Kathmandu’s first-ever Buddhist chaitya excavation

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When Qatar’s Minister of State and candidate for the UNESCO Director-General Hamad Al Kawari visited the Buddhist shrine of Swayambhu in February 2017, he was surprised.

“Allah, Allah!”

A UNESCO consultant who was at the shrine that day remembers. “Why, what happened?” the UNESCO consultant had asked Kawari, who would go on to lose the race to France’s Audery Azuley.

“Well, this inscription bears the name of Allah,” the Saudi dignitary had said looking at coins recovered from one of the chaityas (a Sanskrit term for a mound or pedestal or ‘funeral pile’) damaged beyond repair at Swayambhunath, one of the most important Buddhist shrines affected by the 2015 quake.

The Swayambhunath Stupa complex, which overlooks the ancient lake, now called the Kathmandu Valley, was one of the Buddhist-Hindu holy sites in the city that sustained massive damage. Although the main shrine, the ‘Mahachaitya’, withstood the shake that day, other shrines on the Swayambhu complex could not. According to the Swayambhu Mahasamiti, the federation of NGOs working to preserve the UNESCO World Heritage site, six monumental structures on the complex were damaged beyond repair and more than 21 other structures sustained damages.