Monday, 15th September 2014

Heritage Preservation: Need Of Partnership And Awareness :Prem Khatry

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Indiscreet damage and loss of cultural heritage objects in the hands of man are a global phenomenon. Theft is another way of displacing the objects from the original site and putting cultural studies at risk. Art theft and illicit trafficking caused global concern, and now there are international conventions, laws and conferences that have led to awareness among the people, governments and other stakeholders down to the level of a common man sitting next to a monument or object.

Cultural objects are not just objects placed at some point in history at a given location; they generate feelings and experiences related to the cultural and spiritual life, depending on the nature of the object in question. Last month, Kathmandu saw a gathering of experts from various countries to discuss the status of illicit trafficking of cultural objects through experience, and suggest means to curb and control the theft globally through the auspices of the Ministry of Culture and UNESCO Nepal.

Role of people

Such concerns shown by a wide cross-section of experts and participants at a forum like this may be of great help in preserving the heritage. One issue discussed at length on the occasion was the role of the people in heritage preservation. 

Theft apart, serious damages have been inflicted on the standing icons and inscriptions in and around the Kathmandu Valley. This also happens due to the ignorance of the people living in and around the sites. The Department of Archaeology (DOA) of the government is the sole authority to protect such items, and there have been admirable efforts too, but despite this, there also have been irreparable damages.

In a recent issue of the daily, Rajdhani, a well known historian, Dr. Mahesh Raj Pant, published an article about this problem. Pant also published several stone inscriptions now facing new challenges they never faced in their long history of survival. He also suggested that several scientific methods could be applied to keep them intact with the scripts.

Unfortunately, one such inscription issued by no other than King Amshuverma (7th century) located at Harigaon dabali has been hit (supposedly) by a truck and completely broken at the lower part, making the join and repair impossible. The inscription has important information to share, and it had been doing just that standing so close to the drivable road. The iron band fixed for its protection did not work when the truck hit it. Now this inscription will have to be transferred to some other safer location, reducing its timeless historical and cultural significance.

Now the question may be asked: What is there in this inscription? This particular archaeological asset has much important information (published in Knoli No. 36, Purnima vol. 14, Dhanavajra Bajracharya No.77) to share, including the allocation of funds for different categories of holy shrines.

For example, shrines like Pashupati, Changunarayan and Gumvihar of Sankhu received the highest amount whereas two other categories received half as much. This inscription also maintains the state's policy of religious equality and tolerance after the strong pro-Hindu policy of the Gupta feudal rulers. Thus far, the inscription was pretty much intact, but the technical error in placing it right on the drivable road finally took the toll in the hands of a few careless locals.

In order to see the dilapidated conditions of these inscribed stone documents, you don’t have to go far from our municipalities. Just around the Hanumandhoka Palace, Sundhara area of Patan, Naxal Gairidhara, among other sites, are examples of carelessness and ignorance at a time when they have survived centuries of natural conditions. Unwanted human activities in the wake of fast growing urbanism are the reason for the damage and loss of our heritage.

Historians and archaeologists have been reminding the government and general public that such assets need special protection measures. Nayaraj Pant for one published an article way back in the early 1960s, suggesting that due care was not taken to protect the inscriptions. His worry was rightly placed because these inscriptions serve as 'open books' for the readers.

In fact, the Culture Department of Tribhuvan University requires students to be proficient in the scripts used in the inscriptions of the Licchavi and Malla periods. Protection of these documents is, therefore, crucial. One can hope the DOA of the government will take necessary action to protect such heritage in the days to come.

According to the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act, 2013 BS, such actions are punishable. Therefore, it is up to the DOA to find the culprit and bring him for legal action. In the first place, the DOA's technicians were not very scrupulous in placing the inscription so close, almost juxtaposed, to the busy road about a foot-and-a-half above the street surface.

This time we have learnt the lesson – heritage preservation must be the priority of the government, and people's participation and awareness should also be our agenda for the future.

Dr. Mahesh Raj Pant believes that out of about 220 inscriptions belonging to the Licchavi period, more than 100 are at risk. In such a situation, the DOA must take necessary action to preserve them for posterity, otherwise anything can happen to these important documents tomorrow. And, we will be losing and erasing important pages of our ancient history.

Finally, an inscription is a piece of art in itself. At a time when we see new kinds of vandalism in the form of statue breaking to create new history, students of history feel it is just not the way of looking at history and learn lessons from it. Inscriptions speak of the time – the rulers, the people, their life style, different aspects of society and culture, level of civilization, among other details. It is, therefore, necessary to protect them wherever they exist and face risk. Erasing pages of history and laying the foundation in a void does not help the effort to make new history, a new Nepal.

Relevance

It is always nice and warm to believe and grow with the experience that Nepal did have a history, culture and civilization well known in South Asian as a distinct one. One can use any political jargon to describe and despise it now, but the reality is: There is a wide gap between the time then and the time now. The cultural assets will not lose their relevance and context on which the nation was built and survived to make us feel proud.

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