As another year comes to an end, it is time to look back and see what it meant and how impactful it was. When it comes to culture and heritage, 2022 was eventful with some opportunities to witness once-in-a-lifetime events in new possibilities along with some old complaints and controversies.
So here are some key cultural events and heritage controversies of 2022, to look back at.
1. Panauti’s Makar Mela amid Covid after 12 years
Makar Mela is one of those cultural events that happen only once every 12 years in Panauti of Kavre, situated some 32 km southwest of Kathmandu. The latest edition officially started on January 15, 2022 (Saturday) and was conducted for the whole month, till February 12.
Makar Mela was special this year because, with the impending threat of the new Covid wave, the festival was about to be cancelled. Kavre’s Covid management committee was all set to tell the organising committee not to hold the festival. Yet, the local devotees decided to hold it. Following the health protocols, as much as possible, they held the festival.
But the debate on whether to hold the festival created one of the debated heritage controversies of 2022.
2. Hitis of Kathmandu recognised globally
In March 2022, the heritage sites of Kathmandu received worldwide attention when the World Monuments Fund (WMF) listed the hitis of Kathmandu valley in the 2022 World Monuments Watch. It was encouraging news for the ongoing heritage conservation movements in the city.
The selection was made from among 227 nominations from around the world. Nepal’s Chiva Chaitya Organisation had nominated the hitis of Kathmandu for recognition.
It was the news that skipped controversy, realising the tension from all other heritage controversies of 2022.
3. Kasthamandap’s new controversy
In 2022, Kasthmandap once again landed itself in a new controversy adding itself to the list of heritage controversies of 2022. While the landmark awaited official inauguration after its post-earthquake reconstruction, the efforts of the Kasthamandap Reconstruction Committee to make a completely new idol instead of restoring the destroyed statues created a huge debacle. The statues in question were the idol of Gorakhnath placed in the middle of the temple and four other Ganesh idols in the four corners of the heritage site.
Public interest litigator Sanjay Adhikari filed a writ petition demanding the re-installation of the old idol. The court even gave an interim order to stop the new idol’s placement and also issued a show-cause notice.
Amid the controversy, however, President Bidya Devi Bhandari inaugurated Kasthamandap on April 4, 2022.
4. Not a good year for idols
While some idols were getting attention for their cultural importance, a few idols fell victim to vested interests. Consistent concerns of locals and heritage activists created heritage controversies in 2022.
A Lichhavi-era (c 450–750 CE) statue was stolen from the Balkumari temple in Sunakothi of Lalitpur on January 23, 2022. According to them, the statue had been lifted by cutting nine padlocks and breaking four gates.
Unusually, a cash prize of Rs 500,000 was also set as a reward for the people who inform the whereabouts of the idol. Eventually, the idol was recovered after nearly three weeks of theft, on February 11, 2022. The statue was found near a temple behind the Classic Tower of Khumaltar, Lalitpur.
Another heritage theft was reported in Kalimati of Kathmandu: a 200-year-old Kamadev statue was stolen from Kalimati on April 7, 2022. The two-foot statue was believed to be placed there by the army of Bhimsen Thapa around 200 years ago. The idol has not been recovered.
Yet another idol was reported stolen in November end from Jayakumari Balkumari temple in Lele, Lalitpur. In this incident, two people were caught on CCTV stealing the idols from the main temple area. However, the thieves have not been arrested.
However, police arrested a woman for breaking a Malla-era stone inscription, placed there during the reign of Pratap Malla in the late 1640s, at Kathmandu Durbar Square on January 7, 2022. Police arrested the woman after going through CCTV footage.
5. Some stolen idols repatriated or reinstalled
Just at the beginning of 2022, things looked promising though. An idol of Padmapani Lokeshwar or Avalokiteshwar stolen 40 years was restored at Shankar Kirti Mahabihar of Naxal. In the first week of January, locals welcomed and restored the idol that was stolen somewhere around the 1970s.
The stolen idol in question has been identified to be made during the 12 or 13th century. It is made of stone and is four-metre tall. After it was stolen, the idol spent its longest time at the National Museum of Nepal in Chhauni.
Nonetheless, stolen idols and poor responses from the government and security personnel have been one of the key concerns among heritage activists, including all heritage controversies of 2022.
Meanwhile, the Consulate General of Nepal and the Rubin Museum of Art (New York) jointly announced on January 11, 2022, that they were repatriating two art objects from Rubin’s permanent collection to Nepal. The artefacts include the upper section of a frieze/torana (17th century) and a garland-bearing flying Apsara/Gandharva (14th century). It was lost from the main door of Yampi Mahavihara in Lalitpur. According to museum officials, the artwork arrived at the museum in 2010.
The flying Apsara, on the other hand, was stolen from Keshchandra Mahavihara, Itumbahal in Kathmandu, in 1999 and ended up in the museum’s collection in 2003.
6. Unforgettable loss: Satya Mohan Joshi died at 103
Shatabdi Purush or the Man of the Century, Satya Mohan Joshi, passed away on October 16, 2022. The legendary historian and cultural scholar was 103 years old when he breathed his last.
Joshi was undergoing treatment at Kist Medical College and Teaching Hospital after suffering from dengue infection. Besides other age-triggered ailments, he was also suffering from heart and prostate problems.
Joshi was born in Patan on May 12, 1920. He has received Madan Puraskar, Nepal’s most prestigious literary award, three times.
His death was truly an unforgettable loss for Nepal as there would not be another great custodian of Nepali history, culture, art, and literature as Joshi.
7. Heritage activists’ feud at Chusya Baha
When it was revealed that the Kathmandu metropolitan city intended to construct a commercial complex instead of restoring the ages-old phalcha and lachhi at Chusya Baha, Jyatha, heritage activists sprung into action and condemned the act, adding to the heritage controversies of 2022. Locals also filed a written complaint about the encroachment of a 353-year-old lachhi, an open communal space next to a phalcha.
Following the complaint, the Department of Archaeology said it started excavating to determine if there was a phalcha there.
A stone inscription of 788 Nepal Sambat (1667 CE) present at the baha says that lachhi space was bestowed to the vihara by one Gunajyoti Bajracharya, the founder of Gunakar Mahabihar.
While heritage activists said the place has the remains of a phalcha along with an inscription inside Chusya Baha, the local youth club and ward office were adamant that there is no such proof, existing in and around the place.
8. Concerns over Sundhara
The Raman Construction Company landed in controversy after it was condemned for bulldozing the structures around the historic Sundhara. It was making a huge trench behind Sundhara in a bid to set up a water tank capacious to store 100,000 litres of water, being subjected to yet another criticism.
It was also one of those heritage controversies of 2022 that gained the massive interest of the stakeholders given the already much-criticised construction of Dharahara.
On December 12, 2022, Kathmandu Mayor Balen Shah expressed concerns regarding the bulldozing taps of Sundhara. He said Sundhara needed to be preserved as it was a historic and cultural asset.
Following the protest of the locals, Shah expressed concern about why the city government was not informed while the historic structure of over 100 years was demolished.