officers have been found erecting concrete buildings on the ghat area. And martial arts centres are opened in the fragile traditional buildings near the central office of Kathmandu Metropolitan City itself.

The ancient holy temples and sattals are turned squatters’ squares in these days. In almost every beautiful, artistic and traditional buildings, built to give shelter to the pilgrims, one can find squatters living rightfully. Neither the government has done anything to drive them away nor has any local representative played role to evacuate the area and maintain its original significance.

Department of Archaeology, UNESCO and John Sanday Consultants prepared projects for conservation of Teku Thapathali Monument Zone in 1996 but it did not materialized.
[Kathmandu, Sunday, February 03, 2002 Magh 21, 2058.]