Monday, June 23, 2008

Swayambunath - the Monkey Temple

On Saturday I walked with Carly (on her way to work) as far as Swayambu, the "Monkey Temple". It's one of Nepal's most sacred sites perched high on a hill in western Kathmandu. - second only to the great Boudhanath Stupa to the East (the one we did not get to visit because of the "bandh" or transportation strike.) It is also a residence for exiled monks from Tibet.

Each morning before dawn, hundreds of pilgrims ascend the 365 steps from eastern side that lead up the hill, passing the two lions guarding the entrance, and begin a series of clockwise circumambulations of the stupa - spinning the prayer wheels as they go. There are a number of white stupas on the way up and a very large one on top with Buddha's eyes watching over the Kathmandu Valley. The view of the valley would be nice except for the smog - alas!

As with most holy sites in Nepal, Swayambu is revered and shared by Buddhists and Hindus alike. It dates back to 640 CE as confirmed by an engraved stone found at the site. Mythology holds that the entire valley was once filled with an enormous lake, out of which grew a lotus. The valley came to be known as Swayambu, meaning "Self-Created." Bodhisatva Manjushri had a vision of the lotus at Swayambhu and traveled there to worship it. Seeing that the valley can be good settlement and to make the site more accessible to human pilgrims, Manjushri cut a gorge at that drained the water drained out of the lake, leaving the valley in which Kathmandu now lies. The lotus was transformed into a hill and the flower become the Swayambhunath stupa. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it!

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