Boudhanath Stupa

by Annalise on February 7, 2010

There are stupas all over Nepal. Many are small and even walking through the country side where there is little more than a dirt path between paddies with crops, you’ll turn the corner and come upon a decorative stupa or small temples. They’re a place of worship and the original stupas were simply domed burial mounds built to hold holy relics. They’ve evolved over the centuries have become very complex structures; the physical features representing the religious philosophy behind them. From the bird’s eye view, these stupas offer the arial image of a mandala (circle of life) and each layer of the structure represents another element or stage to nirvana or enlightenment. Looking at them from the ground, you see on each of the four sides a pair of eyes representing the god’s ever present watch over creation. We’ve found it interesting to learn about the symbolism of these places and even more interesting to just go and hang out at them!

The largest stupa we’ve seen is in the North East corner of Kathmandu and is called Boudhanath. It is huge! The base of the dome part is about 100 meters in diameter. As you walk around it and just take in the magnitude of this stupa which is believed to be built at about 600 AD, you can’t help but wonder what it might have looked like in the much more sparcely populated landscape of that time. It would have been a very significant landmark. Close up you see that there are 108 different images of the Buddha circling the base of the stupa and at the end of each day you can see hundreds of Tibetan Buddhists make their daily pilgrimage of prayer, circumnavigating the stupa 108 times. It is proper to only travel clockwise around the stupa and when things get going, difficult to do otherwise. In spite of the throngs of people, it is a very harmonious place and everyone moves cooperatively as they hurry to complete their 108 circles.

Anytime you visit, you’ll also note the number of Tibetan monks about as well. There are several monestaries in the vicinity and they’re always nice to visit too. They monks are unfailingly friendly and welcoming for a visit or questions about their consistently decorated buildings. And always, they are in their wine coloured robes and generally carrying their prayer beads. In the winter months, I think they should also be commended for their fashion coordination as they will have all manner of warmer clothing but always in that same wine red colour, whether it be a down jacket, fleece, socks, touque or scarf – the colour is always consistent. Very stylist those monks!

We’ve been to Boudhanath twice now and in spite of it being a tourist and pilgrimage site, it somehow remains a calming place; it slows you down. Its scale and the dedicated reverence of the pilgrims demand you pause and walk more slowly to take it all in. A must see if ever you find yourself in Kathmandu.

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