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Swoyambhunath is an ancient religious complex atop a hill in the Kathmandu
Valley, west of Kathmandu city. It is also known as the Monkey Temple as
there are holy monkeys living in parts of the temple in the north-west.
The Tibetan name for the site means 'Sublime Trees' (Wylie:Phags.pa
Shing.kun), for the many varieties of trees found on the hill. However,
Shing.kun may be a corruption of the local Newari name for the complex,
Singgu, meaning 'self-sprung'. For the Buddhist Newars in whose
mythological history and origin myth as well as day-to-day religious
practice, Swayambhunath occupies a central position, it is probably the
most sacred among Buddhist pilgrimage sites. For Tibetans and followers of
Tibetan Buddhism, it is second after Boudhanath.
The Swayambhunath complex consists of a stupa, a variety of shrines and temples, some dating back to the Licchavi period. A Tibetan monastery, museum and library are more recent additions. The stupa has Buddha's eyes and eyebrows painted on. Between them, there is something painted which looks like the nose - but is the Nepali symbol of 'unity', in the main Nepali language dialect. There are also shops, restaurants and hostels. The site has two access points: a long stairway, claimed to have 365 steps, leading directly to the main platform of the temple, which is from the top of the hill to the east; and a car road around the hill from the south leading to the southwest entrance. The first sight on reaching the top of the stairway is the Vajra. Tsultrim Allione describes the experience: We were breathless and sweating as we stumbled up the last steep steps and practically fell upon the biggest vajra (thunder-bolt scepter) that I have ever seen. Behind this vajra was the vast, round, white dome of the stupa, like a full solid skirt, at the top of which were two giant Buddha eyes wisely looking out over the peaceful valley which was just beginning to come alive.
Much of Swayambhunath's iconography comes from the Vajrayana tradition of Newar Buddhism. However, the complex is also an important site for Buddhists of many schools, and is also revered by Hindus.
According to Swayambhu Purana, the entire valley was once filled with an enormous lake, out of which grew a lotus. The valley came to be known as Swayambhu, meaning "Self-Created." The name comes from an eternal self-existent flame (swyambhu) over which was later built. Swayambhunath is also known as the Monkey Temple as there are holy monkeys living in parts of the temple in the north-west. They are holy because Manjushree, the bodhisattva of wisdom and learning was raising the hill which the Swayambhunath Temple stands on. He was supposed to leave his hair short but he made it grow long and head lice grew. It is said that the head lice had transformed into these monkeys.
The Bodhisatva Manjushri had a vision of the lotus at Swayambhu and traveled there to worship it. Seeing that the valley can be good settlement and to make the site more accessible to human pilgrims, Manjushri cut a gorge at Chovar. The water drained out of the lake, leaving the valley in which Kathmandu now lies. The lotus was transformed into a hill and the flower become the Swayambhunath stupa.
Swayambhunath, is among the oldest religious sites in Nepal. According to the GopalRajVamsawali Swayambhunath was founded by the great-grandfather of King Manadeva (464-505 CE), King Vrsaadeva, about the beginning of the 5th century CE. This seems to be confirmed by a damaged stone inscription found at the site, which indicates that King
Anadeva ordered work done in 640 CE However, Emperor Ashoka is said to have visited the site in the third century BC and built a temple on the hill which was later destroyed. Legend has it that the Buddha himself visited Swayambhunath and gave teachings there two hundred years earlier.
Although the site is considered Buddhist, the place is revered by both Buddhists and Hindus. Numerous king Hindu followers are known to have paid their homage to the temple, including Pratap Malla, the powerful king of Kathmandu, who is responsible for the construction of the eastern stairway in the 17th century.
The stupa consists of a dome at the base. Above the dome, there is a cubical structure present with eyes of Buddha looking in all four directions with the word "unity" in the main Nepali dialect between them. There are pentagonal Toran present above each of the four sides with statues engraved in them. Behind and above the torana there are thirteen tiers. Above all the tiers, there is a small space above which the Gajur is present.
The dome at the base represents the entire world. When a person awakes (represented by eyes of wisdom and compassion) from the bonds of the world, the person reaches the state a bit higher. The thirteen pinacles on the top of it symbolises that sensient beings have to go through the thirteen stages of enlightenment to reach Buddhahood.
