When a mind thinks about the prayer in peace then how can one forget about a journey up to the Buddhist temple Swayambhunath. Swayambhunath is among an ancient religious site in Nepal, standing on a hilltop about 3 kilometers west of Kathmandu city.
This is the oldest stupa found in Nepal, some of the engraved historical records shows that this place was already an important shrine for pilgrimage in the 5th century. It is a must-see site for country’s’ dwellers as well tourists. This is one of the best places in the world to observe religious harmony been shown by the fascinating conjugation of Buddhism and Hinduism.
Each morning and evening the atmosphere here is heightened by numbers of Buddhist (Vajrayana) and Hindu pilgrims who ascent the steps from the eastern side, passing the gilded Vajra (Tibetan Dorje) and make a ritual circumnavigation of the stupa, spinning the prayer wheels set into the base of stupa.
Heading back to the history of Swayambhunath
According to the Gopalrajavamsavali, Swayambhunath was founded by king Vrsadeva, the great grandfather of king Manadev, at about the beginning of the 5th century CE. Though this is the Buddhist site but numerous Hindu monarch followers have been known to sing the praise of the temple, counting Pratap Malla, the well-known and powerful king of his time in Kathmandu responsible for the construction of the eastern stairway in 17th century.
Mythology sings the tale of Swayambhunath this way, in the remote past present-day Kathmandu was filled with an enormous lake. Once in that period a great saint Vipaswi Tathagat came to this lake and threw a seed of lotus flower which after thousands of years developed into a gigantic flower with thousands of petals that filled the whole valley with its dazzling light.
This magnolious flower attracted many great saints of different periods from different corner of the world, among which one was Manjushree, the Bodhisattva of wisdom and learning. He had a thought that, valley could be a good settlement and to make the site more on hand to human pilgrims for experiencing magnificent of light from the lotus, he cut a gorge at Chovar which drained the lake away leaving behind the Kathmandu valley.
Then the lotus became a hill and the light turned into the stupa. The valley is now known as Swayambhunath, which means Self-created. With the pass of time Swayambhu Chaitya went on evolving changing its shape. Today’s appearance of Chaitya is the by product of the repair and maintenance work that happened in 1984 B.S. Its height is 101ft.which is based on 77-meter-high from its bottom.
Swayambhunath is also heard being called as The Monkey Temple, as it has been surrounded by hundreds of monkeys who dwell here from past periods. These monkeys are taken to be holy as we have a mythological belief that on the process of raising the hill for the location of stupa by Manjushree, he was expected to keep his hair short which couldn’t happen and were developed into the long hair which attracted the head lice. Legend tells that these lice turned into monkeys which are today’s dwellers on hill.
The Swayambhunath Chaitya in Architectural Thought.
Defining the Swayambhunath Chaitya architecturally, it consists four main parts:
• The first one is the Dome which form the base of stupa. This is the sign of air element. Dome of Chaitya is white this is because of a peculiar nature of soil of white color i.e. lime locally called sakhwa. Sakhwa over the dome is spread performing the prescribed ritual rites.
• The second one is the heat element. It is triangular in nature as imagined traditionally and is called Garva i.e. womb, so is secret and lies inside Dome.
• The third is the cubical structure that sits upon dome and is called Hermica which denotes solidity i.e. the earth. The structure is painted with eyes on each side, the eyes of Buddha and wisdom eyes looking in all directions. They are half closed as in meditative state because all the answers you are searching are inside of you just need to look deep into your soul, your inner being and your heart, simply ‘Look Inside’. Above each pair of eyes is third eye, which symbolizes the all-seeing insight of Buddha. Under the pair of eyes instead of nose is a number ‘1’ in Nepali alphabet, which represents unity of all things. Pentagonal torans with statues carved in them sit on top of the cubed structure on each of the four sides of the stupa. These carvings are of Panch Buddhas (5 Buddhas) in a metaphorical sense in Tantrayana. They are:
- Vairochana: Occupies the center and is the master of the temple, the color is white.
