STILL THEY STAND

The architectural casualties have been cleared mostly, however the fact remains that some of the absolutely precious artifacts and monuments of the golden age aren’t with us; well, for the moment

If you could turn back the clock, observe what was achieved from the periods from 1200s to roughly the 1700s, you would be amazed. The city of Kathmandu and subsequently Bhadgaon and Patan, would come to prominence in what we call the ‘golden age’ under the Malla Dynasty. This golden age far as long as it spanned, was a showcase of architecture and arts that truly blossomed in the veil of competition between kingdoms.

Cut to today and you see what has fallen. The aura of Patan Durbar Square still stands, even though the iconic templs are missing from the picture. The Malla architecture was based on the dynasty before them; while The Lichhavis may have brought the pagoda style, it was during the rule of the Mallas that this dimension of artistic building achieved full bloom. Much of the celebrated temples and historic sites all owe their ownage to this time. Masterpieces like the Nyatapola Temple, Krishna Mandir, The Kathmandu Durbar all lay testament to the magnificence of the time of the Mallas. They also, bear the earliest relationship with our recent natural calamity.

Really the oldest recorded history of a large scale damage to due an act of nature is the earthquake of 1255 during the rule of King AbhayaMalla, who actually lost his life during an earthquake whose epicenter lay right below Kathmandu. 30,000 people lost their lives with Kathmandu losing one third of its population. It doesn’t take much imagination for us to imagine what they may have felt, the surge of survival still rums fresh in all our minds. The great monuments that we had with us less than 3 months ago were all built after the earthquake of 1255. Some of them have withstood the catastrophe like most of Patan and Basantapur Durbars but the absence is clear enough not to miss. The loss at Bhaktapur is even more disheartening. Much can be said as to how unfortunate we are to lose all the invaluable archaic pieces of history, but the test of time is hard to withstand for long.

While the structures of the Malla styled temples do distribute weight and carry a more religious undertone but simply put, the wear and tear of centuries finally caught up to most of them. In their hey days, they may have still taken all the tremors but the sheer number of years have taken their final toll on some of them.

The foundation for Malla era building was one that didn’t bring any opus technique rather Mallas preferred bricks as the main structural material and used timber, richly carved , as the filler material, as opposed to the timber and stone preferred as structural elements by the preceding Lichchavis. Although wood carving probably existed during the Lichchavi period, the richly carved windows were a contribution of the Mallas. The Lichchavis were familiar with bricks but brick making was much more advanced during the Malla period. They introduced the polished telia bricks and the highly decorative brick moldings, which was not known to the Lichchavis. These Telia bricks and subsequent decorations now gave the temples much more artistic appeal that would be well appreciated well after the Mallas’ time.

Some of the more unique additions to the culture of Nepal like the KaalBhairab, found and relocated during the time of PratapMalla still remains intact while the Ramipokhari Temple has the roof and side collapsed. Another one of a kind temple in its inception was the Hari Shankar at Patan is also damaged.

If you put it all into perspective, the pride of Basantapur The Maju-Desha and Narayan Vishnu temples were destroyed. Hearbreakingly The KasthamndapMandir has been turned to rubble, as it was one of the oldest buildings in existence in Kathmandu dating nearly a 1000 years back. The Krishna ChasinDega and the Trailokya Mohan have also been lost but probably the most significant loss when it pertains to the ruling dynasties of Nepal and the Mallas in general; King Malla’s Column broke into two.

The infrastructure of these buildings was always built on the grounds of bricks, wood, mud and stone and the magnitude of the earthquake and subsequent aftershocks were too much for them to bear. It is maybe a testament to their engineering that a lot of them are still standing or in need of repairs only. Over the years the people of the valley have also taken proper care of these monuments and memories through restoration and repairs. A lot of them can be mended and it should one of our secondary concerns to restore back to the proper standing that Nepal brings to the world through its rich history in arts and architecture.

The positive side to look at is only a few works of architectural brilliance have been completely destroyed. Most of them can be put into rigorous repairs and be brought back to legacy. From The BhimsenMandir, to King Pratap’s Column to SundariChowk at Patan can all be the pride of jewel of their locale again. After the tribulations of the last 2 months, survival of one’s and dear ones’lives took centre stage. We still don’t live in a state of complete mental freedom. Sure, we may seem cool, normal but how quickly does your psyche trigger caution at the beep of that EQ App. Again, it is the weight of the old houses and their state that brings casualties. Perhaps the houses that housed the gods too needed to go. Maybe the gods too needed a new home like some of us. It is a tale of society and civilization that is as old as the fall of the Pharaohs in Egypt. A cycle of rebirth that has been evolution’s way of adapting to the changes of the earth. It is our duty now to not only follow our basic developments, but start looking at broader avenues of amending that enable us to rebuild our beacons of heritage. The value of such temples and structures in beyond measurement of any unit. The knowledge that they provide us about yesteryears in their depiction of their time is invaluable to the generation that follows us.

Because remember, the first accounts of earthquakes in this region, were  garnered through a lot o texts, inscriptions; most of which were vaulted in temples o the Malla era. A chamber of knowledge indeed.

At Mangal Bazar they said, ‘When the elephants came to drink the water, it would signal the end of the world’. Well it almost worked like that because at Patan the elephants at the Vishwanath Temple nearly reached the dhara. Seeing them thrown half way across really drove home how close we have come to utter chaos. Those stories of yore that we romanticize, suddenly seemed like premonitions.

There are no shortage of stories that one could recall about some of the most memorable monuments like the Maju- esha Temple at Basantapur. Many a times did we hover around, sip on tea and generally be in the vicinity on a daily basis. Seeing its absence for the first time was hard to digest.

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