Nepal forgot Benaras Dharmashala pledgeThe then prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba had laid the foundation amid much fanfare a year ago.
On April 3, 2022, the then prime minister of Nepal Sher Bahadur Deuba laid the foundation stone for an old age home on the premises of Pashupatinath Temple in Benaras, India, amid much fanfare. Deuba had reached the historical city during his official visit to India and inaugurated the construction after performing a special pooja. Deuba had visited the Nepali temple in the city after paying homage at the famous Kashi Vishwanath Temple. He was accompanied by his wife Arzu and the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath. It’s been the year after the event but the construction work is yet to begin.
“No one seems to be taking the initiation of the project seriously,” said Gopal Prasad Adhikari, the general secretary of Shree Samrajyeshwar Pashupatinath Mahadev Temple and Dharmashala Development Trust. “When people with knowledge of the matter ask us about it, we don’t know what to say.”
An old age home operating out of a four-storey building on the premises of the Pashupatinath temple is currently in a dilapidated state. The authorities plan to dismantle the building and construct the old age home. The residents of the old age home have been moved to a nearby Dharmashala, a guest house for pilgrims.
Benaras is the electoral constituency of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Various works are still going on in the narrow Kashi Vishwanath Temple area, which has been widened and beautified in a short period of time.
However, the Nepali Pashupatinath Temple, Dharmashala and the old age home that are located in the same area have not seen renovation, reconstruction or repair. The Nepal government is the caretaker of these monuments.
The old age home was planned to be built in the ‘Nepali style of architecture’, Adhikari said. “We have been saying that the Nepal government should take responsibility for the conservation of its historic properties but despite such a high-level visit last year, the project work has seen no headway,” he said.
Meanwhile, in sharp contrast, the Indian government has worked extensively on the Kashi Vishwanath Temple area. It has so far spent IRs3.4 billion for the area’s infrastructure. The Indian authorities complain that the dilapidated building on the Nepali temple premises has dampened the area’s aesthetics, says Adhikari. In a widening project for the Kashi Vishwanath Temple corridor, the Indian government demolished around 400 private houses and small temples.
The preservation of religious and cultural properties is the responsibility of the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation in Nepal. The Department of Archeology designed the building of the old age home that reflects Nepali arts and culture. The estimated cost of the project is Rs184.3 million. But the required budget is yet to be released. The foundation stone for the old age home was laid in the fiscal year 2021-22. Deuba was the prime minister when the annual budget was presented in the last fiscal year and the current fiscal year of 2022-23. But the required budget for the old age home construction was not released in either of the fiscal years.
“We have kept the project of the old age home in high priority,” said Rajendra Kumar KC, the spokesperson at the ministry. “We have urged the government to allocate a budget for the project this year as well.”
Adhikari says he plans to visit Prakash Sharan Mahat, finance minister and a close aide of Deuba, to request expediting the old age home project.
Benaras, also known as Kashi, and Nepal share a strong cultural and religious bond. The relationship was stronger during the monarchy. It is believed that King Prithvi Narayan Shah had bought six acres of land at the Ganga Ghat from the king of Kashi. King Rana Bahadur Shah, who abdicated the throne around 1799, lived the latter part of his life in the same land.
There are three places in Kashi that are named after Shah’s three wives–Samrajeshwari, Rajeshwari, and Lalita Tripura Sundari.
Samrajeshwar Pashupatinath Mahadev Temple, Lalita Ghat of the Ganga River, and the Bhagwati Temple, named after Shah’s wife Rajarajeshwari, were constructed by Rana Bahadur’s son Rajendra Shah in memory of his three mothers.
Indian priests had been taking care of Nepal’s land in Kashi for generations. The Nepali land was brought under the jurisdiction of the Nepal government with efforts from the local Nepali residents after 1990. The land was taken back from the Indian priest during the premiership of Krishna Prasad Bhattarai. Bhattarai’s government had agreed to pay Rs100,000 to the Indian priest to search for other employment opportunities. Since then, a local trust under the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation has been looking after the land.
The temple of Kashi Vishwanath on the banks of the Ganga river in Benaras is one of the sacred religious places of Hindus. It is believed that the temple houses one of the 12 jyotirlingas (the most sacred of Shiva shrines).
Rohit Dhakal, the priest of Pashupatinath temple, says that the Nepali Pashupatinath temple is one of the popular religious sites. However, the decrepit condition of the area tarnishes the significance and image of the area, he says.
“We thought it was the election fever that had caused delays,” Dhakal said. “But the general election is long over and there still is no communication from the Nepali government regarding the future of the project.”