The Bhimsen Mandir is located in Patan Durbar Square and is one of the the valley’s many historic temples, holding both the culture and history of Nepal and deep significance to its immediate community. It was built by Siddhi Narsingh Malla in 1627 AD (1684 BS/747 NS) and renovated by Sri Nivas Malla in 1682 (1739 BS/802 NS); Yog Narendra is believed to have changed the deity's statue in 1701 AD (1758 BS/821 NS). it has however, faced years of harsh weather that has weakened its infrastructure and it also sustained damage in the 2015 earthquake. As a result of this, steps are still being taken to rebuild the temple today. The Bhimsen Mandir reconstruction committee is currently restoring the temple to its former glory with the help of public donations and partnerships with other organizations. They are not just trying to restore the temple but to also give it a long-lasting foundation so further reconstruction does not have to happen in the future. I spoke to the President of the rebuilding committee, Krishna Lal Maharjan, who has dedicated his time to work towards this important venture, to ask him about the ancient history behind this temple and its ongoing reconstruction.
“The Bhimsen Temple is devoted to the God of business and trade” he begins. “The temple is from the time of Shri Nivas Malla who reconstructed the temple by hiring sculptors to build a very specific statue for the temple. The artists however, could not make the right expression on the statue, so King Malla got angry” he says. “But as the artists and sculptors remembered the King’s angry face, they made the expression of the statue resembling him which finally pleased him,” he continues, looking out from the window of his office, which has a corner view of the Mandir. According to legend, after the statue was built, a white light shone through the door of the temple, giving the street in front of the temple its current Nepali name.
The earthquake in April 2015 severely damaged the temple; there was concern that it might be a hazard for those living around it and was almost demolished as a result. “When this was said, all the different communities of Lalitpur (Jaypu, Tamrakar and Shakya) came together in hopes of reconstructing their history,” Krishna Lal Maharjan says. The responsibility had been given to the Indian government to rebuild the temples and monuments of that area including the Bhimsen Mandir, however, three years had passed and there had still been no efforts to rebuild it. “The community then voiced their concerns to me, as the President of the Lalitpur Chamber of Commerce, that if there would be another disastrous earthquake, all their heritage and antiquities would be lost. After much effort seeking authority to rebuild the temple, permission was finally given. Different groups and communities came together to convince the authorities and took it into their own hands to move forward with the rebuilding of the historical temple,” Maharjan says proudly.
When asked about how they funded the rebuild, he said: “We needed to restore our own history and with the help of many others who offered their materials to rebuild the temple, we have recently started construction on the temple.” Other communities of Kathmandu have also donated money for the temple, and their target is to finish the construction in the next two years. “We are honoring everyone who has helped fund the rebuild, as we can clearly see the community come together as one, and every donation counts. Recently, someone also placed a donation box outside the temple to help with the funds,” he says, looking towards the temple again. “If two centuries ago, our ancestors can rebuild this magnificent temple with just their hands, why can’t we do it in today's day and age?” he challenges. “When people look back at this temple, I hope they will be proud of what they have done to restore their heritage and culture”.
Everyone in the community has taken responsibility for the reconstruction of this temple. For example, someone has taken charge of the fixing of the roof, someone else for gathering the bricks and the wood. When I asked about the preservation of the old materials used in the temple, he explains, “We are trying to preserve as much of the old material of the temple as possible but new materials will be used for a long-lasting foundation.” They have also been documenting the rebuild and salvaging any original pieces of the temple that were there before, such as the statue that is inside it. If there is extra money at the end of the reconstruction, the money will go to funding the rebuilding of other temples around Patan.
Through the progress the committee has made with this temple, the team has learned that nothing is impossible. “We cannot wait for others to rebuild our country for us,” Maharjan says, “We must try and rebuild as a community and spread awareness about the many temples that are still yet to be rebuilt after the earthquake.”
While rebuilding this temple, traditions were also followed before demolishing any part of the building before the reconstruction. Maharjan says that “According to legend, we are not allowed to demolish a temple so when it came time to rebuild, a cow’s tail was tied to a brick and the brick was dropped to symbolize the old legend.” The community continues to keep the culture alive with these old traditions, so they can be remembered in the future. “We want awareness and us as Nepalis to rebuild our own history and to preserve our rich culture, through rebuilding Bhimsen Mandir I want to show everyone that anything is possible if done together.”
Krishna Lal Maharjan has dedicated his time to rebuild Bhimsen Mandir with the help of many others who understand the importance of history. This is a perfect example of the significance of a close community working together to rebuild their history themselves.