Missing Rani Pokhari: Conditions for Alternative Futures in a Monument Destroyed
The loss of tangible heritage after the two major earthquakes of 2015 was immediately visible. However loss of heritage is not a definite category as destroyed monuments are not entirely absent but resonate. In this article I envision the missing as paradoxically present, foregrounding the future. Ruins leave room for interpretation as they refer to historical building practices and indicate as witnesses also past modification. With time the apparent original is not always easily established.
Missing a monument imprinted as memory or referred to in moments of nostalgia, relates the emotional dimension of heritage, one that can also be evoked by discovering new evidence, historical sources or even alternative pasts. Value given to particular heritage sites is not necessarily related to the value assigned to the same site before destruction. Loss can be realised in different ways by different groups, as it is not necessarily apparent.
In a monument, layers of the past with alternative interpretations predate those images imprinted in people’s memory. Alternative interpretation make tangible heritage part of a negotiated past, one that alike history is chosen and is not absolute. Studying material culture, one tends to forget the plurality of interpretation hiding behind the apparently ‘scientific evidence’ of archaeology backed by ‘historical facts’. When the past serves to imagine the future of destroyed monuments emotions can run high.
At Rani Pokhari we are confronted with many possible futures not only in the design of the pond and the temple but in the interpretation of a previously neglected site by many communities. Bhushan Tulsdhar created a powerful metaphor evoking the image of the 16th century pond turned through the use of concrete into something that looked like a ‘swimming pool deprecating its cultural and archaeological value’. Dipesh Risal on the other hand conjured up an imagined past in his fictionalised account of the creation of Rani Pokari while for others the drawing of Prince Waldemar of Prussia from the mid-19th century suggests a definite past, in the design of a shikara style temple.
When we describe change and loss as the beginning of new possibilities we can turn the focus from the destruction of heritage buildings onto the interpretative plurality of possible futures. Loss has the capacity to renegotiate values, to open options and unravel alternative pasts as well as futures.