Amid criticism, Pashupati Area Development Trust presses ahead with golden jalahari installation planConservationists and local residents say trust is working against Ancient Monument Preservation Act that prohibits changes to structures over 100 years old.
Even amid widespread criticism from local residents, heritage conservationists and priests, the Pashupati Area Development Trust is pressing ahead with plans to replace the temple’s jalahari with a golden one.
Trust officials have commissioned the melting and moulding of gold under the purview of the Nepal Army to prepare the jalhari, the foundation on which the Shiva linga stands and from where the water and milk offered by devotees flows out.
“A jalahari made with 108 kg gold will replace the silver jalahari that is already non-functional,” said Pradeep Dhakal, member secretary of Pashupati Area Development Trust. He said that a total of 142 kg gold is going to be used on the temple this time—with 34 kg of the metal going toward the embellishment of the roof of the temple.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, after spending over an hour performing a special puja at the temple on January 25, announced that his government will provide Rs 300 million to the temple to install a new golden jalahari after he received complaints. He instructed the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation to allocate the amount.
But conservationists and other stakeholders of the temple are not convinced. “This is against the Ancient Monument Preservation Act, 2013. How can the trust go against it?” said heritage conservationist Ganapati Lal Shrestha. The law states that structures over 100 years old must be preserved in their original design.
“Even the Court Court has already ruled that the trust can’t go against the Preservation Act, but the trust has been breaching these rules. It never listens to the concerned experts,” said Shrestha.
Following widespread criticism, in February 2019, the trust removed 12 concrete pillars erected during the reconstruction of the earthquake-damaged Vishwarup temple. In December 2017, the trust courted controversy for using concrete to rebuild the historic Bageshwori temple. Just five months ago, it drew criticism for demolishing one of the four Shivalayas on the temple premises recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Kedar Man Bhandari, chairperson of Pashupatinath Sewak Saang, also one of the priests at the temple, said the trust made an announcement to replace the jalahari without consulting the stakeholders.
“The trust made this decision without forming any committee, and even the ministry has approved the handing over of the money. But there are no plans to conserve the idol,” said Bhandari.
He has also raised concerns about the preservation of the new jalahari. “Bhandaris are the one to look after the main temple, but neither the trust nor the ministry has any plans to preserve the golden jalahari once it is installed,” said Bhandari.
“How can they make such a decision for a place enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage site? There should have been consultations with experts, priests and heritage conservationists before making such a decision,” said Bhandari.
Meanwhile, Narottam Baidya, former treasurer of the trust and also a member of Province-3 assembly, said the trust made a grave mistake by accepting the prime minister’s offer. Prime Minister Oli’s decision to hand over Rs 300 million to the trust is part of his publicity stunt, he alleged.
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has time and again put off its decision to enlist Kathmandu Valley as a heritage site in danger after the 2015 quake.
“Oli calls himself a communist leader. He never visited Pashupati before,” said Baidya. “He dissolved Parliament unconstitutionally, announced elections, then visited Pashupatinath and announced a big chunk of money from the state coffers for the new jalahari. This clearly shows his intent,” added Baidya.
He said the trust's decision to replace the silver jalahari with a golden one is against cultural norms and will send a bad message to the international community.
“Lord Shiva is the supreme god. He is shapeless, he never demands anything, but is Oli making such announcements when the country is begging for Covid-19 vaccines. What’s the priority of the government?” questioned Baidya, also a resident of the Pashupati area.
“I feel pity for Oli. He’s a communsit leader, but believes in Pashupati more than Marx and Engles,” he added.
When the Post contacted Tara Nath Adhikari, spokesperson for the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, he said the ministry has entrusted the trust with everything related to the new installation.
“The amount was provided as grant as per Prime Minister Oli’s announcement,” said Adhikari.
Even the former staffers of the trust have criticised the decision to install the new jalahari. “This should not be made a political issue. At a time when the country is reeling under Covid-19, the government could have prioritised procurement of vaccines over installation of the new jalahari,” said Govinda Tandon, former member-secretary at the trust.