Explore the Legend of Swayumbhunath, the Self-Born 

Swayambhunath Stupa: The All Seeing Eyes of Wisdom

One of the most recognizable landmarks of Nepal, Swayumbhunath is the oldest prehistoric Buddhist stupa that sits at 1406 meters, proudly looking over the capital city of Nepal, Kathmandu. The stupa is also famously known as the Monkey Temple. It is known as Phags.pa Shing.kun in Tibetan translates to 'Sublime Trees' because of the many varieties of trees found on the hill. 

Situated 3 kilometers west of Kathmandu, Swayambhunath stands as one of Nepal's most sacred Buddhist stupas. Its existence is said to have manifested spontaneously when the valley emerged from an ancient lake over 2,000 years ago.

As the oldest of its kind in Nepal, this stupa encompasses a vast expanse adorned with shrines and monasteries. It offers a serene sanctuary for prayer and reflection.

As you explore the Swayambhunath hill, you will encounter ancient stones bearing inscriptions of deities' names in the Tibetan language. These intricately carved creations serve as a testament to the deep-rooted spiritual heritage of the stupa.

When was Swyambhunath built: History of the self-emergence

The history of this monument traces back to 460 A.D., crediting King Manadeva as its creator. According to historians, by the 13th century, Swayunbhunath had become an important center for Buddhist pilgrims, receiving devotees from far and wide. However, according to folktales, the origin of Swayumbhunath shares a different story. 

According to the legend, the monument Swayumbhanunath sprouted from a lotus flower, hence the name "Swayambhu," deriving from the concept of being "self-occurring."

The Name "Swyambhunath"

The name Swyambhunath itself is indicative of its miraculous birth. In Sanskrit, "Swayambhu" means self-arisen, and "nath" means lord or master. Thus, Swyambhunath is often referred to as the "Self-Arisen Lord" or "Self-Created One," symbolizing its unique origin.

The tale narrates a remarkable occurrence in which a lotus flower unexpectedly bloomed in the middle of the ancient river that once flowed through the valley. It is said that the petals of the lotus flower gradually spread, captivating the entire river and spanning across the vast expanse of the valley. Astonishingly, an extraordinary illusion of Sakyamuni Buddha materialized atop the radiant lotus, casting a divine presence.

Swyambhunath & Manjushribodhisattva of wisdom manjushri statue

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Hearing about such a monument, Manjushri, the revered bodhisattva of learning and wisdom, embarked on a quest to witness it for himself from Tibet. Upon his arrival at the site, the bodhisattva is said to have witnessed an illusion of Shakyamuni Buddha, or the historical Buddha sitting atop the lotus flower. Having witnessed such a spectacle of spiritual significance, Manjushri decided to elevate the hill from the river, transforming it into the sacred site now known as Swayumbhunath. 

It is said that in the past, the Kathmandu Valley was a massive lake, with the majestic Swayambhu Stupa standing atop a lotus that blossomed in its center. This divine lotus radiated a dazzling light that illuminated the entire valley, drawing the gaze of Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom.

Intrigued by the mystical lotus, Manjushri embarked on an investigation. With a single sweep of his sword, he cleaved through the mountains encircling the lake, causing the waters to recede and unveil the valley. The lotus found its resting place on the hilltop, known today as Swyambhunath. Miraculously, the stupa emerged from the lotus, transforming into a revered pilgrimage site for both Buddhists and Hindus. 

Architecture Of The Stupa

The base of the Swayumbhunath is a distinctive cube-shaped structure that is adorned with pentagon-shaped Torans on each of the four sides. These torans are intricately and ornately designed, resulting in a magnificent look.

An intriguing feature of the stupa is a pair of watchful eyes on each side, symbolizing the omnipresence of the divine. Above these eyes, an additional eye, known as the eye of wisdom, gazes forth with profound insight.

The stupa also showcases the presence of Panch Buddha, the five Buddhas gracing each of its sides.

In order to enter the central monument vicinity, you will have to first ascend the famous 365 stairs. Around these stairs, you can witness two lion statues majestically guarding the the entrance.

This staircase, a popular route for pilgrims, presents an opportunity for a reverent journey on foot. However, if you prefer convenience, another entrance on the west side of the stupa can be reached by vehicle, offering a route with fewer steps.

At the base of the staircase on the eastern side, a grand gate welcomes you, adorned with a Tibetan prayer wheel standing an impressive 12 feet tall. This substantial wheel requires the strength of two individuals to set it in motion. With each revolution, the air is filled with the resonating sound of a bell.

Adjacent to the gate, numerous smaller prayer wheels await visitors' touch, inviting them to spin and offer their prayers. Just before the foot of the stairs, you will encounter three exquisite Buddha statues from the 17th century, cherished by devotees. Additionally, you can find many small shops within the vicinity offering replicas of these inscribes stones along with other souvenir-y items for the tourists.


The central structure of the stupa stands as a beautiful white-domed edifice. Within its sacred confines, an abundance of statues and artifacts adorn the surroundings, each holding its own spiritual and artistic value.

Moving up further, you can witness a glorious golden spire comprising thirteen levels, reaching toward the heavens. An umbrella proudly displays a treasure-filled bowl adorned with precious gemstones atop this pinnacle.

