Nepal is regarded as the country of natural, religious, cultural and social diversity. In fact, diversity and harmony reign supreme in the life of the Nepalis. Kathmandu , the capital of Nepal , also offers a brilliant example of diversity and harmony. The simultaneous growth of several religious faiths and folk traditions, amidst many other features present the glory of the people of the Valley. In the similar vein, the historic monuments – temples, stupas, palaces, houses, water springs, lanes and squares, pillars and ponds – stand as important landmarks of history and traditions of the people and the country. The stupa or chaitya of Bouddhanath is one such majestic monument that bears testimony to the growth and evolution of Buddhism in the Kathmandu Valley with a flavor of Nepal-Tibet-China relation from the ancient to modern times. This write-up aims at bringing the long history and tradition of the great Stupa in a nutshell and introduce this monument.

Bouddhanath literally means ‘The Lord of Enlightenment.’ For the purpose of this monograph, the word Bouddhanatha or Bouddhanatha means the great stupa of north-east Kathmandu . Today, the extended meaning of the word connotes also the locality around the great monument. The essential meaning of the word Bouddhanath, however, is always the same – the source of enlightenment, the Buddhahood. The huge monument has indeed inspired the local people with the message of the Buddha, the Most Enlightened One. Bouddhanath is the eternal inspiration for all who see it, who live by its side and those who adore it with the Buddha mind.

As said, the great stupa, standing in the huge mandala design in the midst of bustling little commercial and religious settlement, is also called Bouddha (popularly Bodha) – natha. But the monument has also gone down in history with several names, famous in Nepal , Tibet and China , over the centuries, or millennia. The Newars of Kathmandu call it ‘Khasti Chaitya’ or the chaitya built of dewdrops. In Tibetan literature it is called Chorten Jarung Khasor. (Dowman, 1993:1).

A Brief history of Bouddhanath: – the Tibeto-China Connection

The history of Bouddhanth, the great stupa and the locality, goes back to the early phase of the Licchavi period of Nepali history. But the difficulty in establishing the exact date of the stupa’s Bouddhanathconstruction is that the descriptions about the stupa are shrouded in legends and stories and chronicles. According to one such popular legend, the Licchavi king Manadeva, son of Vrsadeva constructed it in honor of his family deity Maneswari. First of all, Vrsadeva was Manadeva’s grandfather, and not father. His father was Dharmadeva. Second, the story is narrated only in the chronicles, it is not easy to substantiate it with reliable proofs. Yet because of the popularity of the story one might expect to find some strand of truth in it.

There is also another tradition to ascribe the stupa to Sivadeva and Amsuverma (late 6 th and early 7 th centuries), the two famous rulers of the Licchavi period. History has it that by the time of king Amsuverma , Nepal – Tibet cultural ties were at their height. It is not impossible therefore that by Amsuverma’s time, Bouddhanath area was popular as a pilgrimage center for the visiting Buddhists from Tibet and China . The stupa’s firm connection with the northern neighbors was more pronounced in the medieval and early modern periods. Tibetan sources begin to take note of Bouddhanath stupa by the 15 th century. The Tibetans call the stupa ‘Khasor’ while the Newars of Kathmandu call it ‘Khasti’, also meaning ‘Tibetan’. Thus the monument has a strong background to play vital role in Nepal-Tibet cultural interface.

It should be mentioned here that the famous Buddhist universities such as Nalanda, Bikramshila, Ballabhi, and Utkal (Orissa), among others contributed significantly for the development of tantric philosophy in Buddhism. Scholars traveled from China and Tibet to Kathmandu and other parts of Nepal to visit these centers of learning. An academic route thus existed from China to Bihar , Bengal and Orissa. The flow of scholars to and from both ends abruptly ended as the Moslem invaders destroyed the famous universities and the tradition of scholarship in India . Nepal remained second home from c. ninth century onwards as Buddhist scholars flocked into Kathmandu Valley and upheld the academic tradition through several viharas of Kathmandu .

