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Future RI Convention:
June 21-25, 2025 - Calgary, Canada. We look forward to seeing you there!

The Sacred Symbolism of the Swayambhunath Stupa

Home » Blog Post » World Heritage Sites in Nepal » The Sacred Symbolism of the Swayambhunath Stupa

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

With its golden spire, white dome, and giant eyes staring out towards the Kathmandu Valley, the Swayambhunath Stupa is a majestic sight. This ancient landmark dates back more than 2,500 years and has many stories about its origins and history. Explore the symbols used in Buddhist architecture, learn about some of its legends and mysteries, and get a feel for this spiritual destination.

History and Symbolism of the Swayambhunath StupaThe Swayambhunath Stupa is an important example of Buddhist architectural symbolism. Its white dome and golden spire represent the Buddha’s body and spirit, respectively, while its eyes signify the four cardinal directions. Additionally, it’s said that the four sides of the stupa represent the four elements; earth, water, fire and air. Furthermore, the thirteen circles around its base indicate the stages of enlightenment necessary for achieving Nirvana. Finally, more than two dozen bells around its dome denote a sacred space blessed with joy and happiness!The Four Flags of the Stupa Represent Belief Systems from Around the WorldThe four flags flying from the Swayambhunath Stupa’s peak represent different belief systems and religious backgrounds worldwide. A Tibetan prayer flag at the top of the spire, followed by a Nepalese trident, a five-pointed Indian flag and a Chinese Windhorse. Together these flags signify religious acceptance, acknowledging and respecting the diversity of beliefs that co-exist in Nepal today.The Five Dhyani Buddha Statues Represent Peace, Compassion, and EnlightenmentAt the base of the spire are five statues representing five different Buddhas called “Dhyani Buddhas”. These represent a certain level of peace, compassion, and enlightenment. Each Buddha has four arms, a different symbolic hand gesture and a unique colour representing something special. For example, the first Buddha is Vairochana in white, seated in a lotus position with hands in meditation – symbolizing purity and mental clarity. The second is Akshobya in blue, protection for us against our delusions; Amitabha in red symbolizes uninterrupted deep concentration; Amoghasidhi in green is associated with lifelong accomplishment, and lastly, Ratnasambhava with his yellow sign stands for good fortune.The Waterspouts Represent the Generosity of NatureOn the Swayambhunath Stupa, the four gilded waterspouts at the cardinal directions are symbolic. Each one is filled with water in the form of a round disc and symbolizes generosity – never-ending like the auspicious water flowing out from them. It shows that no matter how much you give away, nature will always replenish, leaving you with more abundance than before. The waterspouts also represent Nepal’s four rivers: Bheri, Hisuli, Tukucha and Kamala.Swayambhunath, as both a Buddhist and Hindu Temple, Is Unique in NepalThe Swayambhunath stupa, located on the hills of Kathmandu, is unique in Nepal due to being both a Buddhist and Hindu temple. It’s an important pilgrimage site for both religions and an energetic spiritual place with so much history that visitors come to explore its mysteries. This religious harmony is evident in features such as the large statue of Lord Buddha overlooking a small shrine dedicated to the Hindu deity Harati, who protects children.


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