Itum Bahal and the Legend of the Demon Guru Mapa
There are innumerable monasteries in Nepal where Buddhist teachings are passed on from one generation to the next. The presence of many ancient stupas, Buddhist temples, monasteries and Bahals (Buddhist monastery courtyards) made Kathmandu as one of the centers of Buddhism since the ancient times.
Some of the breathtaking and majestic sites are still fully functioning, while others are remnants of the ancient city’s glorious past.
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Itum Bahal (Shree Bhaskar Deva Sanskarit Kesh Chandra Krit Parawarta Mahavihar)
Itum Bahal is considered as the largest bahal (Buddhist monastery courtyard) in Kathmandu. Itum Bahal has seven alleys, one connected to another and they have many religious shrines, stupas and places of worship. There are many nanis (alleys) such as Saraswati Nani, Tara Nani, Baku Nani dedicated to different deities.
The Sanskrit name for Itum Bahal is Shree Bhaskar Deva Sanskarit Kesh Chandra Krit Parawarta Mahavihar, meaning the great monastery constructed by Kesh Chandra during King Bhaskar Dev Varma’s reign. Although the main monastery was built in the 11th century, it is believed that there was a Buddhist shrine in its place even before this time.
According to local legend, a monastery was built after Gautam Buddha visited the valley to pay a visit to the Swayambhu Stupa. There aren’t many historical evidences but it is indeed believed that Buddha arrived in Kathmandu during the Kirant rule and lived in a small kuti (cottage) with monks and nuns in a place called Puchhagara Chaitya.
According to a folklore, Buddhist saviour-goddess Mahashanta Sweta Dharma Chakra Tara preached Buddhism to monks who renounced all worldly possessions and followed the path of peace under a large tree at Itum Bahal. She is said to see all sufferings and respond to requests for help.
The legend of Kesh Chandra
In the 11th century, there was a king named Bhaskar Dev Varma and during his reign, there was a rich man named Kesh Chandra who lived in Itum Bahal area. Gambling had become his dangerous obsession and he became a reckless gambler. Kesh Chandra never ceased to gamble and he played away all of his wealth and all that he had.
After losing everything, he went to his sister who was married to a wealthy family. She was heartbroken when she saw him in a sorry state and served him food in golden utensils to please him. But instead of being grateful, he stole the dishes and went to gamble again.
He continued to steal valuable dishes from his sister and kept on losing them until one day, she confronted him about the stealing and placed the food on the floor. Kesh Chandra felt humiliated and put the meal on a piece of cloth and headed towards Tundikhel, which was then a forest.
of cloth and headed towards Tundikhel, which was then a forest.
Kesh Chandra rested on a tree, still distraught over the fact that he had lost everything. He also felt bad for causing his sister so much pain. He was exhausted both mentally and physically and felt asleep.
When he opened his eyes, he was hysterical to see that the food he had carried was being eaten by pigeons. He looked up to the heaven and begged for forgiveness. Little did he know that they were no ordinary pigeons, but birds with magical powers.
The birds felt deep pity for the poor man and their droppings were magically transformed into gold. Witnessing the miracle made him a stronger believer in God. He thought he would build a great monastery from the gold.
The demon Guru Mapa
According to local folklore, in ancient times, a demon named Guru Mapa, lived under a tree in the forest on the eastern side of Tundikhel. The frightening demon saw Kesh Chandra while he was collecting the gold.
Stories still abound about mysterious demon with insatiable appetite for blood and flesh that lurked in the shadows of the forests to chance upon humans.
The demon Guru Mapa, terrifying in appearance was tall and strong with plenty of hair.The hungry demon was ready to pounce on Kesh Chandra but before he could attack him, Kesh Chandra saw him and told him about the human settlements where he could never go hungry.
Kesh Chandra promised to feed him every day if he helped him to carry the sack of gold. The man-eating demon agreed and followed him to the human settlement in Kathmandu. Kesh Chandra fed him every day but the demon had a voracious appetite for humans and soon the children in the village started disappearing.
Kesh Chandra revealed the truth behind the missing children to the petrified villagers. The villagers struck a deal with the demon that if he left the village and stayed in Tundikhel, then once every year, they would come to Guru Mapa to feed him with delicious meals.
Even to this day, every year, a feast is organized for Guru Mapa by the locals of Itum Bahal. They make boiled rice and buffalo meat and leave it on the ground of Tundikhel for him to feast on. According to legend, Kesh Chandra felt guilty for bringing the demon and established the Kesh Chandra Mahavihar with the gold he had discovered in the forest.