Sunday, April 28, 2002

Ashok Binayak: Temple of royal Ganesh

Heritage tour

By Razen Manandhar

Among fifty plus monuments constructed in the various stages of the history, the most commonly visited shrine in Hanumandhoka Durbar Square area is the insignificant temple of Ganesha, the elephant-headed god. It is associated with the social life of the public as well as the royals of the Himalayan Kingdom.

The temple of Ashok Binayak is situated at the east of Hanumandhoka Durbar Square Protected Monument Zone, beside the tumultuous vegetable and flower market. It is dwarfed by the giant pagoda structure of Kasthamandap that stands in front of the temple but the locals automatically turn themselves to the temple and take a round from the left whenever they arrive at the courtyard of Maru.

The Ganesh temple, however, is still waiting for the proved accounts of its history. The only historical evident we have about the temple is that it was renovated in 1850 AD that certainly cannot be the date of origin of the temple. It is the unwritten history and the strong belief of the locals that the insignificant shrine among the grandiloquent temples of the monument zone draws hundreds of pilgrims to its small threshold. The legends give credit of initiating religious rituals to a Tantric priest Jamana Gubhaju and continuing the rituals and caretaking the temple to a local merchant Dhamanan Sayami. Perhaps this is the reason the Ganesh is held to be deified incarnation of oil pressers (Manandhars).

According to a legend, the area where the temple is situated today was once upon a time a big jungle and people found the miraculous idol of Ganesh there. The legend implies that it belongs to the time long before Hanumandhoka as a royal palace came into existence. But as it was cramped among trees, the makers could not give the final touch by adding a pinnacle to the small temple. Branches of an Ashok tree was hanging above the temple. So the people named it Ashok Binayak. The tree shaped decoration inside the temple that is hardly visible these days, are the reminders of the Ganesha’s love the Ashoka tree that gave him its name.

The temple is only a small chamber, no garbhagriha or doors from other directions. From outside, almost all parts of the front is covered with brass plates. The reppouse plates resemble the wooden structures behind. A decorated Torana is on the top of the gate, which is tightly tucked up with iron bars, to save it from the hand of art thieves but a small Ganesh figure under the Torana has been missing. Two lions at the door and a shrew across the street guard the temple. Four ancient looking pillars inside the temple indicate the ancient structure of the temple. Like in the shrine of Budha Nilkantha, the pillars were meant to make the temple roof but it kept falling off, as people believed it, due to the God’s unwillingness to dwell under a roof. And people left the temple without completing the roof. This legend supports another logic behind the temple’s missing pinnacle.

The stone idol that has endured innumerable pilgrims’ beggings, and scraping of "prasad" is seated on the floor. With an unusually big face, the god with elephant’s head sits with four hands. On every Tuesdays, the stone idol is given a "cover" of copper idol and during major festivals like Dashain, the temple is decorated with silver idol. Recently, a gold plated idol was made for ceremonial purposes. His Majesty King Gyanendra was also present on the occasion.

A pilgrim hardly gets enough space in front of the temple to sit and ask for his blessing. And the busy pilgrims find it easy to "salute" the poor god from outside. Irrespective of its indistinct history and archaeological value, people throng themselves to the temple every day with unlimited desires they believe will be fulfilled by bless of Ganesh.

The metal idol of Ashok Binayak is taken around the core city on the eighth day of Dashian. The locals offer animal sacrifices and flowers to the god who runs from one street to another in hurry. The chariot of Ganesh is also taken to Simha Durbar and Narayanhiti Royal Palace to grace offerings.

Members of royal family take their children to the temple of Ganesh temple to accomplish rituals of rice-feeding, bratabandha and wedding. Similarly visiting the temple is a must part of coronation of every monarch of the country.

One among the four guarding Ganesh: Surya Binayak (Bhaktapur), Chandra Binayak (Chabahil), Jal Binayak of (Chobhar) remaining the three.
[ Kathmandu, Sunday, April 28, 2002 Baishakh 15, 2059.]