- Akshobhya: Faces east and represents the cosmic element of consciousness. The color is blue black.
- Ratnasambhava: Faces south and represents the cosmic element of sensation. The color is yellow.
- Amitabha: Faces west and represents the taste (pleasant or unpleasant) of the things. The color is red.
- Amonghasiddhi: Faces north and represents the cosmic element of confirmation. The color is green.
• The fourth and the last one is 13 tiers rising up from behind the torans and are round circular in shape that denotes the liquidity in nature i.e. water. These gold gilded tiers are piled up with the help of 22 meters spinal wooden pillar known as Yasin.
Inside dome Yasin is placed in such a way that it doesn’t touch the circular tiers of pinnacle making it flexible which helps to keep lesser damage to the structure in the shaken condition like earthquakes. Till date Yasin has been changed only three times, the previous two were 16 and 18-meter-long.
Yasin need to be treated as a person by priest of Swayambhu. When the Yasin is replaced, the new one is treated like bride performing all the rituals need to be done on welcoming a new bride, as for the old Yasin all the rituals when a person dies are performed. Coming to the 13 tiers, these represent the 13 stages that normal being must pass through before reaching Nirvana. Finally, above 13 tiers is the gajur, Pinnacle.
Variety of shrines and temple around Swayambhunath Chaitya
Chaitya besides its peculiar structure also surrounds itself with variety of shrines and temple which have been the point of attention and attraction, some of which date back to the Licchavi period. Tibetan monastery, museum and library are the more recent additions. Some of the important monuments to see in this area include:
• Pratappur and Anantapur: These two chaityas one in south and the other in north was established by king Pratap Malla, which poses as the guards as left and right hand of Swayambhu Chaitya. The northern one is Pratappur implying king himself and the southern part is Anantapur in the name of Ananta Priya, the beloved queen of Pratap Malla.
• Vajra dhatu Mandala: The enormous brass- plated Vajra (thunderbolt or dorje) is set at the top of those very steep 312 stone steps in the east side of the stupa near entrance. This is a symbol of Tibetan Buddhism and represents the power of enlightenment. Vajra lies on big metal plate known as Mandala, below which one can see the images of 12 different animals indicating 12 Tibetan months. Lions sit on either side of vajra.
• Harati Temple: Two storey temple lies northwest of the Chaitya. Deity Harati, also sometimes called Ajimaya and sometimes Sitalamaju, the deity of smallpox is regarded as the protectress of children under 12 years and Guardian of Swayambhu stupa with the believe that she punishes those who put down Swayambhunath Mahachaitya.
• Gompa (Monastery prayer room): Food offering for Harati are cooked in the kitchen located at the bottom floor of a gompa, on the west side of the complex. From the roof of gompa visitors can get the fine views over stupa and Buddha statue on the west side of Mahachaitya.
• Sleeping Buddha
• The Dewa Dharma Monastery, noted for a bronze icon of Buddha and traditional Tibetan paintings.
• Shree Karma Raj Mahavihar: located at the northeast corner of the complex, this is an active Tibetan Monastery with a big Buddha statue and yak butter candles lit by pilgrims. It was completely destroyed by the earthquake 2015 AD. But extensive renovation has under gone.
How can one reach to monkey temple Swayambhunath?
The site has got two way in, one 312 steep stone stair case leading directly to the main platform of the temple, that is from top of the hill to the east and the other one is a car road around the hill from the south leading to the south- west entrance. The most suitable time to visit the Mahachaitya is in spring and fall. Swayambhunath is found most atmospheric in morning before 9 am when it hosts more pilgrims than tourists.
In conclusion, I have found perfect place to enjoy the peace and extensive view of Kathmandu valley sites. The Swayambhunath architecture and monuments stands to challenge the visitor those who are interested in history of Nepal. Monkey roaming around the area is another major attraction that we can find there. Suggested not to show up the eaten items that can grab by monkeys. All over the tranquility of the sites captivates those who seeks a peace of mind.