Sunday, May 26, 2002

Mahaboudha Vihar

Heritage Tour

By Razen Manandhar

The grain vendors behind Bir Hospital which are privileged to unload their merchandise at an ancient Bajrayani Buddhist monastery, could be over 1,500 years old. The Mahabhuta Mahavihar or popular among the locals as Mahaboudha or Mahaboo is one among the unique monasteries of the Kathmandu Valley.

On looking at what now remains, we can guess that it could have been a really big monastery in ancient days. The priest associated with the monastery quotes ancient chronicles saying that it was constructed by a powerful Nobel during the regime of King Basanta Dev (around 512-520 AD). However the historians have not found any such inscription at the monastery spread in one and a half ropani land. The oldest historical evidence states that the monastery was renovated in1838 by Tamrakars of Maru Tole, Kathmandu.

A great stupa, a temple of Buddha, three votive chaityas, four stone inscriptions, two newly made gates, two stone lions and ruins of an older pair of lions as well as some other archaeological objects are found in the stone-paved courtyard today.

But certain features confirm that the monastery is not only 165 year old but also indicates that the monastery was originally much more bigger than it now appears.

The biggest supporting factor is the prime deity (Kwapaa Dyo) of Bahal. Unlike other Kwapaa Dyos, the 15 feet tall Buddha inside the monastery temple is made of clay and 15 feet tall, which could be the biggest idols of Lord Buddha. One can imagine how big the monastery might have been if the deity looks so huged. Next, though the main deity resembles Akshyobhya, in touching-the-earth position, that iconographically attributes blue colour, this is in red colour.Bahal draws the attention of the visitors due to the over 30 feet tall white stupa, standing between the Vihar temple and the main gate. It spreads in 625 square feet of land at the middle of the courtyard. It bears four brass idols of Dyani Buhhdas — Akshyobhya, Ratnasambhav, Amitabh and Amoghsiddi — and their consorts, the Taras, in symbolic pedestals.

This stupa is also different in several ways compared to common stupas of the Kathmandu Valley. There are only 11 layers of circles on the top of the stupa, whereas common stupas bear 13, representing 13 layers of perfection to Nirvana. The eyes of the stupa on four directions are unusually wide open.

These factors indicate that having been renovated in different times, the origin of the stupa, and the Vihar itself, might be much older than the inscriptions indicate. Nevertheless, the monastery no longer has a surrounding building to make it a quadrangle, neither do images of Ganesh and Mahakal remain there.

The daily rituals are being carried out by the priests of five Shakya families in rotation. They are in charge of white-washing the stupa, observing annual pooja and special pooja on the day of Buddha Jayanti. Obviously, the land property that they had had in the past for carrying out rituals must have been lost. Now, the rituals are somehow continue from their own pockets.

The Vihar temple remained in dilapidated condition for decades as the related priests lacked fund. Finally, the priest families constituted a Mahabaudha Renovation Committee in 1995. It was amazing that the committee got encouraging assistance from the local Buddhists, social organisations and the municipal authority etc. The white plaster was removed and the temple was rebuilt with carved wood doors, windows and struts. It also added a pedestal and a Vajra on it in front of the temple. In three years or so, they completely changed the appearance of the Vihar temple, despite a minor controversy over the building material and the traditional norms of Newari architecture. The Buddha temple had to be reconstructed that cost the committee Rs 2.2 million and also the trace of the heritage. The devotion of the locals and management saved the ancient idol at least.

Still, a cluster of modern private building in one corner of the Vihar, the unused concrete buildings of the ward committee, the godown of Nepal Electricity Authority, and the collage of film posters on the walls of the latter visually pollute the heritage site. The market atmosphere dominates the peace lover’s paradise. To add, a local Mitra Youth Club has changed the 1,500 years old site into a parking space, where scores of mini-trucks, tempos and motor-cycles surround days and nights. The result of making the sacred monument a market place is that the porters use inner corner courtyard as their free pee corner.
[Kathmandu, Sunday, May 26, 2002 Jestha 12, 2059.]

