Why heritage sites?

Photo Source: Narayan Maharjan/Setopati


Why heritage sites?

Imagine, there are no literature works of Laxmi Prasad Devkota and there is nothing as such Muna-Madan, because in the 21st century there is no such Silk Route where Madan goes to Lhasa and Muna waits for her love. Imagine there is no Indra Jatra and nothing as such chariot procession, because in modern Nepal, the myth of Indra being caught appears more ridiculous than cultural, and is overshadowed by the eternal knowledge of science and technology.

Imagine there is no Kasthmandap, Ranipokhari, or Durbar Squares!!!

As steadily expounded in the book called “Sapiens-A brief history of humankind”, humans have this unique ability to weave stories and pass it into generation and generation, which enabled them to reach on top of the food chain avoiding the giant predators. Humankind is the result of longest process of evolution out of which consciousness and recollecting memories are unique characters which enable them to pass the knowledge of one generation to another resulting in advanced form of Homo sapiens (Wise Men).  Hence, history is such a laboratory in this evolution process that serves as an open book for our generation and more generations to come. “A city without history is just like a person without memory,” as commonly quoted in the field of conservation milieu is applicable in every field of development, especially in historical cities like Kathmandu.

With the evolution of humankind and various development tools and technology, we have moved far ahead from caves to castles. There is a kind of argument which advocates that we should be investing our resources and energy in our future rather than waste them in the name of heritage conservation or preservation. Although, there is still a strong argument from the conservationists and historians that such ruins or structures from historical times needs to be preserved and needs to be studied for the better future.  Authors strongly believe that every heritage, either tangible or intangible always have their own stories to tell to us and many generations to come. Here in below sections, we try to summarize on the different aspects on why such heritage structures or culture need to be preserved with wise investment of our knowledge and resources.

Our Identity

In the era of globalization, we all have accepted that culture and heritages are the features that distinct each individual or community from other. Beauty of such differences are not only celebrated in global milieu rather appreciated as the proud identity. It is quite obvious for us that if any of our friends come to visit us, we take them to our historical locations or heritage sites. In doing so we are not only proud of our ancestors rather glorifying our roots. The identity associated to our culture or heritage is not only linked to any individuals but also epitomizes us as a civilized society and culturally enriched nation.

A tale to tell

Whenever there is any cultural/historical celebrations or dates are nearer, our national media are flooded with the mythological or historical stories associated with such events. Stories associated with such dates are animated in such a way that it glorifies the importance of events or structures hence promoting its preservation or conservation. Stories of Bijaya Dashami festival remind us to celebrate victory of goodness over the evil. Such tales are not only limited to the events or processions; every small heritage structure has its own story to express. Stories of Rani Pokhari glorify the importance of that urban lake in the middle of city when it is associated with the event dating back to the 17th century. Similarly different religious heritage structures have their own stories to tell. Even a temple structure as small as the root of a tree, Pachali Bhairav at Teku has a convincing story to tell about the foundation of Kathmandu valley in 9th-10th century. It would be comprehensible to understand such structures came into being when the majority of people did not have written recordings and the best way to deliver the message could be with some tangible stories.  Destruction or degradation of such heritage structures are not only threat to the physical aspects rather chains the extinction of such social or historical information. Similar has been the case of Shorakhutte, the Pati which had 16 posts until very recently has become extinct and so will the story of the Pati in the coming years.

Aids local economy

Around 800,000 tourists are recorded to visit Nepal every year, and the number is increasing. The main attractions for the majority of tourists are limited to natural beauty or adventure and heritage structures of Kathmandu Valley, Lumbini or Janakpur. Tourism is often taken as prominent industry involving thousands of people directly or indirectly in Nepali employment sector. Figures show approximately 270 million, 60 million and 110 million respectively are added to the local governments of Kathmandu Metropolitan City, Lalitpur Metropolitan City and Bhaktapur Municipality respectively. The difference in revenues of Lalitpur and Bhaktapur is stark considering the latter is a smaller municipality with similar or lesser heritage structures, but with conserved and promoted heritages has enjoyed the economic benefits of such assets. Apart from adding to the local government’s economy, heritage sites are important market to flourish local souvenirs and engage a larger section of neighbouring people with day to day activities.

Speaks of time, place and technology

Even till date, there has not been any concrete evidence to explain the technology used in construction of pyramids of Egypt or Elephanta Caves in India or Kailashkut Palace of Bishalnagar, Kathmandu. Heritage sites of such historical importance is not only the expression of marvelous knowledge over technology of that time period rather also portrays the living style of that time associated with its social, cultural and political scenarios. Malla period durbar squares cannot be simply taken as physical structures of architectural wonders, but they speak of the time and technology of that time period as a whole. Craftsmanship of carpenters and intricate details of sculpture expressed in idols/temples of Kathmandu Valley and technological genii of Nyatapol temple which enabled it to withstand two mega earthquakes, are evident of technological zenith of the Malla period in terms of art and architecture.

Lessons for future

As widely mentioned, heritages are the laboratories of history, which will guide our future. Heritage structures or historical knowledge are very significant for today’s society and more days to come. Knowledge associated with the historical stories, technological advancement associated with heritage structures and wisdom associated with culture are often scope of study in larger school of scientific thought. It will be pertinent to comprehend that many modern knowledge is the result of improved version of realization from past and learnings over the period of history. Simply considering, the knowledge of the lintel or sill bands in the modern buildings are derived from age-old technology of bands in heritage structures or wooden bands and larger windows in many traditional buildings of Kathmandu Valley. It is important to understand when we have ignored the traditional knowledge or historical evidence, we have always failed in bigger stage. Timber joist without the use of nail but with traditional joints allows the flexibility in structure, enabling larger heritage structures to shake with certain degree of elasticity. Whereas, similar joints with nails or other modern medium turns the structure into more stiff structure, leading to collapse of the structure. Similarly, such lessons are not only limited to the technology or stories of past rather simply analysing the information intended to deliver can be very helpful for future. Very pertinent aspect could be the collapse of buildings in Gongabu region of Kathmandu Valley in the 2015 earthquake due to effect of liquefaction. As the name of location “Gongabu” is translated from the indigenous Newari language, which means agriculture field where cock crows, it depicts the importance of land as agriculture field with wet fertile land, hence inferring to more possibility of liquefaction. Such stories or knowledges are not limited to a few cases, but in larger scope heritage structures have been open book for our steps in future.

The preservation of historic sites or knowledge is a one-way-street where when we take the wrong path, there is no chance of getting back or at least a very limited chance. It is very imperative to understand that such heritage structures are not only assets of the present generation but duty of this generation to provide to another generation as it were handed over to us by the earlier ones. Saving heritage structures and knowledge is not only about saving some physical structures or keeping records of history; it is more about keeping our memories alive, nurturing our roots and fulfilling the basic duty of Homo sapiens: a duty of consciousness and extension of knowledge to coming generation for superior humankind.

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