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Sunday, 24 April 2016





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Machchendranath Temple:

Buddhist-Hindu shrine to rise again

As Nepal marks the first year of the devastating April 2015 earthquake, Sri Lanka begins rebuilding the historic Machchendranath temple, home of Bungadeva, the guardian deity of the Katmandu Valley:

Architectural gem reduced to rubble by the ’quake.

A year ago, this landmark temple stood in the centre of the square in a picturesque Newar village named Bungamati. The village is referred to by the popular travellers’ guide, Lonely Planet, as “A classic medieval village - one of the prettiest in the Valley.”

Located in Nepal’s District of Lalitpur, the village and its once iconic Machchendranath temple are yet to rise from the very ashes of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal a year ago, on 25 April.

Bungamati was once an awe-inspiring sight but a year later, it still largely lies in heaps of rubble, a site of devastation and displacement despite serious community efforts to restore the village. The temple restoration is now formally undertaken by the Sri Lankan Government under the supervision of the Nepali Department of Archaeology.

Though impacted by the April 2015 earthquake, Bungamati was fortunate enough not to lose lives though the reality is that what was lost last April may never be recovered. While the structures may be rebuilt resembling the original form, what was lost –some 805 original buildings and homes - also signified the loss of Nepal’s architectural history.

“It is our history that lies in a rubbled state in Bungamati, buried and broken,” said Kunda Dixit, Editor of Nepali Times, who counts himself among the thousands of Nepalis who are unhappy about the reconstruction process – specially its speed.

“Around 80% of Bungamati’s identity got destroyed. It was an architectural beauty which was an important place of study for students of arts and architecture,” noted Dixit, a well-known political analyst.

Machchendranath: Before the ’quake. (

Villagers, who have been volunteering their time to clear the site, agree with Dixit’s words. They know that the quake had taken so much away from them, including their gods and their dwellings. Today, they are restless and unhappy about the speed at which rehabilitation and resettlement work is progressing – with the official process commencing on in mid January 2016.

“In this country, everything is slow. People have been living in hope for one full year,” said Tara Bandari, a young mother from Bungamati. While eagerly awaiting for the reconstruction work to commence, she also lamented the loss of her patron deity Machchendranath’s home.

Lost home

Amidst the heartbreaking rubble lies the temple where Bandari and many others offer their daily prayers - the magnificent Machhendranath temple. Constructed in the 16th Century, it stood as a tribute to Nepal’s unique craftsmanship. A year later, it is still difficult for the local people to accept that their temple, dedicated to the Valley’s patron deity, could suffer such destruction.

The devastated temple is home to Machchendranath for six months a year. The other six are spent in Patan.

The annual procession carrying the deity’s heavy metal image from one temple to the other is popularly known as Rato Machchendranath (or Bungadeva), is considered among the most spectacular annual festivals in the Valley.

For the Hindus, Machchendranath is the reincarnation of Lord Shiva, while for the Buddhists, he is the reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara, the aspiring Buddha. His unique status among the Nepali people makes him a unifying deity, worshipped by all.

When the Nepal Government called for assistance to rebuild their identified sites last year, Colombo immediately offered to reconstruct this architectural masterpiece, in accordance with the UNESCO guidelines and under the supervision of the Nepal Department of Archaeology. In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, Sri Lanka pledged assistance worth Rs. 250 million and undertook the reconstruction of the Rato Machchindranath temple in Lalitpur and the Anandakuti Vihar in Swayambhu.


Seven UNESCO-declared World Heritage Sites located in the Katmandu Valley suffered significant damage due to the earthquake. These sites include the Swayambhunath stupa, Changu Narayan temple and the Durbar Squares of Patan, Basantapur and Bhaktapur. The other two heritage sites - Boudhanath stupa and Pashupatinath temple have been spared the ravages of the quake.

According to Narayan Dahal, Head of the Department of Archaeology in Nepal, the plan is to restore the sites within the next five years. ‘It won’t be easy. These are not mere buildings but pieces of history. Our loss cannot be recovered, even after rebuilding them,” he said.

According to archaeological estimates, 750 historical, cultural and religious monuments in 20 districts were quake-struck.

Among the 750 documented sites, 133 have been completely destroyed while 617 have sustained partial damage. Nepali Rs.20.56 billion was the first estimate for the mammoth reconstruction initiative, according to Nepal’s Post-Disaster Needs Assessment report by the country’s National Planning Commission.

Meanwhile, the reconstruction work of the devastated abode of the Valley’s patron deity is finally ready start.

(Photos by Bikash Karki in Katmandu)

[Sri Lanka’s reconstruction project]

Amidst protest by local communities about the slow progress in rebuilding the ravaged structures in quake-affected Nepal, reconstruction work formally commenced on January 17, with the Himalayan State’s National Authority for Reconstruction (NAR) declaring a three-month long campaign to rehabilitate destroyed sites.

Official work commenced with Nepal President Bidhya Devi Bandari laying a foundation stone for the reconstruction of Ranipokhari – the fabled queen’s pond in Katmandu and Nepali Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, inaugurating the reconstruction and resettlement scheme in one of the most ancient settlements – Bungamati – to be restored to its former glory with Sri Lankan assistance.

Tomorrow (25), Nepal will launch a five-year reconstruction plan, aiming to restore all private and public structures within three and five years at a total cost of Nepali Rs. 74 billion.

Nepal’s Director General of the Department of Archaeology (DOA), Vesh Dayal told the Sunday Observer that reconstruction work of sites requiring urgent attention has commenced and out of the 104 devastated sites, 42 were identified as priority projects.

To facilitate the urgent reconstruction of the Machhendranath temple and Anandkuti Bihar, the two countries have already signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

“The sites need care and skillful rebuilding. The universal value of these sites and their architectural elegance cannot be compromised in any form,” Dahal said, adding that new reconstruction guidelines have been prepared on the use of technique and materials.


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