Monday, May 20, 2002

Piles of empty bottles littering cities, tourist destinations

By Razen Manandhar

KATHMANMDU, May 19[2002]: Drinking mineral water has in recent days become a necessity, at least in the cities where the demand of water leaps higher than the government can supply. We drink the water and just throw the empty bottles. But have we ever thought where do the bottles go after we empty them? Bottled water is easily available but the places to dump them are not.

Such bottles have been a nuisance in most of the remote tourist destinations, where the tourists leave countless bottles every year bhind them. But they are not only the problems of Annapurna Base Camp and Royal Chitwan National Park alone anymore. Kathmandu Metropolitan City is also facing quite a difficult time due to the hundreds of plastic bottles every day.

The plastic bottles are made in Nepal but they come in small compact shapes and here the local industries only blow them to the shape. There are over a dozen producers of bottled mineral water in the country and several brands of beverage and oil come from across different countries as well, but none of them go for recycling in Nepal.

Rajesh Manandhar, the chief of Solid Waste Section of KMC says, "Though the empty bottles bear nominal weight and density, they occupy around hundred times more space than general type of waste so they disturb the whole solid waste management system".

He reveals the secret of the persistence of the problem of plastic bottles: The rag-pickers do not touch the bottles because they pay them nothing.

"The rag pickers do not collect plastic so they are growing in number in the cities as well as in remote villages," Manandhar says.

Environmentalist and executive director of Clean Energy Nepal, Bhushan Tuladhar says the plastic bottles of mineral water and other beverages are made of a subsistence called PET that needs special plants to recycle them.

"Recycling of PET bottles is easy but it needs special plants which is difficult to set in the country immidiately. The rag-dealers also cannot export it to overseas as it takes much space than other recyclable objects. And the District Development Committees (DDC) slap tax from such collected recyclable items that also discourages them," he said.

He suggests that rather than slapping "rag-tax", tax must be imposed to the producers of PET bottles for their share in environment pollution and the rag dealers should be subsidised to export or installation of a recycling plant.

"If the consumers can pay Rs 18 to Rs 20 for a small bottle of water, I don’t think they will refuse to pay 50 paisa for the sake of environment," Tuladhar added.

But Surya Bhakta Khanal, the Local Development Officer at Kathmandu DDC says that the local body needs "rag-tax" for its resources from the garbage collected for recycle and it does not have right to demand tax from the producers. DDCs of Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur collected Rs 36.5 million rupees from such garbage last year.

He says, "It might be a good solution to the littered plastic bottles that could also have changed into money if reasonable policy is set. This idea must gather public opinion and also provoke the government to change the existing taxation system on recyclable garbage."

Narendra Pokharel, an officer at Environment Pollution Branch of Ministry for Population and Environment (MOPE) said that there is no specific regulation concerning manufacturers of plastic bottles or penalty to the manufacturers of mineral water for littering the city. "Emphasis should be put on implementing the existing laws, to raise awareness to minimise use of such bottles and to encourage reuse of such bottle."

Pokharel said that the best way to bring the unmanaged empty plastic bottles under control is to commission some parties to install a recycle plant in the country for the only right solution is recycling.
[Kathmandu, Monday May 20, 2002 Jestha 06, 2059.]

Sunday, May 12, 2002

Gunakar Mahavihar

Heritage Tour
Razen Manandhar
Out of hundreds of Mahayani Buddhist monasteries, only a few are in proper condition in the Kathmandu Valley. The negligence of the concerned families, people’s tendency to encroach and government’s indifference are to be blamed. But at least a few have proud stories of conservation to tell. The Gunakar Mahavihar (or Chhusya Bahal as locally it is called), at Jyatha, Thamel is one worth mentioning.

