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.]