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.]