Post-Earthquake Recovery of Nepal’s Cultural Heritage: Restoration of the Radha Krishna Temple in Kathmandu

UNESCO, in collaboration with Nepal’s Department of Archaeology, has completed the rebuilding of the shikhara-style Radha Krishna Temple located at the confluence of the holy Bagmati and Vishnumati rivers at Teku in Kathmandu.

To mark the completion, a Jeev Nyas Puja, a ritual to restore the divinity is being organized on Thursday, 22 October 2020, in the presence of a minimum number of concerned stakeholders due to the current COVID-19 crisis.

The temple suffered massive structural damage during the 2015 earthquakes. The entire ground floor’s brick walls collapsed, revealing the damaged structural timber. Multiple peepal (ficus religiosa) plants growing in the temple also threatened the integrity of the structure. The daily puja of the temple had since stopped due to safety reasons.

Within the framework of the UNESCO-Hainan Province Cihang Foundation project for the ‘Recovery and rehabilitation of cultural heritage in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal’, the temple was successfully shored up and braced, thus saved from the verge of collapse.

Once secured, UNESCO conducted an in-depth study of the temple, including detailed architectural documentation and damage assessment. The study revealed serious deterioration of the supporting timber frame in the superstructure and cracks in the brick plinth walls. A detailed study of the previous restoration process and archaeological excavations helped in better understanding past interventions and the condition of its foundations. Based on the findings, a restoration plan was prepared.

The temple was carefully dismantled and systematically documented and rebuilt from the plinth. Each layer of exterior bricks of the tower structure was numbered and measured and was later replaced in their original positions. Artifacts, statues of the deities, and the pinnacle were safely stored under the priest’s care, and have now been re-installed, following rituals.

UNESCO prioritized the use of traditional materials in the rebuilding. A special traditional sealant called silay was used in the outer layer of the exposed brickwork, and wood and brick joints were recreated through consultations with local experts and sample testing. In addition, to ensure quality construction, an on-the-job training workshop was conducted at the site with the masons and contractor on the proper preparation, handling, and caring of the lime surkhi (brick-dust) mortar mix.

 

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