Swayambhunath popularly known as the monkey temple is a great source of inspiration for visitors. It is one of the UNESCO world heritage of Nepal and was listed in 1979 AD.
Every element of the temple is inspiring and carries a story behind it.
Monkey Temple: A Truth Behind It
Swayabhunath is hard to pronounce which is usually a tongue twister for foreigners. Due to this, it was named as monkey temple in 1970.
In addition, there are a lot of monkeys roaming around which Swayabhunath is called the monkey temple. The monkeys in this temple were formed from the lice of Manjushri due to which the monkeys in this temple are holy.
Origin of Swayambhunath
Swayambhu was self-originated around 2000 years ago. It is believed that the Swayambhunath emerged from the lotus flower. Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, cut the gorge that dried out the Kathmandu valley which was drowned in water.
Later, the land dried out and offered people the religious value of the Swayambhunath. King Manadeva found Swayambhu and built it around the 13th century.
Center of attraction:- The monkey temple
Currently, the Swayambhunath temple maintains religious harmony among Hindus and Buddhists, the two religions.
As you get around in Swayambhu the main entrance has 365 steps where you can see side stalls selling souvenirs. These souvenirs include meditation bowls, statues of gods, necklaces, and many more.
Besides that, you can monkey hovering around you. It is better to not carry any food or any bag that can be snatched away. This monkey can reflect any aggressive behavior if you have eye contact or try to feed them.
After you climb the stairs, you should purchase a ticket to your left. Around the corner, you can view the bajra, temples, and statues.
Elements forming Swayambhunath
The main stupa of Swayambhu indicates the enlightened mind of Buddha. The structure of the stupa has an Umbrella representing the Enlightenment, and the gilded spire is painted with gold and represents the 13 steps to complete the Enlightenment.
In addition to it, the eyes of the Buddha that are on the 4 sides of the square see everywhere. The nose is written in Nepali number 1, which indicates unity. The dome which is painted white symbolizes the earth.
Apart from this, around the temple, you can view different statues of Buddha representing the fundamental elements as Akshobhya (water), Ratnasambhava (earth), Amitabha (fire), Amoghasiddhi (air), and Vairocana (ether).
Important Monuments to See
- Stupa: The most significant monument in Swyambhunath is the Stupa, which is believed to be over 2,000 years old. It is a large, white dome-shaped structure with eyes painted on all four sides, representing Buddha’s all-seeing wisdom.
- Harati Temple: The Harati Temple is located on the western side of the Stupa and is dedicated to the goddess of smallpox, Harati. The temple is adorned with colorful prayer flags and small bells, and visitors can light butter lamps and offer prayers.
- Vajra: The Vajra is a bronze thunderbolt scepter that is used in Buddhist rituals. It is displayed in a small shrine near the Stupa.
- Buddha Park: The Buddha Park is located on the eastern side of the Stupa and features a large statue of Buddha surrounded by smaller statues of other deities.
- Prayer Wheels: There are numerous prayer wheels located around the Stupa that visitors can spin while reciting prayers. It is believed that spinning the prayer wheel has the same effect as reciting the prayers.
- Monasteries: There are several monasteries located around Swyambhunath where visitors can learn more about Buddhism and the local culture.
- Tibetan Refugee Camp: The Tibetan Refugee Camp is located on the northern side of Swyambhunath and is the place for hundreds of Tibetan refugees who have fled Tibet. Visitors can learn about their culture and purchase traditional Tibetan handicrafts.
- Buddha statue on the west side of Swayambhu.
- The Sleeping Buddha
The main Festival of Swayambhunath
Gunla is a month-long Buddhist festival that is celebrated annually by the Newar community in Nepal. It falls in the Nepali month of Gunla, which corresponds to July/August in the Gregorian calendar.
The festival is observed mainly by the Buddhist community of the Kathmandu Valley, and it is celebrated in different parts of the valley, including the ancient city of Patan, Boudhanath, and Swayambhunath.
During the festival, devotees wake up early in the morning and visit various Buddhist monasteries, including Swayambhunath and Boudhanath, to offer prayers and make offerings. They also recite mantras, chant hymns, and light butter lamps.
