Pharping is one of the few Buddhist power places of Nepal which is historically important as an ancient settlement. It is a Buddhist power place because it was the home of a Newar Buddhist scholar Vagisvarakirti and the seat of Padmasambhava, the founder of Lamaism, who meditated on one of the caves there. Pharping is a very frequented place because it lies on the way to Dakshinkali, the principal Tantric deity Kali.
As Pharping is situated on the eastern, western and southern lap of a mountain called Dhyanocha, a place where Shikhi Buddha (Manusi Buddha) had mediated, the Buddhists of the Kathmandu Valley consider it as an important pilgrimage. The aged people say that when Swayambhu–Jyotirupa (self-existent light) in the middle of the Kathmandu Valley (then snake-infested lake Nagadaha,) Shikhi Buddha came to that spot for the Darshan (view) of Swayambhu Jyotirupa. After this Shikhi Buddha chose to settle in Pharping to meditate. The spread of Buddhism also contributed to the development of this place.
Due to the exotic natural beauties, historic temples, monasteries and simple folks etc somebody rightly compared Pharping with Kashmir, Spiti and northern Kumaon.
The history of Pharping laying 16 kilometers south of Kathmandu adjacent to the Chandragiri mountain range is dated back to the Gopala dynasty, the first dynasty in the history of Nepal . The word Pharping is coined during the Kiranti period which bears testimony to the fact that Pharping had then become an important place. In the Buddhist text Swayambhu Purnana, it is said that Manjusri came from Mahachina and cut the ridge of the Kathmandu Valley, then a lake called Nagadaha, at the corner of katuwaldaha with his sword and drained out the water of the lake.
But the major pointer to the antiquity of Pharping is its link with the Gopala (Gwala or cowherd) dynasty. There is a temple of Gopalsewara (god of Gopalas) in Pharping. This is the only temple in Nepal with the name of Gopaleswara. Gopalas regard this deity as their Ishta Devata, patron deity. Gopaleswara is the Saivite temple. This also points out to the antiquity of Saivism in Nepal. Pharping was therefore an established place even in the time of the Gopala dynasty.
Not much is known about the history of Pharping during the Kiranti dynasty except the naming of the rivers, streams and places of Pharping in the Kiranti language. It can be guessed that the development of settlements had taken place in Pharping during the Kiranti period. If we make a survey of the development of ancient settlements in the world as a whole, we find that the ancient civilizations had developed and flourished on the banks of rivers. For example, the Indus Valley civilization and the Egyption civilization which were rooted in the Indus and the Nile rivers respectively.
In a certain measure, Pharping was a strategic place linking the Kathmandu Valley with the road to India along the banks of the Bagmati river. It is said that Red Machhendranath was brought to the Kathmandu Valley from Kamaru kamachhya ( Assam ) through the katuwaldaha of Pharping at the time of Lichhavi King Narendra Deva in the 7 th century. It is believed that the deity called Sankata, the temple of which exists at Tebahal locality of kathmandu, was brought there from Pharping.
The ritual of taking bath at Katuwaldaha in Pharping and invoking Lord machhendranath and Sankata on the occasion of ascending the deity to the chariot and 12 year festival of Sankata respectively is still prevalent. The strategic locationof Pharping has also contributed to the growth and development of Pharping economically and culturally. While tracing the history Pharping, we find that it was never a political stronghold. During the Lichhavi period, Pharping was directly controlled by the centre. During the period of Malla kings around the 11 th century, Pharping had the status of a district governed by a feudal ruler. During the time of Diddhinarsingh Malla (16 th century), Pharping was under Lalitpur. Something it was under Kathmandu.
The unique feature of Pharping was its cultural aspect. It was virtually a seat of learning since the ancient times. According to Buddhist text Swayambhu Purana Manjusri, one of the eight principal Boddisattva disciples of the Buddha, and also the goddess of learning passed into oblivion in the shrine of Gopaleswara of Pharping. To the Buddhists of Nepal and Tibet and the Lamas all over the world Pharping was and is still a very important place hallowed by Padmasambhava (717-762), who meditated in a cave near Shikharnaryan temple.
It is said that at Yanglesho, the way leading to Pharping, Padmasambhava had to fight with gods, spirits and demons. When he was meditating, a number of venomous snakes appeared hanging down from above. Being disturbed Guru Padmasambhava struck the Naga on his head with a Vajrakila and turned the menacing serpent into stone. Even today several serpentine shapes overhanging the temple can be seen struggling to come downâ€. Another myth popularly remembered by the people of Pharping and the Buddhists is that while Padmasambhava was meditating in Pharping, some Tantric master created a storm to disturb his meditation. Then, he hid himself in a cave. Pharping was also a home of Buddhist saints and scholars. Vagisvarakirit, the resident of Pharping, was very popular in Tibet because he was a great Tantrik teacher and an expert in Guhyasamaja Tantra. He has a large following among the Tibetans.
