Author Topic: ARCHITECTURE: The Tantric Twist  (Read 3830 times)


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ARCHITECTURE: The Tantric Twist
« on: January 10, 2015, 02:19:51 AM »
It is linked to an image of mysterious power‚ magic and eroticism?

KATHMANDU: The Swayambhu hillock, including the Mahachaitya and various shrines, is considered to be one of the main centres of Vajrayana Buddhism. Vajrayana possibly developed in the third century CE south of Himalayas and the original Buddhist Tantric texts were carried across the mountain range to the north after the eighth century CE. Vajrayana believes in the possibility of attaining Nirvana in a single lifetime through strictly defined techniques. The rituals would include repetition of mantras, use of various yoga techniques, visual aids such as mandala diagrams and ritual objects such as the vajra or thunderbolt. Since these powerful rituals can have negative impact or can be misused, only those who are initiated are taught by the Tantric masters. The secretive nature of these intricate ritual objects and elaborate performances ensures that Tantrism is linked to an image of mysterious power, magic and eroticism.

On the northern end of Swayambhu hillock we find Shantipur shrine. This powerful Tantric shrine is linked to numerous tales and legends. Most notably, in the underground chambers there lives a Tantric master who has been in meditation since the eighth century CE and controls the rains. When there is a drought, the king would enter the chambers to retrieve a mandala which when pointed towards the sky would cause rain. Legends have it that King Gunakamdeva entered the shrine in the seventh century CE, though the historical Gunakamadeva’s reigned was towards the end of the tenth century. However, stone inscriptions record that in 1658 King Jaya Pratap Malla entered the inner sanctum and descended four levels below the shrine, overcoming treacherous bats, ghosts and serpents to meet the Tantric master Shantikar Acharya to bring back the mandala painted with the blood of the Nagaraja.

Possibly due to fear the shrine has not been well maintained. The shed-like structure was recently renovated and provided with a more dignified copper roof.

The process of renovation was, however, rather unique since the shrine is protected by powerful spells and no one is allowed to know what is inside. It is only possible to enter into the vestibule from the southern doorway. Here wonderful mural paintings illustrate the legends of the Svayambhu Purana. Beyond the vestibule only the initiated priest is allowed to enter and that only for particular events.

For renovation a further family member of the priest who happened to be a carpenter initiated to help out with the renovation. He was, however, sworn to secrecy, for if he told anyone about what he saw inside, he would be threatened by a curse that would carry on for

several generations. The initiated restorers were therefore provided with whatever they demanded, no questions asked!

The mysterious powers of the Tantric masters are linked to actual places in the valley. For example, in Ason Chowk, we find a stone

fish which used to be in a hole underground. Today we find a newly carved fish on a raised platform. Legends have it that Tantric masters, father and son, were challenging each other on where the fish would fall from the sky. The son, who had considered the effects of the wind guessed correctly, showed that it was slightly off from the central axis of the nearby Narayan temple.

To the southeast corner of Ason Chowk is the ornate three-tiered Annapurna temple. According to records, the present structure was constructed as late as 1839. The temple is dedicated to the goddess of abundance, is cared for by a Buddhist Bajracharya priest but is often related to Hindu goddesses such as Parvati or as being one of the nine Durgas. The shrine itself does not have an image but a silver bowl full of grain, which points towards Tantric practices. Temples usually face the cardinal directions, but the Annapurna temple, being a Tantric shrine, does not follow such rules and is twisted towards the northwest.

(The author is an architect and can be contacted through [email protected])

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