by wowmagazine

Amidst the hustle and bustle of anexpanding city, the ancient aesthetics of Newari culture graces Patan Durbar Square which lies in the heart of Lalitpur. The exquisite outlay of temples, statues, and the palace are the hallmark of the Malla era, dating back to the rule from 10th to 18 century.Patan is listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1979.

While learning about our ancestral history, architecture, culture, and the restoration and preservation projects in Nepal, I came across Babu Ratna Maharjan who is currently responsible for the restoration of the metal crafts of Patan Durbar Square. Babu with his team is under the assistance of Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust which is an international organisation working to safeguard the architectural history of Kathmandu Valley since 1991. 

Babu is working to revive ancient craftsmanship and has 27 years of experience in metal crafts. Babu has worked to restore important statues and architecture like the window of Kumari Ghar, Yantaju shrine and Taleju Bhawani of Patan, besides many other historical and cultural projects.

Through his journey of work, Babu talks about his love for metalwork and restoration, and what our country lacks in preservation.

Reflecting on his early days, Babu recalls, “Learning was not easy at that time. We had limited resources and only a few wanted to mentor us. What I did was observe and apply. I used to spend hours observing other metal smiths while they worked, and would then apply the same methods while I practiced my art.” Babu is self-taught and has not received any formal training or guidance. He was driven by curiosity and his surroundings played a huge role in igniting his passion for metalwork. Babu says, “I grew up watching metal smiths fabricate metal into works of art and I was simply enchanted.” 

In the continuous process of learning and relearning things, Babu mastered the skill of creating exquisite metal crafts. From the first stage of sketching to the last stage of carving, he painstakingly works in a set motion to get the acquired result.

“Metalwork is a whole world on its own. Before I start working on a structure, I prepare a map. It helps me my work flow smoothly and the brain knows exactly where to go,” he explains and adds, “This art is a planned intervention which requires both mental and physical strength.”

Babu has been working on restoration projects for almost 22 years now. The architectural conservator who restores ancient crafts using traditional and modern techniques has to be careful in preserving the originality of the works. “The work that our ancestors put into building these designs is so rich in quality and technique. They have used mercury elements which are very rare. The details that they have used are very important when we remake the art or else it loses its essence,” he shares. 

There’s no doubt that Nepal is a storehouse of art, culture, tradition, nature and history. With 126 castes and ethnic groups, the country is a diverse field to explore. But as the nation heads towards development, the heritage structures built in ancient times lack the required awareness for their preservation, laments the artist.

Babu says, “A conservationist team from Austria came to visit Patan to study the designs and architecture here, but from our side, very few initiations have been taken. Nepal is still juggling to generate research-based programs for the future generation.” What Babu fears is that Nepal might lack skilled artisans if the government doesn’t take steps towards preserving our heritage.

“I think the next generation will probably not carry forward this profession for long. If only the government could secure a good framework for the youths, our country would not lose skilled manpower to foreign lands,” he shares. 

Babu takes pride in his work and gets satisfaction in the fact that he is preserving our identity. For him the respect and recognition that he gets is way above the monetary value. “One day I’ll grow old and my hands won’t be able to hold a hammer. But at least I won’t have any regrets,” he concludes.

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