Introduction (Photo Gallery)
Bauddhanath, the biggest available stupa found in Nepal, lies 5 kms away from Kathmandu on the traditional way leading to Lhasa, an ancient Tibetan town, now a Chinese territory. The stupa is also known by the name such as KHASTI CHAITYA, KHASHAU CHAITYA, KHASTO CHAITYA and the KHASA CHAITYA. It is believed that the name KHASTi is associated with
KHASA, townlet of Tibet which lies on the way between Lhasa and Nepal. This also has led some scholars to believe that this stupa’s antiquity is mixed with the Lamaistic preaching and thus perpetuated only by the followers of Lamasism. But this is not all true. The Bauddhanath has been a place of pilgrimage and veneration throughout the ages for the entire Buddhists of the world since the very dawn of Nepal’s history. This also has been a place of Buddhist learning and religion since time immemorial.
The authentic history of this place based on the evidential facts however, is lacking. Nevertheless, there are few literal and legendary evidences available both in Nepal and Tibet from which some inferences about it’s historicity can be drawn. Among such legends and traditions still found prevalent in Nepal as well as in Tibet, the story of a lady “SUKONTAMA” by name, is the one which gives credit to this lady as responsible to erect this magnificent stupa over the holy corporal relics of the Buddha ‘KASYAPA’, the six moral Buddha in succession. The same story also has the reference of her two sons; GURU PADMASAMBHAVA and DALAILAMA, who in order to fulfill their mother’s desire, took several births and preached Buddhism in Tibet.
The famous Indologist of the 19th century, Mr. Old Field, in his book “The Sketches from Nepal”, has said that this magnificent stupa was erected over the corporal relics of a Lama from KHASA, a small Tibetan town which lies close to the present day’s BARHABISE, a Nepalese border town, east to kathmandu, and the stupa was named after the place he belonged. It is also said that the Lama had died in Kathmandu on his pilgrimage to Nepal.
Another renowned French historian S.Levi, in his book “La Nepal”, has given a different but an equally interesting story about its consecration. According to which this massive stupa was erected long ago by an unknown king intended to please Goddess VAJRAYOGINI, a widely revered Goddess in Nepal, by offering his intense gratitude from whose kind grace he could be freed from a heinous sin he had once committed unknowingly. It is also very interesting to know that he did this very deplorable act on the very wish and command of his won father. It is said that his father had given this strange order to him in order to make the once dried up NARAYANHITI (water spout) running again as advice by his court astrologer. An almost identical story while dealing with the purpose and motive behind the construction of this stupa has also been given in the oldest available Chronicle of Nepal, “THE GOPAL RAJ VAMSAVALI”, a 14th century treaty. Here, unlike the story narrated in Levi’s book, the names of both the kings and the prince have also been given. The king who had asked his son to chop off his won head was DHARMA DEVA and his son’s name was the famous Lichhavi king MANA DEVA of 459-505 AD. Apart from this, the same Chronicle also has a reference of a king named Siva Deva as its consecrator.
There is also an equally interesting story prevails which also indirectly supports the aforesaid narratives. According to this the “Chabahil Chaitya”, another equally important Buddhist stupa stands not very far from aforesaid Buddhanath stupa was constructed out of the remaining materials of the former stupa. The construction work of the later stupa must have been done sometimes in the Lichhavi period itself, as the available evidences belonging to the same period abound here in the form of stone inscriptions and sculptures which are having a distinct Lichhavi traits and features on them.
About its another popular name the KHASTO CHAITYA, there is one very interesting story prevails. According to which, an acute shortage of water was encountered at the time of its construction which could be overcome by collecting a large quantity of morning dew with the help of a large piece of cloth(Shawl), locally known as a KHASTO and the stupa thus got this name.
From all these references and evidences, this can be inferred that this stupa might have been constructed sometimes during the mighty Lichhavis, who ruled Nepal during 4th to the 2nd half to the 9th century A.A. Historians like D.R. Regmi, Marry S. Slusser and others also have accepted this.
Art Culture and Religion
Bauddhanath stupa, largest in dimension and size, found in Nepal represents as the best example of the Nepalese stupa architectural design. This massive stupa stands over a 3 tired crossed rectangles designed in a tantric MANDALA from. This unique and exquisite design of it also has made it a rare and exclusive piece of the traditional Nepalese stupa architectural work. This type of stupa architectural design is not common either in Nepal or elsewhere. Apart from its exclusive design and style, its massive size and dimension also has made it a distinct piece. Te stupa covers an area of 82.36*82.03m and its total height is 36m. Moreover, unlike the other existing stupas in Nepal, this is lacking the idols of five Dhyani Buddhas being installed on its cardinal directions. Instead, it has only one image of Dhyani Buddha, the AKCHHOBHYA, which has been installed on its northern side dome’s base. The stupa is made out of construction materials like mud, bricks, lime stone, metal and wood. It is having an enclosure wall all around it and has a total of 735 metal prayer wheels fixed into its 147 cabinet like chambers. Each prayer wheel contains the popular Buddhist Mantra “OM MANI PADME HUMN” embossed on them in the Newari script popularly in uses in the medieval times.
