Job Not Done

Text by Anil Chitrakar / Photo: ECS Media

Just north of the historical town of Bhaktapur is the temple complex of Changu Narayan, one of the seven UNESCO recognized World Heritage Sites in the Kathmandu valley. The site is slowly but surely becoming popular to local and international visitors but is definitely not getting the kind of attention some of the other sites in the valley are now getting. Sand mining and land degradation at the bottom of the Changu hillock poses one of the biggest threats to this ancient heritage site. Deforestation and land encroachment are also on the rise all around. It is encouraging to see small craft shops now coming up along the stone paved steps leading to the main temple. The view from this vantage point is quite spectacular on all sides.

The Changu Narayan temple complex is a beautiful space where we should spend some quality time to really take a closer look at some of the best pieces of stone artwork in the valley and the country. Most of the icons are representations of the various incarnations of Vishnu. In this same space we will also see an incomplete stone elephant. It is a strange sight indeed and one cannot help but speculate why there are beautifully crafted stone elephants on the steps of the Narayan temple, and why this one is left incomplete. The common and popular answer we are given upon inquiry with the locals is that the work on this particular piece of stone stopped when it began to “bleed”.

If you take a closer look at the incomplete stone elephant at Changu Narayan, you will notice that a lot of work had already been put into it. The temple and surrounding stone art were built and installed in the 4th century when Licchavi ruler Manadeva was in power. Like many similar structures in the Kathmandu valley, there is no doubt that this temple has been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times. It is even more interesting therefore to try and find out why this one elephant remains incomplete. The challenge is that the “bleeding stone elephant” theory does not hold any water with visitors or young minds that seek logic.

Just as it is difficult to explain why a “job” was not completed 1500 years ago, future generations of Nepalis are going to wonder why we were not able to complete the constitution for Nepal in 2010. Perhaps creative people will invent a wonderful story that will become folklore, and ultimately an integral part of the rich oral tradition of Nepal. Back to the elephant, did they have labour problems in those days? Is there a chance that the people working on the temple were not paid or paid poorly and they went on STRIKE? Is it possible that when the situation was finally resolved, the workers left this incomplete elephant as a reminder? Did the craftspeople working on the piece fall sick or even die? Did others after them also face the same fate?  Please visit Changu and take a closer look..