Both ancient scriptures and historical evidence states that Kathmandu valley was once submerged in water over 2000 years ago. An inscription dated 460 AD states that the construction was carried out by King Manadeva and by the 13th century, Swayambhunath had developed into an important center of Buddhism. Painted on the four sides of the spire’s base are all seeing eyes of lord Buddha keeping an eternal watch on the valley distinguishing between vice and virtue. According to Buddhist legend, a single perfect lotus grew in the center of the lake. When the bodhisattva Manjushri evacuate the lake with a lacerate of his sword, the lotus flower settled on top of a hill and the light became the Swayambhunath stupa. The valley then became identified as “Swayambhu”, swayam in Sanskrit means self and Swayambhunath means “self-created”, or “self-existent one”. The Tibetan name for Swoyambhunath known as ‘sublime trees’. The Buddhist Stupa holds a special position among the Buddhists and Hindus. Swayambhunath is the most ancient & enigmatic of all the holy shrines in Kathmandu Valley. Its lofty white dome & glittering golden spire are visible for many miles and from all sides of the valley. Historical records found on a stone inscription give evidence that stupa was already an important Buddhist pilgrimage destination by the 5th century AD.
Swayambhunath is a glorious ancient religious architectural, located in the middle of Kathmandu city. It is center of faith of Buddhist and Hindus. Swayambhunath is the best place to observe the religious harmony in Nepal. It is the most ancient temple in this part of the world and its worshippers are diverse from Newar nuns, Tibetan monks and Brahman priests to lay Buddhist and Hindus. Swaymbhhunath stupa was listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Monument List in 1979. Swayambhunath is also recognized as the Monkey Temple as there are holy monkeys living in the north- west parts of the temple. They are holy because Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom and learning was raising the hill which the stupa stands on. He was supposed to leave his hair short but he made it grow long and head lice grew. It is said that the head lice transformed into these monkeys.
Swayambhunath is a major historical landmark of the valley provides an outstanding sight of Kathmandu Valley. Swayambhunath Temple is a popular place to visit in the world. The hemispherical part of the chaitya is made of brick and stone. On the top of hemispherical part lies the hermika which carries the eyes of vairochana watching in all the direction and believed to have been painted in the Malla Period. The stupa is also laden with the thirteen gold plated spires which symbolize the thirteen stages to salvation. The spire is crowned by a golden umbrella supported by a pole from within the center. Devotees pour lime down the chaitya to cure illness of family members. It lies about 3 kilometer west of down town Kathmandu. There are two different ways to reach this site. One is from the west side which is relatively a short cut and the other is from the east side that leads to the main entrance with 365 steps to reach on the top with various flower vendor display their merchandise at the foot for visitor, where the most venerated Swayambhu stupa stands commanding a magnificent view of Kathmandu valley and the breathtaking panorama of the north eastern Himalayan range. The swayambhunath area possesses not only the Stupa but many temple, shrines, Tibetan monasteries, statutes of different gods. There is a small forest near by the stupa which homes red macaque monkey that mostly feed on the item offered by the devotees. Some of the Tibetan exiles in Nepal live nearby the Stupa. The Buddhists visit the stupa for religious region, but everyone is interested in mysticism, tantra, spiritually, ancient sculpture and fine arts. The surroundings of Swayambhu Stupa consists of chaityas, temples, painted images of deities and numerous other religious objects. Buddha Purnima, the birthday of Lord Buddha which falls on the full moon day of Baishakh (April, May), Gunla, the holy Buddhist month according to Newari Calendar (Aug- Sep, early morning), Kojagrath Purnima(Sept-Oct) Samyak day of the Magh(Jan- Feb) once in every twelve years, Lhosar are the most important days to visit in this holy sites.
Some important monuments to perceive in this area:-
- Harati Temple:-
The temple is dedicated to the goddess of smallpox and other epidemics. The presence of the Harati Devi temple signifies the intermingling of the pantheons of Hinduism and Buddhism in Nepal. The temple dedicated to Harati, the goddess of all children and it is said that she was an ogress before Lord Buddha converted her to be the caretaker of all children. It is a two- tiered pagoda temple dedicated to the primal mother- Ajima who is also known as the protective deity of children. Special prayers are offered on Saturday and Tuesday.
