Sacred Sites of Nepal 2:
Bodhnath and the Bagmati Ghats

near Kathmandu

Nepal is officially a Hindu nation -- the only Hindu kingdom in the
world, in fact.  But the Hinduism there lives in an easy and fluid
harmony with the Buddhism, whose sacred sites are actually more
famous worldwide.  Arguably the most sacred Buddhist site in Nepal
is Bodhnath (or Buddhanath), the picturesque stupa that is the
largest in the country and one of the five largest in the entire world.
 Not far away from it is perhaps the most sacred Hindu site in Nepal,
the Bagmati Ghats and Pashupatinath, a temple complex that is
regarded as one of the four most important Shiva shrines in
all of Asia.


The main entrance to Bodhnath sits on a busy city street.  The top of the
stupa can be seen above it.  To my right as I photograph the gate
is a chappa, a young novice monk in the Tibetan tradition.


As one approaches the stupa, its dome looms larger and
larger.  It is very similar to that at Swayambhunath (see
Nepal Page 1) -- all-seeing Buddha eyes, prayer flags,
crowning gold umbrella, and all -- but is much larger.


Our guide, Sanjib, leads Randy and me through the entrance
to the stupa itself, and up to a higher level on the stupa where
we can circumambulate (clockwise, always clockwise).


At this upper level, some women light some incense at a small shrine.

Adjacent to the great stupa are much smaller ones, all bearing
the eyes of the Buddha and the Nepalese number ek ("one"),
which represents the spiritual unity of all beings and things.

The wide walkway surrounding the great stupa is a beehive
of activity, especially for the beginning of the off-tourist season.
In fact, we seem to be the only tourists there this morning.
Pilgrims, however, have typically flocked here from all over
Nepal, as well as from nearby Tibet, Ladakh, and Bhutan.

Bodhnath was always an important center for trade between
Nepal and Tibet, and the Buddhism here has long reflected that
connection in its style.  Since the Chinese annexation of Tibet
and the escape of the Dalai Lama into exile in the 1950s, howeer,
Bodhnath has become a major Tibetan Buddhist spiritual center
-- perhaps the most important outside Tibet itself.

Not surprisingly, then, one sees a lot of prayer wheels at Bodhnath.
One large one can be seen just inside the entrance to one
of the monasteries that face the great stupa.

But most are much smaller and are set into the walls surrounding the
great stupa or flank the entrances to its inner sanctum.


These are spun (clockwise, always clockwise) by people, mostly
laypersons, circumambulating at this lower level, many of whom
carry and spin hand-held prayer wheels of their own.




The devout carry prayer wheels, while the tourist (wife Randy) totes a camera.


 There are a number of monks here, of course,
all dressed in the distinctive Tibetan style.

  Some carry prayer wheels and circumambulate.

Others prefer to sit and pray.

  One faces the great stupa in silent devotion.

Others just mill about the many shops and other buildings
that surround the great stupa.




Pashupatinath & the Bagmati Ghats

  Not far from Bodhnath is the Pashupatinath temple complex and its
adjacent ghats on the sacred Bagmati River.  The focal point seems to
be the shivalinga on the ghat itself.  Here we see devotees making
offerings to this phallic symbol of Lord Shiva.


The Bagmati ghats are a major cremation  site, roughly equivalent
for Nepalis to those on the sacred Ganges at Varanasi for Indians.
 Here a post-cremation ritual is being conducted by a priest
and family members of the deceased.


While we are there, a body is brought by a family to one of the
ghats for cremation.  Our guide says that it is permissible to
take photos, but not to point.


Suddenly he recognizes one of the family members,
the brother of the deceased woman, as a driver for
his own tour company.  He excuses himself to go and
pay his respects.  (That is he in the light blue shirt just
left of center.)

This holy place, light many in Nepal, has many alleged sadhus
(holy men), apparently waiting to pose and even mug for tourist
cameras and, of course, tips.  These are obviously charlatans,
since true sadhus would have no interest in material gain,
much less of making a show of their physical aspects.
Besides, these men evidence none of the extreme
physical rigors that mark (quite literally) the true sadhu.

The last two examples of this sad (!) phenomenon were
haunting the streets of the nearby historic city of Patan
(which is not to be confused with the Indian city of Patna).
Our guide claimed that the brightly adorned one on the
right is the most photographed "sadhu" in Nepal.  Like
his yellow-clad counterpart above, he was quite a showman.


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