It is relevant to discuss in brief the stupa’s Tibetan connection. Bouddhanath’s Tibetan connection is based on a popular legend and a Tibetan name. The Tibetan name for the stupa is Bya-rung-kha-shor (Permission to Do What’s Proper) relates to an ancient legend famous in Nepal and Tibet . According to the story the famous Nepali Buddhist monk Santarskshita related a story related to the construction of the stupa to King Khri Srong-lde’u btsan of Tibet about the vow Padmasambhava and his mother and two other brothers had taken in previous life. In that life the woman and her sons raised geese. She had made good profit and wanted to build a stupa from the saving. The sons had completed the stupa after the mother had died. It is also believed that the sons had sealed up relics of the Buddha Kasyapa in the central foundation of the stupa. The most important part of the story is that the stupa maintained incarnation lineage through the Yol-mo-ba-sPrul- sku line of Tibet (Ehrhard, 1991:6)

In the second half of the 15 th century, a Tibetan monk Ngakchang Sakya Zangpo, made significant contribution to this site and made history. Zangpo, Nyingma-Pa lama himself arrived in Kathmandu and literally excavated the almost disappearing stupa and restored it with great perseverance. Other famous lamas visited Nepal in successive centuries and continued on the footsteps of Zangpo to further enlarge, restore and maintain the stupa and the site. By the 19 th century, the stupa was a huge, dominating structure in the landscape of the northeast part of Kathmandu city.

Following the tradition, the Tibetan spiritual leaders maintained the stupa during the Malla period. During the Nepal-Tibet war in the 18 th and the 19 th centuries, the age-ties were broken but in the 1859 Chini Lama Tefi Sim was installed as the “priest of the Bouddhanath Shrine ( Ehrhard :6 ). It was done to continue the stupa’s ritual tradition. The Lama belonged to the hereditary line of Nyingma-Pa priests. It is believed that the first Rana Prime Minister Jung Bahadur had invited the Chiniya Lama, to administer the religious activities in the stupa complex. Later, the Chiniya Lama was also entrusted by the Office of the Dalai Lama as His Holiness’s consul to the kingdom of Nepal (Dowman :17 ). Today, his role as the main priest is diminished although his descendents still live with the name and the historic prestige bestowed on them. Individual donors from Tibet have also significantly contributed to the stupa by installing various ornament objects according to sources such as Hamilton and others (Ehrhard: 6).

Nepal was also a famous trade route between Tibet-China and India . Two routes – Kuti/Khasa (via Bouddhanath-Khasa) and Kerung (via Nuwakot) were much in use in the early and later medieval periods. Bouddhanatha thus figures prominently in Nepal-Tibet-China relationship from ancient to medieval period. High-ranking lamas from the north visited the famous stupas and performed commemorative rituals very often.

Finally, it should be mentioned that Bouddhanath has maintained a strong historical and cultural ties with Tibet and mainland China . First of all, this area falls on the Kathmandu-Tibet-China (main) route . Second, Nepal contributed significantly to carry the universal message of the Buddha to Tibet and China during the reign of Stran-btsan-Gampo in the seventh century. It is believed that Bouddhanath provided a perfect recluse for the visiting religious personalities and others such as pilgrims. Third, important religious personalities have contributed to improve the physical condition of the great stupa in different time periods at least from the 15 th century. Gradually, Nepali Buddhists of Kathmandu began to consider this site exclusively for the people from the north – from both sides of the Himalayas .

The role of the stupa as a holy object of reverence in Buddhist religious tradition

It will be relevant here to discuss briefly about the origin of the stupa in Nepali culture and art-architecture. An early story regarding the origin of the stupa construction goes like this: Before entering the state of Mahaparinirvana (physically passing away), Buddha explained the importance of Stupa to his bereaved and concerned disciples when they asked him about the way to remember him for all the time to come. Said he, ‘our ancestors cherished the memory of their beloved ones who passed away by creating ‘thube’ , a raised earthen mound with the bodily remains, like the ashes and bones, of the dead. So would you also do to remember the tathagata you loved for all the time to come . And the story goes – the remains of the Master were distributed to all the republican states, several ruling clans and representatives of different faiths and fraternities. Raised mounds with Buddha’s remains were to be seen all over north India and far beyond. Later, Buddha’s disciples, and still later revered Buddhist personalities were paid tribute with the construction of chaityas or the thube. It became a tradition to construct several categories of chaityas – a. saririka (with the bodily remains of the Buddha or Buddhist personalities), b. paribhogika (with the objects used by them), c. uddesika (with specific objectives), and d. dhamma (with special religious objects, such as messages, teachings, etc.).