- Anantapura and Pratapaura:
These two temples dedicated to Vajrayana deities, were built by King Pratap Malla in the 17th century. Anantapura temple was named after his consort and both these temples represent the Shikhara style of architecture. Anantapura was destroyed in the earthquake of 2015 but is due for reconstruction.
- Bajra Dhatu Mandala:-
The mandala depicts twelve animals representing the twelve months of the Tibetan year. The gilt Bajra installed by King Pratap Malla in the middle of the 17th century represents the sword Chandahasa , Vajradhatvesvari, Mamaki Tara, Ratnasambhava, Pandara , Amitabha, Tara, Amogha Siddhi and Saptolchini. The Vairochana is represented by the eyes painted on the hermika. Amitabha is the main deity of the chaitya.
- Five Elements of Life:-
Turn to left from the 365 steps and there will be a small building that contains one of the five elements placed in cardinal points around swayambhunath. Temples and sacred sites representing the five fundamental elements of nature are said to have been founded by Shantikar Acharya. The five elements of life represented in the premise of the Stupa are Vasupura (earth), Nagapura (serpents, the lord of water), Shantipura or Akashpura (space or sky), Vayupura (air) and Agnipura (fire).
- The Vajra (Lightning Bolt):-
Just before the top of the steps as the impressive stupa comes into view, visitors will come across the huge Vajra or lightning bolt that’s set upon a mandal with animals shown at its base.
- The Main Swayambhunath Stupa:-
It is rumored that in the 14th century Mughal raiders broke the dome in search of gold. Later on, British troops found gold in the nearby forests. Since then the stupa has been repaired many times over. Visitors will notice the giant eyes that are painted on all four sides of the upper portion of the stupa. One belief is that they are the guardians of Lokpals who are the directional guardians of the universe. The eyes first appeared in the 16th century so they’re relatively new. However, most people are simply the eyes of Buddha gazing out over the Valley. Surrounding the stupa are brass prayer wheels which can be spun to bring good fortune when Om Mani padme hum (“hail to the jewel in the lotus”) is recited.
- Swayambhu Buddhists Museum:-
To the left of the Stupa, at the corner is a small red brick building that houses that dimly-lit museum. It was slightly damaged in the earthquake 2015 but remains open. There is a small collection of Buddhism statues inside and items located around the stupa over the years. It is free to enter.
- Shakyamuni Buddha:-
Walk to the rear of Harati/ Ajima Temple and take a left past the chaityas to the back of the swayambhunath compound. There is a red brick alcove standing tall and large is a black stone Buddha. Carved from a single piece of stone sometimes during the 7th century there is none other like it is Nepal. The image is said to be that Siddhartha Gautam.
- Shantipur( Sky Elements):-
The damaged building off to the north of the main compound holds some of Nepal’s most famous tales. It built over 1500 years ago and originally dedicated to the sky god. However its current name came from a Vajrayana priest Shantikaracharya. Shantikaracharya became so powerful it’s rumored that he could command spirits, spells and even gods. He is said to conquered death. After sealing himself into the third subterranean chamber he came out briefly when king Gunakamadeva implores the priest to help with a drought. The priest came out with Nagas and water was brought back to the city. Later king Pratap Malla entered the temples underground chambers seeking similar help. He found the priest looking emancipated but alive. Shantikaracharya pointed to a mandal on a scroll which the king took outside and it began to rain. So, he wrote a poem it which is inscribed inside the building.
- Around swayambhunath:-
Shantipur is a collection of smaller stupas, a bell and the world peace pond. To the rear of the pond is a small forest. The opposite of the world peace is the side entrance to the stupa complex. There is Whochen Thkjay Choyaling Monastery just raise the hill. Meanwhile outside the stupa’s side entrance is the natural history museum and further along the road Buddha Park which contains some impressive giant Buddha statues.
- The huge gold plated Vajra ‘thunderbolt’ set in the east side of the stupa.
- Buddha statute on the west side of Swayambhu.
- The sleeping Buddha.
- The Dewa Dharma Monastery, noted for a bronze icon of Buddha and traditional Tibetan paintings,