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Saving Swayambhu

Saturday, May 30th, 2015
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Among the heritage sites that were damaged in the 25 April earthquake is Swayambhu, the temple on a hill overlooking the city where Manjushree is supposed to have seen a lotus bloom on the lake that was once Kathmandu Valley.

The surroundings of Swayambhu stupa have been badly damaged. Pic: Gopen Rai

The surroundings of Swayambhu stupa have been badly damaged. Pic: Gopen Rai

Since then, Swyamabhu has been a shrine for Buddhists and Hindus alike and has great cultural and religious significance to the people of Kathmandu. However, the 25 April earthquake badly
damaged the stupa, chaityas and some of the stone sculptures of gods and goddesses.

French archaeologist and art historian, David Andolfatto, who is a UNESCO consultant assessing the damage to Kathmandu’s cultural heritage says up to 70 per cent of Swayambhu may have to be rebuilt. Andolfatto is working with Swyambhu’s head priest, Amrit Man Buddhacharya, to make a painstaking inventory of every tiny artefact that was in the destroyed monuments.

“The priority now is to protect the damaged monuments before the monsoon,” said Andolfatto, who has had to deal with culture, and sometimes even politics. For example, the tantric Shantipur Mandir and the two paintings inside need to be restored, but only two priests are allowed to enter it.

The restoration also has to be decided how to seal cracks in the main stupa. Precautions must be taken with the material used as it might leak on the sculptures inside.

Since the beginning of the assessment in Swayambhu, UNESCO has got help from locals and
foreigners. Andolfatto is willing to train more volunteers, but he wants people with commitment.

Buddhacharya looking for tiny artefacts in the dust. Pic: Gopen Rai

Buddhacharya trying to collect tiny artefacts from the debris. Pic: Gopen Rai

Helpers are also needed to set temporary shelters for the community living around the stupa. Buddhacharya, whose ancestors have been living in Swayambhu for 1600 years, regrets the concern is only about the stupa. “There are 195 people were living here, and 27 houses have collapsed, who is going to rebuild those?” he asks.

The 30 families are now living in tents around the stupa fromwhere they still conduct the daily
religious rituals. “These people are intangible heritage that keeps the tangible heritage alive,” says Andolfetto, who estimates that it may take seven years to restore sites like Swayambhu. He would like to see Kathmandu shun concrete and rediscover its brick and tile architectural heritage.


Stéphane Huët

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3 Responses to “Saving Swayambhu”

  1. Ermina Williams on Says:

    That’s OK. The ultimate treasure is human lives. And saving them. Dharma exists in the mind. As long as there is mind, there will always be precious places like Swayambhu. So we need to take care and help the people there first and ensure their safety. Rebuilding and recreating will naturally come after that, it is necessary, inevitable and will be accomplished. No doubt.

  2. Eira Torvinen on Says:

    Seven years is a long time but it’s worth doing restorations properly.

  3. Rajeev on Says:

    Wonderful endeavor Andolfetto!!!

    I think middle path is suggested here. You will have to marry people’s needs with physical reconstruction needs. Former would require arts and latter the science.

    Namo Buddha, Namo Dharma, Namo Sangha!

    Rajeev

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