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.]