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Swayambhunath Stupa

Listed under Sacred Spaces in Kathmandu, Nepal.

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A golden temple crowning a wooded hill, Swayambhunath Stupa is the most ancient and enigmatic of all the holy shrines in Kathmandu valley. Historical records found on a stone inscription give evidence that the stupa was already an important Buddhist pilgrimage destination by the 5th century AD. Its origins however, date to a much earlier time, long before the arrival of Buddhism into the valley. Swayambhunath's worshippers include Hindus, Vajrayana Buddhists of northern Nepal and Tibet, and the Newari Buddhists of central and southern Nepal. Each morning before dawn hundreds of pilgrims ascend the 365 steps leading up the hill and begin a series of circumambulations of the stupa. On each of the four sides of the stupa is a pair of large eyes. These eyes are symbolic of God's all-seeing perspective. There is no nose between the eyes but rather a representation of the number one in the Nepali alphabet, signifying that the single way to enlightenment is through the Buddhist path. Above each pair of eyes is another eye, the third eye, signifying the wisdom of looking within. No ears are shown because it is said the Buddha is not interested in hearing prayers in praise of him. Atop Swayambhunath hill is another fascinating though smaller and less visited temple. This is Shantipur, the 'Place of Peace', inside of which - in a secret and always locked underground chamber - lives the 8th century Tantric master Shantikar Acharya. Practising meditation techniques that have preserved his life for centuries, he is a great esoteric magician who has complete power over the weather. Swayambhunath stupa is also called the ‘Monkey Temple’ because of the many hundreds of monkeys who scamper about the temple at nighttime after the pilgrims have departed.

More about the Swayambhunath Stupa from Sacred Sites.

Written by  Martin Gray.

Other expert and press reviews

“Monuments of the Kathmandu Valley”

'The cultural heritage of the Kathmandu Valley is illustrated by seven groups of monuments and buildings which display the full range of historic and artistic achievements for which the Kathmandu Valley is world famous. The seven include the Durbar Squa… Read more...

Written by press. UNESCO

“Kathmandu: new year in Nepal”

By Emma Mahony for The Times. First published 3rd January 2009. THREE days of smoky camp fires, sweet tea, dreadlocks, drums banging, naked torsos with beads, face paint and the pungent smell of cannabis. If you close your eyes for a moment, you could … Read more...

Written by press. See the full article in The Times, 3rd January 2008.

Comments, reviews and questions by other travellers

Kathmandu Valley

A rich melting-pot of Hindu and Buddhist culture, the Kathmandu Valley contains nearly 150 architectural and artistic treasures, mainly within the cities of Patan, Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and four smaller towns. Some of the handsome, mysterious buildings have already been lost due to modern urban development. Among the most striking are the royal Durbar temple squares of the Hanuman Dhoka Palace Complex, with their carved wooden walls and windows and plush state rooms, still used for royal ceremonies.

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