With the development of Mahayana sect, the simple theravadi domelike stupa structure underwent fundamental architectural transformations to cope with the development in the philosophy. Above the garbha (the dome or mandala) came harmika representing the four directions, Buddha eyes and a base for the upper structure. The upper structure itself was very decorative as well philosophically significant. It consists of 13 bhuvanas , representing the highly sought after steps of spiritual promotion for a sramaner, the would-be bodhisattwa . The chhatra represents accommodation and protection for those who come inside the conglomeration of the faith. The parasol or gajur represents the highest point, the climax of the faith where the bodhisattwa could disappear by completing destroying the strand of existence – by entering into voidness ( sunyata), that is. Deities like the five dhyanibuddhas with their shaktis were also fixed on the four sides above the harmika . On the ground one finds a host of deities belonging to Mahayana sect of Buddhist. The stupa thus became an important object of worship, when the followers saw it as the embodiment of Buddha-Mind or the Buddha himself. So when the original theravadi stupa was associated with death of Buddhist Masters, the later structural modification and addition of several symbolically meaningful items, images and orderly arrangement of philosophic concept and explanation in art-architectural form made the stupa an object of purification and spiritual promotion. The stupa was then the object of Karuna, Compassion whereby great masters, clearing the 13 bhuvanas out of their merit and qualifying to enter the Nirvana or the Buddhahood, would not do so and remain with their eyes of knowledge fixed on the greater brotherhood, to enlighten the mass going around the chaitya to cleanse their layers of ignorance. Going around the stupa was considered one form of worship for the Buddhists. In the northern, Himalaya and high hill regions of Nepal , there is a long tradition of constructing a chorten, a small stupa-like monument, to honor the deceased and commemorate their memory or other ritual events organized as a part of religious faith and tradition. The Buddhist people of this region of Nepal call the great Bouddhanatha stupa a chorten also.

The architectural plan of the Stupa

In terms of the size of the body and the area it has occupied including the mandala plan and the circumbulatory path and courtyard, Bouddhanath is the largest existing stupa of Nepal and perhaps, the region. It is 100 meters in diameter with a height of 40 meters. The chaitya plan is based on the famous Buddhist law of existence – the dharmadhatu mandala . This type of mandala is defined by the Buddhist as the ‘realm of phenomena’, where voidness and the law of dependent origination (pratityasamuptpada) coalesce. This construction is also the very ‘figurative expression for the abode of the Dharmakaya Buddha and his circle of divinities (Shakya, no date :13 ). The famous historian Dr. D. R. Regmi (1960:870) says: “According to Waddel’s information the Bouddhanatha contains relics of Buddha Kasyapa, the fifth Primordial Buddha in succession.”

The main entrance to the Stupa is from the north. There is a simple gate with another inside gate. One can climb directly up the stairs and go to the upper level below the dome to make a circle. Or, one can first go inside a small hut to turn the largest prayer wheel put inside the hut on the left of the entrance.

One has to complete two flights of stair to go to the upper level to make a round of the stupa. The path is slightly slanted in order to save the dome from rain and other forms of erosion-causing forces. One can see the mandala design below this level and the huge dome and the 13 bhuvanas above. Here the dome and the upper structure, more particularly the parasol touches the sky. For a long time, perhaps for centuries, the towering height of the stupa’s spiral top maintained its monopoly to negotiate with the blue sky directly above it. But now monasteries and hotels, restaurants and shops are challenging its suzerainty over the sky. There was a time when one could see the grand stupa Swayambhu on a straight line with this stupa on the direct western direction. Now the newly constructed Hotel Hyatt International (Tara Gaon) stands on the way so Swayambhu is no longer visible from the upper plinth of Bouddhanath Stupa.

The writer Ehrhard in 1991 has reproduced some of the old time pictures of the famous stupa taken or sketched by F.B.Hamilton (1819), Daniel Wright (1877), Oldfield (1880), and G. Le Bon (1886). They show much simpler architectural planning and design than what one sees today.

The stupa paraphernalia

The Bouddhanath stupa is one of the largest such monuments in Asia . The main parts of the stupa consist of the paradakshinapath (circumbulatory path), the two-tier petika (plinth), the garbha (semi-hemispheric dome), the 13 bhuvanas (heavens), the chhatra (parasol) and the gajura (pinnacle or the finial).

The pradakshinapath is the open paved path on the ground level. It is common in the stupas of Nepal. According to the Mahayana tradition circumbulation of the stupa enhances one’s merit and leads to Nirvana. There are hundreds of metal prayer wheels fixed on the wall along the path. As devotees circumbulate the stupa, keeping the stupa on their right, (clock-wise), they may also turn the wheels on the wall. One can also hold a portable wheel and turn it as one circumbulates. One turn of the wheel, big or small, is equal to one round around the stupa. The path is busy all the time with devotees of all ages.

The two-tier plinths function in three ways: they allow circumbulation, support the main structure and add mandala design to the main body of the stupa. So when seen from some height, the stupa’s mandala plan becomes very distinct and decorative just because of this plinth.

