Perhaps the most famous landmark of Kathmandu, the Dharahara tower is no more.

What Did Dharahara Mean to You? (#NepalEarthquake)

Collapse of the Dharahara tower symbolized all quake-related devastations. But did the Bhimsen Stambha embody our pride and morale?

Soldiers and volunteers launched rescue efforts at the fallen Dharahara tower
Soldiers and volunteers launched rescue efforts at the fallen Dharahara tower

The #NepalEarthquake claimed thousands of lives. A million houses have been destroyed, most of them in rural villages. If there was a symbol of this destruction, it was the fall of the Dharahara tower. The tower’s collapse resulted in the death of more than one hundred fifty people. A few survived. This included some who were at the eighth floor circular balcony, enjoying the view of the city, when the quake hit.

Perhaps the most famous landmark of Kathmandu, the Dharahara tower is no more.
Perhaps the most famous landmark of Kathmandu, the Dharahara tower is no more. A pro-democracy rally in 2005.

Judging by the way people have reacted to the destruction of the eleven-story minaret with Shiva’s statue at the top, I feel that its collapse symbolized all quake-related devastations. It was as if Dharahara was somehow indestructible (though quakes had damaged it in the past too). “Even the Dharahara fell, can you imagine?,” was a typical reaction.

A man from Sikkim who had come to quake-hit Sindhupalchok with relief materials told journalist Kiran Bhandari, “We heard in the news that even the Dharahara had collapsed. We could only imagine what might have happened to Kathmandu. We were shocked.”

In most post-quake writings and social media comments, the Dharahara has been implicitly or explicitly portrayed as the pride and morale of the Nepali people. Images of the destroyed tower along with the words “we will rise” have been circulated widely. This show of affection to Dharahara greatly surprised me because the monument had largely been ignored.

After much reflection, I have reached the conclusion that the Dharahara did not represent the pride and morale of the Nepali people. Certainly not mine. My pride and morale didn’t fall along with the tower to the extent of saying ‘we will rise’ on the social media along with the image of the undamaged Dharahara.

It was made for and by the rulers. The commoners had no say in the way it was built and in the way it was used. The tower was not built for the general public to use it though it was opened to the commoners for climbing in 2005.

Having said that, the monument was the postcard representative of the city of Kathmandu. Indeed, in the hills where I was born and raised, Dharahara symbolized the city of Kathmandu.

“So what will you see in Kathmandu?” That was the question grown-ups asked kids who were about to leave for the capital.
“Dharahara!”, excited kids would scream back.
“So what did you see in Kathmandu?” Adults would ask kids who had just returned from the Valley.
“Dharahara!”, the kids would reply.

For many of us who lived in the distant villages Kathmandu began and ended with Dharahara. Yet, we could never relate to the monument. In the olden days, especially before the restoration of democracy in 1990, it was a really big deal for people in the villages like mine to be able to come to Kathmandu, even for a few days. To get an opportunity to go to Kathmandu, in those days, was the most exciting thing to kids– those who were fortunate enough to have guardians who could afford a visit to ‘Nepal. For those who couldn’t, the Bhimsen stambha, along with the Kathmandu city, was limited to the rhymes in the text books.

Kathmandu shahara [Kathmandu city]
Ghumna jane rahara [I wish to visit]

Like the city, the Dharahara tower too was far away.

Back in those days, other than symbolizing the city of Kathmandu, Dharahara didn’t mean anything to me. I didn’t know much about it.

Policemen guard the ruins of the fallen Dharahara
Policemen guard the ruins of the fallen Dharahara

On the #NepalEarthquake day, I reached Dharahara within 90 minutes, at 1:20pm. Soldiers and volunteers were busy rescuing those who had been trapped or buried in the debris. A few women were crying just outside the ruins. Their loved ones were inside the tower when it fell.

The next day, I went to Dharahara again. I made a round of the place where Dharahara once stood and noticed a signboard board that told the history of the tower. It also showed ‘now’ and ‘then’ photos of the tower: ‘now’ being before the earthquake and ‘then’ being before the 1934 earthquake. The ‘now’ had become ‘then’ already.

