June 1, 2015
Published 27 May, UNESCO Consultant David Andolfatto discusses his work since the earthquake:
The recent earthquake in Nepal, and the following aftershocks, have resulted in dramatic damage to cultural heritage. Current response by UNESCO, the Department of Archaeology, and other related stakeholders, is to assess the affected sites. It is clear, even from a superficial glance, that the damage to heritage is unprecedented. However, in order to safeguard, not just the pieces of fallen monuments, but also the hopes to rebuild, it is important to conduct well documented archaeological surveys and to responsibly store the salvaged parts. UNESCO has deployed several experts’ to assess and document the locations; one of them is UNESCO consultant David Andolfatto.
David is an archaeologist from France, working in Kathmandu for 8 years. He is currently doing a PhD on western Nepalese archaeology. Between 2009 and 2010, he also worked on documentation of Buddhist sites of the valley. Since the earthquake, David, with professionals from UNESCO, Department of Archaeology, and volunteers, has been assessing damages at several heritage sites. David reckons that one of the most interesting, and challenging, surveys has been at Swayambhu. The assessment began on May 1 upon the request of Rajesh Suwal of the Federation of Swayambhu Management and Conservation. The surveying team comprised of Ludovic Dusuzeau and Pierre Gérard-Bendele, volunteer French architects; Dominique Baudais, an experimented French archaeologist; Debendra Bhattarai, Department of Archaeology; Amrit Man Buddhacharya from the local community; and; Joy Lynn Davis and David from UNESCO.
An exciting discovery happened while studying what remained of the Tashi Gomang Stupa (called Mangal Bahudvar Chaitya in Sanskrit). This unique white plastered stupa with multi-tiered niches adorning votive sculptures is to the south-west of the Swayambhu Stupa. Upon closer inspection it was found that there was another stupa inside with sculptures in terracotta. The terracotta sculptures closely resemble those found at Mahabouddha, Patan so it is preliminarily thought that the sculptures could be from a similar timeframe. The discovery of the inner chaitya could also indicate the practice of adding layers creating a multi-shell structure, something characteristic of larger mahachaityas, to also be true in this unique smaller stupa. Several other artefacts were also found in the ruins, which are now kept in a secure location.
Besides these interesting findings, there have also been many challenges. Frescos from the walls of Shantipur (one of the five Purs of Shantikaracharya, as per the creation myth of Swayambhu) have fallen and the structure itself is not stable. It is recommended that the frescos be moved to the nearby Chhauni National Museum. However, David mentions several sensitivities in this case, including the community’s fear to relocate the frescos. Shantipur is an Agam, not just sacred but a secret cult space. Ergo, there are very few people permitted into the inner chambers. David and the team intend to work on the outer chamber, by covering the access to the inner chamber. It is however recommended that rebuilding this secret chamber should be indirectly overseen by the professional team.
After the second major quake, on 12 May, the main stupa has suffered a large crack. As of now, safeguarding the stupa during the monsoons, using a temporary solution is a possibility; however use of tarps to cover the monuments is not a practical solution here. A unique challenge at Swayambhu is actually the need to deal with the monkeys. Tarps covering the monuments are invariably removed by the irksome yet popular monkeys of Swayambhu. Besides these, there have been damages to both Pratappur and Anantapur, the two shikhara style monuments flanking the eastern stairway, and two of the Gombas have collapsed.
Although David has been engulfed in the assessment of Swayambhu, he has also worked in several other sites since the earthquake. Upon the request of the UNDP team working in Irkhu, Sindhupalchowk, David has surveyed four structures – three temples in Chautārā and one gumba in Mājagaon. The area and the structures are either heavily damaged or in very precarious conditions, a report has been presented to UNDP regarding their current conditions including the immediate measures that need to be taken to document and safeguard the monuments. Many buildings in the Chhauni National Museum are also damaged. The central wing of the Historic Gallery, built 200 years ago by Prime Minister General Bhimsen Thapa show no visible damages, but the two, 150 years old, annex buildings are heavily damaged. Artefacts that could be accessed have already been moved, while the inaccessible ones will have to be transferred by reaching them, using cranes. The complex is very well secured, with 40 security personnel on site, therefore there is a possibility of storing artefacts. Yet there is a need to coordinate with experts specialized in collection transfer and preservation and to properly inventory the transferred artefacts.
For the immediate future, David intends to continue working at Swayambhu. Several NGOs, groups of restorers and volunteers may be involved in different stages of work at this site. However, the next foreseeable step is to get approvals from concerned authorities to have people work here, primarily to clean all the modern Gombas and houses. The other immediate concern is to address the crack formed in the main stupa.