Monday, December 24, 2001

Swayambhu hill monument zone

Heritage Tour

By Razen Manandhar

The holy hill of Swayambhu at the north east of Kathmandu City is considered to be older than the valley itself. The origin of the heterogeneous collection of art and architecture, that kept on developing on its own for at least 1500 years, is associated with legends of origin of the Valley. Legends aside, it is a piece of legacy for the whole country and one among the best of the Stupa architectures of the world.

Buddhist hand-written books has adored it with different names like Goshringha, Gopuchha, Bjarakut, Padmagiri and it is popularly known among the Newar community as the Shyegu hill.

The 50 square-metre-big Swayambhu stupa (with idols of Akshobhya Buddha, Vairochan Buddha, Mmaki Tara, Ratnasambhava Buddha, Padmapani Tara, Amitabha Buddha, Arya Tara, Amoghsiddi Buiddha and Sapta Lochani Tara) is the principal monument in the zone. The golden Bajra, Anantapur, Basupura, Bayupura, Harati or Ajima Temple, Buddhism Museum, Gyanmala Sattal, Devdharma Monastery, Karmaraja Monastery, Mangal Bahudwara Chaitya, Nagpura, Pratappura, cluster of Chaityas, Standing Buddha, Agnipura, Abalokiteshwor, Shantipur are other monuments on the top of the hill. And there is Mahamanjusri Temple, Old Swayambhu Stupa etc surround the main temple hill.

The Buddhists believe, thousands of years ago, when the whole valley was a lake, a legendary scholar Mahamanjushi came from China, send the water out a gorge in Chovar and developed the valley as a centre of civilization. According to religious books, the credit of creating Swayambhu goes to the Buddhas who were born thousands of years earlier than Sakyamuni Buddha was born in Lumbini. Bipashwi Buddha planted a lotus on which a "thousand-petalled" lotus emerged.. It later developed five colours, which then turned into five Dhyani Buddhas. Other Buddhas like Shikhi, Bishombhu, Krakuchhanda also visited the hill and paid homage to it. A King Prachanda Dev is said to be the first constructor of the stupa of Swayambhu and other major monuments around it.

According to the Gopalraj Banshavali, the oldest ever found chronicle, it was Brishdev, who constructed the stupa of Swayambhu for the first time. The oldest inscription found there is of King Mandev, the Licchibi king of 5th century AD. All we can say is that the hill and the stupa became a place pilgrimage, Buddhist learning centre and a altar of Buddhist creed, mainly of Mahayana sect as early as 11th century.

In the course of time, the stupa of Swayambhu had to undergo numerous incidents that destroyed and distorted its original beauty. Some, who renovated the main stupa or added new monuments in the vicinity included, King Shiv Singh Malla, King Pratap Malla, King Parthivendra, King Bhashkar Malla and others. Later, King Ranabhadur Shah, King Girban Yuddha Bikram Shah and King Rajendra Bikram Shah also continued the glorious tradition of the Malla kings. Even Ananta Jiv Bharo, Abhay Singh Bharo and others, from the public contributed for renovation of the stupa. The traditional artists and their skill did amazing task to keep the sucha a huge pile of mud and brick intact for hundreds of years on a top of a hill which has its forest thinning year by year. The tradition, still alive, either beautify the monument or blemish the ancient monument.

The birthday of Lord Buddha is the main festival of Swayambhu. And, the Gunla (August-Septempber) is the month-long festival when thousands of pilgrims attend the stupa and scores of musical troupes play special drum called dhaa. Once in a 12 years, an exceptional Samyak-mahapuja takes place which is graced by His Majesty King also.

But, it is disappointing that the original shape and architecture of Swayambhu is being lost mainly in last several years. After being enlisted in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a Swayambhunath Conservation Masterplan (Swayambhu 2000) was recognised by the government in 1989 that was supposed to be complete by the year 2002. The masterplan suggested the government to demolish dozens of eyesore structures and to restrict any new construction.

However, the government has not demolished a single building. Instead, new concrete buildings, Mane-gumbas ae being constructed along with serious encroachment of public land. Similarly, the whole hill is being covered by piles of garbage. Only one of two traditional building recently got facelift in last several years.

The holy hill is not in need of money for renovation. A German project that provided assistance for renovation of Swayambhu stopped giving money because it is has enough to self dependant. As other monuments, Swayambhu also charged entrance fee from the visitors but it still lacks fasilities. A ridiculuous fight took place between the federation of "religious" bodies and the municipality when the latter tried to manage the money collected from entrance fee.

This is going to affect the whole valley in near future. The reputation the valley gained after being recognised as a World Heritage Site will be lost if UNESCO delists it in the coming general convention in 2002.