(Major part of this post was written within the first week of the 25th April earthquake.)

Dharahara destryed. The hoarding board shows the images of Dharahara- before the great earthquake of 1930 (then) and after it was rebuilt (now). This photo, taken a day after the #NepalEarthquake, depicts the ruins of the famed tower.
Dharahara destroyed. The hoarding board shows the images of Dharahara- before the great earthquake of 1930 (then) and after it was rebuilt (now). This photo, taken a day after the #NepalEarthquake, depicts the ruins of the famed tower.

2 thoughts on “What Did Dharahara Mean to You? (#NepalEarthquake)

  1. Reblogged this on nirjanasharma and commented:
    I had a Déjà vu that Dharahara had this fate

    I had a little knowledge about the Dharahara through textbooks before I came to Kathmandu for the first time in 2005. That year, government had opened Dharahara for commoners. Many of my friends who had come to Kathmandu had a plan to go to the top and view Kathmandu. I too had an excitement to climb the tower. Despite of my tight schedules in several campuses for entrance exam to get into higher education after SLC, I managed to go to Dharahara within the first week of my arrival in the Capital.
    But that attraction with the monument didn’t last long. Stepping over some 100+ staircase didn’t fill me with any joy, sense of achievement or pride to share with people. Rather the destructive thought, the fear of earthquake and being killed went across my mind on my way to the top of that cylindrical monument. It was thrilling that I had never seen down from that height in my life before. But I felt vulnerable at the balcony. Since that day, I felt Dharahara would not survive the strong jolt.
    I second time went to the top in 2012 when a Kathmandu-born friend of mine insisted to accompany her. Sandhya, on returning from her two years stay in Japan, had made me and three other friends- Binod, Yuvraj and Sabin join in her “adventure” to climb Dharahara.
    For me, the fear of being shaken and falling to the ground was even more this time. Less than a year before, I had already experienced the 6.8 magnitude tremor with epicenter at Taplejung/Sikkim border.
    Binod, my college time friend who also worked with me at the Post also talked about that quake while we peeped out to take a glimpse of major portions of Kathmandu. I saw Kathmandu merely like the piles of bricks in my second experience too. But this time I also noticed several giant structures. I guessed they were the high-rise buildings of Dhapasi, Gothatar, Kalanki and other places. This time Binod insisted four of us to get down after we spent nearly six-seven minutes at the balcony that had no wall support but only net-barred on the eighth floor.
    The 2011 quake had increased awareness level among people regarding the quake. The cover story on Himal Khabar Patrika with the photo- shopped image of Dharahara broken into three pieces also came across my mind. “What happened to Dharahara,” I had asked my colleagues at The Kathmandu Post, the paper I worked with at that time. After the escape from the life-threatening building of Kantipur Publication after the shock (the building was severely damaged in April 25 quake and now is being demolished).
    During 50 seconds of the Nepal Earthquake on April 25, Dharahara was probably the third thing I thought about. The reason could be my frantic psychology that Dharahara was fragile. It will fall down and kill many.
    First person I was concerned was my Vinaju who was at his home in Handigaun that Saturday. My di was with me at Balkot along with her new born. Looking at the one and half month old boy that my didi was carrying, it was obvious to think, how well is the father of this baby? In another corner of my heart was the concern for my boy friend. I was also worried whether he managed to take his ailing father out from the three storey-building. For a second I thought, can I ever see him again? The news of them being safe arrived to me soon.
    But my long time Déjà vu with Dharahara had come true. Binod, the Post guy dropped a message on facebook that Dharahara had collapsed. More than my psychology, it was the reality now. My fear with that monument since 2005 had come true claiming more than a hundred lives at once.
    However, I had also expected such a huge reaction from people on collapse of Dharahara. That was probably because most of the generation alive today, had not seen Kathmandu without Dharahara. At times, they failed to imagine not seeing Dharahara in Kathmandu anymore. Many of the commoners are not concerned with the historical background of the tower, I believe.

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