The majestic dome is the main part of the stupa to make it largest in Nepal and the region. White plastered and colored with white and yellow giving the shapes of lotus flower, the dome looks clear and beautiful from a distance and height. At the bottom line on the right of the second plinth are 108 Lokeswaras put in small niches.

The harmika of Bouddhanath has usual two serene eyes of the Buddha Vairocana. Buddha Vairocana, the invisible dhyanibuddha, who is symbolically depicted in the white color of the stupa and supposed to reside in the garbha (center) of the monument. It is believed that the eyes keep watch on devotees for their good and bad deeds. There is nothing you can hide from the watchful eyes of the Buddha, good or bad: this is the message of the eyes. There is also the third eye marking the greatness of the Buddha. The third eye is also considered the eye of the Buddha.

The most distinct sight in and around the great Stupa is the dominating theme of the holy Buddhist mantra –

[Hail to the Jewel of Liberation]

This mantra is in the tongue of every Buddhist devotee – monk or the lama, the shop-keeper, or the pedestrian alike. The artistically erected prayer-wheels around the circumbulatory path at the ground level including the huge wheel at the entrance on the northern or the main gate have this mantra inside them so that the devotees can turn them and feel closer to liberation with each such turn. Above and around the chaitya are swinging and swirling colorful flags – also with printed OM MANI mantra and/or other prayers and images of Buddha and Lokeswaras. Every evening at the Stupa complex is a festive occasion the full-moon day and special Buddhist holidays being the culmination of all activities. These are also the occasions when the practicing lamas from different gompas of the area assemble there and receive cash and other dana (offering) from the householders. Dana is an act of high merit and the holy complex sets a perfect stage for this act to take place. The community of holy monks facilitate the performer to after them what s/he can. It is a place to oblige them and the religious persons know it well.

Pema Sherpa rightly remarks:

The holy site of Bouddhanata is also the center stage of the communities mentioned above who conduct their religious ceremonies and rites, but the manner off performances and the time factor varies from one group to another. (2003:11)

Popular legends about the Bouddhanatha stupa

Nobody can explain for sure and with reliable evidence as to when the great stupa came into existence and why. There is no ancient inscription and other form of archaeological extant today to solve the riddle of this monument’s antiquity. But there is not dearth of legends and stories in the annals of early Nepali history and in the community of Buddhist faithfuls in Nepal and outside.

One very popular legend, out of several dominates the early history of the stupa and the site. It is connected to the Licchavi king Manadeva. It is said that Manadeva’s father Dharmadeva (some chronicles give his name as Vrsadeva, who was his grandfather), once constructed a water conduit near his palace in honor of his tutelary deity, a goddess. Strange enough, it did not trinkle water, not a single drop. Worried, the king took the night’s rest to contemplate. He had a dream. The goddess he was venerating appeared before him and said, ‘you constructed the conduit alright but there will be no water unless you sacrifice a human being on that spot.’ It was a nightmare yet as the command came from no other than his personal deity, it was a challenge of life for the king. He, therefore, decided to accept it by sacrificing himself for the cause without letting his family members smell the secret of his decision. He knew from the goddess’s command that he was being tested of his determination and sense of sacrifice, that his days were over and it was time to go with the greatest sacrifice of his life. So he called his son Manadeva, a youth in the prime of his life. It was going to be a test for the prince also. The king called his son and said, ‘Look son, we built the water-place but no water drops. Our family goddess has ordered me that we have to sacrifice a human being to please her so she could provide water to the conduit. Early in the morning tomorrow, you will see a human body lying on the site with his face covered. Go and behead him without fear or doubt. You will see the expected result. So did the prince the next morning. He saw a live body lying in state and ready for sacrifice. He immediately severed the head with a sword. Lo and behold! He was no other person than his father. The king had wanted to sacrifice himself for the country and the people. As soon as the prince finished, water began to pour from the conduit as foretold.

The young prince had obeyed to his father and sacrificed him according to his wish. But he had committed a grave crime also. So, the story goes, there was no rain for some time. At his juncture, the prince decided to do something important and religious. He worshipped and meditated on Bajrayogini of Sankhu. It is said that Bajrayogini ordered him to construct a stupa in the place of his choice. Shocked at what had happened and in a state of mourning and extreme repentance the new king decided then and there to build a chaitya with extreme example of his personal toil and labor. Because no rain was coming and water was in scarce supply, he would not sleep at night. Instead he would roam all over the place and collect dewdrops with which he prepared mud mortar. He would then join the bricks with the mortar and raise the chaitya very slowly. But with his determination and sense of sacrifice the monument came up – it was what the local people called khasti chaitya, because it was made of dewdrops or Khasu- ti in Newari language.

