Nepal seeks to save its Indian heritage

December 28th, 2008 - 5:01 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Dec 28 (IANS) Nepal’s cash-strapped government is seeking to save an ancient historic site that was once part of its tumultuous royal history and is still regarded as an architectural and artistic marvel in India’s holy Benaras city, where it is located.The Samrajeswar Pashupateshwar Mahadev temple, which stands at Lalita Ghat along river Ganga, is regarded as outstanding even in Benaras, known as the temple city of India.

Its pagoda-style architecture distinguishes it from Indian temples while its exquisite wooden carvings, including erotica, is the work of master craftsmen who were brought from Nepal.

The temple was built in 1841 by the third king of Nepal’s longest-ruling Shah dynasty that was abolished only this year.

Rana Bahadur Shah was declared king of Nepal in 1777 when he was just two and a half years old.

Though marked by economic reforms and conquests, Shah’s reign was also marked by violence, bloodshed and intrigues.

As the courtiers got the upper hand over the king, he was banished to Benaras for four years with his queen Lalita. During the enforced stay, he built the temple in his wife’s name, a resting place for pilgrims and an old-age home for widows and abandoned women.

Years later, the temple was frequented by another banished king of the same dynasty, Rajendra Bir Bikram Shah. Rajendra’s disgruntled queen Raj Lakshmi Devi began plotting to overthrow the prime minister who had ousted them and subsequently, the king was ordered back to Nepal and kept under permanent detention till he died.

The frustrated queen, however, was forced to stay in Benaras till her death.

A witness to the anger, stratagems and grief of Nepal’s royal family members, the temple and its adjuncts are now in a dilapidated condition due to lack of maintenance.

Nepal’s ambassador to India, who is ex-officio secretary of the trust that is entrusted with the upkeep of the site, has brought the matter to the notice of the Maoist government.

According to Suresh Prasad Pradhan, spokesman at Nepal’s foreign ministry, a team was sent to Benaras to inspect the temple, rest house and old-age home and submit its report.

The team is seeking a meagre sum of NRS 300,000 from the Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda government to restore the temple to its old glory.

It is said to be a replica of the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu, which is a world heritage site and visited by tens of thousands of Indians every year who are not aware that a similar image exists in India itself.

However, the report is gathering dust at the newly formed ministry of culture and state restructuring as Nepal’s Maoists remain engaged in a battle with the media and grappling with a crippling power crisis.

The Maoist leader who heads the ministry, Gopal Kiranti, has proposed a revolutionary plan to carve up Nepal, which currently has 75 districts, into 800 districts. However, he is yet to decide whether the 167-year-old historic legacy should get a helping hand.

As the host state, India’s Uttar Pradesh also has a responsibility to protect the shrine especially as it is a major tourist attraction.

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