The 8.3M earthquake that struck at 2:28PM on 15 January 1934 was the last major quake to hit Kathmandu before the 2015 Gorkha earthquake. Nearly 17,000 people were killed in Nepal and India.
The disaster is commemorated in Nepal every 15 January as National Earthquake Safety Day.
The Rana rulers at the time went about quickly rebuilding the heritage sites, with many thinking even today that the reconstructions closely resembled how the monuments looked before 1934. However, evidence indicates otherwise.
“It may not be evident to the naked eye, but upon closer inspection one can see there are many anomalies in the way the reconstruction was handled after the 1934 earthquake,” says Rohit Ranjitkar of KVPT, who is documenting the changes and is working on a book about the same.
Following the earthquake, rebuilding Kathmandu Valley was of utmost priority as it was the capital and had faced severe damages. Engineer Dilli Jung Thapa, who was 93 years old when Ranjitkar met him in 1990s, was tasked with the project.
“According to him, the rulers had given a timeframe and the job was expected to be completed within that period,” says Ranjitkar. “So, replicating them to look as they did in the Malla era was not possible. Temples around the palace complexes were given more priority, and materials from the peripheral monuments were used to rebuild them.”
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When KVPT was renovating seven temples in the Kathmandu Darbar Square around 2007, they found that the struts used in the Narayan temple east of Kaal Bhairav were taken from other temples around it.
In Patan, the Taleju Temple and the wings of Sundari Chok also have struts from other monuments. It is difficult to track their origins now because of lack of documentation.
Using materials from one temple to reconstruct another also means that many temples lost their true forms or their history was completely erased.
In Bhaktapur, while the city rebuilt the Bhairav temple in its original size, four temples in the Darbar Square were rebuilt as a one-storeyed structure, and four other buildings were never rebuilt.