One of the significant features of the Gunla festival is the playing of traditional musical instruments such as Dhimay, Bhusyah, Jhyali, and Panchai Baja. Devotees parade through the streets playing these instruments, while others follow behind, singing and dancing.
Another important aspect of the festival is the practice of Gunla Bajan, which involves reciting religious hymns and playing musical instruments. This practice is believed to have originated from the practice of monks reciting sutras during the rainy season when outdoor activities were limited.
The Gunla festival is also associated with the tradition of giving alms to Buddhist monks, known as Gunla Bhuja. Devotees offer food, clothing, and other essentials to monks to accumulate merit and show their devotion to Buddhism.
Buddha Jayanti, also known as Vesak or Buddha Purnima, is a festival celebrated by Buddhists worldwide to commemorate the birth, enlightenment, and death of Gautama Buddha. It is a significant festival in Nepal and is usually celebrated on the full moon day in the Nepali month of Baisakh (April/May).
While Buddha Jayanti and the Swayambhu Jatra festival share similar themes and are both celebrated at Swayambhunath, they are not the same festival. The Swayambhu Jatra is specifically a celebration of Swayambhunath, while Buddha Jayanti is a broader celebration of Buddha’s life and teachings.
During Buddha Jayanti, Buddhists visit temples and shrines to offer prayers, light candles, and participate in meditation and chanting. They also perform acts of charity and kindness, such as donating food or clothing to the poor.
Lhosar is a festival celebrated by the Tibetan and Sherpa communities in Nepal to mark the Tibetan New Year. The festival falls in the month of February, and it is one of the most significant festivals in the Tibetan calendar.
During the festival, people dress up in their traditional clothes and gather with their families and friends to celebrate. The festival is marked by feasting, dancing, and singing, and it is a time for people to express their gratitude and hopes for the new year.
One of the most important aspects of the Lhosar festival is the creation of sand mandalas, intricate designs made with colored sand, which are believed to represent the universe. Monks spend days creating these mandalas, which are then destroyed in a ceremony symbolizing the impermanence of all things.
Another essential feature of the Lhosar festival is the traditional dance called Gumpa dance, which is performed in monasteries and other public places. The dance involves performers wearing elaborate costumes and masks, representing different deities and demons.
The festival is also marked by the preparation and sharing of traditional food, such as Guthuk, a soup made with barley and vegetables, and Khapse, a type of fried pastry.
These are the main three festivals celebrated in Swayambhu.
Things to See Around
- The main stupa of Swayambhu.
- Swayambhu Buddhist Museum
- The Chaityas courtyard
- The Stairs of Swayambhunath
- The viewpoint
- The World Peace Pond
- The Monkey Pool
- The Monasteries
- The Buddha Amideva Park
Although some tourists may visit, the Monkey Temple remains an active place of worship for locals. It’s common to see people praying and using Buddhist prayer beads on the premises.
Some frequently asked questions about Swayambhunath
What does Swayambhu mean?
Swayambhu is a Sanskrit word that is often proved as a tongue twister for everyone. Swayabhu means self-manifested which means the stupa reflects self-existence.
How to get into Swayambhunath?
Swayambhunath is one of the centers of attraction lying in Kathmandu. You can get around in Swayambhu on your private hire, public bus, or foot as per the distance to be covered.
Where can I stay near Swayambhunath?
You can stay in a hotel near Swayambhunath. There are a lot of hotels with reasonable prices and excellent services.
How many stairs are there in Swayambhu?
There are 365 steps/ stairs in Swayambhu. There are no alternatives but the only way to get to the top is by climbing the 365 steps to enjoy the scenic beauty of Kathmandu.
Is Swayambhunath the largest/ biggest Stupa in the world?
No, Swayabhunath is not the largest/ biggest stupa in the world. But, the largest stupa located in Nepal is the Boudhanath stupa. Do not forget to visit the biggest dome in Nepal.
Besides that, the tallest stupa in the world is Jetavanaramaya Stupa, located in the ancient city of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka.
When was Swayambhunat listed as a UNESCO world heritage site?
Swayambhunath was listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1979.