Remaking who we areUnder the watchful gaze of an official from the Department of Archaeology, the Patan Museum team is carefully cataloguing everything
These pieces, which have cluttered the chowk for the past two weeks, are not just any old pieces—they constitutes cultural treasures of the entire world and are a tangible expression of Newar culture cultivated through hundreds of years. These pieces I am talking about are, of course, ones salvaged from the rubble of what once used to be the Hari Shankar and Char Narayan temples in the Patan Durbar Square.
The expert carpenter duo of Silpakar and Bansamai, along with a Patan Museum team, has kept themselves busy after the quake. A day or so after the quake, pieces that once constituted intricately-carved struts, the meticulously designed windows and other elements were transported inside the Patan Museum courtyard for safekeeping.
The museum team has organised the salvaged items according to type. The struts are lined on one side, the carved windows on one corner, and the tympanums in another. Silpakar and Bansamai can be found bent over these pieces, studying them meticulously to reverse engineer the destroyed temples. “We’ll assemble the ones that fit and will cross-verify with existing architectural drawings and photos of the temples,” says Silpakar.
As they work on their puzzle, another team is dusting off pieces and getting them ready to be photographed. Under the watchful gaze of an official from the Department of Archaeology, the Patan Museum team is carefully cataloguing everything. The whole process is rather low key—a makeshift studio has been erected in between the two pillars, where an officer has a piece of paper and shouts out the inventory number which gets tagged in the item being photographed. The tag is a cut-out piece of cardboard that is tied around the item with a piece of string. After the pieces are photographed, they are hauled into another part of the Patan Museum for safekeeping. The greatest of care is taken in each leg of the process.
“This is a crucial step,” says Devendra Nath Tiwari, Executive Director of the Patan Museum. “These are objects of great architectural importance and we have been entrusted with the responsibility of safeguarding them. We’re working in close coordination with the DoA to make a heritage inventory. This is an essential step that will help us to not only know what types of objects we have, but also their types and features. It will be of invaluable help when we start to rebuild what we lost.”
Tiwari credits the local community, the local FNCCI chapter and cultural organisations such as the Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust (KVPT) with assisting in getting the process going.
“Local camaraderie is what defines the conservation effort in Patan Durbar Square,” says Suresh Man Lakhe, who, as Museum Officer, has been hard at work with his team every day. He points out that everything they are doing is guided by national norms, namely the Ancient Monument Acts, 2013 BS and other relevant international charters.
“We’re taking the utmost care while making the inventory,” he says. “Patan Durbar Square is not only a World Heritage Site, but also a place that the local community is strongly attached to. The Mangal Bazaar area is tied to the cultural identity of the local community.” The ongoing conservation effort is inspired by this very ethos.
“Conservation efforts are meaningless unless the local community has a sense of ownership and a strong sense of attachment. This value is deeply imbibed in the local community here,” says Lakhe.
For the local community, Mangal Bazaar area is not a heritage site just because the UN says so. It is a place of great importance because the community is closely intertwined with the site. The importance they attach to Patan is a deeply cultural and social one, and that makes all the difference. This feeling is expressed not only in Patan, but also around the Basantapur Durbar Square and the Bhaktapur Durbar Square where local communities like in Patan are working hand-in-hand with the government to rebuild the sites that define who they are.