3/4th of the sky, Editorial
Nepal’s better halves, Anil Chitrakar
“In Newari families we live our culture. From the moment you wake up till you go back to bed at night, our daily lives revolve around our traditions, and as a child it fuelled my curiosity,” recalls Pradhananga, now 47, and Chief of the National Archives in Kathmandu.
Born and raised in a middle class family, Pradhananga grew up surrounded by the rich indigenous Newa culture and a father who cared deeply about keeping it alive. Her father died when she was 10 years old, but he left a lasting impression that has helped Pradhananga in her heritage work.
After completing her SLC from a government school in Thimi, Pradhananga majored in archaeology and heritage as an undergraduate, went on to top her Masters and teach Nepal Bhasa and culture to college students.
After a stint at the Nepal Heritage Society she worked at Lalitpur Municipality as an Archaeology Officer during which she worked to restore ancient waterspouts, prepare an inventory of the historic townships like Khokana, and revive the traditional cleaning of wells and water sources during sithinakha.
All this knowledge stood her in good stead when the April 2015 earthquake struck, destroying many of the monuments that she had personally helped restore. Working in the World Heritage Division she coordinated with the Department of Archaeology, Nepal police and local community to rescue precious wood and stone carvings, and bronze figures of deities from the rubble.
“The earthquake was a learning experience and an opportunity to rebuild many of our crumbling monuments,” says Pradhananga. “We have saved and are rebuilding nearly 200 heritage sites and it gives me a huge sense of achievement.”
Although Lalitpur and Bhaktapur have moved fast on restoration, Kathmandu is lagging behind because of disputes with contractors and a debate about whether restoration should follow traditional methods strictly, or use modern materials and methods.
Community ownership and responsibility drove much of the progress in the reconstruction of monuments in Patan and Bhaktapur, but the same cannot be said of Kathmandu, and this deeply saddens Pradhananga.
“Kathmandu Valley is a living heritage and a vital part of our identity, we must work to preserve and rebuild using traditional techniques,” says Pradhananga, who says earthquakes have historically helped Kathmandu keep its architectural traditions alive. She thinks competition between local and international groups have delayed Kathmandu Darbar Square restoration.
But she is happy that the model community-led rebuilding of Kasthamandap Temple and the revival of Rani Pokhari with experts from Bhaktapur has now started after relentless pressure from local communities.
Pradhananga is glad her children are also interested in heritage and tradition, just as she was as a child. Her children often accompany her on site visits, and are curious to look at the creations of their forebears.
“Archaeology is a field where we are constantly learning new things and where we get better understanding of the origin of our civilisation,” says Pradhananga, “but there is still so much to be discovered and preserved for posterity.”