The base of the stupa dome is rested up on its three successive tired platforms which are also used as circumbulatory passages. A little above the base of the dome there is a series of recessed niches encircling the entire periphery of dome where a total number of 108 beautifully done stone sculptures of different Buddhist deities have been installed. The stupa has its main entrance on the northern side, from where the devotees can approach to the base of the stupa for a holy circumbulation passing again through the fights of stairs given to the each successive tries which can also be used as a separate circumbulatory passages. These successive tires again have 6 miniature stupas built over them; four to the north and two to its south. To the top of the stupa dome, a square HARMIKA has been erected facing all cardinal directions. Each side has the sketches of the pairs of eyes along with the question marks which are dome very artistically. Ti is said that with these ever cautious eyes the lord beholds every happening constantly with a very keen attention and so nothing is secret to him. Over this, a thirteen layered wooden rings have been erected, which are according to the Buddhist religious belief, represent the different mental stages of human beings which have to be crossed before attending final salvation, the Nirvana by one who wants to be freed from the worldly bondages. Above this, over a gilded AMALIKA, in the form of an inverted lotus Patel, a vessel has been placed, which according to the traditions, filled with the water of knowledge. On the top, a gild metal parasol along with a pinnacle is given which is also of a gilded metal.
To its northern side’s main entrance, a separate temple dedicated to the Goddess HARITI has been build in a rectangular plan with a metallic roof over it. The temple houses a silver mould sculpture of the Goddess HARITI executed in a semi terrific appearance with a small figure of a baby on her bosom. The tradition of worshipping Goddess HARITI has a very long antiquity in Nepal.
Buddhanath stupa has been a very sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site for most of the Buddhists of the world. It also has been a centre of Buddhist learning and religious activities since very long. This place, especially for the devoted coming from Tibet, has greater religious significance. Even today hundreds and thousands of devotees from come here every year to pay their homage to the lord. This place is also an important centre for the followers of the Lamaistic Buddhism. The number of pilgrims increases pouring here especially on various festive occasions as LHOSAR, BUDDHA PURNIMA etc. LOSHAR is a big festival celebrated with a great joy and enthusiasm by Tibetans and some Nepalese communities as well. On this occasion, the entire stupa along with its surroundings are decorated and lit. This is a New Year’s Day festival for Tibetans and some Nepalese as well and falls between the second half of January and the first half of February every year. The youngsters are blessed by the elders during this festival.
Another important festive event occurs here is the Twelve year’s festival which falls once in every twelve year’s interval. It is believed that it took twelve long years to complete building this stupa and this festival is organized to commemorate that special event. It is also said that this festival is celebrated to mark the repetition of the names of the months which reoccurs after every twelve years. Each Tibetan mounts is dedicated and named after an animal. The next same festival is going to occur in 2004/2005 A.D. Similarly another festival falls on the full month day of the month Magh (January- February). During this festival, a chariot ceremony of MHYAZIMA is performed. On this occasion, a grand religious procession takes a round of the locality along with the chariot. In the same way, another chariot festival is organized and celebrated here on the full Moon day of the month of Baisakh (May-June) to mark the auspicious birth day of Lord Buddha. In this occasion, the chariot with the idols of Buddha is taken to the various places within the locality accompanied by a grand religious procession with it. The day to day worship of the stupa is also carried out along with its aforesaid special worships and such worships are regularly performed by the traditional Lama priests, the forefathers of the present day monk the CHINIYA LAMA of the adjoining BAUDHHA GHYANG, a monastery. Here, thousands of pilgrims come everyday to light the immortal lamp burning since time immemorial. It is also believed that it never extinguished in the past. If there is a chance, ever extinguishes that can be lit again with the help of another lamp brought either from the SWAYAMBHU NATH stupa or from the VAJRAYOGINI temple SANKHU.
Listing in the world Heritage list
In 1972 the UNESCO’s seventh convention under the U.N.O. passed a resolution to protect the important natural and man made monuments found all around the world. It was only in 1978 that Nepal signed the agreement and got the membership. After on year, Nepal requested UNESCO to include seven historical and monumental sites of the Kathmandu valley which have historical, cultural, religious and architectural importance. UNESCO’s world heritage committee convened in Cairo in 1979 accepted and approved the proposal of Nepal and enlisted BUDHANATH stupa in the world now. This has enhanced the importance of this place.