Some legends mention that the spout was Narayanhiti and it was constructed not by Dharmadeva but his predecessors and the goddess was Khadgayogini of Sankhu. If this legend has some truth in it, then Bouddhanath seems to have connection with Sankhu also.

There is another legend about the history of the construction of the stupa. Normally, old Buddhist stories and legends are sly and full of education at the same time. According to the legend, there lived a butcher lady and her family in Bouddhanath area. Because they amassed plenty of wealth, the lady decided to construct a stupa. She approached the king with the plan. ‘Yes, the king’s men said, ‘but but not larger than the skin of a water-buffalo.’ The family sat over the message that evening and came to a conclusion. One whole skin would be a few feet in diameter and that was what the king’s men wanted judging her capacity, perhaps. But with some wit things could be different. A much larger stupa could be constructed. So the mother ordered her two sons to cut the skin in the shape of a thin string. They worked all night with good tools and a better skill. By the morning they had finished the skin in the form of a large spool of thread. They sent their consent to the palace. The king’s men came again to allow the construction with the measurement of a skin. But when the butchers unfoiled the spool, they were taken by extreme surprise. They lady had used her wit and there was no denying in permission. So they measured the land with the two ends of the thread going around in a circle. Finally, they found that the thread had covered a huge territory as planned, therefore they were allowed to raise a stupa inside the measured portion of land.

Whatever the origin story, the colossal monument came during the early phase of the Licchavi rule, perhaps around the late part of the sixth century AD. It must have undergone several layers of renovation and encasing like the stupa of Swyambhunath. By the early 19 th century, it was almost as large as it is now. British historian Oldfield (Sketches from Nepal ) and Daniel Wright (History of Nepal) in their accounts describe this stupa as a huge Buddhist monument of Kathmandu. Some Capuchin missionaries who visited the Valley in 1707 describe it as a large, fort-like monument comparable to other such arm-guarded fort-towns existing in several hilltops of Kathmandu.

Medieval documents describe this monument as ‘ Sivadevasamskarita khasu-ti chaitya ‘, connecting its renovation with the famous Licchavi ruler. From this account it is also believed that the Chaitya was perhaps constructed by King Sivadeva.

Important Monuments of the stupa complex

The Ajima Shrine :-The Ajima ( Newari – grandmother), also known as Harati locally, is a popular cult in the Kathmandu Valley. Harati was a child-devouring demoness in her previous life. Buddha knew that she was creating havoc in the settlement. So he managed to kidnap her youngest son and had him put in his custody. Ajima knew this and approached the Buddha to plea for the boy’s release. Buddha, as usual put forward a question: If you love your son, why cannot you think that other also have the same love for their children – lost to you or alive? I release your son only on one condition: you quit the killing spree and let the villagers live in peace and happiness. Harati changed her mind then and there and confessed that she would not only stop killing innocent children, but would then on help them live in good health. So she became the protector of children, and Ajima, the grandmother. Therefore, Ajima finds her abode near to the Buddha, or the symbolic manifestation of his existence, the Stupa. There is a beautiful Ajima shrine next to the Swayambhu Chaitya on the Swayambhu hill. Therefore it appears that Ajima shrine is there near this stupa also because the local community needs her blessing for good health, welfare and prosperity.

There are several small votive shrines and images of popular Buddhist deities in the periphery of the stupa, especially near the entrances and cardinal directions.

Important festivals at Bouddhanath

Bouddhanath is a growing township with scores of monasteries, shops, schools and private buildings. The population is also growing very fast. People belonging to different religious following, nationalities and vocations are now living in the area.

The stupa, however, remains the center of many important religious activities and faiths for all who live in greater Bouddhanath area. Going around the grand stupa chanting the holy mantra, ‘ OM MANI PADME HUM’ and turning the prayer wheel is the most popular mode of worship of the Buddha in the form of the majestic stupa. Dazzling lights, flittering and colorful prayer flats, clean streets, sweet smell of incense and yak butter lights, conglomeration of devotees with a portable prayer wheels and chanting, offering of dana to the needy, greetings to each other, good food and clothing, long travel or prostration, meditation and recitation of holy texts, procession and celebration become the main highlights of these festivals. A cursory glimpse of some of the important festivals celebrated in Bouddhanath is presented in the following section.

