At the heart of the busy streets of Kathmandu is the monumental Boudhanath Stupa or the Boudha Stupa. The elaborately decorated facade almost hides everything behind the cover, even the hums of the chanting inside. Entering through the gates of the complex, the first thing that meets you is the meditative eye of the Buddha, from the towering Stupa in front.
The Day-1 of our trip started with a visit to the Boudhanath Stupa, about 7 km from Central Kathmandu. The tour vehicle we hired from our hotel dropped us at the entry gate and swooped into the opposite lane. We had overcome the rather narrow streets and heavy yet silent traffic to make our way here.
Boudhanath Stupa: A brief History
The Boudhanath Stupa was built during the transition phase from Kashyap Buddha to Shakyamuni Buddha. This temple is about 120 feet in height, 100 feet in diameter, and 1 hectare in width. The dome covers an area of approximately 6700 square meters. Signifying the mind nature of Buddha – reflecting the present, past and the future, this monument is among the largest Buddhist monument in the world. The Boudhanath Stupa was listed in the UNESCO World Heritage sights in 1979.
The earthquake in 2015 completely devastated the structure including the central dome. What stands today is the reconstructed version of Boudhanath Stupa, mostly due to the remarkably steadfast restoration work carried out by the Government here since the aftermath.
The Entrance to the Stupa
As you enter through the ticket counters, the first thing that you come across is the Buddha idol in black stone. The mantra ‘Om mani padme hum’ is engraved in Pali script on the idol. With five different postures of Buddha, it indicates his consciousness of the five vital elements – earth, water, fire, air, and ether, to bring peace and harmony to mankind. The metal gate at the backdrop is the entrance through the Stupa’s perimeter wall, with prayer wheels lined all along the wall. Like every monastery, the ritual is to keep the prayer wheels rotating, so that they preserve the balance in the universe.
Accessing the Dome
The dome entrance has a Lakshmi temple. The temple has entry and exit gates on its either sides that lead to a central corridor before entering the dome area. Also, as you enter through the corridor, a room to the left has two giant sized prayer wheels. Due to photography restrictions here, I was not able to click the prayer wheel pictures. The two wheels almost touch each other and there is space for only one person to circumambulate the wheels.
When you enter the dome area and face the Boudhanath Stupa, its dome is spread over 8 levels from the bottom. While the common crowd is allowed to access and walk around the dome at only the first level, the higher levels are accessible to the monks who are believed to have acquired a certain degree or level of consciousness. From the dome top view, the bottom platforms seem like a Sreeyantra Lotus with the dome resting on it.
The Buddha’s meditative eye is distinctly noticeable from far off. The prayer flags hang from the seventh level, down to the bottom. These flags bear the names of the people who made their offerings here as a part of their visit to the Stupa. It is believed that as the flags flutter in the air, spreading peace and harmony, it brings in peace and harmony in the lives of the people.
We too decided to hoist a prayer flag in the name of our family and bought one of them. We wrote the names of our family members on the flags and handed it over to the Stupa attendants so they could hoist it later. Luckily, today, the Stupa members had planned to set up the new flags to the dome. One of the disciples would climb over the dome to the tapering metal structure to access and hoist the flags from the top, not a task meant for a rather weak hearted.
The Lhakhang Monastery
Facing the Boudhanath Stupa is the ornate and colorful Lhakhang Monastery. The entrance has the familiar prayer wheel on the left. From the upper floors you get a panoramic view of the Boudhanath Stupa in front and the Buddha statue inside the monastery aligns with the Stupa outside.
As we entered the prayer hall, the space was perfectly still. Even a leaf would fall dead drop. You can make out from the stillness of the flame and the oil inside the oil lamp. Even the vibrations due to walking inside would not send any ripples on the oil surface.
We also walked up the terrace to check out how they prepared the oil lamps. The disciples had almost no time to raise their head and see who was watching them. They were so deeply engrossed in preparing the lamps for the later part of the day that everything else seemed like anonymous to them.
Finally, we came across this giant bell which acted as a messenger to alert the commons against any threat perception. These brass bells are solid structures that resonate sounds up to 15-20 km enough to alert people in the vicinity. Elaborate carvings and designs etched on the bell adds to its artistry.
Exploring the Marketplace
The market surrounding the Stupa has a rich collection of beautiful Thangka paintings, art works, handicrafts, metal wood and stone jewelry and meditation music shops, restaurants and cafes’. I have traveled to several other monasteries in India, but the one thing that I always missed out on checking out was the ‘Singing Bowls’.
Made of various metallic alloys, especially bronze, the bowl, based on its different size plays a humming sound when gently struck or rubbed on its rim with a wooden mallet. The humming sounds seems to gradually increase as you keep playing it. The key is to keep the continuity of the rubbing the bowl rim with the mallet without breaking contact. The longer you are able to play it, the louder the humming sound gets. The best part is, that it has been designed in such a way that helps the resonating of the bowl almost instantly. The humming sound seems to gradually relax your mind, as you play it.
We finally bid adieu to the Boudhanath Stupa to move on with our journey.