The small quadrangle shaped building in a brick-paved courtyard at the middle, has been standing there for the last 353 years. It was a Lhasa merchant named Gunajyoti Bajracharya from the neighbouring monastery of Hemakara Mahavihar (Dhwakha Bahal), who donated a major part of his treasure to have this monastery "renovated" in 1649 (Nepal Era 769). The related inscritption indicates that there had been a small shrine there where the Mahabvihar stands today. King Pratap Malla graced the ritual consecration ceremony performed in 1669 (Nepal Era 787), whom the maker donated a golden crown.

There are two giant lions guarding the main entrance. The torana over the main door bears the image of Pragyaparmita, the goddess of perfection of wisdom. The Mahavihar is a two-storeyed building made of bricks and roofed with tiles. The roof is supported by carved wooden struts with figures of deities on them. The stone plinth is made all round the buildings outside and inside the courtyard.

The central room of the ground floor facing north is the sanctum of the prime deity Akhsyobhya (Kwapadyo in local Newari language). There are four wooden staircases to reach the upper floor. The rooms in the upper floor are dedicated to worshipping of traditional esoteric deities and for the chief worshipper. Other rooms consist of reading room of sutras and reading room of figures of deities. The main entrance and lobby has an open space on either side that can give you a wide view of the courtyard.

When you look at any corner of the couryard, you can find images or the Mahayani Buddhist deities. There are figures of Dhyani Buddhas, five protective goddesses, seven deities representing the planets, six wrathful goddesses, ten wrathful Bhairavs, six Paramitas, six Adi-Buddhas, six Taras, four Maharajahs, twenty one lunar mansions and many more in the struts alone, supporting the roof. On each wing, there are heavily decorated windows, in sets of five or three. They can remind you of the beautiful courtyard of Kumarighar.

The torana at the room of traditional secret deities on the upper floor is decorated with an image of Bajradhara. Only initiated or trained ones are allowed to enter the room. A Buddha Mandala made of wood carving is placed on the ceiling of the shrine. The rooms of central part of the mandala is filled with symbols of gods and goddesses. Apart from Akshyobhya ("Kwapadyo"), there are images of Akshyobhya, Manjushree, Amithabh, Simhanada Lokeshhwor, Harihara Lokeshowr, Amoghpas Lokeshwor, Mahamanjushri, two lions and four inscriptions are found there.

Everyday, the priest washes the face of Kwapadyo, offers him water, tika, flower, rice and incense sticks, rings bells, shows mirror, comes out with the gambasin (a hollow wooden rod) and beats for 08 times, reciting mantra. He then holds a Yak-tail fan and worships the Tathagata with oil lamps.

In the courtyard, one can find figures of Hanuman, two Mahakals, Sariputra and Maudhakalyan, Gunajyoti and his wives, Chaitya, Padmapani Lokeshwor, Dharmadhatu Bagishwor, a pair of elephant guards and a small but beautiful temple in Sikhar style at the middle. Among others, the Mahavihar possesses a rare holy book of Pragyaparamita, which is displayed to the public during the Buddhist festival of Gunla that falls in August.

The priceless monument took a drastic change along with the urbanisation trends some three decades ago. The caretaking families started consuming the ancient monastery as their assets and also used it for private and financial purposes. Obviously, there was nobody to take care of it, and it started decaying slowly. Unaware of the significance of the cultural heritage, the "owners" started adding new windows and doors. The result is that many idols were lost or stolen from the courtyard.

But it was never too late to do something good. The monastery was renovated by 1996 wtih the contributions from IUCN, Nepal Heritage Society, local ward chairman, locals, Department of Archaeology as well as the Federal Republic of Germany.

Expert of Newari Bahals and Chaityas Niles Gutschow helped as a supervisor for the restoration. The completion ceremony was performed on Basanta Panchami on February 17, 2002. The empty monastery is now being utilised as a training centre for the Buddhist ritual and religious dances, etc., according to the Bajracharyas associated with the Monastery trust. Hope, priests of other delapidating monasteries also take lessons from Chhusya Bahal and pull up their shocks to renovate them too.
[ Kathmandu, Sunday, May 12, 2002 Baishakh 29, 2059.]