Print Edition - 2016-04-16  |  On Saturday

(ab)Using our heritage

Apr 16, 2016-

Interpretation is a tricky thing. It is how one woman’s garbage becomes another’s treasure. The inherent worth of anything largely rests on how individuals and community interprets it. 

Take for example a statue, any statue. For example, let us consider one that you may see every day on your way to work. Let me describe it for you. It depicts a female with ten hands; she’s riding a lion, which is devouring a half-buffalo, half-human figure. All her ten hands are adorned with various kinds of weapons. She’s wearing a garland of skulls. If you’ve lived here, and are familiar with the local cultural context and stories, you’d recognise her instantly as Durga. 

For you she’s a deity, a powerful one at that too. You try not to cross her, and revere her especially during certain months of the year. 

But for someone who’s from a totally different background, the statue may just be a piece of art, a piece fit for a museum at the most. Interpretation varies. And with it how people and community relate to it and use it.  

Let us take another example. How would anyone interpret the three Durbar Squares in the Kathmandu Valley? Is it a sacred ground, with so many gods residing in the numerous temples sprinkled in the vicinity? Or is it important because it is inscribed as a World Heritage Site? How would you interpret the importance and meaning of Mangal Bazaar, Basantapur or Bhaktapur Layeku? How are you consuming these places? How are you conversing with it?  

Some among us are interpreting Durbar Squares, for which we have just devised two out of numerous interpretation, rather differently. This approach though—you probably have also seen it—is totally against the very two ideas we have just explored. Some of us are using the darbar squares rather selfishly, I’m afraid. It’s puzzling how we came to interpret the darbar squares as places where it’s ok to mess about, litter and soil with careless abandon when most of us think twice before doing so in our own homes.   

Someone I know argued that we’re using the space, and our actions thusly validated the place. Which could very well be true. Have we ‘sanitised’ these sites to such a degree that we view the temples akin to something we see in museums? And that it’s ok to throw your jutho cup in the inner sanctum of the temple? Have we lost cultural connection with these structures? Is abusing sites in such a way is the only way we interact and interpret these structures now? 

Most of us won’t buy this idea, but the photos (these images were not doctored, nor engineered in any way to credit my thesis) tell us a different story. 


- Text and Photos by Rishi Amatya 

Published: 16-04-2016 07:52

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