The Lhosar (New Year) festival is the most colorful of all festive occasions. It is also the long lasting festival. The festival falls in February or March every year. People decorate the holy places, the market and the houses, they decorate the Bouddhanath area with colorful flags and paperworks. People visit stupas monasteries and families and wish each other well. Worship and recitation, cooking and eating, warding off evil spirits are a common sights during the Lhosar. There is a permanent committee in Bouddhanath to coordinate New Year festival activities.

The Ajima festival is another festive occasion celebrated in Bouddhanath area. It is celebrated on the occasion of the Full Moon of Magh (Jan-February). During the festival the image of the goddess is taken out in the city to allow people to worship her.

Demographically, Bouddhanath is traditionally a Tamang dominated area. On the occasion of Chaitra Full Moon day, the Tamang of the Kathmandu Valley and other regions of Nepal arrive in the Bouddhanath area to celebrate the Timal festival. The name of the jatra comes from the name of the place in eastern hill where Tamang population used to be dense. People worship Buddha at Bouddha and Swayambhu and also pay a visit to Balaju water springs and conclude at Nagarjun hill. Singing and dancing along the way and keeping nightlong vigilance is the main feature of the festival. During the festival, Tamangs from different regions of India also come to participate and celebrate. This festival links both the main stupas of the Valley – Swayambhu and Bouddhanath. One main aspect of this festival is the worship of the ancestors. All the 108 Lokeswaras located at the plinth are worshipped and butter lamps lit.

The Buddha Jayanti (birth anniversary of the Buddha) festival is another important religious occasion celebrated here in Bouddhanath area. The Stupa and the surrounding area get a new look with new prayer flags, cleaned streets and lanes, special worship programs in the several monasteries and so forth. On the Baishakh Purnima Day, a huge Buddha portrait is mounted on an elephant and taken around the Stupa and the market area in a large procession of devotees.

The religious and secular communities of the Bouddhanath area observe the Bya -lo festival every 12 years. Bya -lo in Tibetan means bird-year. This is a winter festival observed in the mountain region of Nepal and also here in Bouddhanath. Special offerings of lights, prayers, and ritual activities are the main features of Bya -lo festival.

The Gai Jatra ( Newari ‘ sa paru ‘ ) is a very popular festival in the Kathmandu ‘s Newari cultural tradition. In Bouddhanath a Tamang or locally adapted equivalent of ‘ sa paru ‘ is celebrated with much amusement and local participation on the Full Moon Day of Shrawan. Each bereaved family takes this opportunity to remember the dead and sends two children – a boy and a girl- to participate in the collectively celebrated the jatra honoring the dead. This festival is called Gonai in local language. Other amusement creators, with satirical actions and remarks, make fun of the government and local leaders, officials. One objective of such action is to make fun of death and ward it away, the other is to entertain people who come from far and near to join the j atra as spectators. This festival particularly shows the situation of cultural co-existence among followers of different faiths and traditions.

These are some of the main festivals celebrated in the Bouddhanath area in honor of the Buddha symbolically represented in the great stupa of Bouddhanath. People from the mountain, high hill region, valley and tarai and even from different countries residing in the Bouddhanath area participate in these festivals and make it universal. In fact, Buddha’s teachings are timeless and boundary-less. As such every occasion organized to honor the Buddha and sites associated with him become center of attraction and dhamma activities. After Lumbini, where Buddha was born, Bouddhanath and Swayambhu have been such places of veneration and places of pilgrimage for Buddhist and peace loving people all over the world. For more than 1.5 millennia Bouddhanath has been a site of refuge for devotees from Nepal, Tibet, China, India, Bhutan, and now from many countries in the world.

Bouddhanath as a monastic complex

It has been mentioned elsewhere in this text that Bouddhanath has maintained a strong historical and cultural ties with Tibet. First of all, this area falls on the Kathmandu -Tibet-China (main) route. Second, Nepal contributed significantly to carry the universal message of the Buddha to Tibet and China during the reign of Stran-btsan-Gampo in the seventh century. It is believed that Bouddhanath provided a perfect recluse for the visiting religious personalities and others such as pilgrims. Third, important religious personalities have contributed to improve the physical condition of the great stupa in different time periods at least from the 15 th century. Gradually, Nepali Buddhists of Kathmandu began to consider this site exclusively for the people from the north – from both sides of the Himalayas.

