Swayambhunath, also known as the Monkey Temple.
Located on a small hillock named Swayambhunath, this temple is a famous one located to the northwest of the Kathmandu Valley. Famously known as the monkey temple, this tourist destination receives pilgrims and tourists from every nook and corner of the world. According to mythology, the glory of this destination started from this structure.
This religious site is located 3 km to the west of Kathmandu. It is one of the holiest Buddhist religious sites in the country. The hillock is assumed to be created from a primordial lake, which was present in the region, around 2000 years ago. The existence of this temple has been indicated in an inscription, which was made in 460 AD. Thus, it is assumed that the temple has been in the location since 460 AD or before that. Renovation works were made during the 7th century. It is said that there used to be a temple built by Emperor Ashoka in 3rd century BC but was destroyed. There is no concrete evidence for the same. It is said that King Manadeva built this temple. By the 13th century, this temple became an important Buddhist pilgrimage site.
Later, in 2010, the structure was completely renovated, around 1500 years after its construction. The dome of the stupa was re-gilded using gold (20 kg). However, a few regions of the temple were destroyed by lightening in 2011 and the earthquake in 2015.
According to legends, Swayambhu means ‘self-occurring’. The ancient river suddenly had a lotus flower at bloom in the middle of it. Slowly, the flower spread throughout the river and across the valley. A large illusion of Sakyamuni Buddha was seen on top of the lotus. This illusion was seen by Manjushri, who came in search of the place. The hill was raised from the river by Manjushri, a Bodhisattva of learning and wisdom. According to the etiquettes of bodhisattva, he should keep his hair short and clean. However, he let his hair grow down and got infected with lice. It is said that these lice jumped out and became monkeys. Thus, the hill is full of monkeys.
The base of this stupa is cube-shaped. On all four sides, there is a pentagon-shaped Toran. On each side of the stupa, a pair of eyes is present. This indicates that God is omnipresent. Above each pair of eyes, there is another eye, which is the eye of wisdom. There is Panch Buddha (five Buddhas) on each side of the stupa. Walk past the stairs leading to the temple and you will find two lion statues guarding the entrance. This staircase is the most recommended route that pilgrims take to enter the stupa, on foot. However, if you are ready to drive to the west side of the stupa, you can find another entrance; with lesser steps.
At the bottom of the staircase on the eastern side, there is a large gate with 12 feet tall Tibetan prayer wheel. It would take two strong people to move the wheel. For every revolution, a bell sound is heard. Near the gate, there are numerous small wheels for tourists to spin and perform prayers. Right before the stairs, you will find three 17th century Buddha statues. These statues are worshipped by women. Along the stairs, you will find many inscribed Tibetan stones. You can also spot small shops where merchants sell such stone replicas to tourists. The stairs will take you through the forest region inhabited with numerous monkeys.
The main stupa building is a white-domed structure. The stupa is filled with numerous statues and artifacts. From the tower, you can find a 13 level golden spire. The umbrella on top of the spire holds a bowl full of precious stones. There are numerous other shrines around this main building. Each one was donated by kings and other political figures.