Two weeks ago the famous Boudhanath stupa was re-consecrated, following over a year of extensive work to repair the damage wrought by the devastating earthquakes of 2015. The stupa – a mound or dome-shaped structure built over a sacred place, or to house the remains of a Buddhist saint or notable figure – is the largest in Kathmandu, and one of the city’s most iconic religious sites.
The original stupa dates to the fifth century. According to legend, a wealthy female poultry seller named Shamvara received permission from the king to build a stupa. Some in the royal court objected, worried that they were being outdone and insulted by a lowly poultry seller. The king refused to rescind the permission he had given Shamvara however, and today the stupa’s Tibetan name, Jarungkhashor, means ‘once permission is given it cannot be taken back.’ Shamvara died before construction was finished but the work was completed by her four sons, one of whom was reborn later as King Trisong Detsen of Tibet.
Boudhanath lies on the ancient trading route leading out of the Kathmandu Valley to Tibet. The Tibet connection today is embodied by the refugees who have been arriving in Nepal since the 1950s. Tibetan schools, businesses and monasteries have sprung up around the stupa to form a little Tibet in Kathmandu, attracting foreign tourists and modern day dharma bums. The stupa is now the spiritual and spatial centre-point of Boudhanath, and the kora – the clockwise circumambulation of it – throngs almost constantly with devotees, pilgrims and locals.
The stupa was severely damaged in the earthquakes of 2015. The dome cracked open in places and the gold-plated pinnacle that dominated the skyline had to be completely removed. For almost a year and a half one of Kathmandu’s most iconic neighbourhoods was deprived of its defining feature. Prominent figures from the Buddhist community came from all over the world for the re-consecration ceremony in late November. The festivities included decking the stupa out in coloured lights and dropping a cascade of flowers over the stupa and devotees from a helicopter.
I arrived at the stupa early in the morning through a backstreet full of shops selling prayer beads, silk scarves and incense, prayer books and butter candles. At the end of the lane the new gold of the spire glinted. The dome had been freshly whitewashed and sparkled in the morning sun. I fell into the moving crowd and listened to the gossip and mumbled prayers as we swept each other along and around the stupa, again and again.
Early morning and late evening, when the kora is at its busiest, are by far the best times to visit. On full moons, an evening walk of the kora is made even more magical by candles that light up the stupa and the surrounds. It’s a good idea to stay out at Boudhanath to appreciate the ambience in the mornings and evenings without the stress of traffic from Kathmandu. Hotels of various kinds and catering to different budgets, as well as monastery guesthouse accommodation, is dotted around the town.
Article by Ross Adkin.
Top image: Creative Commons/Flickr.