Friday, April 26, 2002

CBS data on high literacy ignites controversy

By Razen Manandhar
KATHMANDU, April 25 [2002]: Census 2001, the recently concluded mammoth head-count exercise, reveals that Nepal’s literacy rate - that is people who can both perform basic reading and writing- has shot up to 53.74 per cent. But the data is attracting controversy as education experts refuse to believe that progress in literacy has made such strides.

The Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) announced recently that adult literacy rates has reached 54 per cent. But experts say, the figures do not reflect the actual situation. Worse, there is spreading confusion as many institutions and organisations other than the CBS continue to have their own literacy data.

Mana Prasad Wagle, a professor of Tribhuwan University’s Education Department, said that the data of CBS is "not reliable" and the government is only trying to please the donors by "playing the game of digits".

To drive home argument, Wagle pointed out that the National Planning Commission, in a study conducted four years ago, found Nepal’s literacy rate at 36 per cent. "I can challenge, the literacy rate of Nepal cannot go beyond 40 per cent," he said. "The census was carried out at a critical time and most of the western villages were officially and unofficially left untouched. A sample study in five development regions will reveal the fact," Wagle said.

Moreover, Wagle is vehemently against the present system of surveying literacy rates. "Nowhere in the world does statistics on literacy rate include children below 15 years of age. Post literacy and continuing education should be taken into account when we survey literacy rates," he argued.

Another educationist, Dr Tirtha Khaniya, questions the very definition of literacy. Though he does not challenge the CBS data, Dr Khaniya nevertheless says, "what is the use of literacy if it cannot help a person in his profession later on? So we need to go for functional literacy to seek people’s participation in development, rather than boasting about literacy figures."

Meanwhile, international organisations do not see the CBS announced figures as a major achievement. Education officer at United Nations Educational Scientific Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Rohit Pradhan, said that 54 per cent literacy should not be a cause for joy since the government had committed as far back as in 1990 to raise the rate up to 67 per cent by the year 2000.

"The next thing is that literacy must be defined according to the present context. Many of the VDC officers have not even seen computers.

Then the question arises, what type of literacy we are talking about," says the UNESCO officer.

Another area which is confusing experts is the different literacy data in circulation. While CBS puts the latest literacy rates at 54 per cent, other organisations have their own figures. UNESCO for instance found 35.9 per cent literacy in 1998. Then there is the four-year old National Planning Commission figure of 54 per cent.

Says Pradhan of UNESCO, "It’s embarrassing that on World Literacy Day (September 8), half a dozen newspapers gave different data on Nepal’s literacy rate."

Spokesperson of Ministry of Education and Sports, Yubaraj Pande said that the recent data produced by CBS "must be reliable" as it was based on door to door survey. "Irrespective of its outcome, we can’t say that the actual survey of CBS is wrong and the national and international projection is right."

But he admitted that the term literacy rate must be redefined and come to functional utility of literacy the surveyors count.

Sunday, April 21, 2002

Ranamukteshowr : Running away from Guthi Sansthan

Heritage tour
By Razen Manandhar

We Nepalis now and then boast of our heritage, the gift of the past for the future generation. But, it is a tragedy that a 175 year old temple of Lord Shiva in the heart of the capital is on the verge of extinction, mainly because of a government body that earns money out of such priceless monuments. The two-storeyed temple of Ranamukteshwor, which is a representative of Shah architecture of Nepal, lies just behind New Road.

The temple does not have any written inscription now. According to ‘Devmala Chronicle’, it was built by Commander-in-Chief General Bhimsen Thapa in 1827 in memory of King Rana Bahadur Shah, who was assassinated at the same place by his younger brother.

It is constructed in Rajput style that was new to Nepal in those days. That is why a chronicle narrates that it was constructed in "foreign style". This indicates that it must be one among those which introduced new type of religious architecture to Nepal (that later became an icon of Rana architecture). This type of temple hides brick walls and covers it with a coat of plaster, making the temple more eye-catching.

The temple stands on square-shaped stone plinths, and looks like a set of cubes, added one on another. There is a stone staircase at the southern side to reach the temple entrance. Four artistic stone doors with Kheppus on their top are there but only the southern one welcomes pilgrims. Wooden panes are added on the doors that have relief figures of Mahadev, Parvati and bulls. The first floor has lattice windows with porch structures around them and four temple structures are made of gilded pinnacles. A big dome is made on the top that has a glistening pinnacle and a small Trishul, protected by four snakes’ figures.

