By Razen Manandhar
The grain vendors behind Bir Hospital which are privileged to unload their merchandise at an ancient Bajrayani Buddhist monastery, could be over 1,500 years old. The Mahabhuta Mahavihar or popular among the locals as Mahaboudha or Mahaboo is one among the unique monasteries of the Kathmandu Valley.
On looking at what now remains, we can guess that it could have been a really big monastery in ancient days. The priest associated with the monastery quotes ancient chronicles saying that it was constructed by a powerful Nobel during the regime of King Basanta Dev (around 512-520 AD). However the historians have not found any such inscription at the monastery spread in one and a half ropani land. The oldest historical evidence states that the monastery was renovated in1838 by Tamrakars of Maru Tole, Kathmandu.
A great stupa, a temple of Buddha, three votive chaityas, four stone inscriptions, two newly made gates, two stone lions and ruins of an older pair of lions as well as some other archaeological objects are found in the stone-paved courtyard today.
But certain features confirm that the monastery is not only 165 year old but also indicates that the monastery was originally much more bigger than it now appears.
The biggest supporting factor is the prime deity (Kwapaa Dyo) of Bahal. Unlike other Kwapaa Dyos, the 15 feet tall Buddha inside the monastery temple is made of clay and 15 feet tall, which could be the biggest idols of Lord Buddha. One can imagine how big the monastery might have been if the deity looks so huged. Next, though the main deity resembles Akshyobhya, in touching-the-earth position, that iconographically attributes blue colour, this is in red colour.Bahal draws the attention of the visitors due to the over 30 feet tall white stupa, standing between the Vihar temple and the main gate. It spreads in 625 square feet of land at the middle of the courtyard. It bears four brass idols of Dyani Buhhdas — Akshyobhya, Ratnasambhav, Amitabh and Amoghsiddi — and their consorts, the Taras, in symbolic pedestals.
This stupa is also different in several ways compared to common stupas of the Kathmandu Valley. There are only 11 layers of circles on the top of the stupa, whereas common stupas bear 13, representing 13 layers of perfection to Nirvana. The eyes of the stupa on four directions are unusually wide open.
These factors indicate that having been renovated in different times, the origin of the stupa, and the Vihar itself, might be much older than the inscriptions indicate. Nevertheless, the monastery no longer has a surrounding building to make it a quadrangle, neither do images of Ganesh and Mahakal remain there.
The daily rituals are being carried out by the priests of five Shakya families in rotation. They are in charge of white-washing the stupa, observing annual pooja and special pooja on the day of Buddha Jayanti. Obviously, the land property that they had had in the past for carrying out rituals must have been lost. Now, the rituals are somehow continue from their own pockets.
The Vihar temple remained in dilapidated condition for decades as the related priests lacked fund. Finally, the priest families constituted a Mahabaudha Renovation Committee in 1995. It was amazing that the committee got encouraging assistance from the local Buddhists, social organisations and the municipal authority etc. The white plaster was removed and the temple was rebuilt with carved wood doors, windows and struts. It also added a pedestal and a Vajra on it in front of the temple. In three years or so, they completely changed the appearance of the Vihar temple, despite a minor controversy over the building material and the traditional norms of Newari architecture. The Buddha temple had to be reconstructed that cost the committee Rs 2.2 million and also the trace of the heritage. The devotion of the locals and management saved the ancient idol at least.
Still, a cluster of modern private building in one corner of the Vihar, the unused concrete buildings of the ward committee, the godown of Nepal Electricity Authority, and the collage of film posters on the walls of the latter visually pollute the heritage site. The market atmosphere dominates the peace lover’s paradise. To add, a local Mitra Youth Club has changed the 1,500 years old site into a parking space, where scores of mini-trucks, tempos and motor-cycles surround days and nights. The result of making the sacred monument a market place is that the porters use inner corner courtyard as their free pee corner.
[Kathmandu, Sunday, May 26, 2002 Jestha 12, 2059.]