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Boudha: My Local Heritage by Kalpana Bhandari

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The AJ Writing Prize 2014: Entry

I have an opinion for every building I pass through on my way to Boudha. I can’t resist the hideousness the buildings bear on my way. Except for one or, may be, two, the street facades remind me of how bad our practice is. The incongruity begins with the façade treatment to floor heights to number of storeys to exterior colours to banners, posters, etc. Nothing seems in harmony.

Then I enter the premises of Boudhanath Stupa, circum-ambulate the stupa in the direction the crowd moves, clockwise (although I am always tempted to go otherwise). I sometimes sit on one of the benches and look around people and the ambience they create; people worshipping the Stupa, people chanting „Om Mani Padme Hum‟ (a Sanskrit chant meaning “praise the jewel in the lotus”. It also means that by chanting Om Mani Padme Hum, one can transform their impure body, speech and mind into pure body, speech and mind of that of Buddha), people selling souvenirs to tourists, tourists taking pictures, people sitting in restaurants whilst enjoying the view of stupa and many more. I see and the only thing I don‟t try to opine about is the grandeur of the stupa itself.

As I circum-ambulate the stupa, every time, I realized I had developed the habit of looking up at its eyes at least four times; once in each cardinal direction. Every time the view is same, yet it is so fulfilling to see that structure on the backdrop of the sky neither blue nor white nor dark. It adds to the calmness of the evening, although crowded, and secludes the spectators from the loud aberrant neighbourhood.

The stupa is on the ancient trade route between Tibet and Nepal. It was resting place for Tibetan traders and later, the area was a refuge for Tibetans as well. Most of the residents to day in Boudhanath area are primarily Tibetan Buddhists. Largest stupa in Nepal, Boudhanath rests on 3 tiered crossed platform built in tantric mandala form. These 3 platforms are also used as circumambulatory passage. The base is approximately a square while the height almost half of one of the sides. One of the most notable feature of Boudha is its distinctive one dhyani Budhha i.e. Akchhobya instead of five dhyani Buddhas that are found in other stupas like Swayambhunath of Kathmandu. The entire structure is built from mud, brick, limestone, metal and wood. In a way, Boudha is derivation of our own architectural style embedded with culture and our belief in Buddha.

Following my second ambulation, I rotate the 128 prayer wheels attached to circular dome. I know theory of circle and I know that in Buddhism circle essentially means, culturally, having no edge. So is the belief: no end and no beginning. So I realize how much of circle I have gone around only when I reach one of the cardinal directions- may be a symbol of life- Moving ahead, not realizing where you are headed; and whitewashed dome doesn‟t distract me. Standing at safe distance from the dome, I go on rotating the prayer wheel although I don‟t pray. Sometimes as I walk and look at the Harmika at top of dome, I wish the circular path led me to the square Harmika and I‟d think I am in Wright‟s Guggenheim.

It is said that the eyes of Buddha are always looking upon us. Thus the song ” छन ..” (where there are eyes of Buddha) and the 13 tiers on top symbolizing 13 stages of life until nirvana. When the eyes look on you, when it looks at me, as if, it studies me and it knows what I am thinking. I feel it knows and then it keeps to himself. When I go there the other day, taking it just as a place for my evening walk, I recognize the look yet it seems vacant to me.

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