Sunday, March 17, 2002

Ranipokhari : King’s tribute to his beloved

By Razen Manandhar

Love never dies. A mother can’t forget a young son’s untimely demise and a man, who loves his wife equally, cannot see her begrieved endlessly. That is the story behind the biggest artificial water body in the whole Kathmandu valley. This 332 year-old Ranipokhari has a love story to tell, apart from its historic, religious, social as well as physical importance. As it lies in the centre of the city today, people walk or drive along this everyday but they scarcely have time to look at the heritage, the legacy of the past.

This temple was constructed during the reign of king Pratap Malla who ruled the Kathmandu from 1660 to 1674 AD. Some believe that the pond was only a reconstruction over the ancient one and the king only expanded it and made systematic water inlets, so it is locally called "Nhoo Pukhoo", (i.e., the New Pond). When constructed, it was a tribute in the name of his youngest son Chakravartendra, who had died recently and a token of consolation to his wife, drown in sorrow. He had dedicated the pond area to Shiva, Parvati and Brahma, after bringing holy waters from 51 shrines of Nepal and India. "Whoever performs all the religious duties... after having taken his bath in this lake, will obtain the merits and rewards attaching to ... bathing in all the shrines," states the maker’s note.

Historians believe the pond’s area was quite bigger than now it is conserved with the help of ugly iron bars. Initially, it spread to the areas surrounded where lie today Narayan Hiti, Trichandra Campus, Kamalakshi, and Tebahal. The king also erected four huge stone inscriptions at Naachghar, by Seto Durbar and Nurses Hostel (but the last one is still undiscovered). Similary, he had four water spouts constructed at the four corners. One was found while constructing the sub-way at Bhotahity, the second was encroached by Ranipokhari Sports Team building, the third and fourth ones are probably be buried under the building of Nepal Electricity Authority, and around somewhere in Kingsway.

The pond was crowned with a Shiva temple in the middle, that was originally in Pagoda style, and bridged it with the pond periphery with a bridge from the western side. According to historic description of Oldfield, Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana pulled down and replaced them with ugly brick walls. But it is not known, whether the present temple was reconstructed by him or was renovated after the 1934 earthquake.

The present temple, opened only once a year on the day of Bhaitika, is made in Mughal-styled architecture. It has two stories and made in cube forms with latticed windows. There are bars around the first floor and are small domes on its four corners and a domed pinnacle is on the top.

It is surrounded by a low bar and gives a picturesque view of the water surface that bears a reflection of the neighboring college and the clock tower.

The pond was guarded by the statue of King Pratap Malla, riding a life-sized elephant from the southern side. He is accompanied by his son and the wife (or two sons). Behind the statue, there was a octagonal open rest-house, which is now disappeared.

Four simple temples are established at four corners of the pond. Among them, one is lumpishly decorated with red marble sheets where as the other two are prohibited from public visits. And one is lying neglected under the overhead crossing bridge. It is still unclear whether the temples were also made by the King Pratap Malla or they were later additions. Probably, the temples were is contributions but were ruined and later they turned into simple dome shaped shrines.

What so ever might have been the past, the King Pratap Malla might have ashamed of the present government if he say today’s Ranipokhari . Either government or the people with some rights in their hands — all are working days and nights to encroach the only beautiful water body in the city.

One after another, constructions like a city auditorium, Durbar School, an Education Administration Office, Seto Durbar, Clock Tower, Bir Hospital, Saraswati Sadan, Legal Reforms Commission, Zonal Commissioner’s Office, KMC’s office builiding, and Electricity Authority and many more. A Police post was added several years ago. There are over 80 small stalls arond the southen face of the historic pond.

Late though, the Kathmandu Metropolitan City has decided to demolish all the ugly structures at the south. That is undoubtedly a good step. But cautions must be there that the future of Rainpokhari may not follow the fortune of Sundhara Park and again the dream, KMC is selling, turn into a private party’s possession.
[Kathmandu, Sunday, March 17, 2002 Chaitra 04, 2058.]

Saturday, March 16, 2002

Ranipokhari finally getting a facelift

By Razen Manandhar

KATHMANDU, March 15: The 332- year-old artificial water pool of Ranipokhari, built at the heart of the capital, will soon be free of squatters and will be replaced with musical water fountains, lush green garden and picturesque open ground.

The Kathmandu Metropolitan City has finally decided to demolish the petrol pump, the building with a rooftop cafe and a municipal office as well as a chain of shops on the southern side of the historic Ranipokhari.

KMC received the permission to do so by the cabinet decision of December 20 last year. After waiting for three whole months, it has issued a public notice to vacate the shops and buildings by last Wednesday. But, it has not yet vacated the area.

