The Stupas of Kathmandu valley – History & splendor

The Stupas of Kathmandu valley – History & splendor

The of valley are unique in their and cultural relevance. They are a feat of intricate craftsmanship and artistry. From the domes, to the pillar bearing an umbrella to the beautiful doorways and the eyes (painted on most in ) all portray exemplary . Stupas not only remind us of the splendor of the and architecture of the past, they also have great and spiritual significance in .

Swayambhu Stupa

The exact date of the origin of the is obscure, but if the legend is to be believed then the Stupa is older than the Kathmandu valley itself. According to Swayambhu Purana, the Chinese saint was flabbergasted when he saw a self-existent primordial flame, Swayambhu in the middle of the huge Paleo Kathmandu Lake during his Nepal visit. The celestial flame came from a flower with thousand petals that bloomed in the middle of the lake. Manjushree wanted to reach the divine lights and drained the lake by cutting the Chobhar gorge with his godly sword. Soon, was magically transformed into a hill and the flame became the Swayambhu stupa. Historically, the present Stupa on top of a hill, rising at the center of the Kathmandu Valley is said to have been built by Lichhavi Mandev in the 4th century. A series of long steps lead to the temple and visitors are welcomed by large tribes of monkeys who have made the place their home. Hence, the visiting tourists call the Stupa as “The ”. The vibrant and auspicious which are meant to spread , blessings and wisdom are found strung along trail. There are quite a few and , shrines and temples in and around the premises as well.

Photo : Sambid Bilas Pant

The Mangal Bahudwar Chaitya

The Mangal Bahudwar at Swayambhu, was the first Chaitya to be scientifically excavated in the Kathmandu Valley. Various miniature bronze and copper stupas and gold foil was recovered from the structure. Coins issued by the Mughal Sultans, the and Shah Kings and metal currency from were discovered during the excavation. The secret behind them was revealed when the archaeologists discovered an inscription with a casket underneath the shrine. It belonged to a merchant who liked collecting coins from international traders who visited Kathmandu. But the reason why the structure was built for him in temple still remains one of ’s great mysteries.

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Boudanath Stupa

The names of the stupas reflect the experiences and of different communities, and oftentimes there is more than one legend related to a name. Boudanath Stupa has several names. One of them is “Khasti Mahachaitya” which means ‘the great stupa of the dew drops’. Legend has it that long ago, Kathmandu Valley was going through a prolonged period of drought. There was shortage of to mix the clay for the of the stupa. So, the King of Kathmandu at the time instructed the people to harvest water by collecting dewdrops every . Fog or dew collection is an ancient practice. In desert areas, where there is very little rain, fog and dew are abundant sources of humidity that are used to harvest fresh water.
According to another legend, a poverty-stricken single mother brought up four sons with the earnings from raising chickens. She had only one wish, to build a great stupa with her savings. She went to the King and impressed by her dedication and devotion to , the King granted her the permission. The woman and her four sons began building the foundations for the great stupa. 4 years later, everything up to the dome was completed. But jealous aristocrats and ministers were shocked that a single woman and her four sons could build such a great stupa. They requested the King to forbid the construction. The second name of the stupa comes from the king’s answer: “Jarung khashor”, meaning “I have already granted her my permission (kha shor) to begin with the (Jya rung)” The woman had become weak and passed away but the 4 sons completed the stupa. Due to the merit of building this great stupa, the woman is said to have attained (a state of absolute ) It is believed that the four sons who helped her in the construction, also helped in introduction of Buddhism to different parts of and were reborn as prominent figures in Buddhism.

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The Ashoka Stupas

After experiencing death and destruction of war, Emperor walked in the path of peace. He converted to Buddhism and visited , the birth place of . He then built a pillar in Lumbini as a mark of respect to Gautama . The emperor also visited numerous other pilgrimage sites in including several places in Nepal. Emperor Ashoka visited Nepal more than 2000 years ago during the reign of Kirant King Sthunko, 14th Kirant King. He built 4 Ashokian stupas in Lalitpur; Teta Thura (eastern stupa), Pucho Thura (western stupa), Ibahi Thura (northern stupa) and the largest among the 4 stupas, Lagan Thura (southern stupa). These Stupas defined the boundaries of the . They were built on stacks of bricks, which have gradually become grassy mounds except for the northern stupa. It would have probably been possible to see the three stupas from the top of any one stupa in the past. The historical monuments still stand at Imadol, Pulchok, Ebihi and Lagankhel. Some people believe that The Pimbahal Stupa near the Jagmadu pond in is the central Ashokian stupa.

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Charumati Vihara

The Charumati Vihara has more than 2000 years of history. Its Lichhavi era name is Dhando Chaitya and it is commonly known as the Chabahil Stupa since it is located in Chabahil, Kathmandu. The Stupa is considered as one of the oldest stupas in the country and has been renovated many times by various Nepali Kings. It was built by Princess Charumati, the daughter of Indian Emperor Ashoka. Princess Charumati married Nepali Prince Devapala of Kathmandu and together both of them established the town of Devpatan (present day and Chabahil area). During the Gunla festival, the Buddhist visit the stupa playing Gunla Baja and chanting Buddha prayers that are considered very auspicious.

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The Shree Gha-Shanti Ghat Bhajradhatu Mahachaitya

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According to a popular legend, the Chaitya was originally located in Kingdom of Kashi. Once upon a time, Vak- of Kwa-Bahal, Thahity was on a pilgrimage visit to Benaras. He was requested to perform the ceremony of the stupa by the King of Kashi. Vak-vajra chanted a and sprinkled water from the holy river Ganga over the monument. The king questioned the and thought it was very basic. Vak-vajra was upset by his words. He used his powers to lift the entire stupa in the sky and transported it to its present location in Kathmandu. Acharya Vak-vajraa was a Buddhist whose folklore of tantric magic is still popular among the people of Kathmandu. People who cannot climb up the long row of steps to reach the Swayambhu Stupa located on top of a hill, visit the Kashi Swayambhu stupa.

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About Sambid Bilas Pant

Experienced independent writer & photographer with a demonstrated history of working in the media industry.

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