Asia, Culture and religion, Indian area, Things to do

The Wild and Wonderful Nepal: Boudhanath Stupa – the largest Buddhist monument outside Tibet

This article article is part of a series entitled The Wild and Wonderful Nepal:

The first thing you’ll probably want to visit and the most important cultural edifice in Nepal as well is Boudhanath Stupa, a very recognizable site assigned UNESCO since the late ‘70s, one of the world’s tallest and certainly the most towering in the country.

giant stupa 1

‘Stupa’ literally means “heap” – it is a mound-like or semi-hemispherical structure containing Buddhist relics, typically the ashes of Buddhist monks, used by Buddhists as a place of meditation; and when it comes to stupas, Nepal is one of the places to be.


While in pre-Buddhist times the stupas were used for the burial of important people of the time, its meaning today suggests the presence of a culturally considerable monument. Its over 100 feet height is one of the reasons for which the Tibetans very often call it the Great Stupa. As it is the holiest Buddhist temple outside Tibet, this cultural artefact is very rich in symbolism, looking like a giant mandala (diagram of the Buddhist cosmos) from the above. Alike any other typical mandala, four of the Dhyani Buddhas mark the cardinal points as the fifth, Vairocana, is treasured in the center. These five Buddhas fetch the symbols of the five elements of nature: earth, water, fire, air and ether, never missing in any stupa’s architecture and very artsy represented in every other cultural space.

giant stupa 2

As the suggestive and symbolic meanings of the Buddhist monuments is highly important and richly represented in the stupa, with its nine levels representing the mythical Mountain Meru, the cosmic center and the path to enlightenment illustrated by the thirteen rings from the base to the pinnacle. The sixteen sided wall that surrounds the stupa at the bottom is sketched with frescoes in niches, very colorful and content-wise suggestive, inspiring peace, happiness, freedom and understanding. As you walk towards the stupa, there are three large platforms that bring into being the base of the monument. They’re decreasing in size and symbolize the earth. If you choose to stop and admire the marvelous natural landscape depicting in front of your eyes, you are going to experience a sensation of synesthesia when hearing the chants of the prayers doing kora.

There are thirteen steps topping the square tower of the pyramid, each representing the ladder to enlightenment. The element of fire is abstractly expressed by its triangular shape, while on the edge of the tower there’s a gilded canopy embodying the air with a gilded spire above it symbolizing the ehter and the Vairocana. All these symbols put together as well as their reccurence make the Boudhanath Stupa a meta-symbolic construction with distinct levels of suggestion, sagacity and profoundness. Along its very popular name as a destination for tourists, the site is a massive cultural edifice for the pilgrims who decide to come here for meditation and quiet time, be it by introspection or just by visiting the surroundings.

giant stupa 3

The cultural copiousness of the place is not only given by this monument alone, but by the other over 50 monasteries and shops praising the Tibetan artefacts. The old men with maroon robes and shaved heads are all monks directing and advising the pligrims in the area. In March or February there are large celebrations for Losar. The wide variety of amazing traditional costumes the inhabitans and prayers wear for what is their New Year celebration doesn’t make them look less like a family becasue of the welcoming, friendly attitudes they have. The respect they’re raised to have for the cultural differences – be them on the shade or on the color – is one of the reasons why many touristst go there annualy to celebrate along, regardless of the religion or cultural beliefs.

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