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.
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.
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.