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Swayabhunath Stupa

Swayabhunath Stupa
Nepal Travel Attraction

It is hard to say how the Swayambhunath Stupa came to exist without explaining the story of how Kathmandu was found. The legend says, and this is how everyone will explain how history went:

The Kathmandu Valley that we see today was once a great lake. A Chinese saint, Bodhisattva Manjusri was exploring this uncharted land and during his travels he came across this beautiful lake where he saw a brilliant light coming beaming up from a lotus floating in the center of the lake. He took out his sword and cut a slit into a nearby hill so he might get a closer look at the lotus in hopes he might be able to worship it. The cut caused all of the water to flow out of the lake leaving the fertile valley and the lotus behind.

Eventually man settled in the valley and created what is now the Kathmandu Valley but since the discovery of the lotus, the hilltop that the lotus was floating over has been worshiped, Swayambhu or “the self-existent.” The light emitted from the lotus was said to be so strong that after a while it was too, much for anyone to bear. The light was eventually filtered with structures to house the powers of the Lord.

Around the 13th century a large dome shaped structure was added to the other layers that it had accumulated over the years. At this time the stupas central mast was damaged, but it was replaced and further developed at that time.

Overwhelming sources of power were discovered on top of this specific hill that encouraged devotees to build homes, stupas and other temples around the hill in order to honor the spirits and to provide shelter for those wanting to travel to this holy place.

The Swayambhunath Stupa that we see today is a mecca of worship. From the bottom of the hill, there are prayer flags and small temples and shrines. Homes and shops have been built on almost all sides of the hilltop sacred stupa. Images of important Gods and Goddesses decorate the area and have created a harmonious place of worship for both Buddhist and Hindus alike. You can find devotees from Tibetan monks to Newar nuns and Brahman priests to western followers. (To read more about the Brahman, and Newar communities, please visit our ethnic groups page.)

This temple, one of the most ancient in this part of the world, is a landmark of the valley. It is a major gathering place for multiple festivals taking place throughout the year like “Saraswati Puja” dedicated to Saraswati the Goddess of Learning and the more crowded festivals of the year are the “Tibetan New Year” and “Buddha Jayanti” or “Buddha’s Birthday” where thousands of devotees travel from all around to come together at this location to spend all day singing, dancing and celebrating the merry festival.

To get to the temple you could walk from the bottom of the hill up the 350+ stairs or if you are not up for that challenge for whatever reason, there is a road that drives you almost to the top of the hill. The location of the temple being on a hilltop is a perfect place to see panoramic views of the Kathmandu Valley. And of course for those wanting to see the largest image of the Sayamuni Buddha in Nepal, it is also here in a monastery next to the stupa.

To view pre-designed Nepal travel packages, see our programs page or the encyclopedia for more Nepal Travel items.