Nepal Tragedy: Devastating Loss of Human Life and Ancient Heritage
At least 4,000 people have been killed and more than 100,000 left homeless in the worst earthquake to have hit Nepal in more than 80 years. Along with the ever growing loss of life, the disaster has obliterated numerous ancient landmarks, including former royal dwellings and Buddhist and Hindu temples. While the tragic human impact overshadows the destruction of ancient buildings, the cultural loss is also devastating.
A few of Kathmandu’s destroyed buildings and structures were UNESCO World Heritage sites, some dating back many centuries.
A Buddhist temple, the Syambhunaath Stupa, built 1,500 years ago sustained severe damage. The huge, white Dharahara Tower built in 1832, crumbled to the ground. The Daily Mail reported that scores of people trapped inside the tower died. Palaces and Hindu temples were in ruins.
Dharahara Tower was built in 1832 by the prime minister, for his niece, the queen of Nepal. It stood 200 feet tall. (Associated Press photo)
One entire village was devastated by the earthquake, which struck a broad region. People are afraid to go into their homes in case of another quake, and aftershocks have been felt in the region.
CNN reported that temples outside Kathmandu were relatively untouched by damage but two famous Hindu temples were in rubble:
When the earthquake hit, many of Nepal's most renowned pagodas in and around Kathmandu crumbled into rubble-covered stumps. Others were smothered under splintered hand-carved wooden beams or multi-level rooftops… The worst architectural losses have included the majestic Shiva temple pagoda and its twin, the Narayan temple pagoda, which dominated Kathmandu's main Durbar Square. … the two pagodas have been obliterated and the scene comprises pathetic piles of rubble, a bulldozer shoveling a path for vehicles, shocked and miserable witnesses and a sense of irreplaceable visual and spiritual loss.
The Shiva temple, called Pashupatinath Temple, is one of the most important temples in all of Hinduism and is visited by multitudes every year. Pasupathi is a name of the great Hindu God Shiva in his manifestation as Lord of Animals. Tradition says the temple was built in the third century BC.
“Pashaputi Temple's extensive grounds include many other old and important temples, shrines and statues,” says a webpage at Sacred Destinations. “South of the temple, for instance, is Chadeshvar, an inscribed Licchavi linga from the 7th century, and north of the temple is a 9th-century temple of Brahma. On the south side of Pashupati temple is the Dharmashila, a stone where sacred oaths are taken, and pillars with statues of various Shah kings.”
The video below displays the ancient beauty of the Narayan Temple pagoda, one of Kathmandu’s sacred Hindu sites dedicated to Vishnu, before the damage caused by the earthquake.
The Narayan Temple dates to the fifth century AD. It is one of seven UNESCO World Heritage sites in Kathmandu Valley.
The earthquake destroyed much of the Swayambhunath Stupa complex, but its iconic golden tower still stood. There may have been structures on the grounds of the Buddhist temple since the fifth century AD, making it one of the oldest Buddhist shrines in Kathmandu. The Buddha is thought to have lived around 2600 BC.
Known as the monkey temple, the Swayambhunath Stupa complex was largely destroyed except for its iconic golden tower. A monk surveys the damage. (EPA photo)
“A collection of legends about the site, the 15th century Swayambhu Purana, tells of a miraculous lotus, planted by a past Buddha, which blossomed from the lake that once covered Kathmandu valley,” says the website Sacred Sites. The lotus mysteriously radiated a brilliant light, and the name of the place came to be Swayambhu, meaning 'Self-Created or Self-Existent'. Saints, sages and divinities traveled to the lake to venerate this miraculous light for its power in granting enlightenment.”
Manjusri, one of Buddhism’s great heroes and a bodhisattva, had a vision of the Swayambhu light and flew on his lion from China to Nepal to worship the lotus. Legend says he thought if the water were drained, it would be more accessible. So with a sword he cut a gorge into the mountain, draining the water and leaving Kathmandu Valley. The lotus became a hill, and the light of the lotus became the stupa.
The ancient buildings will most likely be rebuilt and restored. For now, relief efforts are focusing on providing aid and medical care to the survivors. A massive humanitarian effort will be crucial to keep the broken nation from falling into an even more tragic situation.
Featured image: The Patan Durbar Square, one of four plazas that remain that were home to the Nepalese royal family, before and after the earthquake.
By Mark Miller