Namaste Nepal! The Boudhanath Stupa

Namaste Nepal! The Boudhanath Stupa

This week we cross over into Nepal with our intrepid explorers. After an hour-long flight on Buddha Air, they landed in Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal. Getting through customs, after applying and paying for their visas, was apparently a long affair, after which they headed for Hotel Tibet International. 

The entrance to the Hotel Tibet International. 

Although the name is something of a misnomer (being in Nepal), it has spectacular views of the Boudhanath Stupa and the rooftop buildings and mountains surrounding Kathmandu.

At its most basic, a “stupa” is a ceremonial/commemorative burial mound, usually housing sacred relics, used for the veneration of Buddhist saints, as well as the Buddha himself. The first Boudhanath Stupa was built sometime after 600 AD, and its massive mandala makes it one of the largest spherical stupas in the world (a mandala is a circular figure representing the universe in Hindu and Buddhist symbolism, and it generally represents the spiritual journey, starting from outside to the inner core, through layers). Some claim that Boudhanath contains the relics of the past Buddha, Kashyapa. Others believe it contains a piece of bone from the skeleton of Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha. Either way, it’s a sacred spot and one of the holiest Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Kathmandu.

The Boudhanath Stupa as seen from the top of Hotel Tibet International.

The first stupa was wrecked by Mughal invaders in the 14th century, so the current stupa is a more recent construction rebuilt after the invasion. In April 2015, part of Boudhanath was again rebuilt after damage caused by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake. During this event, also known as the Gorkha earthquake, about 9,000 people were killed, many thousands more were injured, and more than 600,000 structures in Kathmandu and other nearby towns were either damaged or destroyed. It was the worst earthquake in 80 years. At least twenty-two people were killed on Mount Everest on the same fateful day…

The Boudhanath Stupa at night.

The domed stupa actually proved relatively resistant to the earthquake, but the gold spire that perched on top of the dome was severely damaged. The whole structure above the dome, and the religious relics it contained, had to be removed. The reconstruction work began in June 2015 and was completed by November 2016. The renovation and reconstruction were organized and completed by the Boudhanath Area Development Committee, and the repairs were funded entirely by private donations from Buddhist groups and volunteers. 

An auspicious rainbow over the Boudhanath Stupa.

In terms of grace and purity of line, no other stupa in Nepal comes close to the Boudhanath Stupa. From the whitewashed dome to the gilded tower, the monument is perfectly proportioned. The stupa is richly decorated with colourful prayer flags depicting mantras and prayers, and around the base are 108 small images of the Dhyani Buddha Amitabha (108 is an auspicious number in Tibetan culture). 

The Boudhanath Stupa – one of the holiest Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Kathmandu.

There are also rings of prayer wheels, set (in groups of four or five) into 147 niches. There are giant pairs of eyes looking out from the four sides of the main tower – said to symbolize the all-seeing ability of the Buddha. The stupa is built on an octagonal base which represents the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism. Boudhanath is one of the largest stupas in the world, measuring almost 100 m in diameter and 36 m in height. It was listed in world heritage list by UNESCO in 1979 and it is one of the most popular tourist sites in Kathmandu.

Jacqui Ikin & The Cross Country Team

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