There are small but beautiful temples of different Hindu deities around the main temple. The temple of Ranamukteshwor was established according to Panchayan system, that is, the Shiva is worshipped along with Ganesh, Surya, Devi and Vishnu. Altogether, the courtyard is enriched with 18 stone idols of Bhringi, Kuber, Indra, Ganesh, Brahma, Kamdev, Dharmashila, Ramraj, Birbhadra, Niriti, Nandi, Barun, Basuki and Bayu.

The maker of the Ranamukteshwor temple also constructed an elegant octagonal sattal (rest house), circulating the temple premises. The facade facing the street and each of the inner facades of the sattal have beautifully carved windows and doors.

But the temple has been a constant victim of encroachment, both from the public and the government sides since long. The broadening of the Jhochhen-Khichapokahri road has made the northern part of the circulating sattal lopsided. Half of the circulating sattal, of southern and eastern side, has been completely destroyed. And the northern and eastern portion is now surviving somehow, though the woodworks, walls, veranda and tiled roof have been destroyed or deformed very much.

The northern part of the historical sattal is now used as Nirmal Lower-Secondary School. Obviously, it has distorted most of the windows and doors and also has occupied a veranda of the eastern side. The sattal was meant for the temple’s pilgrims and caretakers. Now, caretaking lacks but still, only their families occupy the beautiful houses and consume it in a way irrespective of its significance.

Apart from that, there is a Kumari Pith temple outside the courtyard. The local shopkeepers have covered it with a fake temple structure, full of bathroom-tiles and also added a couple of "idols" on it.

The temple belongs to a government body called Guthi Sansthan that was set up to conserve the religious heritage. But rather than saving the poor monument from the hands of encroaches, The Sansthan is destroying and omitting the traces of the historical monument.

The temple of Ranamukteshwor is one among the richest temple of the Kathmandu Valley. It has around 400 ropani of land outside and the temple premises make 10 ropani. Moreover, the Sansthan also had leased its 7 ropani of land to an RB Complex in December 1996 to a private company that will give the Sansthan as much as Rs 103 million in 27 years. That is, it earns 3.8 million rupees from the complex and 480 thousand rupees from the 17 shops annually. It is strange, other government bodies are silent though there is a strong law to control misuse and deformation of ancient monuments.

The Sansthan might have benefited a treasure out of it but two giant buildings from two sides have overshadowed the temple. And, it has not spent a single penny to renovate the temple, say the locals - a sorry story indeed. The latest development is that the owners of the complex are now waiting to capture the sattals and the temple itself very soon.
[ Kathmandu, Sunday, April 21, 2002 Baishakh 08, 2059.]

Sunday, April 14, 2002

Bhairav Temple: The house of Kashi Bishwonath

Heritage tour

By Razen Manandhar

The royal palace in Bhaktapur is the most beautiful place. At the end of the market street, a rather small stone-paved courtyard of Taumadhi welcomes you. You can’t stop holding your breath when you see 300 year-old two giant temples, which reflect the fabulous art, architecture and love of art of the people living there.

A giant Bhairava temple stands at Taumadhi, Bhaktapur, next to the famous Nyatapola temple. The temple, known commonly as Bhailaa Dyo, is considered the temple of Kashi Bishwonath, a wrathful image of Shiva from Baranasi. Though it looks dwarf in front of towering Nyatapola, it has its own significance.

People remember this temple during the Bisket Festival, which falls in mid April. The deity of Bhairava is taken around the city in a wooden chariot to show how happy local people are and that he is the source of their happiness.

Though the exact date of the temple’s construction is not known yet, it is believed that it existed even during the Lichchivi period, from 4th to 7th century, perhaps in a simpler form. Chroniclogical order states that Lichchivi King Ananda Dev of Bhaktrapur had renovated it in 1150. Bhairava of this temple later became so angry that he started bringing calamities in the city to disapprove the people’s worshipping. The priests later decided to erect Nyatapola temple of Siddhilaxmi to calm him down. She is considered as Bhairava’s consort and both of them together admired the work city-dwellers did tirelessly and got good harvest.

