My pantheon – destroyed for happiness

Published on May 28 2011 // Untold Story
By Santi Ram Poudel

I had the privilege to live with my fourth generation above, my great grandmother, in her late eighties; almost visually impaired, was our symbolism and strength. Most people during her time had limited life expectancy and longer age was believed to be the engraved fate during the birth. Among many hardships and other physical challenges, she had tough time adjusting while going to the toilet  due to the reason of open field defecation practice that was too common at the side of terrace. Some one had to assist her to reach the spot and provide with proper signals for the presence of any stranger in order to hide her from the disgrace. She was not having teeth and while eating, she had to knead the food to tiniest possible by her hand, and by the time she put the food on her mouth, she would begin to swallow.

While in home, she would always occupy the main bed area – mud floor space adjacent to fire that was cushioned by hay mat and sheeted by hand woven woolen rug. In that stage, her regular time pass would be to hymn slokas (rhymes) both religious and other themes in a decent tone. Some such slokas were used by the proficient practitioners at different level of social and cultural occasions, mostly asking questions followed by appropriate answers.  She was illiterate but she could keep all those complex rhymes in her mind and tone them one after the other. While enjoying the heat of fire during the cold winter nights she used to tell the stories ranging from moral conclusions, deadly and frightful ghost stories, others used to be the heroic deeds and we as playoff kids would keep her tight in inquisitiveness. And, with or without comparative studies she used to advice all as saying ‘Bhu-u-thang (Bhutan) is a secular granary, here no crimes and no bad people. We used to turn off our deaf ears during her education piece without giving the weight of her analysis.

We had an extended family, all housed a three storied building built by her husband and my great grandfather in 1931 AD. My great grandfather was renowned for his high quality workmanship in woodworks, masonry and handicrafts.  The legendary here is that grandfather, who died at 79 in 2001 in the refugee camp in Nepal, was just nine and contributed some manual works for kneading mud during the construction of that house.

Before the construction of that house, the family used to live on the same foundation with less stable or semi permanent structure – people would recognize that spot as maatch ghar (middle house) probably due to its location in that pattern of settlement. My pantheon, the maatch ghar had become the landmark on that territory, both in volume and style. There is no doubt that this was a marvelous house as per time and place, complete in itself.

Details of the house
The building arts, more than any other forms of material cultures are intrinsically site oriented and speak the volume of facts. This house was an old residence, well built and somewhat ornately decorated. It had a simple rectangular plan and the house stood elegantly on a rectangular rubble stone plinth of about two feet orienting in east-west direction that responded friendly with the climate. It had two feet thick rubble stone masonry walls, mortared and plastered with mud to give the surface a better finishing.

Details of front wooden post/Sketch by the writer

East the main facade was given emphasized by elements and its design. The front canopy had free style three paired wooden post, detailed with ornamentation at the upper half that held the beam taking the super-load from above. The front beam was well carved with the inscriptions of gods and goddesses. The front door was double leafed wooden framed and was richly carved with the diagrams of the sun and moon. Three windows at the first floor were highly evolved in wood detailing. The middle one had full sized peacock carving in its shutter. All around first floor had the balcony, standing on the wooden joist projections from the first floor level. Further, the wooden grills of the balcony were patterned in order or repetition.

From the third floor, there were projections of sloping wooden struts that support the overhanging roof pitched on walls, balanced in gradient both for functional purpose as well as for aesthetic point of view. Such a construction shows the abundant use of local indigenous technology and the system was the combination of load bearing wall at its exterior, the central portion with the post and beam system. Locally made iron nails fastened posts and beams where as the others members were fixed by wooden pegs.

There were two similar types of houses in whole Dagapela, one owned by Dal Bahadur Kafley at lower Goshi block and other at Suntoley block built by Karmi (mason) Nar Bahadur Dahal but those two houses were less ornamented and less dominating, and probably constructed in later periods.

Present condition
All the families of Lalidhapper, a small hamlet that gave livelihood to 26 peasant families were compelled to move out of the line of control. As a result, the whole settlement was once again reforested, suiting for the animal herders. The properties and the conditions of the house were thoroughly recorded after proper investigation by Jengo Drukpa, the defacto gup (village head) and block member TB Bhattarai on the very day of our eviction.

Later we learnt that this house become the summer capital of such local government officials. They used the house without timely maintenance resulting in the most dilapidating stage by the virtue of its construction materials. The house had sustained till 1997 AD but in that year the roof was blown off. In 1998, the users pulled down the upper two floor walls and left leveled to first floor only. Even they burnt down all the wooden elements without considering the value of those structures. In 2005, even the first floor wall also collapsed and only the foundation is left at present. Whether such demolition occurred intentionally or not, tragically my ancestry house of decent was destroyed with no mercy.

My understanding
Our ancestry especially in this territory had spent their valuable life for the survival part than contributing for the material part of significance. It was an era when the repute was indexed by the number or sons or the number of cattle tails in one’s herds; whoever can produce the bull with bigger oxbow can dominate the influential territory. As a result, hardly one can see or find the artifacts, if existed also in very fragile nature that limits the durability of the materials. Mostly their input limits to the values up to family linage but not above the group hierarchy.

Even without pre-conditions, evolution of building culture didn’t flourish well and residential type of houses was less noticed, both in scale and design. Such fragmented and scattered objects are the cultural elements that form the part and parcel of typology especially during the situation of crisis. Most of our oral cultures from generations couldn’t materialize either by discouragement or insufficient resources remained all unaccounted, indeed.

Shifting culture and rural pattern of human settlement in small, sparsely and disintegrate fashion did not permit to form larger groups and institutionalize them. Insightfulness of the people due to illiteracy also mounted and limited for collectiveness. Thus, the institutionalized system set up could capitalize in a better way that may result to the sense of space. Contextually, some rudimentary studies and misleading findings guided the authorities to look this aspect in a scalar dimension.  However, instead of preserving the existing ones, some silence replacement trend by injecting certain unmatched elements had purposefully subdued the morphology. When such places lost the original characteristics, the value become less significant, and this approach had promoted to renaming those places. The flourishing trend reached to a sorrowful stage. These areas were never made the habitat by the northerners in the due course of history may be due to sense of fear, lack of trust with the immediate neighbors or the adoptability related to climatic factors and our people were first to own such lands before they converted into livable area.

My pantheon was totally misused without giving the essence and charm of such amazing structures. Functional alternation as per need and time should retain the original identity. Until and unless we all realize the value of our antiquities, free from selective mechanism, we shall remain incomplete in the world of diversification.