Swayambunath is an iconic Buddhist stupa that is easily recognizable; a golden spire that crowns a wooded hill and situated to the west of Kathmandu. Popularly referred to as the "Monkey Temple" because of the hordes of monkeys that rove in and around the temple premises, it is one of the most ancient and enigmatic sites that is also considered one of the holiest of Buddhist shrines in the Kathmandu Valley. Buddhist as well as Hindu pilgrims revere Swayambhu for its religious and spiritual significance. Inscriptions on the walls and temple premises provide significant evidence that the site has been a place of pilgrimage even long before Buddhism actually found its way into the Kathmandu valley; infact, dating back as far as 5th century AD.The temple complex itself has an assortment of chaityas, temples, colourful painted images of deities and various religious objects.
This temple is dedicated to the Goddess of epidemics and devotees pray so that unwanted calamities do not befall them. The Harati Devi Temple is a fine example of the intermingling of Buddhism and Hinduism.
Palace of Peace
This is a rarely visited site situated atop a hill and is also locally known as 'Shantipur' which means a 'Place of Peace'. It is believed that the 8th century Tantric Master, Shantikar Acharya, resides in the secret underground chamber. The master is said to have lived through centuries and has absolute control over the weather; even the King is supposed to visit him in times of drought or other unforeseen calamities.
The base of the stupa is cubical and is crowned with a dome with the eyes of Buddha looking compassionately in all four directions. The pentagon shaped Toran that is present above each of the four sides with statues engraved in them. Behind and above the Torana are the thirteen tiers. Right above the tiers is a small space above which one will find Gajur.
The Myth Behind Swayambhu
As per the Swayambhu Puran, the Kathmandu Valley at one time was filled with an enormous lake and in this valley grew the Mystical Lotus. This valley came to be known as 'Swayambhu' , meaning 'Self-Created' or 'Self-Existence'. The Bodhisatva Manjushree is believed to have had a vision of this mystical and magical lotus which prompted Manjushree to make a pilgrimage to worship it. However, the site was practically inaccessible to mortal pilgrims, and Majushree decided to cut a gorge through the mountains that surrounded the valley. Once the water was drained, it created the Kathmandu Valley and the Lotus transformed into a hill and the flower eventually became Swayambhunath Stupa.