Like all religious monuments of this country, the origin of this temple is also based on a legend. One day, Bishwonath of Kashi or Baranasi, came to enjoy the festival of Bisket in Bhaktapur in the guise of a simple man. A Tantric, identified as Muni Achaju, recognised him with his sixth sense. Thinking that Bhaktapur would win fortunes if he could force Bishwonath to reside in the city he tried to capture him with the help of his mystic power. But he failed and he was forced to behead Bishwonath and keep him in the temple. People still believe that the real head, cut thousands of years ago, is still there.

This is not the only temple where Bhairava’s head is worshipped. Shweta Bhairava of Hanumandhoka and Akash Bhairava of Indrochowk are also worshipped.

King Ananda Dev earlier constructed the temple of Bhairava that had been there before he had ruled the country in the 10th century. A stone inscription found nearby indicates that there was a temple as early as 1005 AD. And a series of renovations and addition of new and new decorations took place in course of time. And then King Bhupatindra Mall again turned it into a giant temple of seven stories in 1722 AD. The great earthquake of 1934 destroyed that temple extensively. It was renovated later but obviously, its original splendour was lost. The Bhaktapur municipality renovated the temple using local technology and craftsmen last year that cost 7.3 million rupees.

It is in rectangular shape and has three major doors in the front. There is one small cast image of Bhairava but no one is allowed to go inside. There are two stone reliefs of Kalash and small windows on both sides. Now, there are no Taranas, hanging over the doors. On the first floor, there are five gilded windows which are too small to peep through. On the right hand side, there is a beautiful golden window and on the left, a painting of Bhairava is hung. Other floors are either filled with struts or latticed windows. It has windows in either side as well. The top floor is covered with metal roof whereas other ones are made of tiles. Seven gold-plated pinnacles decorate the temple, which also have umbrellas over them. It is flanked by pairs of guarding lions, bells and pillars. In each floor, series of wind-bells supported by struts are hung. They add sonorous environment to the whole area as they stir when the gentle breeze blows in the temple.
[Kathmandu, Sunday, April 14, 2002 Baishakh 01, 2059.]

Sunday, April 07, 2002

KMC finally gets to manage city landmarks

By Razen Manandhar

KATHMANDU, April 6:After a long wait, the government has finally decided to hand over the management of the capital’s four prominent landmarks to the Kathmandu Metropolitan City.

The government eventually agreed to hand over Ranipokhari, Ratnapark, City Hall and the Balaju Water Garden to KMC that were previously under the Public Garden and Auditorium Development Committee (PGADC), a semi-government body, Hari Prasad Rimal, spokesman of the Ministry of Local Development, told The Kathmandu Post today.

"But it does not give authority to the KMC to sell the land and it requires the Ministry’s approval for any development programmes like giving in lease or changing the constructions," Rimal said.

Though the Ministry recently finalised its decision to hand over the ‘rights of utilising’ these major attractions of the city, the KMC will formally take over only after a hand over ceremony.

The decision gives KMC the authority to use the places, develop them and manage them in a better way. The responsibility to manage the 120-odd number of staff also falls on the KMC as per the understanding.

Deputy manager of PGADC Sahadev Shrestha said that the earlier attempts to take over the rights of PGADC belongings by mayors Kamal Chitrakar and PL Singh had failed. "For us, it would be of little difference working under the government or the KMC," he said.

But Mayor Keshav Sthapit has taken this decision as the biggest achievement of his four and half years tenure. "We finally got it" Sthapit said, responding to a question on the decision.

"It was the result of my continuous effort of almost five years," he said. Former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala had announced from several platforms to hand them over but that had never materialised, Sthapit added. "It seems the whole country has now become ours."

He also added that the open space in Teenkune is also on the pipeline to come under the KMC’s jurisdiction. This decision to hand over Teenkune to the KMC would come out within a few days time, according to Hari Krishna Bhagat, in-charge of the Division of Road.

KMC is strong enough to manage the places it would acquire, secretary of KMC Surya Silwal said. "KMC is desperately waiting for a letter to immediately start the maintenance works."

