Thimi’s urban tissue

In this impressively detailed and visually arresting study, Mohan Pant makes a convincing scholarly case for why social and cultural traditions should be considered fundamental structures in shaping Thimi, a historic Newar settlement situated in the central-eastern segment of the Kathmandu Valley that dates to the early medieval period. In addition, the reader is shown both why and how Newar towns like Thimi should be appraised as planned settlements of historical consequence.

Part ethnography, part archaeology, geography, history, architecture and planning, Thimi: Community and Structure of a Town is an updated and refashioned version of Pant’s 2002 doctoral dissertation, whose stated objective was to provide a developmental account of Thimi in service of the conservation of the settlement’s heritage.

Pant integrates ancient inscriptions and chronicles with contemporary oral histories, observations of ritual, household surveys, meticulous maps and elegant floor plans to create a complex and composite understanding of Thimi, one of 31 significant Newar settlements in the Valley.

Thimi is also the 15th publication in the Himalayan Traditions and Culture Series by the Saraf Foundation that supports the Taragaon Museum, the Nepal Architecture Archive (NAA) and associated heritage activities of profound consequence and value to our understanding of the cultural history of the Kathmandu Valley.

A central message that comes across loud and clear from Pant’s study is that in the case of Thimi, the nani — a Newar term to describe the socio-spatial unit of clan clusters — is the ‘urban tissue’ that bound the town together. Only by appreciation of the roles of desha, tole, nani and chhen can the configuration of dwellings and development of Thimi be properly understood.

Pant argues that while the 2015 earthquake didn’t substantially damage the historical parts of Thimi, the reconstruction that followed has rapidly changed the ‘medieval townscape’. This rebuilding, together with the settlement’s changed status from village development committee to municipality, is resulting in a great transformation.

The deliberate and ritually-circumscribed planning of ancient Thimi stands in stark contrast to the haphazard and mostly unregulated construction of roads across the nation. When you next find yourself in a traffic jam in Madhyapur Municipality, in that ever-expanding urban strip that links Kathmandu to Bhaktapur with barely a field in between, spare a thought for the intentional town of Thimi and it historic importance to the diverse and creative communities that have lived there for centuries.

Thimi: Community and Structure of a Town (Kathmandu Valley)
by Mohan Pant
Saraf Foundation for Himalayan Traditions and Culture 2019
Distributed by Himal Books
181 pages Rs2,000

Mark Turin teaches at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He has lived and worked in Nepal for many years.

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