Swayambhunath located at the west of Kathmandu is the oldest religious site of Nepal. The architecture of the Swayambhunath Stupa is fabulous. The ancient religious architecture atop a hill in the Kathmandu Valley, Syambhunath is also known as the Monkey Temple as a number of rhesus primates live there. As Syambunath Stupa is on the top of a hill in the Kathmandu Valley you can have a great view of Kathmandu from this location.
This site is an ideal place to escape away from the hustle and bustle of the Kathmandu Valley. Spinning the prayer wheels in the Swayambhu gives you the wonderful feeling, seeing the vibrant prayer flags is really mesmerizing and climbing the 365 stairs gives you the amazing experience.
The all-seeing eyes of Buddha and gilded spire is visible from miles away. However, seeing it from close is really hypnotic. Located on the top of the hill, Swayambhu is verily must visit place in Kathmandu. You can visit this site during your Day tour in Kathmandu as well.
Apart from being the popular visiting site, Syambhunath is the holiest place for both Hindu and Buddhist Pilgrims.
The architecture of stupa and their symbolic meaning
The structure of the Stupa symbolizes the great meaning. The stupa consists of the whitewashed dome at the base which symbolizes the entire world, the 13-tired tower-like structure at the top symbolizes the 13 stages to nirvana. Above the 13 tires, there is gajur. The nose-like structure in stupa is actually the Nepali number Ek(one) which signifies unity.
There are large pairs of eyes on all the four sides of the main stupa which demonstrates wisdom and compassion. These eyes represent that God is omnipresent. Each pair of eyes consists of another eye, the third eye which symbolizes the all-seeing insight of Buddha
There are five Buddhas(Pancha Buddha) on each side of the stupa.there are also statues of Buddhas at the Base of the stupas. These Pancha Buddha are Vairochana, Akshobhya, Ratna Sambhava, Amithabha, and Amoghsiddhi. Vairochana is the one that occupies the center and is the master of the temple. Akshobhya represents the cosmic element of consciousness and faces towards the east, Ratna Sambhava reflects the cosmic element of sensation and always face south direction, Amithabha faces the west and represents the cosmic element of Sanjna and the Amoghsiddhi facing towards the north represents the cosmic element of confirmation.
The base of the central stupa is rounded by the prayer wheels carved with the sacred mantra Om mani Padme hum. Pilgrims who come to Syambhunath spins these prayer wheels as they pass through them. The stupa has many artifacts inside it.
History of Swayambhunath
According to the historical records found on a stone, inscription gives the evidence that the stupa was an important Buddhist pilgrimage site by the 5th century AD. As per the written record, Syambhunath was found by the grandfather of King Manadeva, King Vrsadeva at the beginning of the 5th century. There is also a damaged stone inscription found in the site which indicates that King Vrsadeva ordered work done in 640 CE. It is also said that Emperor Ashoka built a temple on the hill in the 3rd-century but was later destroyed.
According to the legends, Syambhunath was created from a primordial lake over 2000 years ago. Swayambhu Purana tells you the story that the valley was once a huge lake. In the lake, a lotus grew and it radiated the dazzling light. Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom and learning, had the vision of this radiating light emerging out of the lotus. When he saw that light he decided to go there and worship the shining lotus. He also felt that if there is no lake of water then more human pilgrims can come and experience the close view of lightning lotus. So to make the site more accessible for human pilgrims he decided to cut a gorge at Chovar. Then the water drained away leaving the Valley of Kathmandu. Finally, the lotus was converted into a hill and flowers became Stupa. The valley is now known as Swayambhu which means ‘self-created’.
In May 2010, the structure of stupa was completely renovated about 1500years after its construction. The dome of the stupa was re-gilded using 20kg gold.
Later in 2011 due to the lightning strike during a thunderstorm damaged some regions of the temple. Further, Swayanbhunath also suffered damage due to the earthquake in April 2015.
How can you get to the Swayambhunath Stupa?