He was a disciple of Naropa of the Nalanda University. He studied under Naropa for nine years. It is said that he had two brothers who were also experts in the Tantric practice.
The remnants of ancient cultural heritage in the form of inscriptions, stone and metal plates, chronicles about temples and monasteries, works of sculpture, stone art and architecture found here and there in Pharping lend it histerical importance. Pharping is much more than this. It is also a place lavishly gifted by nature. It is an enchanting place full of natural beauty with panoramic lush green plains and hills. The temperate and climate and the bounties of nature make Pharping an ideal place for saints and yogis.
This ancient city is not only a melting pot of Hinduism and Buddhism but is also a melting pot of Theravada, Mahayana, Vajirayana and Lamaism. Despite the existence of Hindu shrines like Gopaleswara, Shesh Narayan, and various other monuments of Saivite and Vaisnavite faiths, it is also studded with Buddhist monuments and sites for pilgrimage.
This ancient city was inhabited by a large number of settlements. It is said that there existed about 48,000 dwellings during the time of Licchhavi King Bhumi Varma. In those days Pharping was called Shikharapur (city at high place). It is so called because it is situated at a higher altitude than the Kathmandu Valley. Due to political and administrative changes in different periods of history, Pharping has underwent several changes. It was a part of the Bagmati zone in the past and now it has been amalgamated into the Narayani zone.
The presiding deity of Pharping is Shikhar Lokeswara, one of the principal Buddhist divinities of the Kathmandu Valley. In tune with the spirit to religious toleration in Nepal, Hindus call Shikhar Lokeswara as Shikhara Narayan. Another popular Buddhist deity of Pharping is Varayogini. People of Pharping call it Hyengu Vajrayogini considering it as the protector of Buddhism.
It is said that Pharping was densely populated at the time when the Kathmandu Valley was a lake where Nagas (serpents) dwelt. Then it was called Chikwatha.
Some inscriptions of historic importance have been found in Pharping. One inscription dated 1660 A.D. mentions the existence of Kuti Bahal (monastery of Vajrayani Buddhists of the Kathmandu Valley ), which is constructed by Baliram, of Thakkuri (Varman) caste and where the people of several localities of Pharping gather to celebrate s festival called Diwali. Diwali is an annual festival observed by the people of the kathmandu valley, mostly by Newars, by visiting temples mostly vihars where their patron deities reside.
While visiting the localities of Pharping one easily comes across the premises and courtyards very much resembling the bahas and bahis of Kathmandu , Patan and Bhaktapur, This is unmistakably an evidence of the spread of Buddahism in Pharping since the ancient times and that its inhabitants were followers of Buddha Dharma Sangha. The presence of monastic sites and monuments Lokeswara, Vajrayogini and Lamaism shows the prevalence of all major sects of Buddhism in Pahrping.
In the sixth century A.D. at the time of Sivadeva the First, according to a chronicle, various monasteries of Pharping were populated by the Buddhist monks. These monks not only gave religious discourse but also provided social service such as construction and maintenance of water taps and drinking water facilities.
Water sources can be seen even at present at the Shikhar Lokeswara vihar (now the courtyard of Shesh Narayan in the process of Hinduisation). There are ponds with varieties of fish in the greenish cold flowing water. To beautify the area, fountains have been constructed by using the water resources. In the Licchavi period, the government sanctioned certain amount of mony for the maintenance of vihars.
The process of Hinduisation which started notably since the Licchavi period (from the 3 rd to 7 th century A.D.) picked up recently. The monastic complexes have been occupied by the Hindus. The remnants of monasteries are disappearing. Local residents are at a loss to know about the monasteries and their history. In the past, monasteries and other Buddhist monuments had tremendously suffered during the time of Jayasthitimalla, (14 century A.D) the king of the Kathmandu Valley who was remembered for the introduction of Hinduised caste system and values based on Manusmriti.
A new awareness has developed among the residents of Pharping in realization of the need to reconstruct and renovate the dilapidating Buddhist monuments and to identify the monasteries.
If one visits Pharping one can easily see the process of Hinduisation in Pharping. The cave where Padmasambhava meditated has been converted into the place of Gorakhanath. It is because of the cave and home of Vagisvarakirti and proximity to Dhyanocha that Tibetan monasteries are flourishing around the cave area. In order to revitalize Buddhism in Pharping a trust has been established to renovate the old monasteries of Pharping.
K. P. Shrestha