The Aju Dyo restoration 16 years ago should be a model for community-led rebuilding of sacred sites after last year’s earthquake
The 2015 earthquake caused immense damage to the temples and monuments of Kathmandu Valley. The Aju Dyo (Akash Bhairav) temple at Indra Chok in the city's historical core was unscathed in the earthquake thanks to its community-led reconstruction 16 years ago.
The idea to repair the roof and damaged portions of the Akash Bhairav temple first came up in 1983. Official permission from Department of Archeology took two years to obtain but it was another 16 years before rebuilding started. But the time was used well to plan the detailed renovation design, arrangement of funds and forming the working committee.
The temple was completely reconstructed from the base because committee members agreed that renovation during the regime of Rana Prime Minister Juddha Sumshere had added many non-traditional elements, making the temple lose its authenticity.
Thus, the inappropriate open veranda on the second floor was replaced with beautifully carved tikijhya (wooden latticed windows). Most of the other building materials in the temple were reused, such as old jhingati tiles on the roof and timber elements.
The community took an active part in the construction, and this included not only Guthi members responsible for religious and cultural rites at the Akash Bhairav Temple, but also local shopkeepers, devotees and the local government units. The reconstruction committee was divided into three groups -- conservators, working committee (which included the technical group) and sub-committee members for various other responsibilities such as publicity, security, financial management, etc.
The presence of a strong local government during reconstruction facilitated the work greatly. Being the representatives of the people, local government officials identified well with the neighbourhood perspective, and had access to the means to navigate through bureaucratic procedures of the government.
Involving local people resulted in widely varying ideas from different people, which could sometimes lead to problems. Committee member Sarad Kumar Dongol recalls there were differences of opinion among Guthi members and others. However, all disputes were resolved amicably, after long and exhaustive discussions.
“The visit by King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya during the reconstruction phase was a great boost to people working on the reconstruction, which helped smoothen the process,” Dongol says.
The major obstacle in reconstruction was financial. The estimated cost of rebuilding was Rs 14 million when it started, and the Kathmandu municipality and the local ward office were approached for support which provided Rs 4.3 million and Rs 1 million respectively.
Bikash Bhakta Shrestha, former chairman of the local ward office who also chaired the reconstruction committee, remembers: “We did not have the money when we started, and there were doubts about its feasibility. But local businessmen Krishna Bahadur Amatya and Nanda Lal Ghiriaya encouraged us, promising to back us up.”
Shrestha had also seen that the reconstruction of the nearby Yetkha Baha Temple had received lot of donations even though at the beginning it didn’t have enough support. They were able to complete the project with donations from the people.
An office was set up on the street outside the temple, and donations started coming. “In the end, we got more money than the sum spent on the reconstruction,” Shrestha recalls, “people gave generously because of their faith, and because of their deep attachment to their culture.”
The extra money was used to rebuild the Guthi house behind temple, as well as the esoteric Agan Chhen. Even today, the committee has Rs 9 million in the bank and the interest is being used to maintain the tangible and intangible heritage related with the temple.
Monalisa Maharjan is a researcher at the Interdisciplinary Centre for History, Cultures and Societies, University of Évora, Portugal.
Kathmandu’s ancestor god
Aaju Dyo is worshipped by people of different faiths and ethnicities – the Newar community calls it Aju Dyo, while non-Newars refer to it as Akash Bhairav. According to the Newar belief, most of the gods were once humans and have stories connecting with daily lives of the people. As a human, Akash Bhairav was the first king of the Kirat dynasty, also known as Yalamber, the founder of Kathmandu. Every year during the full moon day of Yenya Punhi (Indra Jatra) members of the Aju Dyo Guthi engage in elaborate rituals. Aju Dyo is considered to be the forebear of Kathmandu’s present inhabitants, and the name means ‘ancestor god’.
Series coordinated by Alok Siddhi Tuladhar
The beginning of history, Rishi Amatya
Preserving the intangible, Chandani KC
Monumental loss, Stephane Huet