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Boudanath

NEPAL | Monday, 11 November 2013 | Views [804]

 

Boudanath

 Boudanath is the largest stupa in Nepal, 43 m. tall,  and is a major Buddhist pilgrimage site.  The kora around the stupa is perhaps also the most famous in Nepal and while it isn’t long, (it is just around the stupa itself) it has constant motion with people from all over chanting “Om Mani Padme Hum” with hand-held prayer wheels and mala beads. While the chanting from a CD now only comes from one loudspeaker in a shop rather than in surround sound the way it used to, the six syllable mantra is carried to the prayer flags flying from the top of the stupa reaching into the heavens. Boudanath is a remarkable place.

 Its history is shrouded in many myths. It is known to Newaris as Kasuti Chaitya and a Newari legend says that it was constructed during a drought when people used salt on the ground to gather moisture from the fog and thereby harvest water. It is also believed that when the Licchavi King Mandeva (son of Dharmadeva) went to the Sankhu Vajrayogini Hill he was told to create a second chaitya at the spot where a pigeon he should release would stop for a rest. He set the pigeon loose and it landed on what is now Boudanath. One of the Tibetan versions has an incarnate lama (Kasa Lama) passing away at the site, which is why the people built a stupa as a memorial to him. The one thing most of them agree on is that it is an ancient site and one that has grown through any number of renovations, the last one of which is still in process.

 The Stupa itself sits on three terraced levels with a set of stairs going up one level at a time in different locations.  On the first level on either side of the steps are two figures, Vajrapani and Khadgapani riding elephants; they are the guardians of the site. There are 108 small niches on the side of the stupa itself with figures of Tara, Lokitesvara and other idols. The square facades, known as ‘Harmika’ have eyes which represent ‘peace’ and ‘learning’ and the squiggly form which looks like a question mark and is often considered the third eye, which represents the path to Sukhawati heaven. The thirteen step spire represents the steps to Buddhahood. 

 In the past it was possible to go all the way up to the stupa itself, but that is not allowed at the moment as the workers are in the process of cleaning and whitewashing the monument. I was allowed to go up to the first level, but not the second. 

 The other change is that the houses and shops around the kora and just behind the Stupa have been updated.  This area has seen a lot of foreign investment in the past decade or so and it shows in very positive ways. Part of this investment comes from a Western interest in Tibetan Buddhism and as this site has been taken over by the Tibetan community and from those from Patan (about 50 % of the stores around the kora are owned by Tibetans and 50% people from Patan), money has been spent on making the area, including the hotels, restaurants and shops, as well as the monasteries, aligned with Western standards, which includes sanitation standards.

 The Tibetans have had a long association with the Stupa, but it was the influence of "China Lama' who came in the 1960 as an ambassador between the Tibetan exile community and Nepal whohad the greatest affect.  Among other things, he arranged for land from the Nepali government for resettled Tibetans.  He resided until his death a few years ago in a building right on the kora.

In the neighborhood behind the Stupa are countless monasteries and Tibetan Buddhist schools where Westerners can study for just a few weeks up through an entire masters curricula. They offer classes in Tibetan and Sanskrit languages and Buddhist courses in English, Tibetan or Nepali.  The Stupa’s eyes that look down on the people send blessings to those who search for understanding.

 

 

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