--By Madan Lamsal
Rumour has it that Kathmandu’s name is going to change. The word Kathmandu was originally derived from Kasthamandap, a Hindu style temple in the city that was destroyed by last year’s earthquake. Also destroyed in the earthquake, was the Dharahara or the Bhimsen Tower. Now, the current Oli government has announced to rebuild the Dharahara, which, going by its design, looked like a mosque’s minaret or a church’s steeple. And at the top floor was a temple of Shiva, a Hindu deity. The government, however, remains tight-lipped about resurrecting Kasthamandap.
It could be that the government decided to rebuild the Dharahara as a composite symbol of all faiths because it’s an inclusive government. As PM Oli has himself spoken about it, he will perhaps surely rebuild it, even if nothing else. And he and his cabinet ministers have already made public pledge to donate their one month’s salary to resurrect Darahara. Having announced the idea during the day at Sundhara, he got it quickly passed by a hurried cabinet meeting in the same evening. See how effective our proactive prime minister is: he convinced his ministers to follow suit. Now, how long have the minsters been ministers anyway so that they could afford a month’s salary, or for that matter, how long will they remain ministers anyway to give away that month’s salary?
You know, you have to feel sorry for them. How could they say no to the PM? How could they defend themselves against Oli’s famous rifle-tongue?!
Whatever, Dharahara is going to be rebuilt; Kasthamandap not. This is something to be happy about, really. Or is it?
If one is to believe the news reports, the government has prepared a rough outline for Kasthamandap’s reconstruction. But only an outline. The real rebuilding will have to be done by the original valley denizens, more specifically, the native Newars. It is their heritage, not of Oli or his followers.
Indeed, why would a pro-republic government think about rebuilding Kasthamandap which was built by a king and looked like a temple? Therefore, the government must have thought, it’s better to rebuild Dharahara, which was built by Bhimsen Thapa, whom Oli believes to be a great pro-republic Prime Minister of the past. Thapa is the same great comrade who had taken an unflinching stand to save Nepal from becoming a foreign colony. Although it’s altogether a different story that, because of his stand, the country had to sign the Sugauli Treaty with the British, and the country is what it is today.
History however tells us that Thapa had built the Dharahara to please the then queen Tripurasundari. It is also said that a stone inscription has it that the tower was built by the queen herself and that Bhimsen had erected a separate tower at Baghdurbar which was taller than the one at Sundhara but it fell in the earthquake of 1990 BS or one hundred year earlier.
Whatever may be the truth, we should be elated at the news of the Dharahara being rebuilt. Dharahara rolls off the tongue much more easily than Kasthamandap which is even difficult to pronounce. On top of that, Late Bollywood actor Dev Anand desecrated the holiness of Kasthamandap by shooting his film “Hare Rama, Hare Krishna” there. In the movie, he has depicted Kasthamandap as a place of dope smokers. As simple as that. Nothing much except prayer recitals everyday used to happen there until it was levelled by the quake. What use do prayers have in this age? Do tourists come to Kathmandu to see such things? Definitely not!
The tourists are more familiar with and used to a structure like Dharahara. Kasthamandap, despite the fact that it was made from a single tree, would be a totally new thing for most of them – strange and unfamiliar. Who says tourists want to see such things?
But there are questions still not answered. For example, some private sector companies had announced their willingness to rebuild Dharahara on their own cost. It is about one year now that Dharahara collapsed. But there have been no discussions whether to reconstruct Dharahara at all or what should the new structure look like or for what reason or purpose to reconstruct it. So, why did the Oli government so suddenly come to the decision? Is not it mysterious?
More mysterious is the question why the company that had leased in the old Dharahara under a contract with conditions to reconstruct if it demolished is not made to reconstruct it? Does it mean that Oli government has abrogated the Contract Act? Or is it because Dharahara will yield donations from across the world that can be used/misused by the government officials? Or is it simply a new publicity gimmick from Prime Minister Oli.