The imposing Swayambunath Stupa is one of the most imptessive and most holy sites in the Kathmandu Valley and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The stupa, along with several shrines and temples attached to it, sits on top of a hill with panoramic views overlooking the city of Kathmandu and its surrounds. Buddhists from Nepal, India and Tibet consider it one of their most revered pilgrimage sites and have been making their sacred journeys here for centuries. Also for Hindus, this holy place is very significant. The “Swayambu Purana”, part of a set of Hindu texts combining historical fact with myths and legends, is the only Buddhist text which is included in this body of Hindu literature, the “puranas”, the “tales of old”.
According to the Swayambu Purana, in prehistoric times, the Kathmandu Valley was filled with a large lake. Fossils and sediments found in the valley verify that this was a fact. Legend, states that, over time, many holy masters came to this lake. One such holy person, possibly the “First Buddha” of the current era, threw a seed into the lake from which a magnificent lotus plant grew. Miraculously, from the centre of the perfect lotus flower, a crystal stupa emerged which radiated a pure, strong light. This is the reason for the name “Swyambu” which means “self manifested” or “self sprung”. It was said that whoever breathed in the air that had touched this stupa, would be liberated from the cycle of death and rebirth. Manjushri, a male boddhisatva, came all the way from China, attracted by the enchanting light which beamed brightly from this distant stupa and was so impressed, he had the huge lake drained.according to the ancient tales, by cutting out a gorge at Chobar. This was so that pilgrims could more easily reach the miraculous stupa. It is believed that the original stupa dates from the Licchavi dynasty, sometime around the fifth century. This has been verified by an ancient stone inscription found at the site.
In 1349, the stupa was destroyed by an invading Muslim army but King Saktimalle Bhalloka had it repaired. In 1505, a yogi had the wheel and spire added to the brilliant dome of the stupa. In the early 17th century, four shrines were built into the stupa facing north, south, east and west and, following a major renovation in the18th century, lamas held a consecration ceremony. A Bhutanese master came early in the 20th century to assist his uncle with major maintenance of the stupa and in 2010 a renovation of the stupa was carried out. On the northern side of the stupa is a monastery.
For Buddhists, a stupa represents the perfection of Buddha’s mind and visiting a stupa facilitates achievement of peace of mind, happiness and spiritual contentment, also bringing one closer to enlightenment. Visitors walk in a clockwise direction around the stupa, chanting mantras, spinning prayer wheels and contemplating the wish for peace and freedom from harm of all sentient beings.
To reach Swayambunath, visitors climb many stairs on the eastern side of the hill. Buddha’s golden face and all - seeing eyes gaze benignly down upon you from the top of the stupa, his “nose” actually being the number one in Devanagari script. If you are unable to climb on foot, a taxi can drop you further up the hill on the other side and you enter past the Peace Pond. Friendly monkeys who find refuge in the many trees on the hills, will playfully be leaping and nibbling and chatting.
Sywambu is a magical, sacred, ancient place whatever religious or spiritual beliefs you hold, which will captivate your imagination. Enjoy astounding distant views on clear days, soak in the scents of yak butter lamps and incense, hear chanting, ringing bells and view the colourful mix of brilliant fluttering prayer flags, the local people in prayer and on pilgrimage, lamas, monks and others from all parts of the globe. You can find many colourful mementoes to purchase as well as drinks and nibbles, but taking along a bottle of water with you for the climb up and also to enjoy as you wander around taking in all there is to experience, is definitely also a good idea.