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Monday, October 12, 2009

A Healthy Dose of History

A Brief History of Janabahaa
Compiled by Sumati Bajrachary

In ancient times, the vihars were holy places where Vajrayani and Mahayani camps of Buddhism were studied. Buddhist philosophy and meditation was practiced in the vihars to bring about peace, harmony and brotherhood with an altruistic view following the ideals of the Bodhichitta vow, “Buddho Bhaveyam Jagato Hitaya.” Nowadays that altruistic vision of the vihars and its concept seems to be diverted only towards rituals, feasts, festivals and celebrations. The practice of meditation and the studying of Buddhist philosophy in the vihars have virtually disappeared, and the compassionate ideals of Karunamaya totally forgotten.

Today, Janabahaa is a living heritage site with a rich history, and is a centre of enormous pride for the Nepali society. Many ancient customs and rituals are still widely practiced at Janabahaa. The chariot festival and many other popular events related to Aryavalokiteswara are celebrated annually with much gusto and fanfare. Thousands of devotees throng to Janabahaa on particular religious or cultural occasions throughout the year.

The complex is dotted with more than fifty different chaityas (chortens), pillars and other objects of religious significance. The temple itself is endowed with hundreds of intricate metal or wooden works of art, each with its own symbolic meaning.

It is believed that Karunamaya Aryavalokiteswara (the compassionate one) came to this earth in prehistoric times with an altruistic view to eliminate the sufferings of all sentient beings and for the welfare of mankind. He is considered to be a protector of the whole world. Hindus as well as Mahayani Buddhists (Newar Buddhists) worship Aryavalokiteswara Karunamaya with great faith. Hindus call him the white Machhindra Nath, the great guru of Gorakhnath, while Mahayani Buddhists call him Aryavalokiteswara, Janabahadyo, Karunamaya, Lokeswara, etc.

Though there are 108 prominent Lokeswaras displayed in the temple complex of Aryavalokiteswara, some Mahayani Buddhists also believe there are 360 Lokeswaras altogether. Among the 108 Lokeswaras, Karunamaya Aryavalokiteswara is considered the most compassionate one. He is famous for his vow, "Buddho Bhaveyam Jagato Hitaya" (meaning, "may I become the Buddha for the welfare of mankind."), which is known as the Bodhichitta vow.

Because of his compassionate nature towards all sentient beings without any discrimination of cast and creed, Aryavalokiteswara was very famous in the Buddhist world even before the Pancha Buddhas came into light. In the Pancha Rakshya Sutra, a Buddhist scripture of about 200 A.D., Aryavalokiteswara was counted among the eight major deities, in the same rank as Akshyobhya, Raja, Aryavalokiteswara, Amitabha, Nemi, Ratna, Archi and Meru. In another Buddhist scripture, the Saddharma Sutra, he is described as the great protector – one who protects from the eight fears, such as fire, water, disease, death, etc. Therefore, people of Hindu, Shaiva or Buddhist religion honor Karunamaya equally as a deity capable of liberating all conscious beings from trouble and for prolonging one's life.

The temple of Aryavalokiteswara is situated at Kanak Chaitya Mahavihar (popularly known as Janabahaa) near Indra Chowk in central Kathmandu, and was built during king Yaksha Malla’s period. The statue and temple of Aryavalokiteswara was originally located in Jama Yambi area (Jamal at present) during the Lichhavi period, which, for some reason, turned into a rice field in the course of time. According to folklore, during King Yakshya Malla’s period, a local farmer stumbled into a metal statue while digging his field, and took it home. Karunamaya appeared in the farmer’s dream and asked to be taken to Kanak Chaitya Mahavihar, which he promptly did, and installed the statue in a temple. Thus, the temple of Janabahaa Dyo was established in present day Kel Tol.

Architecture of the temple suggests that initially a small structure was built during King Yaksha Malla’s reign, but was later upgraded during King Laxmi Narasingh Malla’s period, as per the inscription on a bracelet found within the temple premises. It is not yet known when the temple was upgraded to its present form, as formal research is yet to be conducted about the many inscriptions found all over the temple complex.

Kanak Chaitya
Kanak Chaitya (or Mu Chiva) is among the ancient chaityas found in the Kathmandu Valley. People believe it is built by the Kolees, descendants of the maternal family of Lord Buddha, who were driven away from Kapilvastu, the birthplace of Lord Buddha. The Kolees eventually found their way to Kathmandu and took shelter here about 2,400 years ago. The locality where they took refuge was named Koligram, after the Kolees, and was later renamed during the Malla period as Kel Tol, which is the name it is known with till today. Kanak Chaitya was established by the Kolees in honor of Kanak Muni Buddha, as proven by an Ashok-era manuscript found in Kapilvastu.

Kwapa Dyo (Caretaker Deity) and Digi Chhen
Kwapa Dyo (also called Kostha Pala Dyo, Kwachapal Dyo, etc.), is a manifestation of the Akshyobhya Buddha. Kwapa Dyo is one of the prominent deities of Buddhist vihars of the Vajrayani sect, and is always placed on the ground floor of a long, two- or three-story building, known as Digi Chhen. Public properties, such as vihars, were built long and tall, which were proudly called Dirgha Chhen (or long house) by priests and monks who lived or studied there. Digi Chhen is the corrupt form of Dirgha Chhen. On the first floor of Digi Chhen, which is known as the Agama, mostly Chakrasamvar (who belongs to the lineage of Akshyobhya Tathagat family) is found as the main deity. In Janabahaa, the placement of Kwapa Dyo and Digi Chhen contradicts with the vihar construction methods described in Buddhist scriptures Kriya Sangraha and Kriya Smmuchaya, and hence is a matter of in-depth research.

In 1917 A.D., a great fire broke out at Kel Tol, which engulfed everything except the important deities of Kwapa Dyo and Digi Chhen. The priests of Janabhaa, at that critical moment, shifted all deities to Lakha Tirtha near Chagal in the western part of Kathmandu, planning to store them there until the renovation of Digi Chhen was completed. But the Kwapa Dyo was never brought back, and remains at Lakha Tirtha till this day. The present Kwapa Dyo at Janabahaa is one that has been established recently.

Deities have been housed in pagoda (or Kutagar) style temples since the time of the Buddha. When Lord Buddha was in his mother’s womb, he is believed to have been housed in a pagoda style enclosure. The temple of Janabahaa Dyo is also built in pagoda style, and is considered one of the most ornately decorated temples in Kathmandu valley.

Carvings on the mantelpiece above the door, or tympanum (toran), serves as an indicator of which deity is inside the building.  Image of Amoghpasa Lokeswara is embodied in this intricate toran.

Jina Stambha
Jina Stambha is a pillar established mandatorily in all vihars to pledge for the stability of the rule of Buddhism, and symbolizes truth, religion and purity in one’s conduct. Jina Sthambas have been established since the time of Ashoka, the great conqueror emperor of India.

One of the unique features of all Vajrayani temples and vihars is the Chhetrapal, a small square dugout in front of the temple, for the protection of the complex. The Chhetrapal is also revered as Lukumaha Dyo, a form of Shiva.

NOTE: Janabahaa Society is looking for donors (in kind or cash) to publish a leaflet with the above content. Please email or call 9851085316 if you would like to help, or know someone who might be able to help.