After the fall of Swayambhunath Stupa
With a history of 1500 years, the Swayambhunath Temple, also called the ‘Monkey Temple’, has been famous for the sacred monkeys. As the oldest Buddhist monument, it was the symbol of Buddhism and Nepalese beliefs in Kathmandu. However, it collapsed in the 7.8-magnitude earthquake on April 25th and has been a scene of ‘cremation’ since then.
‘The quake flattened houses, cultural heritages and national monuments, to make matters worse, rendering the loss of countless innocent lives.’ Raj, a 23-year-old ordinary Nepalese who survived the catastrophe, said ‘It seemed that homes and hearts of thousands of people were broken by the powerful quake and a series of strong aftershocks.’
According to the officials, the earthquake caused about 5,500 deaths and 11,000 people injured. More than 130,033 houses were also destroyed and 85,856 houses were partially damaged.
The temples and shrines fell with a crash to the ground, many of which were centuries old and irreplaceable cultural treasures. The street that was always bustling with worshippers, locals and tourists were still crowded, but in silence. The images of the devastation became more prevalent in Nepal.
People were too afraid to enter their houses. Children had to stop playing and all I could hear was the echo of ‘ayo ayo’ (earthquake is here). ‘We survivors slept outside those days but we were still lucky enough. After all, many people inside the houses didn’t make it out. Some were still lying in the rubble and have started stinking.’ Raj said.
There was a lack of food, water, tents and medical assistance. People were panic-stricken and chaos was everywhere especially at the airport. People from other countries waited in long-winding queues to escape from Kathmandu as soon as possible. Nepalese government was highly dysfunctional owing to the low level of preparation. However, it was extremely quiet despite there being so many people.
They left home to find peace. In their eyes, courage replaced fear and smile displaced tears. ‘Everyone was in trauma and constant fear, especially after the second quake. The feeling of sadness, horror and despair overwhelmed as the tragedy unfolds. But amid the chaos and disaster, Nepali people were still standing strong. It was not long before Nepalese slowly returned to normalcy.’ Raj said.
Why are Nepalese peaceful when facing such a disaster?
Maybe it’s about faith. Maybe it’s about culture. Maybe you want to know the answer, so do I.
‘I was at Tea Café near my home with my friend Dhurba when the quake was happening.’ Raj recalled, ‘We rushed home without doubt. On our way we saw a woman pinned down by house rubbles. We managed to save her with the help of some strangers, he told me with a long-lost smile in his face.
Raj’s house had essentially imploded. The roof had caved in and the walls inside had collapsed. He used ‘disaster’ to describe the condition that I could even imagine.
Fortunately, except for his missing father, his other family members didn’t get injured. He couldn’t get touch with him.
‘I was totally afraid of that something horrible had happened to my father. I rushed to the Bir hospital where my father works, without any public transportation, alone. A little tremble with his body ‘Thank God, everything was OK and other volunteers and I set up a team named I to We Team to help others in the hospital.’
‘The scope of damage is unimaginable but I still spare no effort to save people’s lives, just like other Nepalese do.’
For some Nepalese, home doesn’t exist anymore. However, they were still doing as much they can to help others. Where there was no government assistance, there were youths mobilizing and bringing life-saving suppliers, food, blankets and compassion to people. Those young people were all ordinary Nepalese, some of whom had lost their friends and families.
Some temporary tents have been provided for Nepalese and they all speared their efforts to save each life. Photo: Getty Images
‘The disaster didn’t bend our knees’, Raj told me ‘We had lost hope in everything except God. God had predestined it and he knew about it. I didn’t worry about the damage while this was going to further strengthen people’s faith in God, and they are all willing to trust the Almighty for bringing everything back in order. I do feel fear, but I prefer to choose peace and faith.’
Lumbini is a small beautiful town in Central Nepal, and is the birthplace of Lord Buddha Siddhartha Gautama, also called the ‘Buddhist Bethlehem’. In Nepal, there are approximately 2.4 million people identified as Buddhist, occupying a tenth population of this country. In addition, nearly 80 percent of Nepalese are Hindu. In Nepal, Buddhism is largely intertwined in religious and cultural practice.
In their view, God means Buddha while Buddha means everything. Many Nepalese saw the quake as a test of their faith, even if their shrines and sacred temples were also flattened. It is a kind of fatalism in their own hearts. Buddha tells disciples to make the world auspicious through inner practice and good karma.
‘Faith is believing. We don’t need proof that Buddha is real, because we have faith that he is.’ when Raj told me in a peaceful but very firm voice, as if there was never an earthquake, but only Buddha.
Apart from people like Raj doing other’s favor, some survivors prayed for earthquake-stricken Nepal. They prayed for peace not only in the devastated country, but also in their own hearts. In fact, they had to struggle for food, shelter and life at that time, but it’s also clear that the face on which you see a fear of death and pain of loss of family and home is the same face with a strong sense of hope and peace.
‘Faith and self-rescue were far from enough when facing such a disastrous earthquake. We expected to receive help from the government, but we got nothing, not even a single bottle of water.’ Raj said, ‘We all have been accustomed to it. We must save ourselves.’
Historically, the politics in Nepal is volatile, including a long civil war that ended only recently. Especially, the Royal Family of Nepal including the Excellence King, the Queen, Crown Prince and Princess was massacred in 2001, which further led to a social and political chaos. In addition, landlocked geographic location, susceptibility to natural disaster and weak economy exacerbated this situation.
All of these make Nepalese live in the abyss of suffering, but with the help of faith, they never felt dissatisfied and complained about the life even if they were suffering this unprecedentedly disastrous quake. They lived in order and bounced back from predicament, with strong will power. They may be shocked and scared now, but they will pull themselves from the rubble and rebuild again.
Michelle, once served as CEO of an American enterprise and quitted everything to go to Nepal, is one of the best witness. ‘This part is the best thing I’ve ever done’ she said, ‘I was living in a comfortable apartment. I had a decent husband, successful business and a lovely family. But I always felt lonely. Not until much later when arriving at Nepal did I realize it is the faith, totally distinguish from God from Christian.
She lived under one roof with an ordinary Nepali family and watched nine members pack themselves into one room, sleep side-by-side and made the other room for her. But their laugh is so sincere that makes her wonder who says they are not happy.
‘Buddhists believe in reincarnation and inner peace, which seemed ridiculous to me at first’, she explained ‘Surprisingly, I went there for peace but ended up facing nature’s fury. I was definitely in constant fear and trembled, but when I saw what Nepalese did, I deeply felt the power of faith. Everyone tried, did their best and smiled in the face of death.’ She said that faith gave them power when facing a catastrophe.
Nepal is still in shambles. The buildings are still hanging on by a thread. People still struggle to survive physically and mentally. Raj’s heart is still fluttering with fear. However, the power of faith has never been brighter.
While the Swayambhunath Stupa, symbol of Buddhism collapsed, faith still lives in people’s hearts forever.