On each of the four sides of the main stupa there are a pair of big eyes which represent Wisdom and Compassion. Above each pair of eyes is another eye, the third eye. Saying goes that when Buddha preaches, cosmic rays emanate from the third eye which acts as message to heavenly beings, so that those interested can come down to earth to listen to the Buddha. The hellish beings and beings below the human realm cannot come to earth to listen to the Buddha's teaching, however, the cosmic ray relieves their suffering when Buddha preaches. There are carving of Panch Buddhas (five Buddhas) on each of the four sides of stupa. Apart from this, idols of the Buddhas are at the base of the stupas. Panch Buddhas are Buddha in metaforical sense in Tantrayana. They are Vairochana (occupies the center and is the master of the temple), Akshobhya (faces the east and represents the cosmic element of consciousness), Ratna Sambhava (faces the south and represents the cosmic element of sensation), Amitabha (He represents cosmic element of Sanjna (name) and always faces the West) and Amoghsiddhi (He represents the cosmic element of conformation and faces the north). Each morning before dawn, hundreds of Buddhist (Vajrayana) and Hindu pilgrims ascend the 365 steps from eastern side that lead up the hill, passing the gilded Vajra (Tibetan: Dorje) and two lions guarding the entrance, and begin a series of clockwise circumambulations of the stupa.
Latest News About Pratappur Temple Lightning 15th february 2013 about 5:00 Am
The 350-year-old Pratappur Temple at Swayambhunath in the Capital was damaged when lightning struck the structure on Monday night.
The temple, built during the reign of Pratap Malla, was damaged by fire that erupted there in August 2003. Around Rs. 4.5 million was spent on renovating the temple then. The temple was also repaired in 1993.
The temple is one of the two 84-feet towering structures—Pratappur and Anantapur—built by Malla at Swayambhunath, one of the seven monuments in Kathmandu listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The impact of the lightning left four holes in the structure, which according to officials at the Department of Archaeology (DoA), has severely affected the temple’s basement as well. However, no human casualty was reported near the temple.
“This is the first ever instance of lightning striking a world heritage site,” Suresh Suras Shrestha, a section officer at the department of world heritage sites under the DoA said. “Work to renovate the temple will begin soon,” he added.
Prakash Darnal, an archaeologist and historian at the DoA, said the temple has historical and architectural importance. According to him, Pratappur and Anantapur are some temples in Kathmandu built according to the mountain structure. Most other temples in the City and as old as Pratappur are built in the pagoda style.
Pratappur, believed to be the abode of a much-feared tantric god, has been opened only twice so far—once in 1907 and a second time in 1970.
It is believed that King Pratap Malla built the temple to protect the main priest at the Swayambhunath from evil forces.
The primary approach to the temple is from the eastern side, where 365 ancient steps lead up the steep forested hillside. The base is about a 20-minute walk from the center of Kathmandu. This staircase is the only route pilgrims would consider and is the most memorable way for any visitor to experience the stupa. However, an alternative is to drive or take a taxi to the west side, where there are only a few steps to climb to the top.
At the bottom of the eastern stairway is a brightly painted gate containing a huge Tibetan prayer wheel nearly 12 feet tall. It takes two people to turn it and a bell sounds during each revolution. Around the gate are dozens more smaller wheels. Devotees spin prayer wheels to release prayers and mantras to heaven - visitors are welcomed to do so as well.
The staircase is presided over by three painted Buddha statues from the 17th century near the base (women perform prostrations before them in the early morning); another group further up are from the early 20th century. Strewn along the staircase are numerous mani stones, inscribed with the Tibetan mantra Om mani padme hum ("Hail to the jewel in the lotus"). Merchants sell smaller versions of the stones to tourists. The stairs run through a beautiful forest, which is populated with the hundreds of monkeys that give the temple its nickname.
The central buildings and decorations of Swayambhunath are rich with Buddhist symbolism. The whitewashed dome of the main stupa represents the womb of creation, with a phallic complement in the square tower. Rising from the tower is a spire made of 13 golden disks, representing the steps to enlightenment. The umbrella on top symbolizing enlightenment itself; some say it contains a bowl of precious stones. The famous Buddha eyes gazing out sleepily from each side of the tower (oriented to the four cardinal directions) are those of the all-seeing Primordial Buddha. Between each of the pairs of eyes is a symbol that looks like a question mark - this is the Nepali number "1" and represents the unity of all things. Gold plaques rising above the eyes like a crown depict the Five Dhyani Buddhas, celestial buddhas who are associated with the five senses, the four cardinal directions plus the center, and many other symbolic groups of five.
