The Legend of Manjushree and the Mystical Paleo Kathmandu Lake
Manjushree meaning “gentle glory” is often perceived as a divine being who brought order to the Kathmandu valley when it was a Paleo Kathmandu Lake, by cutting down the Chobhar gorge, draining out the water and making the land suitable for life.
Even more intriguing is the way he did it, by using a supernatural armament, a sword of godly might, cutting the valley into two. On the historical side of affairs, there are enough geological evidences to suggest that Kathmandu was indeed a lake thousands of years ago. Fossil remains of several animals support the hypothesis as well.
A lake with such a huge surface and great depth is bound to be surrounded by legends and, indeed, it was believed to be the home to abundant supernatural creatures.
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Bodhisattva Manjushree and The Swayambhu stupa
Manjushree was a Buddhist saint who came to Nepal from Wu-tai Shan (Mount Wutai) in China, one of the sacred mountains in the region. In China, he is known as Wenshu and is also venerated as a bodhisattva, (one who seeks awakening). As for his attributes, he carries the book of supreme wisdom in his left hand and a flaming sword in his right hand.
When the saint arrived in the Himalayas, he rested on a hill east of Kathmandu for three nights. He was astonished when he saw bright lights from a self-existent flame, Swayambhu in the middle of a huge lake.
The magical lights came from a giant lotus with thousand petals. Manjushree reached the celestial flame and thought the divine lights from the flame could bless the entire Himalayas if he drained the lake by cutting the Chobhar gorge.
Manjushree thought the Kathmandu valley could be a good settlement and founded the first city in the valley called Manjupatan which was located between Swayambhu and Guhyeshwari. Several stories follow after his legendary deed.
There are numerous tales and legends attached to the lake. Although he laid the foundation for a great civilization to follow, Manjushree’s action wasn’t appreciated by everyone. His actions upset a few, including the god of the hills, mythical spirits and supernatural beings of the place.
The Aadinath Lokeshwar Temple
The Adinath temple is dedicated to Adinath Lokeshwar also known as Anandhari Lokeshwar in Chobar, one of the four major Lokeshwars in the Kathmandu valley along with Rato Machhindranath, Seto Machhindranath and Nala Karunamaya.
Lokeshwar is known as the god of compassion. Numerous utensils are hung around the mysterious shrine of Aadinath Lokeshwar. The utensils are offered to the god for the well-being of the deceased loved ones in their afterlife.
The current temple was built in the 15th century in the Malla era. However, in the religious and mythical scheme of things, when Manjushree cut the gorge at Chobar, a deity living in the Chobhar hills was upset.
Manjushree told him that a great civilization will begin in the valley, and when it will flourish, Lord Adinath will make his home in Chobhar hills. It is said that Manjushree built a vihar at the location where the temple now stands. He then established the Manju (sweet) Patan (city), a city where art, architecture and craftsmanship flourished.
The legend of Cheppu
When Manjushree drained the water out of the Kathmandu Lake, several mythical creatures emerged from the water. One of them was Cheppu, a wrathful beast who was devouring on a snake in the lake. It was the most unique creature Manjushree had ever seen so he decided to sketch it. But before he could complete the sketch, the creature went back into the water.
As Manjushree could only sketch Cheppu’s head, its body’s shape remains unknown till date. Cheppu became homeless after the lake was completely drained out and Manjushree gave Cheppu the honourable place at the top of the main entrance of the shrines for protecting them dangers.
Since Manjushree only sketched Cheppu’s head, we can only see the head above the temples, while its body remains unknown till date. Cheppu is found in the main entrance of the Hindu and Buddhist shrines all over Nepal for the protection from all the dangers.
Nagas(serpents) are the rivals of Cheppu and Cheppu is also known as one of the brothers of Garuda, another mythical creature of Hinduism and Buddhism. Garuda is depicted as a creature with a head and wings of a kite and body of a man.
Some people believe that Cheppu’s mother found him in her nest, inside an egg which was prematurely hatched with only with formation of the head.
Taudaha and the King of Snakes
Hidden below the smooth and calm surface of the Kathmandu lake were the Nagas, the serpent beings. According to a legend, the King of snakes, Karkotak became furious because countless snakes that lived in the lake became homeless.
One of the central myths is that Manjushree met the King of snakes, Karkotak and told him not to leave the valley. He requested Karkotak to protect the people who would settle on it in the future.
Majushree also told all the homeless snakes and mythical creatures in the lake to live in Taudaha, a smaller lake. When the Kathmandu Lake was drained, smaller lakes were formed like Taudaha ‘Ta’, meaning snake and ‘Daha’, which means lake.
Soon people started to settle in the valley and to please the serpent King, the people built an underwater palace studded with gold and precious jewelry. This is where scientific empiricism & religious belief often intersect because fossil remains prove that Kathmandu valley was once a massive lake that had enormous snakes.
It is possible that people worshipped them as deities and offered precious things in the lake. People thought of the Karkotak as a factual account and it is said that many rulers including Junga Bahadur Rana sent an army underwater to look for the serpent King’s treasures.