Swayambhunath is one of the oldest Buddhist shrines in Nepal. A popular tourist destination, it has been always been represented as one of the facets of the Greater Kathmandu.
Swayambhunath stupa or Swoyambhunath is a religious site for Buddhists and Hindus located at the heart of Kathmandu. The stupa is situated atop a hill at 1,336 meters above the sea level and is 77 meters from the ground. You must climb 365 steps to reach the top. The top offer the 360º view of the entire valley.
A spiritual site for both the Hindus and Buddhists, the stupa serves as the common site for the pilgrims. Most pilgrims reach the site before the sunrise, light up the diyos and circumambulate the entire hill. The bottom of the hill is mainly occupied by the prayer wheels, local shops, diyos and Buddhist relics. As you ascend the hill, you can find many other buddhist relics and historical objects. The larger population of local macaques (monkeys) can be seen influxing the entire hill.
They are attuned to seeing humans, therefore, most of them are friendlier to the approaching tourists. The top of the hill serves as the ultimate stop for the pilgrims. The stupa dominates the top, along with the smaller temples, chaitanyas, shops, library and eateries.
Legend has it, the stupa was self-created. When the Kathmandu valley was under water, a big lotus emerged out at the center of the valley from which rose a shrine, which later became to be known as the Swayambhunath. Manjushree, the meditation deity, made the valley habitable and the later settlements rebuild the shrine to bring it to its current shape.
According to the Gopālarājavaṃśāvalī Swayambhunath was founded by the great-grandfather of King Mānadeva (464-505 CE), King Vṛsadeva, about the beginning of the 5th century CE.
Ashoka the Great is believed to have visited the site 2000 years ago. During the 14th century, Mughal invaders from Bengal broke open the stupa in the search for gold, but the stupa was restored and expanded over the following centuries.
The dome represents the world. The thirteen pinnacles at the top symbolize that humans have to pass through thirteen stages of spiritual realizations for the enlightenment.
The large pair of eyes are carved on each of the four sides of the stupa, which represent Wisdom and Compassion. Above each pair of eyes is another eye, the third eye. It is believed that the cosmic rays emanate from the third eye act as messages to the heavenly beings.
According to popular culture, the stupa is also referred as ‘the Monkey Temple’ in various websites, portals and catalogs, which is a misnomer. The sight of monkeys running around the stupa may give incoming tourists gave a false impression. It isn’t a temple but a stupa, and referring it as the Monkey temple can demean its nature and value. Therefore, it’s suggested that tourists call it by its original name.