"After completing the garden around Ranipokhari, we will start the maintenance of the City Hall," Silwal said, adding, "We will provide the service of International Birendra Convention Hall in reasonable price at the City Hall itself."
[Kathmandu Sunday April 07, 2002 Chaitra 25, 2058. ]

Ramchandra temple with thirty-two butterflies

Heritage tour

By Razen Manandhar

Along the time passes, temple architecture of the Kathmandu Valley also changed slowly. Specially after the First Rana Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana visited Europe, the palaces, temples as well as private buildings took a drastic change in their appearance - they imitated European looks with plasters and eye-catching white washes. Among others, the temple of Ramchandra, at Battisputali of Pashupatinath area, is an exemplary for the reason that it represents the religious architecture of the later late 19th century.

The 130 years old temple is situated on the top of a hillock at Gaushala, so it can be seen from all over the surrounding locations (however, its location has turned out to be a dense residential area). On the other side, this temple premises is an appropriate point to have a panoramic view of the ever-expanding capital city. Long winding stone-paved steps lead the visitors to a colourful hilltop almost crowded with small and big idols and temples, without leaving enough foreground to enjoy the scene from one angle.

Going through the legends, people believe that a group of thirty-two fairies in the guise of butterflies brought the throne of King Bikramaditya from his Indian State. Since the king was known for his unmistaken justice, people till some years back, believed that the local shepherds could provide miraculous justice to the people on that auspicious hillock. Apart from that, the hill is considered as a religious shrine before the temple was constructed over there, according to the locals.

A two-storey building hardly looks like a temple to those, who are accustomed to judge temple architectures from the view point of traditional Newari architecture - of dachhi appa and tilted tiled-roofs. The temple is rectangular and fully white-washed. The temple stands on a stone pedestal. Unlike other temples, there is no inner room or garbhagriha. Rather, a pradakshinapath or dalan is made around the temple which also gives an impression of being a verandah. The false doors on all four corners give an conspicuous impression of Muslim architecture while the pinnacles remain traditional. It has four minarets while the rectangular centre is turned into three gilt pinnacles on the top.A big space is left in the room where around 30 people can sit together to worship the series of five idols. Surrounding the temple inside, modern-looking 32 images of fairies in the form of butterflies are painted on the wall.

There are fine black-stone idols of standing Ram, Sita, Bharat, Lakshman, Shatrughna facing east. Those idols stand by the wall with gilt snakes and decorative trees form behind.Outside the temple, there are other idols of Ganesh, Surya, Devi and Shiva on four corners. As it is with other Ramchandra temples, there is an image of Hanuman, the server of Ram family, in praying posture. A winding staircase would lead you to the temple’s upper floor which has verandah around the temple. But it covered with iron-sheets where the caretakers live. Four minarets are made on four corners that also bear golden gilt pinnacle.

The open space in the courtyard is decorated by small temples of Shiva, Ganesh, Surya and Bhagwati in the four corners. These four corners, including Lord Shiva is worshipped as member deities of Panchayan family.

Besides, there are other nine temples of Shiva and one of Vishnu around the periphery. They were constructed in different times and, as usual, are named after the person who had them constructed.The temple is said to be constructed by a high ranking officer Sanaksingh in 1871 AD. And when he established the temple, he also offered a land property of 373 ropani, so that the income from the land could be used for daily rituals in the temple and also for conservation of the temple. Unfortunately, locals claim the land is no longer in possession of the temple. As the time passed, the temple lacked proper and continuous caring. The periphery turned out to be the dumping area of garbage for the locals, the daily pooja rituals discontinued, some of the important ornaments were stolen and one after another, the open rest houses (sattals) fell down to earth.

Above all, the temple of Ramchandra has set an example of conservation of cultural heritage from the local efforts. While quite a many temples in the Kathmandu Valley are falling apart, this must be a lucky one to have caring neighbours.

With the locals people’s effort, a Ramchandra Temple Renovation Committee was formed a decade ago. It collected donations from the locals and started painting, stone-paving and conserving the temple. Daily rituals take place and special festival invites hundreds of visitors on the day of Ram Nawami, which occurs this year on April 21.
[ Kathmandu, Sunday, April 07, 2002 Chaitra 25, 2058.]