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Watch Day: Chivas and Chaityas, Nepal

After a month and a half of delay, the Watch Day featuring the Chivas and Chaityas of the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal was successfully held on October 3rd at Swayambhunath temple. The event welcomed more than 50 young people for site cleaning activities and expert-led tours of the chivas and chaityas (shrines), all conducted under strict COVID-19 safety measures. Photographic displays featuring the history of the shrines helped raise awareness of the challenges to their preservation, while interactive activities invited children and adults alike to reflect on the significance of the chaityas and their preservation. 

Throughout the day, attendees learned how to carefully clean mold and remove plants on the chaityas under the direction of a local mason. The Watch Day served as an opportunity to showcase the work to preserve the shrines as well as to educate the public on COVID and related safety measures, demonstrating the potential of heritage preservation as a way to tackle a variety of global challenges. 

The chivas and chaityas shrines were included on the 2020 Watch in support of the local movement to protect them from encroaching urban developments and battle the loss of public space for the inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley. Originally erected in memory of deceased family members in the fifth century, chaityas often resemble miniature buildings. Over time, they have become the focus of public worship by the Newar People and they can now be found across Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley in public and semi-public spaces.

Threatened by rapid urbanization, the shrines have inspired citizens to come together in an effort to build a reliable database of the chaityas locations, conditions, and history. Awareness raising and public engagement activities organized during the Watch Day will serve to galvanize support and provide impetus for a deeper engagement with the chivas and chaityas of the Kathmandu Valley.