Nepal’s history, present and identity as told by it’s buildings; in brief

It is said that dwelling is an expression of identity.  The various rhythms of change and history also resonates with in the dwellings of a city and a country.

What does our historical buildings tell us?

As I started in the beginning, the dwellings we live in are expression of our identity, the rhythms of changes and history resonates with our dwelling. We have Kathmandu’s pagoda; a very proud architectural history that spread far away around Asia and our temples and buildings and in the remote villages which still tell us that proud story of Araniko. We have the Singha Durbar which still tell the story of Rana dynasty. We have the Janaki Temple which still tell us about the Rajputs and how different religions exchanged brilliant ideas in the past.

Pagoda: Our history tells us that Kathmandu valley’s indigenous Newars developed their own distinctive style of traditional architecture, of which the multi-tiered “pagoda” temple is the most famous and young Araniko spread the building’s artisans’ fame far and wide – even to the court of Kubilai Khan of Beijing. Kasthamandapa in the heart of Kathmandu could probably be the best example of pagoda. The pagoda has then spread everywhere in Nepal, especially in the hilly regions’ Hindu/Buddhist temples and Shah King’s courts such as in Gorkha and Nuwakot.

Ranas: Then centuries after Pagoda, came neo-classical architecture derived from the architecture of Classical Greece and the architecture of the Italian architect Andrea Palladio; the Singha Durbar of Chandra Sumsher. These types of architecture were resembled in most of famous Rana era buildings in Kathmandu valley such as Sital Niwas and few buildings outside valley such as Rani Mahal in Palpa.

Rajputs: Along the few iconic buildings outside Kathmandu is Ram Janaki Temple, in Janakpur; a Rajput architecture in southern plains of Nepal which is mix of classical-neo classical architecture and Islamic–Hindu architecture.

Hilly Region: From those iconic architectures, Nepali society has adapted mainly pagoda buildings as form of temple all over hilly region. If we look at the dwellings in hilly region of Nepal we see resemblance of pagoda in most houses as the form of multiple eaves. In the hilly region where weather conditions are windy and occur heavy monsoon rain, the multiple eaves are very handy to protect the walls and main structure which is usually mud-stone and timber. This could be the reason behind the popularity of this kind of architecture everywhere in hill Nepal.

What does our modern buildings tell us?

Modern Cities: But the dwellings in cities in Nepal tell different story, a sad story of loss of identity and disconnection from our history. In modern cities in Nepal, the only form of architecture is haphazard concrete structure that neither reflect our history nor support the weather conditions, nor are sustainable and energy efficient. The destruction of our identity started as soon as the Rana rule was over and Nepal became more open. The trade with India and open boarder meant exchange of ideas and goods. Then came the concrete jungle which is slowly eating our history, culture and more importantly health of the inhabitant.

Regulation: As, I was looking in internet if there was any national (Federal) level building regulation in Nepal, the official government twitter handle replied that “We don’t have any national building regulation in the form of statute/law but there are “code of conduct” developed in local level.” This reply shows how much disorganised, helter-skelter and lawless direction “New Nepal” is heading. Along with the buildings in Kathmandu and major cities in Nepal, we are slowly losing our identity and health too. Just like our cities, our Nepali identity is becoming more hypocritical; we talk about Madheshi identity but destroy the Mithila heritage and replace with concrete jungle, we talk about the Newari identity but destroy the pagoda and replace with concrete jungle.

The concrete jungle in Kathmandu is unsuitable for the weather condition and causing health crisis in the habitants. There is need of research on it but from observation and experience I can say that the concrete house which freezes in winter and roasts in summer is killing its inhabitants. The haphazard neighbourhood and living spaces is causing mental, social and physical problem to its inhabitants.

Future: There is still time to save our identity in our buildings and in our cities. The dwellings which our ancestors designed and developed are not just identity but also suitable for weather condition and will keep us healthy. The Federal government must act now and develop a clear, precise and applicable and sustainable national housing regulation. This should immediately be followed by the national and local governments. It is the time architectures, historians, public health professionals and conservationists come together and voice for a Federal, national and local housing regulation that is sustainable, healthy and expresses our Nepali identity that’s reflected in Kasthamandapa, Singha Durbar, Shwyambhu and Janaki Temple.