From the center of Kathmandu, you can go to Swayambhunath stupa by taking a bus or taxi. Taking the bus or taxi it all depends on your interest.
There are two ways to reach the top of the hill. There are around 365 steps of the staircase at the eastern side of the stupa that takes you to the stupa. However, if you are not interested to walk on these 365 steps of the eastern staircase then you use the road entrance which is on the western side of the stupa.
Every day hundreds of Buddhist and Hindu Pilgrims climb the 365 steps from the eastern side that lead to the stupa, passing the gilded Vajra and two lions guarding the entrance and commence the clockwise rotation of the stupa by spinning the prayer wheels. The stairway was constructed by King Pratap Malla in the 17th century.
If you take the decision of climbing these steps to reach the Stupa you have to be quite prepared for the challenge. Climbing these stairs is certainly not an easy task. However, if you have the will to do so then nothing can stop you to reach the Stupa by climbing these steps.
If you take the western entrance then you should not have to walk for a long time, within a short walk you can reach the Swayambhunath Stupa. There are 3 huge golden Buddha statues and a garden with sacred ponds at the western pathway.
Tourist attraction in Swayambhunath Temple
Apart from the main whitewashed dome Stupa, there are several other shrines, temples, and monuments around it which are also the major source of attraction.
Great Thunderbolt (Vajra)
When you reach the top of the eastern stairs, you can see the enormous brass plated Vajra. The Vajra is the Tantric symbol of the power of enlightenment. This impressive and huge Thunderbolt garners the Stupa. The Thunderbolt is decorated with the animals of the Tibetan Calendar and there are lions on both sides of the Vajra.
Shantipur, a box-shaped temple is another attraction for the people visiting Swayambhunath. Inside the temple, there is a secret chamber that contains a living man ( Santikar Acharya) from the 1500years. The secret chamber is always locked. The man has locked himself in that chamber and said that he would not come outside the chamber until he is needed by the valley of Kathmandu.
Later in the 17th century when the Kathmandu Valley was in big trouble due to drought, the King of Nepal, Pratap Malla, entered the underground chamber. During his visit to the chamber, the King found the saint alive and mediating. The saint gave a secret mandala, which the king brought back to the Kingdom and presented it to the sky.As a result of that rainfall occurred and the threat of drought was averted.
Frescoes painted inside the temple wall represent the event that last occurred in 1658.
It is one of the popular Hindu temples dedicated to Hirati, the goddess of smallpox and other epidemics and also the protector of all children. As the Buddhists had no deity of their own to protect them against dreaded smallpox, they adopted the Hindu deity for help. It is interesting to know that Hirati is actually a Hindu deity. The temple is a small brick pagoda. It is normally very popular with women and children who visit the shrine to seek blessings. By offering foods such as bread and rice the women pray for the good health of their children.
Pratappur and Anantapur
The two bullet-shaped temples Pratapur and Anantapur on either side of the stupa was built by King Pratap Malla. He built this temple as a donation of his victory to Tibet. The twin bells in front of the temple consist of inscriptions about his success. The tall white Pratappur temple in front of the stupa has been rebuilt many times.
Shree Karmaraj Mahavihar
Shree Karmaraj Mahavihar is located at the northeast corner of the main monastery. It is an active Tibetan Monastery. This Monastery consists of the huge statue of Buddha and candles made from yak butter which is lit by the pilgrims. Every day around 3 or 4 pm you can hear the residents monks chant.
Festivals and Events Celebrated at Swayambhunath Stupa
Buddha Jayanti and Losar are the two main festivals that are celebrated at Swayambhunath. Also marking the end of the rainy season Gunla celebration is also done in the month of August or September. Every year during these festivals both Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims visit this holy place.
Entry fee for Swayambhunath
People of any caste and religion can visit this temple.
Entry fee for foreigner- NPR 200 per person
Entry fo for Saarc Citizens- NPR 50 per person
Entry fee for locals- Free to visit
There is free entry for children under the age of 10.