The shops were given on lease by the government body Auditorium and Public Garden Development Committee (APDC) over a decade ago.

The 81 shop-owners of the area have had an agreement with the APDC, the authority that they pay monthly rent from Rs. 2,000 to 50,000 and would vacate the area when demanded. The committee collects Rs. 12.5 million every year from the shops south of Ranipokhari.

Mayor of Kathmandu Keshav Sthapit said that demolition works would start by next week. He said, "I feel proud to have an opportunity to rebuild the heritage of the city. Actually, I was asking for this permission for the last four years. I’m indebted to Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba for his right decision,"

According to the designs completed by the KMC, the pond will be free from iron bars, chairs will be added around the pond and additional beauty will be added with grass and flower. There will also be colourful water fountains around the pool that will make the historical area the biggest recreational ground of the city.

The KMC also has a plan to open the road from Bagbazaar to Bhotahity for pedestrians and turn the area into a parking zone where people can park to shop in Ason and Bhotahity.

Sthapit said the pond is a cultural heritage and "it should not be occupied by filthy chicken-sellers, vegetable market and stinking public toilets."

National co-director of the Kathmandu Valley Mapping Programme P.S. Joshi said that the Ranipokhari has been the victim of pumping out ground water in the city.

Surendra Ratna Tuladhar, the chairman of the ward, welcomes the plan of cleaning the Ranipokhari area and making a garden there. But he is against closing of the street that joins Bagbazaar and Bhotahity.

"Closing of the main road will affect business of around 3,000 small and big shops in the Ason and Bhotahity area," he said.

Naresh Bir Shakya, the chairman of local Hapaa Guthi, said along with the demolition of stalls, KMC should also take step to dislocate the adjoining Kathmandu Valley Police Office.

"If the police office, said to be built despite strong protest from the locals, continues to remain there, the public will be deprived of going into the garden," he said.

However, the cabinet decision and the KMC’s plan has not decided anything about the newly-built police office.

Deputy Inspector General Amar Singh Shah said the police was ready to follow any decision to beautify the city but it needed the government decision.

However, the local shopkeepers around the area have already made themselves ready to fight against the decision. The local Sorhahate Ganesh Byapar Sangh filed a case against the decision last Friday.

"We are not against the KMC’s project but since we have been running our shops here according to authorized directions, we must be given due consideration," said chairman of the Sangh Rajkrishna Tandukar.
[Kathmandu Saturday March 16, 2002 Chaitra 03, 2058.]

Friday, March 15, 2002

A question of identity: To be or not to be a ‘Dalit’

By Razen Manandhar

KATHMANDU, March 14 [2002] : Dozens of underprivileged communities known as "Dalits" have been fighting for their basic rights since a long time, and this goes back even to the Panchayat era.

But in this long drawn fray, it seems like some powers-that-be want to bring in those subjects who do not even want to be called Dalits, leave alone even being known as one.

A recently tabled Dalit Commission Bill of 2058 defines 24 marginalised communities as Dalits. Among them, four Newar communities - namely the Khadgis, Kasais, Podes and Chaymes - are also included in the list.

However, these communities deny that they are Dalits. They say they prefer to compete in society rather than ask for reservations from the government. Community leaders from these groups have now warned of stern protest actions if they are not withdrawn from the list.

Shyam Krishna Khadgi, the general secretary of Nayaa Khadgi Samaj Nepal, said they have been asking the Dalit Committee to eliminate their names from the list but nobody seems to bother.

"If some like to take advantage of being Dalits, we don’t mind. But since we don’t want to be so, we strongly demand that the government take out our names and let us live and be a part of the competition with life," Khadgi urged.

He said that though there are complicated divisions within the Newar system, it is different from the system of casteism and untouchability, so they must not be treated on the same terms.

"Where the goldsmiths in the Hindu system are untouchables, they are like priests in ours. Those that the government consider as Dalits are priest in many temples of the Kathmandu Valley. They cannot be taken as untouchables who are not allowed into temples," said Khadgi.

Khadgis, Chayame (or the Deulas) are priests of many temples like that of Taleju, Guheshoari, Bhadrakali, Maitidevi, Indrayani and many more.

Similarly, Shiva Hari Deula, the Chairperson of Deula Society Nepal, said that all citizens have obtained equal rights after the restoration of democracy in 1990, and the whole concept of Dalit itself is illegal.

"We thought that all citizens are equal in democracy but still, there are people who want to keep the idea of discrimination alive and the term known as ‘Dalit’ is their own creation." he said.

The four communities have united to continue their protest and other community organisations have expressed their solidarity to have the names of Khadgis, Kushles, Podes and Chaymes withdrawn from the list of so-called deprived communities.

