Kathmandu - Boudhanath Stupa


The Boudhanath Stupa is one of the holiest Buddhist sites and one of the stupas in the world. It has been classified as a UN World Heritage Site, and is absolutely stunning. We went there right after going to Pashupatinath and the difference couldn't be any bigger. The taxi driver dropped us off on the side of a bustling, dusty street with cars honking left, right and center and pointed us in the direction of a somewhat larger group of people standing in front of a gateway. We headed towards the people, found the ticket counter, paid the $1.50 and walked into what seemed to me like an oasis of peace in the noise of the city.

I'm sure we could still hear the traffic but the Stupa is in a hidden courtyard, surrounded by cute little shops selling "typical" Nepali goods with the faint sound of chanting coming from one of the buildings. Everything was clean (compared to the dusty streets), and the colorful prayer flags picked up the colors from the surrounding stores, and no-one bothered us to buy anything or guide us around the place. I was in love. A dollar (and a half) well worth spending!

Many locals come here daily to pray. They walk around the Stupa 3 or more times chanting: 'Om Mani Padme Hum'. The meaning of this mantra is apparently debated, the two main theories being that Mani Padme refer to Buddha (Jewel-Lotus or Jewel in the Lotus - the Lotus being a sacred flower for Buddhists); the other being that the 6 syllables (om ma ni pad me hum) represent the purification of the six realms of existence: Generosity, Ethics, Patience, Diligence, Renunciation, Wisdom. I don't see them as mutually exclusive but rather a smart play on words. If you want to join them, walk and spin the prayer wheels clockwise.

The reason for the Stupa's location are subject to various legends, however it is located on an ancient trading route between Tibet and the Kathmandu Valley. A number of monasteries and nunneries settled in the region around the Boudhanath Stupa. Stupas are often built to contain relics and Boudhanath is said to contain the remains of Kassapa Buddha (the 27th of 28 Buddhas - Siddhartha apparently being the 19th). Stupas usually come in 8 shapes, representing the stages of Buddha's life: Lotus Blossom Stupa (his birth), Enlightenment Stupa, Stupa of Many Doors (his first teachings), Stupa of Descent from the God Realm, Stupa of Great Miracles, Stupa of Reconciliation, Stupa of Complete Victory, Stupa of Nirvana. Boudhanath is of the last variety, I believe due to its simple, non-adorned bell shape.

Each element of the Stupa's structure is also symbolic. From the 16-sided wall that surrounds the structure to the spire, there are 9 levels which represent the mythical Mt. Meru - a sacred mountain with 5 peaks at the center of the Buddhist universe. In fact, from above, the Stupa structure duplicates that of a Buddhist mandala - itself a representation of the cosmos.
The 3 platforms at the base of the stupa symbolize Earth [Yellow], the dome itself symbolizes Water [Green], the pyramid is a representation of Fire [Red] - its 13 levels mirroring the path to Enlightenment, the floating gilded canopy representing Air [Grey] and finally the Spire symbolizing Air or the Ether [Blue]. These 5 elements are repeated in the colors of the prayer flags that flutter from the spire.

Price: $1.50
Hours: 24h (shops close at 7pm)
Location: about a 30minute walk from Pashupatinath, $7 by taxi from Thamel area.

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