Kathmandu – the City of Wooden Temples
Nepal, “a land generously endowed by God” is bordered on the north by the eight-thousand-meter peaks of the Himalayas and on the south by a fertile subtropical landscape. At an altitude of 1330 m above sea level lies its capital Kathmandu – a city of wooden temples.
According to a legend, this city originated thanks to the Buddhist saint Manjushree, whose sword pierced the natural wall of the valley, which in prehistoric times was filled with a huge lake, thus creating space for its settlement. Archaeological excavations have confirmed the existence of the lake, according to which it dried 10 thousand years ago. Archaeologists date the first permanent settlement of the Kathmandu Valley to the second century BC.
Places of Pilgrimage – the Stupas
Religion has always played a key role in the growth and development of Kathmandu right from the beginning. The Swajambhunath Stupa served as an important place of pilgrimage for Buddhists, and the sacred Bagmati River then brought Hindu pilgrims.
Each stupa (a sacred circular structure with Buddhist relics) represents the embodiment of the Buddha and resembles his enlightened mind in the form of inner peace and tranquility. Its individual parts symbolize the five natural elements of all creation: earth, water, fire, air and ether. The tapering pyramid at the top represents thirteen levels of consciousness on the way to Nirvana. The Buddha’s Eyes then look into all parts of the world, with the symbol of the third eye – the place of wisdom and inner insight, and the clearly depicted nose represents union with the highest enlightened consciousness.
One of the holiest sites in Kathmandu is the Swayambhunath Stupa, which, according to ancient legend, arose from a lotus flower floating on the surface of the then lake. However, its actual origin is connected with the visit of the Indian king Ashoka and the beginnings of the spread of Buddhism during the Mauritian Empire more than 2 thousand years ago.
Its present appearance dates from the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries, and the sacred mantra Om mani padme hum (O purest drop of water in a lotus flower) is still heard in its temple complex, prayer wheels rotate, and fluttering flags blow the mantra’s words into the atmosphere of the world and to the hearts of those who can capture it. There are hordes of monkeys moving unrestrained in all this, for them there is nothing sacred, and yet they also have their safe and free paradise here in the form of respecting tolerance of the locals, who perceive in each of them the legendary Hanuman – the embodiment of devotion and selfless service of the monkey hero to King Rama in ancient times of the Indian Ramayana.
The Great Stupa of Boudhanath
In the northeastern region of Kathmandu is Boudhanath – one of the largest stupas in the world. In their immediate vicinity live mainly Tibetans, for whom it is the center of their culture in Nepalese exile, and especially for Tibetan Buddhism with its four schools.
Hundreds of Tibetan pilgrims chant sacred sutras here, spin prayer wheels and repeat mantras with traditional worship in the form of a humble laying of the whole body facing the ground, by which they physically measure their distance from the most sacred mountain Kailash in the Tibetan part of the Himalayas.
The Sacred Place of Hinduism
The very heart of Kathmandu is Pasupatinath – one of the most sacred Hindu temples and places of pilgrimage dedicated to the powerful Shiva in the form of Pasupati – the master of all transformation, who reminds man of the transience of the physical existence of life and the immortality of his spiritual nature. The funeral pyre of burned human bodies often burn here with the sound of rhythmic incantations of mantras. One of the most famous festivities, which is held here in large numbers, is the festival of Shiva Ratri, or Shiva’s Great Night.