Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu

Boudhanath Stupa (or Bodnath Stupa) is the largest stupa in Nepal and the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet. It is the center of Tibetan culture in Kathmandu and rich in Buddhist symbolism. The stupa is located in the town of Boudha, on the eastern outskirts of Kathmandu.

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History of Boudhanath Stupa

Bodnath was probably built in the 14th century after the Mughal invasions; various interesting legends are told regarding the reasons for its construction. After the arrival of thousands of Tibetans following the 1959 Chinese invasion, the temple has become one of the most important centers of Tibetan Buddhism. Today it remains an important place of pilgrimage and meditation for Tibetan Buddhists and local Nepalis, as well as a popular tourist site.

What to See at Boudhanath Stupa

From above, Bodnath Stupa looks like a giant mandala, or diagram of the Buddhist cosmos. And as in all Tibetan mandalas, four of the Dhyani Buddhas mark the cardinal points, with the fifth, Vairocana, enshrined in the center (in the white hemisphere of the stupa). The five Buddhas also personify the five elements (earth, water, fire, air and ether), which are represented in the stupa's architecture.

There are other symbolic numbers here as well: the nine levels of Boudhanath Stupa represent the mythical Mt. Meru, center of the cosmos; and the 13 rings from the base to the pinnacle symbolize the path to enlightenment, or "Bodhi" — hence the stupa's name.

At the bottom, the stupa is surrounded by an irregular 16-sided wall, with frescoes in the niches. In addition to the Five Dhyani Buddhas, Boudhanath Stupa is closely associated with the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (Padmapani), whose 108 forms are depicted in sculptures around the base. The mantra of Avalokiteshvara - Om Mani Padme Hum - is carved on the prayer wheels beside the images of Avalokiteshvara around the base of the stupa.

The base of the stupa consists of three large platforms, decreasing in size. These platforms symbolize Earth, and here you can look out at the mountains while listening to the chants of the devout doing kora, walking around the stupa praying.

Next come two circular plinths supporting the hemisphere of the stupa, symbolizing water. As at Swayabunath, Bodnath is topped with a square tower bearing the omnipresent Buddha eyes on all four sides.

Instead of a nose is a question-mark-type symbol that is actually the Nepali character for the number 1, symbolizing unity and the one way to reach enlightenment—through the Buddha's teachings. Above this is the third eye, symbolizing the wisdom of the Buddha.

The square tower is topped by a pyramid with 13 steps, representing the ladder to enlightenment. The triangular shape is the abstract form for the element of fire. At the top of the tower is a gilded canopy, the embodiment of air, with above it a gilded spire, symbolic of ether and the Buddha Vairocana. Prayer flags tied to the stupa flutter in the wind, carrying mantras and prayers heavenward.

The main entrance to the upper platform of Bodnath Stupa is on the north side. Here Amoghasiddhi, progenitor of the future Buddha, presides. Below Amoghasiddhi is the Buddha Maitreya, the future Buddha.

Surrounding Boudhanath Stupa are streets and narrow alleys lined with colorful homes, Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, and street vendors.

Festivals and Events

During the festival of Losar (Tibetan New Year) in February or March, Boudhanath hosts the largest celebration in Nepal.

Quick Facts on Boudhanath Stupa

Site Information
Names:Bodnath Stupa · Boudha Stupa · Boudhanath Stupa · Chorten Chempo (Great Stupa)
Country:Nepal
Categories:temples
Dates:14th C
Status: active
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:27.721434° N, 85.362128° E
Address:Boudha
Kathmandu, Nepal
Lodging:View hotels near Boudhanath Stupa
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.

References

  1. Bodhnath Stupa - Asian Historical Architecture
  2. Fodor's Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan, 1st Edition (2000)
  3. Bodnath Stupa - PlanetWare

More Information

Guided Tours of Boudhanath Stupa

© biranbig
© Tim Brighton
© Wonker
© James Wainwright
© Wonker
© Tiago Pereira
© Sam Judson
© Rich Nacin

Map of Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu

Below is a location map and aerial view of Boudhanath Stupa. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.