Culture and spirituality of Kathmandu
A tour to experience cultural and spiritual life of Kathmandu
In the backyard of bustling Kathmandu, reminiscence of medieval town still thrives. In last century, Kathmandu has grown as melting pot of diverse culture and ethnic identity from across the country. However Newars still celebrates their traditional festivals and live the life in harmony with their centuries old monuments making Kathmandu a living heritage. Referring to lifestyle of Newars, some writers have well said that “In Kathmandu, every next house is temple and every next day is festival.”
Newars have lived in Kathmandu for over a millennium. The benefit of trans-Himalayan trade and arable land of Kathmandu, made them prosperous enough to create history of splendid art and craft of the millennium. Their exclusive skills are exhibited in the palaces, pagodas, stupas, shrunken water spouts and pavilions. They are virtuous, friendly and hardworking people who still bring Kathmandu to life with their numinous rituals and traditions.
There are thousands of monuments scattered around Kathmandu of which seven groups are recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage site. These monuments are where exquisite craftsmanship of Newars are displayed. Every corner of the old town were planned based on the ancient Vedic knowledge of ‘Vastushastra’. People worked and donated for communal interest than living individual life adding master pieces of wood, metal and stone carvings to their monuments.
Kathmandu valley nourished Buddhism and Tantrism for centuries while its neighbors entered into prolonged conflicts of internal strife, invasion and colonization. Occult Tantric practices have been passed down from generations to generations. Hinduism, Buddhism and Tantrism existed alongside and lived in harmony. Practices were so mixed that celibate Buddhist and Hindu monks ended up revering erotic copulating deities with allegorical meaning.
Kathamndu is exclusive place to witness and immerse into spiritual and cultural life of Hindus, Buddhists and Tantrics. This is a place where there is no night life but morning life. As the morning sun brightens the horizon, jingling of bells, blowing of conch and memorizing chanting fill the environment. The hidden courtyards in the maze of old Kathmandu come to life with worshiping, chanting, meditation and yoga.
The road for the royal chariot dissects the town from northeast to southeast. This has been downtown market for centuries leading to Silk Road across the Himalaya. The trans-Himalayan trade route has been forgotten but the reminiscence of the market still gives medieval glimpse. This is where farmers from the outskirts brings fresh festivals, fruits and spices. This is a place for every householder to come for rare Nepalese spices including Himalayan salt.
Just about 6 km northeast from the center, country’s largest Stupa Boudhanath is center of Himalayan Buddhists from as far as Tibet, Bhutan and Himalayas of India. With over 60 monasteries in its vicinity, the area is known as ‘Little Tibet of Kathmandu’. This is great place to see rugged pilgrims from distant village prostrating, a westerner in robe meditating, and groups of young monks doing their daily monastic chores. There are ample places you can spend night in monastery and practice with monks.
Last but not the least, Pashupatinth temple complex is another place to witness the undeniable truth of life, the death. This is the most preferred cremation ground for denizens of Kathmandu. You can see and learn lifestyle of Shadus, the Hindu ascetics visiting the place they sleep, eat and dwell for alms. On the bank of Holy Bagmati, while dead body is openly being cremated on one side, rituals of death anniversary are being carried on by Hindu priests on the other side.
If you are planning to visit Kathmandu, try to see it from the eyes of insider and get the deeper insight of the city.