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Kathmandu's Great Stupa: The facts

Bodhnath Stupa in Kathmandu is a great Tibetan monument, impressive in its simplicity. Its association with Tibet can be traced to 1959 when Tibetans fled their country following the unsuccessful uprising against the Chinese invaders. These refugees have used the stupa as a rallying point and it remains one of the few places on Earth where Tibetan culture is so accessible.

It’s believed that the first stupa was built on the site in the 600s after Songtsän Gampo, founder of the Tibetan Empire, was converted to Buddhism by his wives, Nepali princess Bhrikuti and Wencheng Konjo from China. Dome The most noticeable feature of the 36 metre high stupa is its giant hemispherical dome – known as the Kumbha – which is made of an off-white colour containing traces of green moss. You also have the equally eye-catching ‘harmika’ bedecked with the Buddha’s all-seeing, red-rimmed blue eyes. Wall A low wall, embedded with prayer wheels, surrounds three mandala-shaped plinths of decreasing size upon which the dome is elevated. Each platform is linked to the next by several flights of stairs - this whole base is said to symbolise Earth. From the top of the centre of the dome (which resembles a downward-facing bowl and symbolises water) rises a gold, pyramid-shaped object. Base The square, flat base of this object is the 'harmika'. It features a nose in the form of a question mark and a large pair of red-rimmed, blue eyes, above which is located a strip of multi-coloured material. The eyes are those of Buddha; the question mark (or, more accurately, the Nepalese character for number 1) in the place where a nose should be symbolises unity and represents the way to reach enlightenment. The small third eye represents Buddha wisdom. Spire The gold, pyramid-shaped spire which sits atop the 'harmika', is tapered in the same manner as Giza's pyramids, with blocks rising upwards. These are, in fact, the 13 golden steps which represent the 13 different mental stages which lead to Nirvana. This spire symbolises fire. Umbrella On top of the spire sits a crown-like object, with all the intricate detail you would expect to see on a monarch's head. This is known as the umbrella or parasol and symbolises air. Another strip of material conceals the underpart of the umbrella - the dominant colour of this material is a rich lemon yellow; on top of it are painted thinner strips of red, white and blue.

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