Around 50 years ago, after her wedding at the age of 21, Laxmi Prajapati moved to Madhyapur Thimi. Following the family tradition, the bride and her husband visited religious sites around the neighbourhood. One of the earliest religious visits as a newlywed couple was to Jetbarna Mahabihar in Dathu Baha.
For many years that followed, Prajapati visited the place almost every morning. As she grew ageing, the place also served as a place to spend leisure with other peers. “But with time, the place got deteriorated. Then the 2015 earthquakes also destroyed it and then people started ignoring it. And then, we also stopped coming here.”
But, now, the traditional community building is being reconstructed after a gap of six years and Prajapati is happy with the progress and is again hoping to start visiting it soon. The 72-year-old is happier because the reconstruction has been done in its original design with traditional materials and now she and other senior citizens will now have a place to gather.
The arduous process
The results have been more than satisfactory, but the process certainly was not, says Nanda Krishna Shrestha, the chair of the Dathu Baha Punarnirman Upobhokta Samiti (the reconstruction consumer committee). “As I remember the whole process now, it was the time when I learned the most in my life,” summarises Shrestha.
The main building of mahabihar, located some 400 metres north of Nigu Pukhu (or two ponds), was reconstructed with a budget of Rs 5.4 million. The reconstruction was completed within about five months of the last fiscal year. And it was to the initiation of Thimi Mayor Madan Sundar Shrestha that the reconstruction started.
Now, the next phase will include the reconstruction of adjacent buildings with a budget of about Rs 7 million. The authorities and locals are already halfway in construction and will complete within the current fiscal year, informs Shrestha.
For him, the most challenging part was the time itself. “The majority of the construction happened during the lockdown and that made it difficult for us, in every way. We had a fewer number of construction workers, so the locals joined hands and completed the work,” explains Shrestha who dirtied his hands in the mud for the construction too.
The lockdown also made the already difficult process to collect the materials arduous. “We used the traditional materials like yellow mud, handmade bricks and traditional wood for windows and joints. But, that was very hard to find,” Shrestha informs, “Not just to find them, but to collect them was equally hard. We had to collect the materials from outside Thimi and given it was during the lockdown, getting them delivered was hard. No one was ready to deliver and those who would, charged us more, so the expense just increased.”
But on the flip side, the lockdown also helped him find more time for the process. A lawyer by profession, Shrestha runs a full-time office in Anamnagar. So, personally and professionally, Shrestha could save time travelling and give time to the construction process and also his work [online].
The next challenge was the weather. “For the construction, we were using mud. But, the time coincided with the monsoon in Nepal, hence, the weather imposed much difficulty. The rain was not good for the mud, so we had to be in constant vigilance. We could not leave the construction site uncovered, or wait for the monsoon to end.”
Fighting and overcoming the hurdles, the reconstruction team completed the task on time. Shrestha says it was full of learning and probably, he says how the team works together in a construction process.
“We also learned about the kind of construction that was originally there. We did not disturb the base and with the old collection of photos, we recreated the architectural design for the site,” says Shrestha.
Significance of the Dathu Baha
Mahabihars are not commonly found in Thimi like in Kathmandu or Lalitpur. But, Jetbarna Mahabihar is one among the few standing ones of Thimi.
“According to the inscription at the place, it was set up in Nepal Sambat 832 (in the early 1710s AD), during the reign of Bhupatindra Malla. The site is proof that Buddhism flourished in Thimi,” briefs Shrestha.
Before the mahabihar turned into ruins, there were local Bajracharya priests who looked after the temple inside and the site. “But the local clan also did not engage here [in the temple] after the earthquakes and it was left unattended,” Shrestha says, “Yet people would still come here to treat their fussy children. There is an idol of Mahankal, in the premises, that is believed to treat the fussy children.”
Annually, the site is a must-visit during the Gunlaa festival, where devotees travel from bihars to bihars to pay respect to the deities.
The site is not just culturally important but socially too. “This compound is the only remaining mahabihar with open space and no personal residence in the compound.” Hence, following the reconstruction, the locals are sure to get a communal place where now they can hold gatherings and cultural events. “There is no space left where we can organise feast or gather. So with this, things will change,” assures Shrestha.
Behind the site falling, it seems that people are taking the place for granted. Shrestha, hence, has already put a plan in place for that. “During construction, we raised the height of the whole area with stairs at the entrance. It was not an original design, but it was necessary. If we had not done so, the mahabihar and its premises would have been the next easy parking spot for the locals and it would have been a victim of the modern lifestyle.”
The Dathu Baha once fell apart, but to not repeat such mistakes, Shrestha says, “We realise the mistake and soon it will have a monitoring team in place, as soon as the remaining construction is completed.”