Print Edition - 2014-10-13  |  The Collegian

Imperiled history

  • Frenzied modernisation and public apathy is playing a spoilsport with our history
Imperiled history

Oct 12, 2014-History might be a thing of past, but it lives in present, among us and with us. Like trees that go on adding layers with the passage of time, history broadens its appeal as it ages. Its allure and significance goes on increasing with each passing year.

It exists in a variety of forms. Be it as components of nature—like hills, mountains and rivers— or as man-made structures, and works of art and literature. Virtually everything and anything can be a part of history.

While many countries and people around the world have made enormous sacrifices to preserve their historical and cultural monuments, we, in Nepal, seem to be displaying a blithe disregard for our historical and cultural heritages. And as a result, we are on the verge of smudging our past with our tainted present.

But rather than delving into how the present is threatening to ruin our past, I would like to focus on two of the most important cultural signifiers of the Valley that have been tainted by this unplanned modernisation and selective amnesia.

For most of the people living in the Kathmandu valley, pristine rivers and un-spoilt environment belong to the realm of once-upon-a-time stories. There are some people who can clearly remember how clean the Valley once used to be and how fresh and transparent the water flowing in its rivers was. Sadly, the present scenario—which stands right in front of us—is radically different. And the difference is most tangible when it comes to the Bagmati river.

No, let’s not get mistaken that Bagmati is the only victim of the changes that have been taking place in Kathmandu. But Bagmati is a river well known for its religious and cultural significance; moreover, it is the mother lode of all the myths, legend and history involving this river-valley. Every civilisation that has ever set its foot on this valley and every myth and legend that has been forged in this place are peppered with the name of this holy river. And hence, by that token, the changing hue of this river is of much significance.

But despite being such an important symbol of our civilization, it seems that the river is everything except a river. It’s an open sewer and a drainage where all the byproducts from the industries and houses inside the Valley are dumped; but not a river.

And on the banks of this river—or sewer—is one of the holiest of the Hindu shrines: Pashupatinath temple. Visited by hundreds of thousands of Hindus from all over the world, the temple should have been a shining example of a well-preserved archaeological monument and a mirror that reflected the cultural beauty and antiquity of our country. But anyone who visits the temple gets to know, at the very first sight, that all is not well with the place.

The richly-ornamented pagoda of Pashupatinath temple that houses the sacred linga is caked with dust. Many buildings and structures inside the temple premise are in dire need of repair. Add to it the incessant drone of vehicles on the nearby ring-road and the air rich in dust, and the smell of burnt flesh and decaying waste. On top of that, many precious items are reportedly stolen from the premises. The temple, whose existence dates back to at least 400 AD, stands tall as yet another representative of our carelessness and disregard.  

Surprisingly, a lot of discussion on how to preserve these sites of historical and archaeological significance goes on in the country. And not just that, numerous seminars and forums are dedicated to finding ways to protect them for the future generation. Even our school curriculum has chapters dedicated to the study of these heritage sites and how to protect them. We spare no words in praising our civilisation and culture, and in glorifying what our ancestors have left. But we ourselves are the biggest culprits when it comes to destroying and ruining them. It’s our greed, carelessness and recklessness that threatens to destroy these monuments and erase our past.

- RAJAN SAPKOTA

Published: 13-10-2014 09:15

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