Throughout the premises, you will discover numerous shrines generously donated by past kings and political figures, showcasing their devotion and reverence for this sacred site.

The Swayambhunath hill acts as a magnetic force, drawing in the religiously inclined individuals who seek solace and enlightenment.

Amidst the serene atmosphere and the mesmerizing surroundings, devotees can engage in contemplation and prayer, fostering a deeper connection with their spiritual beliefs. It is a place where the divine and the earthly realm converge, providing an oasis of tranquility in the bustling modern world.

Symbolism in Architecture 

The Miraculous Eyes (Swayambhunath Eyes)

Swyambhunath boasts a defining feature in the form of the "Buddha eyes" or "Wisdom eyes," painted on all four sides of the main spire.

These vigilant eyes symbolize the all-seeing essence of the Buddha, casting a protective gaze over the valley. Legend holds that when King Manadeva first reached Swyambhunath, the stupa's eyes blinked, affirming its divine presence.

The Stupa's Structure

Swyambhunath Stupa stands as an architectural wonder. Its core structure is crafted from a sturdy hemisphere of earth and clay, symbolizing the Mandala of Five Elements – earth, water, fire, air, and ether. This portrayal of the elements harmonizes with Buddhist cosmology and philosophy.

The Harmika and Spire

Above the hemispherical base is the harmika, a square platform representing Earth. On top of the harmika sits the spire, symbolizing Fire.

The Prayer Wheels and Flags

Encircling the stupa's base, devotees engage with prayer wheels, spinning them clockwise while reciting mantras, dispatching their prayers into the universe.

Meanwhile, vibrant prayer flags dance in the breeze, bearing prayers and blessings on the wind. These components collectively enhance the spiritual ambiance of Swyambhunath.

Swyambhunath Through History

  • The Licchavi Dynasty
    Swyambhunath Stupa boasts a rich and lengthy history. Erected in the 5th century during the Licchavi dynasty, it has endured for over a millennium. The Licchavi rulers, fervent backers of Buddhism, played a pivotal role in its creation and upkeep.
  • The Malla Period
    In the 14th century's Malla period, Swyambhunath witnessed multiple refurbishments and additions. The Malla kings continued the legacy of preserving and enriching this hallowed site, imprinting their influence on its architectural and aesthetic aspects.
  • Earthquake of 2015
    In 2015, Swyambhunath Stupa, much like numerous historical edifices in Nepal, confronted a formidable adversary in the form of a devastating earthquake.This seismic event inflicted damage upon the stupa and its environs.
    Nevertheless, the indomitable resilience of the Nepalese people, coupled with international assistance, sparked comprehensive restoration endeavors, ultimately enabling Swyambhunath to regain its majestic stature.

Modern Significance

  • A UNESCO World Heritage Site
    In 1979, Swyambhunath Stupa received the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage Site designation, acknowledging its cultural and historical eminence and its profound contributions to Nepal's spiritual and architectural legacy.
  • A Pilgrimage Destination
    As a major pilgrimage destination, Swyambhunath continues to draw both Buddhists and Hindus from around the world. Devotees flock to this sacred place to offer prayers, kindle butter lamps, and turn prayer wheels, creating an atmosphere resonating with mantras and the melodic ringing of bells.
  • A Symbol of Harmony
    Swyambhunath's unique aspect lies in its role as a symbol of religious harmony. While fundamentally a Buddhist site, it encompasses Hindu shrines within its precincts, mirroring Nepal's enduring tradition of coexistence and mutual respect between the two faiths.
  • A Cultural Treasure
    Beyond its spiritual significance, Swyambhunath represents a cultural treasure. Its architecture, artwork, and rituals provide a window into Nepal's rich heritage. Visitors can explore the intricate carvings, sculptures, and paintings that adorn the stupa and its environs.
  • A Panoramic View
    One of Swyambhunath's highlights is the breathtaking panoramic view it affords of the Kathmandu Valley. Ascending a steep stairway to the stupa's summit, visitors are rewarded with awe-inspiring vistas of the valley and the majestic Himalayan mountains that encircle it. 

A Cultural Mosaic of Buddhism and Hinduism  

Swayumbhunath is one of the holiest and most significant places for Buddhism and Buddhist pilgrims after Bouddhanath in Nepal. While the stupa is primarily linked with Buddhism, its influence over the local culture and religion of Nepal (i.e., Hinduism) is not undeniable. Known for its diversity, Nepal homes many different cultures and religious practices. So with time, such different religious groups started to find space in each other's culture, forming a harmonious community. The Swayumbhunath is a prime example of this harmony. 


For Buddhists, Swyambhunath Stupa is a hallowed site, revered for its reputed enshrinement of relics belonging to the Buddha himself, rendering it one of the most sacred stupas in the Buddhist realm. Pilgrims from across the globe journey to Swyambhunath to circumambulate the stupa, rotate prayer wheels, and offer their heartfelt prayers and prostrations.


In the realm of Hinduism, Swyambhunath holds a distinctive significance. Hindus regard the stupa as embodying the essence of Lord Shiva. This coalescence of Buddhist and Hindu beliefs forms a distinctive facet of Swyambhunath, spotlighting the religious harmony that Nepal has traditionally embraced.

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