Swayambhunath, located in the west of Kathmandu, is Nepal's oldest religious site. 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 several 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.
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 an incredible feeling; seeing the vibrant prayer flags is mesmerizing and climbing the 365 stairs gives you a fantastic experience.
The all-seeing eyes of Buddha and the gilded spire are visible from miles away. However, seeing it from close is hypnotic. Located on the top of the hill, Swayambhu is a very must-visit place in Kathmandu. You can visit this site during your Day tour in Kathmandu as well.
Apart from being a popular visiting site, Syambhunath is the holiest place for Hindu and Buddhist Pilgrims.
The architecture of stupas and their symbolic meaning
The structure of the Stupa symbolizes significant meaning. The stupa consists of a whitewashed dome at the base, representing the entire world; the 13-tired tower-like design at the top represents the 13 stages of nirvana. Above the 13 tires, there is a major. The nose-like design in the stupa is the Nepali number Ek(one) which signifies unity.
There are large pairs of eyes on all four sides of the main stupa, demonstrating wisdom and compassion. These eyes represent that God is omnipresent. Each pair of eyes consists of another look, 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, Amitabha, 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 toward the East. Ratna Sambhava reflects the heavenly part of sensation and always faces the south direction. Amitabha faces the west and represents the cosmic element of Sanjna, and the Amoghsiddhi facing 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 spin 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, the inscription shows 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. A damaged stone inscription is located on 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 it 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 vast lake. In the lake, a lotus grew, and it radiated the dazzling light. Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom and learning, envisioned 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 was no lake of water, more human pilgrims could come and experience the close view of the 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 stupa structure was renovated entirely about 1500 years after its construction. The dome of the stupa was re-gilded using 20kg gold.
Later in 2011, a 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?
You can go to Swayambhunath stupa from the center of Kathmandu by taking a bus or taxi. Taking the bus or taxi all depends on your interest.
There are two ways to reach the top of the hill. There are around 365 steps of the staircase on the eastern side of the stupa that takes you to the stupa. However, if you are not interested in walking on these 365 steps of the east staircase, you use the road entrance on the western side of the stupa.
Every day, hundreds of Buddhist and Hindu Pilgrims climb the 365 steps from the eastern side leading to the stupa, passing the gilded Vajra and two lions guarding the entrance and commencing the clockwise rotation of the stupa by spinning the prayer wheels. King Pratap Malla constructed the stairway in the 17th century.
If you decide to climb these steps to reach the Stupa, you must be pretty prepared for the challenge. Climbing these stairs is certainly not an easy task. However, if you have the will to do so, nothing can stop you from reaching the Stupa by climbing these steps.
If you take the western entrance, you should not have to walk for a long time; within a short walk, you can reach the Swayambhunath Stupa. There are three substantial golden Buddha statues and a garden with sacred ponds on the western pathway.
Tourist attraction in Swayambhunath Temple
Apart from the central whitewashed dome, Stupa, there are several other shrines, temples, and monuments around it, which are also the primary 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 massive 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, a secret chamber contains a living man ( Santikar Acharya) from the 1500years. The private room is always locked. The man locked himself in that chamber and said that he would not come outside the room until the valley of Kathmandu needed him.
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 room, the King found the saint alive and mediating. The saint gave a secret mandala, which the king brought back to the Kingdom and presented to the sky. As a result, 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 famous Hindu temples dedicated to Hirati, the goddess of smallpox and other epidemics, and 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 a Hindu deity. The temple is a small brick pagoda. It usually is trendy among 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 were built by King Pratap Malla. He made 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 a massive statue of Buddha and candles made from yak butter which the pilgrims light. Around 3 or 4 pm, you can hear the resident's monks chant.
Festivals and Events Celebrated at Swayambhunath Stupa
Buddha Jayanti and Losar are the two main festivals celebrated at Swayambhunath. Also, Gunla's celebration is done in August or September, marking the end of the rainy season. Every year, Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims visit this holy place during these festivals.
Entry fee for Swayambhunath
People of any caste and religion can visit this temple.
- Entry fee for foreigners- 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.