Boudhanath Stupa: A Spiritual Abode

Boudhanath, also known as Boudha, is one of the most popular tourist sites in Kathmandu. In contrast to the colorful surroundings, the stupa itself is stark white in color. It has different names in different languages. The Newar communities of Nepal call it Khasti, Tamangs call it Jyarung Khasyor and in Nepali it is Boudhanath.

This magnificent Stupa is one of the largest measuring almost 100m in diameter and stands 40m in height, and one of the most significant Buddhist monuments in the world. This great Stupa was enlisted as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979 making it an admirable place of interest for people all over the world. Today it is the key center of Tibetan Buddhism and the holiest of all Buddhist shrines in Nepal. Surrounded by shops, cafes, and handicraft businesses, it has emerged as an important trade hub and a major tourist destination. It is believed that those who reside around this great Stupa are blessed and will never have to suffer from hunger, famine and unfavorable conditions.

There are many stories and legends relating to the origin and history of Boudhanath Stupa. It is believed that this great Stupa was built during the Kashyapa Buddha’s end period and the beginning period of Shakayamuni Buddha.
The earliest historical references of Boudha Stupa are found in the chronicles of the Newar society. Some believe the name is derived from Kasyapa, the Manusi Buddha of the Dwapara-yuga, whose relics are said to be enshrined within it.
According to Newari etymology it is derived from the Newari word for “dew”, by the chronicles that mentioned when the Stupa was in the process of construction, a drought struck and the workmen would lay out a white cotton cloth at night to collect the morning dew, which was then wrung out to facilitate the day’s construction.

According to another story (as per Gopal Raj Chronicles) the Licchavi King Dharmadeva installed “stone spouts” but the water did not come. So, the king consulted his astrologers and was told to sacrifice the most virtuous man in the kingdom for water. After disappointing results, the King decided that it was only himself and his son who qualified as victims and so decided to sacrifice himself. He instructed his son, Prince Manadeva to decapitate his shrouded form with one stroke. The prince obeyed his father’s command but was horrified to see his father’s head fly from the corpse. It landed in the temple of Vajra Yogini in Sankhu and he was told by the goddess that the only way the prince could undo his sins was to let a cock fly and build a Stupa for his father wherever the cock landed. The cock perched at Boudha, and King Manadeva built the magnificent Stupa there.

Part of the stupa was damaged when the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the country on April 25th, 2015. Realizing the religious, cultural, archeological and touristic importance of the Boudhanath Stupa, the locals of the area joint hands and decided to go ahead with reconstruction of the revered stupa. Support poured out from home and abroad in the form of cash, construction materials, gold and physical labour. The love, respect and hard work of the people paid off and after eighteen months of the devastating earthquake that shook the country, Nepalese celebrated the restoration of the stupa. In a massive three day -purification ceremony, amid a grand celebration that drew thousands of pilgrims, the historic site was restored to its glory, and reopened to public on 22 November, 2016.

Meaning of different parts of the Stupa
1. Mandala: Mansion of Boudha
2. Dome: Symbol of Universe or Vase of great treasure
3. Two Eyes: Symbol of method and wisdom
4. Harmika: Symbol of eight noble paths (Four square parts of stupa)
5. Nose like symbol: Symbol of Nirvana
6. Thirteen Steps: 13 steps of Bodhisattva’s ground for complete enlightenment
7. Lotus: Symbol of compassion and purity
8. Umbrella: Protector of three jewels; Boudha, Dharma, and Sangha
9. Pinnacle: Symbol of Mt. Sumeru (King of all mountains)

Festivals of Bhutan

Bhutan’s festivals are extremely lively and vibrant. Its people clad in colorful traditional Bhutanese attire, its spicy and zesty cuisine, various mask dances and dramas, makes it an eye-catching ambience in Bhutan.

Tshechus, held on the tenth day of a month of the lunar calendar, are among the most celebrated festivals, particularly the Paro Tshechu (Spring Festival) and Thimphu Tshechu (Fall Festival). With at least 1 festival taking place every month, one does wonder how they manage it all. But each festival comes with its own unique identity, history and diverse themes. Out of the numerous festivals Bhutan has to offer, let’s take a look at few of the popular ones.

1. Paro Tshechu
Held every spring, Paro Tshechu is one of the most colorful and significant events in Paro district. The Tshechu is considered a major attraction and people travel from neighboring districts to participate in the festivity. At dawn on the last day of the celebration the monks display a gigantic thangkha (embroidered painting), the Guru Throngdel, inside the dzong. Thongdrols are impressive examples of Buddhist art and keep spectators in awe. Simply viewing a Thongdrol is considered so pure, it is said to wash one’s sins away.

Paro Tshechu Dates: April 7 – 11, 2017

2. Thimphu Tshechu & Thimphu Drubchen

One of the biggest festivals in the country is the Thimphu Tshechu. Several days prior to this grand festival, the Thimphu Drubchen takes place where thousands of people travel to the capital city and offer prayers and rituals to invoke the gods. Held at the Tashichho Dzong, both these festivals are among the extremely popular festivals in Bhutan.

When it was initiated by the 4th Desi, Gyalse Tenzin Rabgay in 1867 the Tshechu consisted of only a few dances being performed strictly by monks. Later in the 1950s, the third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, introduced numerous mask dances performed by lay monks that added color and variation to the festival without compromising on its spiritual significance. Mask dances like the Guru Tshengye (Eight Manifestations of Guru), Shaw Shachi (Dance of the Stags) are enjoyed because they are similar to stage-theater. Short skits are also performed to spread health and social awareness messages.

These festivals are also a break for farmers from their farm life who celebrate, receive blessings and pray on this happy occasion.

Thimphu Drubchen Dates: Sept 26 – 29, 2017
Thimphu Tshechu Dates: Sept 30 – Oct 2, 2017

3. Punakha Tshechu

After several requests made by Punakha District Administration and local people, Punakha Tshechu was introduced in 2005 by the 70th Je Khenpo Trulku Jigme Choedra and the then Home Minister His Excellency Lyonpo Jigme Yoedzer Thinley. This Tshechu was established to better preserve Buddhist teachings and keep alive the noble deeds of Zhabdrung Rimpoche, the unifier of Bhutan.

This festival not only plays an important role in preserving Bhutan’s rich culture and traditions but also provides devout Buddhists with an opportunity for prayer and pilgrimage. They reflect the richness of the Bhutanese cultural heritage and are very special for both Bhutanese and tourists who visit Bhutan.

Punakha Tshechu Dates: March 7 – 9, 2017


4. Black Necked Crane Festival

The Black-necked Crane festival is celebrated annually in the courtyard of Gangtey Gonpa, in Phobjikha valley. Unlike other festivals, this festival is celebrated to mark the arrival of this endangered and majestic bird which becomes an inseparable part of the locals’ daily lives during winter.

Organized to generate awareness on the importance of conserving the endangered Black‐necked cranes, the one day festival includes cultural programs such as folk songs and dances (some with black-necked crane themes) and mask dances performed by the local people, crane dances and environmental conservation-themed dramas.
The festival has become a part of the local culture in Phobjikha valley ever since it was first initiated by the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature (RSPN) in 1998.

Black Necked Crane Festival Dates: November 11, 2017