Chairman of the Nepal Bhasa Mankaa Khalaa, Padma Ratna Tuladhar said that the voice of the concerned four communities are the biggest evidence that they are not Dalits.

"In democracy, nothing should be imposed upon anybody. It would have been something different if they agreed, but the voices are coming from their side, the government must listen to them."

The vice-chairman of the Committee for Upliftment of Deprived Communities (CUDC), Prof. Man Bahadur BK said that the Committee does not have any rights to change the list at the moment, but he said he could empathize with the issue.

"All people in a democratic state have rights to name themselves as they like. If the whole community thinks that they should not come under the banner of ‘Dalits’, they can stay away," said BK.

Joint-secretary at the Ministry of Local Development, Surya Sharan Regmi said that any community should not be called Dalits against their will.

"Some delegations have visited me. We will certainly withdraw their names after we are convinced that it is really the voice of the whole community," he said.
[Kathmandu Friday March 15, 2002 Chaitra 02, 2058. ]

Sunday, March 10, 2002

The ruins of Mangalsen palace

Heritage tour

By Razen Manandhar
It is not only the Kathmandu Valley that lives on ancient civilisation and protects ancient art, culture and heritage in this country. Just like the valley, the far western hills were also rich in civilisation and had their own art, culture and rule of law. The 135 plus year old palace of Mangalsen in Achham district is one of them. It, however, became victim of the so called "People’s War" that has so far claimed over 2,000 lives. Only the ruins are there now, that tell you stories not only of the brave army but also of the historical palace that they could not save.

The royal palace was used as the Chief District Office of Achham. The people, the local authority and even the government bodies in the capital never realized the archaeological value of the three-storey building that looked quite simple in comparison to the lavish palaces of the Kathmandu valley.

The historians say that Mangalsen was a sort of autonomous region of the "empire" of Jumla in the fourteenth century. It had a long history of brave monarchs, where Devchandra ruled for over fifty generations. It became an independant state in the seventeenth century and a member of the United Twenty-Two States, (Baise Rajya) before the unification of Nepal. The territory of Mangalsen was so strong that King Prithvi Narayan also could not annex it to Nepal. This became a part of Nepal only in 1847 during the rule of Regent Bahadur Shah. And after 1961, it fully came under Nepal’s government when His Majesty’s Government "eradicated" all autonomous states and feudatories through a legal act. The government bought the palace at Rs 86,000 in 1971.

The present palace was built by King Bahadur Shah of Achham, over the ruins of the former one and added a tempel of Shodashi devi. It was made on 746 ropanis of land and the palace covers 4,200 square feet of land on the hill of 1426m. But the history can lead us thousands of years back, if we could excavate the exact ground on which the ruins of the palace stand today. It had a temple of Mangalseni Bhagwati inside the palace complex which was lost during the reconstruction process. The name of the area was derived form the same goddess Mangalseni.

The latest palace was made up of bricks, mud-mortar was used and the roof had fine quality tiles. The doors and windows have beautiful carvings and were highly influenced by the traditional architecture of the Kathmandu Valley. The ground floor has open gate structures like porches, and also has small and big windows. The second floor has quite big latticed windows. The third floor is excessively decorated with a long varandha around the palace (the front part varandha had fallen down before it was demolished).

Having such a palace in the capital could have been a normal scene but in the remote district which was not even linked with road transportation some years back is indeed awe-inspiring. The latest palace itself is evidence of the local civilisation. Despite the fact that a monarch’s prodigal palace cannot reflect the living standard of the common people, it can at least throw some light on the ground on which the art and culture flourished.

It is believed that the 135 year old monument is not only the thing we can be proud of in Mangalsen. Only archaeological excavations will pull up more things of archeological importance, that might be buried under the palace. The area around the Mangalsen Palace was a centre of civilization like the Kathmandu Valley. The only difference was that time disrupted the accession of the monarchs, and shattered the civilisation, architecture, religion and culture of the region.

Khalanga (Jajarkot), Balawang (Salyan), Dullu (Dailekh), Ajayameru (Dadeldhura), Hattisar (Bajhang) are some of the other palaces the region can boast. One can find the 1500-1600 year old ruins in Srikot, not far away from Mangalsen.

While the government has been only partially successful in conserving the monuments of the capital city, we should not expect even that much in remote hills of Achham. The local authorities did show interest in renovating the palace renovated earlier. The Achham CDO Mohan Singh Khatri, who also succumbed to death in the brutal incident, requested the Department of Archaeology to start renovation works some six months ago.

There are thousands of ancient monuments around the Himalayan Kingdom. We have a long history of barbaric attacks on humans as well as on heritage. But who was the winner?
[Kathmandu, Sunday, March 10, 2002 Falgun 26, 2058.]