Bhaktapur's Durbar Square was one of the many monument zones of the Kathmandu Valley's UNESCO World Heritage Property to suffer damage in the 2015 Gorkha Earthquake. As part of a UNESCO-sponsored mission, national and international experts from the Department of Archaeology, Government of Nepal, Durham University and the University of Stirling were mobilized to undertake post-disaster archaeological surveys and rescue excavations by the Government of Nepal and Bhaktapur Municipality in November 2015. The archaeological assessments have provided new evidence for the origins and development of Bhaktapur and the Vatsala Temple as well as providing guidance for the future protection of Bhaktapur's significant but vulnerable subsurface heritage.
The two earthquakes that struck Nepal on the 25th April and the 12th May 2015 were a human catastrophe, devastating large areas of the county and neighbouring regions and leading to substantial loss of life and livelihoods as well as post-disaster physical and mental trauma. This natural disaster, and its associated aftershocks also generated a cultural catastrophe, damaging and destroying parts of Nepal's unique cultural heritage as well as traditional structures throughout the historic settlement devastated.
Due to the importance of this heritage to the daily cycles of Bhaktapur's community, and in recognition of the income generated through tourism, there was widespread agreement that a program of reconstruction and conservation should be
swiftly launched. However, while much of the damage that one can see is above the ground, it was also recognised that there was an unintended risk of irreversible damage to Bhaktapur's subsurface heritage from post-earthquake interventions and development.
Earthquake Damaged Monu- ments in Bhaktapur's Dur- bar Square
Today, Bhaktapur's main Durbar Square forms a large open space, although it was not always empty of structures as watercolours painted by Henry Ambrose Oldfield in the 1850s and photographs in the early twentieth century show the two-storied Lampati sattal, which collapsed in the 1934 Bihar Earthquake. Indeed, Nepal's Rana rulers used the impact of the earthquake as an opportunity to dramatically remodel the Durbar Square as an open arena by choosing not to rebuild the Lampati or the octagonal Chyasin Mandap, whilst stripping the ruins of the Hari Shankar Temple down to its lion sculptures.
The 1934 Earthquake also offered the opportunity to reconstruct other monuments in different designs, the most striking example of this being the Silu Mahadev or Fasi Dega (Tahacho Dega) Temple. Whilst the temple's five-stepped plinth survived intact, the deity's shrine was re- erected in a Neo-Classical style. Furthermore, the 55-Window Palace was reconstructed with the rapid reincorporation of wooden elements, diverging from traditional construction practices. Only during later twentieth century restorations were the latter
architectural elements rectified. Other buildings were reconstructed in accordance with their original forms, such as the Vatsala Temple, although with the use of lime surkhi to bind the stone blocks of its sikhara.
A number of the previously rebuilt or repaired monuments were again damaged during the 2015 Gorkha Earthquake. For example, the Neo-Classical Silu Mahadev shrine collapsed and several structures in the main Durbar Square sustained damage, including the palace complex and a brick Siva sikhara temple in the west of
the square. The most visible loss, however, was the collapse of Vatsala Temple, a monument dedicated to Vatsala Devi, a form of the goddess Durga. It is traditionally thought that the first monument dedicated to Vatsala was constructed by Jitamitramalla (r. 1673-1696 CE) in 1693, with a second completed by the same benefactor in 1696 CE. The present sandstone-built monument is believed to have been completed by Bhupatindramalla (r.1696-1722 CE) and most scholars agree to a construction date of between the late seventeenth and early eighteenth
century CE with a rededicated bell stand incorporated in 1721 CE. However, prior to this mission, no archaeological assessment had been conducted at the monument and postulated chronologies relied on inscriptions and architectural typologies.
As noted above, this was not the first time that the temple had been damaged as half its sikhara tower collapsed in the 1934 Earthquake. Although reconstructed afterwards, damage caused by the growth of a pipal tree led the Department of