The Five Dhyani Buddhas are further honored with special shrines at the base of the stupa. They face the four cardinal directions, plus one slightly left of east to represent the center direction. Between them are shrines to four of the Buddhas' consorts. Linking all nine shrines together is a chain of prayer wheels and butter lamps. The five main shrines are enclosed in beautiful gilded copper repouss work, for which the Kathmandu Valley is renowned. Filling the platform around the main stupa are numerous other shrines and votive structures, most of which have been donated by kings and lamas in the last four centuries. Five of them are associated with the five elements: earth, air, fire, water and sky.
Harati Devi Temple
Notable among these is the Harati Devi Temple, dedicated to the Hindu goddess of smallpox and other epidemics, as well as a protectress of children. The small brick pagoda is very popular among both Hindus and Buddhists, especially mothers seeking blessings for their children. Petitioners toss flower petals, rice, colored powder and holy water over the Harati image, then receive a tika from the resident priest. Monkeys, stray dogs, and pigeons fight over the rice and the food offerings, contributing to the chaotic atmosphere. The image of the goddess dates only from the 19th century; it replaces the original that was smashed by King Rana Bahadur Shah after his wife died of smallpox. Food offerings for Harati (typically stew, rice and bread) are cooked in a kitchen on the bottom floor of a gompa (monastery prayer room) on the west side of the complex. Visitors can climb stairs to the gompa roof, which is level with the Buddha eyes. From here there are fine views over the stupa and Kathmandu valley.
Northwest of the main stupa is another important shrine, associated with a fascinating legend. Shantipur is a small, plain, box-shaped temple said to contain a great treasure - a living holy man who has been meditating in there for 1500 years. Legend has it that Shanti Shri, who lived in the 5th century, locked himself in a vault beneath the temple, vowing to remain there until the Kathmandu Valley needed him. Entering a mystic state, he has achieved immortality and remains there to help the local people when needed.
In 1658, King Pratap Mella descended into the chamber alone to seek Shanti Shri's help with a drought. The king reported making his way through several underground rooms, each more frightening than the last. The first contained large bats and hawks, the second was home to hungry ghosts that clutched at him in agony, and the third was full of snakes that chased him until he pacified them with milk. The king found the saint in the last room, skinny as a skeleton but still alive and meditating. Shanti Shri presented the king with a mandala, which brought the needed rain. The outer sanctum of the rather ominous temple can be visited. It is decorated with faded frescoes from the Swayambhu Purana, a 17th-century scripture that recounts the creation myths of the Kathmandu Valley. Shantipur is also called Akashpur (Sky Place) and it represents the fifth element.
The two bullet-shape temples (shikra) on each side of the stupa, known as Pratappur and Anantapur, were given by King Pratap Malla to help him earn a victory over Tibet in the 17th century. The story of his success is inscribed on the twin bells in front. At the northeast corner of the complex is the Shree Karma Raj Mahavihar, an active Tibetan monastery with a big Buddha statue and yak butter candles lit by pilgrims. The resident monks chant around 3 or 4pm daily. The northwest corner is home to Agnipur, a neglected shrine to the ancient Hindu fire god Agni, who relays burnt offerings to heaven. Between these two, north of the main stupa, is Nagpur, a small tank with a snake idol at the bottom. This helps appease the valley's notorious snake spirits. At the top of the eastern steps is a great bronze vajra (thunderbolt), a
Tantric symbol of power, decorated with the signs of the Tibetan zodiac.
The weather is most pleasant in Kathmandu in spring and fall. Swayambhunath is most atmospheric in the morning (before 9am), when it hosts more pilgrims than tourists. If possible, visit on a Saturday, the only day Nepalis have off from work. This is the primary day of activity around the Harati and other shrines.
Festivals and Events
The two main festivals celebrated at Swayambhunath are Buddha Jayanti (in April or May) and Losar (in February or March). During these times, many pilgrims visit the temple and the monks create a lotus pattern on the stupa with saffron-colored paint. Also important is the month-long Gunla celebration (August or September) marking the end of the rainy season.