Stupa of Swayambhunath is a Buddhist stupa on the western edge of Kathmandu. It sits on a site where 2500 years ago the legendary patriarch Manjushri found a lotus on an ancient valley lake. Swayambhunath has been an important Buddhist learning centre for centuries. On the four sides of the stupa are the famous painted eyes of the Buddha gazing in the four directions. Swayambhunath is also known as the Monkey Temple, due to the numerous macaques that roam the temple grounds.
Every aspect of Swayambhunath's architecture conveys a specific meaning. The stupa, which consists of a dazzling white bubble mound, similar to Boudhanath, represents creation. It bears striking similarities to the dagobas in Sri Lanka such as the Ruwanweliseya and Jetavana Dagoba. Insets of statues of meditating Buddhas represent the four basic elements: earth, fire, air and water. There are 13 gilded rings to the spire, and these represent 13 degrees of knowledge towards nirvana. The spire is festooned with multi-coloured prayer flags which flutter in the wind, releasing holy prayers. Devotees circumambulate the stupa clockwise. As they do that, they turn the prayer wheels. Some even prostrate in full reverence.
Swayambhunath is approached through a flight of 300 steps. Stone sculptures of animals and birds line these steps. All along the way, visitors encounter monkeys. According to legend, when Manjushiri cut his hair, each strand of hair became a tree in Swayambhunath, while each lice became a monkey.
As one approached the main stupa, one is confronted by a jumble of other smaller stupas, called chaityas, and shrines. In a gilded cage inside the Swayambhunath is the eternal flame, guarded by statues of the goddesses Ganga and Jamuna.
Swayambhunath is recognised as one of the seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kathmandu Valley. As with the other sites in the valley, Swayambhunath was placed on the List of Unesco World Heritage in Danger during the 27th session of the World Heritage Committee in July 2003, because the traditional elements of heritage had been partially or significantly lost since the time of inscription, resulting in a loss of authenticity of the property.