After the fall of Dalai Lama’s rule in Tibet, Nepal experienced the exodus of Tibetans seeking refuge in the country. Those who headed toward India also spent time in Nepal. Bouddhanath suddenly felt the jerk as several incarnate lamas and people belonging to all major religious sects – Nyingma -Pa, Kagu -Pa, Sakya -Pa, and Gelug -Pa began to settle in the area. Soon, the new communities of refugees and people from the north began to contribute their might to construct monasteries to cater for the spiritual need of this community. By the seventies, several monastic complexes had emerged from the otherwise quiet settlements of Bouddhanath area. Today the landscape of Kathmandu has changed considerably with a large number of monastic complexes in the mounds and valleys of Kathmandu. In Bouddhanath alone there are more than —– monasteries ( gompas ) of different sizes, falling in small, medium to large categories. A list of monasteries actively involved in the propagation of dhamma in the Bouddhanath area is given in the Appendix of this paper.

Bouddhanath as a World Heritage Site The historic, cultural and artistic glory of Bouddhnath was further heightened by the decision of the World Cultural Heritage Center in the year …. when the center nominated the sacred complex of Bouddhanath as a World Heritage site. It was a matter of great pride and privilege for the people of Bouddhanath to be under the reputed umbrella of WCHC. The Buddhist devotees living in the sacred complex area and those who feel blessed and glorified by the grace of the holy monument and the gompas equally cherish the status thus provided by WCHC, The BADC has not only taken this status as a matter of pride, it has also accepted it as a challenge to commit itself to keep the monument and the complex in good physical condition befitting both its historical legacy and the current status as World Heritage Site. The monastic complex which began to emerge in the 1960s was primarily designed to cater for the spiritual need of the incoming Tibetan and northern Nepalis residing in the area. Prayers, festivals, celebrations, were the main ritual activities organized in these sacred complexes in the supervision of the holy priests – the incarnate and other lamas. Gradually, more monasteries were added. Also, several incarnate lamas and scholars as permanent residents of the monasteries became the main highlight of the area.UNESCO has played significant role in the conservation of historic-archaeological monument of Kathmandu Valley and other sites. In 1975 a UNESCO team evaluated the culture and heritage sites of Kathmandu. The team found the monuments in a state of poor conservation because of fast pace of urbanization. By the year 1979 World Cultural Heritage Bureau has listed seven heritage sites; Bouddhanath was one of them.In 1997 CERA Pvt. Ltd., a local consultancy firm prepared a Master Plan for the preservation of the Bouddhanath Stupa. The Plan was further revised and updated by the Dept. of Archaeology in 2002. From February 19 th to 23 rd, 2003, a high level three-member UNESCO team visited the World Heritage sites of Kathmandu valley. The team consisted of Prof. Francesco Dandarin (Italy), Director of UNESCO World Heritage Center, Dr. Tamas Fejerdy (Hungary), Chairman of World Heritage Committee, and Dr. Ray Bondin (Malta), an expert on Heritage. The team visited five Heritage sites of the Kathmandu Valley including the Bouddhanath Stupa. At Bouddhanatha the team was received by Mr. Gajendra Kumar Lama, Chairman of BADC and other members of the Committee. The team inspected the conservation status of the Great stupa, its surroundings and expressed its satisfaction at the overall status of the monuments. At a press conference organized by Department of Archaeology of HMG, Prof. Dandarin said, “Our mission is to cooperate and further enhance the local effort towards the preservation task.” Clearly, therefore, the main responsibility of the preservation of the historical monuments such as the Bouddhanbath falls squarely on the shoulders of people’s organization like the BADC and the local population at large. Knowing that the Buddhist devotees of the surrounding and much larger area draw eternal inspiration from the holy monuments and seek the very value of life through them, it becomes imperative for all concerned to spend a small portion of their otherwise valuable time /busy life on creating awareness about the importance of keeping the environment around the stupa clean, stopping any effort of encroachment that mar the beauty and serenity of the monument and assisting BADC in its activities. Life of the entire people of Bouddhanath will thrive only when the shining bright and serene personality of the Great stupa is kept physically unharmed and spiritually undisturbed by the ever-increasing number of the inhabitants. The changing face of Bouddhanath : The Bouddhanath Area Development Committee (BADC) as the custodian of development of the holy complex The Bouddhanath Area Development Committee (BADC) was constituted under Notice No. 2, Ordinance ( gathan adesha ) 2053 issued under the Development Committee Act, 2013 of His Majesty’s Government. The Ordinance has clearly outlined the physical area under which the Committee expands and limits its activities. The physical boundary of the Committee is mentioned as follows:

East – the western boundary of Jorpati VDC.
West- the boundary of ward 7 of Kathmandu Municipality
North- the southern boundary of Jorpati VDC and Kapan VDC
South- the river Bagmati and boundary of ward 7 of Kathmandu Municipality

The Bouddhanath Area Development Committee (BADC) was formed “with the objective of conserving and developing the monuments and places of historical and archaeological importance as well as with the aim of removing many hurdles against the development of Bouddhanath.

