Nepal squatters use medieval art for toilets, cowsheds

By Sudeshna Sarkar


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Kathmandu : Priceless archaeological relics that could date back to the 14th century are being demolished in southern Nepal with unlettered, poor squatters taking over land abounding in such wealth and erecting shanties.

After the discovery of ancient caves in Nepal's mountainous north with Buddhist murals and Tibetan manuscripts, now the Terai plains adjoining the Indian border have been found to be treasure troves of history – which, however, are falling into decay and destruction due to lack of state resources.

"We made the discovery more than a decade ago when we took our postgraduate archaeology students to Palpa district to train them for exploration," says Dinesh Chandra Regmi, professor of archaeology at the central department of Nepali history, culture and archaeology at Tribhuvan University, the oldest in the kingdom.

"We found the remains of a temple, shiva lingas and other artefacts scattered everywhere."

The area – Sainamaina village – was once ruled by a dynasty that originated in southern India.

Founded by King Hemanta Sen in the 11th century, the Sens moved from Karnataka to Bengal. A scion of the dynasty entered Nepal in the 13th century and founded a kingdom, whose greatest king was Mani Mukunda Sen.

Remains of Mani Mukunda Sen's palace remain preserved under Nepal's department of archaeology in Palpa. The Sens were Hindu kings and great builders of temples, both in India and Nepal.

However, centuries after their victory, their monuments are being demolished in Nepal by landless squatters.

"There are two huge brick mounds in the area," says Nepali journalist Bishnu Gautam, who this month went to the area with the university team. "They are likely to yield more treasures.

"However, the squatters, who don't realise the worth of the historical structures, are planning to tear them down to plough the field."

Khadga Bahadur KC, a squatter with seven mouths to feed, says the mounds fall in his paddy field. He needs to grow more crop and will demolish the mound unless the government pays him compensation and takes over the plot.

Gautam says KC unearthed a stone carved with three deities. The relic stands in the middle of the field.

"I am planning to take it home in a tractor," the squatter told Gautam. "We saw cowsheds built with the old priceless bricks, wash areas and even toilets."

Regmi says besides examples of Sen art, upon exploration the mounds are also likely to produce even older relics going back to the Khas Malla dynasty.

The Khas Mallas ruled the Karnali area, one of the remotest and most backward regions in the country, and may have been an offshoot of India's Malla kings, also from the south. The name of one of the Khas Malla kings, Ripu Malla, has been immortalised after it was found inscribed on the Ashoka pillars found in Nepal.

"The discoveries point at the existence of an ancient trade route between India and Nepal through the Terai, going from the east to the west," Regmi says.

Though the university notified the archaeology department of its findings nearly 12 years ago, the state is yet to swing into action.

Gautam says a tiny local initiative has led to the preservation of some statues.

"The young men of the area came together to build a small museum," he says.