Swayambunath Temple, in Kathmandu, Nepal, is one of the most important sites in this ancient city. It is known as the “Monkey Temple” because of the large number of (mean spirited) monkeys that have all but taken over this complex (and are said to be “holy monkeys”).
Swayambhunath is an ancient complex atop a hill in the Kathmandu Valley. Most approach it via a long uphill climb of 365 steps (one for each day of the year), past thousands of Buddhist prayer flags that set the atmosphere for the complex ahead. Each morning before dawn hundreds of Buddhist and Hindu pilgrims ascend these steps and begin a clockwise walk around the stupa at the center of this ancient site.
The Swayambhunath complex dates to at least the 5th century AD (some say a temple build in the 3rd century preceded it) and consists of a huge Buddhist stupa and an assortment of shrines and temples. There are statues of Buddha and prayer wheels in the complex, and a small commercial village adjoins the temple and offers shops, restaurants and hostels.
The large stupa has a base with a rounded dome (which has many ancient artifacts in it) and a cubical structure above which has Buddha’s eyes and eyebrows painted on all sides. Between the eyes, the number one (in Devanagari script) is painted in the style of a nose. I believe all aspects of the complex are symbolic but I don’t understand these well enough to write about them with any authority.
Although the site is primarily Buddhist, the place is revered by both Buddhists and Hindus. Numerous Hindu monarchs have paid homage to the temple. It was a fascinating place to see and certainly is a recommended destination.
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