(quoted from Master Plan for the Conservation of Bouddhanath, the World Heritage Site, p.3). The structure of the Committee is as follows:

According to the Ordinance of 2053 the following is the structure of the Committee which is entrusted with the task of developing social, economic, spiritual and cultural life of the area: Chairman: to be appointed by HMG

Members: five members from among social workers, academicians and respected persons associated with the area

Member: representative, Ministry of Sports and Culture
Member: Rep. Ministry of Population and Environment
Member: Rep. Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism
Member: Rep. Ministry of Home Affairs
Member: Rep. Ministry of Physical Planning
Member: Rep. Ministry of Land Management and Reform
Member: MP, House of Rep., Kathmandu Area no. 2
Mayor, Kathmandu Municipality
Member, Kathmandu Municipality, ward no. 6
Executive Director: Member-Secretary

The Nature of City growth in the Bouddhanath area- a challenge to BADC:

In the past two decades Kathmandu Metropolitan City has seen a rapid growth both in its physical or built-in form as well as in population growth. As a capital city, Kathmandu has remained a very strong pull factor. The demographic growth of the locality under BADC has also been phenomenal. People have conglomerated near or around the central Bouddhanath area and its outskirts faster than ever before. First came the monasteries, then the shops, hotels guest houses, rooftop and other variety of restaurants, the carpet factories, schools, small and large businesses, curios of Tibetan goods, metal workers and the like. Like in other recently developed townships of the Kathmandu Valley, the Bouddhanath landscape also does not show any planned growth of its physical infrastructure. Slowly and steadily the vegetable and rice fields, village and open spaces are turning into bustling cityscape.

Bouddhanath is a growing township with scores of monasteries, shops, schools and private buildings. The population is also growing very fast. People belonging to different religious followings, nationalities and vocations are now living in the area. Therefore, the unplanned growth of the city around the gigantic stupa poses a challenge to the VDC and now to the BADC.

The emerging main challenges facing the Committee can be listed as follows. In other words, the Committee has to concentrate on the following tasks in order to build up good rapport with the GO, NGO/INGO and public agencies for the development of the area:

Coordinate with external agencies such as funding agencies, religious ritual and festival groups, academic programs, small and large businesses, relevant government and other agencies actively involved in the development, security, and future of Bouddhanath;

Attract donors from the country and outside the country for the planned and sustainable development of the area;

Maintain the sanctity of the holy shrine complex and its relation with the surrounding settlement

Maintain peace and harmony among the settlers – the religious and the non-religious domains of the settlement

Prepare and execute a workable master plan of the sacred complex and periphery for the sustainable development of the area


  • BADC/HMG, n.d. Bouddhanatha, a World Heritage Site. Brochure published by the Bouddhanath Area Development Committee.
  • DOA/HMG, 2002. Master plan for the Conservation of Bouddhanath, the World Heritage Site. Ramshah Path, Kathmandu. (Originally submitted by Cera Pvt. Ltd, in 1977 and revised and updated by the Department of Archaeology.Dowman, Keith, 1993. The Great Stupa of Bouddhanath. Poulanabrucky, Ballyvaughan :
    Ireland.Ehrhard, Franz-Karl, 1991 (In co-operation with Philip Pierce and Christoph Cuppers). Views of the Bouddhanbath Stupa. Kathmandu.
  • HMG, 2054 Nepal Rajpatra (Gazette), Part 3, (Section 47, no. 6), 2054-2-6, Kathmandu.Khatry, Prem Kumar, 1989. Aspects of Nepalese Culture. Kathmandu : Mrs. Punya Khatry.
  • Manandhar, Jnan Kaji, 2002. The Legends of Nepal. Banepa : Sukhaveti Manandhar.
  • Regmi, D.R., 1966, Medieval Nepal, A History of the Three Kingdoms 1520 to 1768 A.D. (part II). Calcutta : Firma K.L. Mukhopadyay.
  • Shakya, Min Bahadur, n.d. Bouddhanath. Germany : Talisman Worldwide. Sherpa, Pema, 2003. Bouddhanath : Heart of Peace. In Nepal Travel Trade Reporter, vol. VII, Issue 13, p. 11.

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