Vikramshil Mahavihar, Thambahil, Simhakalpanagar
(Bhagwan Bahal, Thamel, Kathmandu)
- Damodar Prasad Pradhan
Vikramshil Mahavihar, Thambahil, Simhakalpanagar is the ancient name of Bhagwan Bahal, Thamel Kathmandu. Mahavihar signifies it to be a higher teaching institute, same as a University; Thambahil signifies it to be the monastery of high significance and pride. Simhakalpanagar denotes it as a separate city or town itself. Lots of investigation and research need to be conducted to identify its past glory. We are left but with a few documents.Swayambhu Puran is one of the oldest manuscripts narrating the story of the evolution of Kathmandu Valley. According to the legend, Kathmandu Valley was a titanic lake surrounded with mountains. Kanakmuni Bodhisattwa is believed to have thrown a lotus seed in the lake. A big lotus flower with a thousand leaves blossomed in the center of the lake that attracted visitors from around the globe. Manjushree Bodhisttwa is believed to have visited this place and meditated in Phulchowki (Phullichho) and Jamacho (Jatamatroccho). He is believed to have drained the valley by cutting the edge of the hill with his divine sword. (Chobhar being the only exit for all rivers in Kathmandu Valley and the black soil found everywhere in Kathmandu Valley does testify it to be a lake earlier). Manjushree is the Bodhistawa of Divine Wisdom representing the infinite and eternal intellect of Buddha. Manjushree holds a sword in his right hand and a book of perfection (Prajnaparamita) in the left hand. The first historical important evidence of Than Bahi is the visit of Pundit Atisha Shrijana (982 - 1054 A.D.) who did spend one year studying the Buddhist philosophy during 1041/42 A.D. He was the head pundit (Principal) of Nalanda University and was invited by the Tibetan king to visit Tibet to teach and revive Buddhism. On his way to Tibet he spent one year in Nepal (1041 - 42); most of his time was spent in Than Bahi. He is believed to have studied the Buddhist philosophy and has written books in Sanskrit. (But he did not mention the name of Prajnaparamita). Source?
Dharmashri Mitra, a renowned scholar from Vikramshil Vihar, Nalanda, India is believed to visit Nepal for advance study in Buddhism and Sanskrit in the early 13th Century. He did study in Thambahil, which clearly indicates the high importance of Thambhil and the similarity of the name Vikramshil indicates the name might have been given by him. “Traditional Architecture of Kathmandu Valley" by Wolfgang Korn, Ratna Pustak Bhandar, 1976 (Text by Purna Harsha Bajracharya).
Recent Archeological excavation in Nalanda got a new light about the existence of Vikramshil Vihar as one of the old teaching institutions for higher study in Buddhism in the early first century B.C. A historical evidence of the restoration of the temple in 408 N.S./1287A .D. by Hari Singh during the resign of King Parthvendra Malla is being mentioned in the Toran, the semi circular wood archive kept in the main entrance of the temple. (It did have nice carvings of the image of Prajnaparamita which was stolen some 40 years ago; a new Toran is kept now as a replacement.)
The Saharsha Prajnaparamita a rare collection of four volumes of highest Buddhist manuscript in this temple complex has a close relationship with Manjushree. The legendary Caravan to Lhasa leaded by Simha Sarth Bahu also does have main historical significance to its establishment. Some of the travel records made by scholars from India, Tibet and China also did mention about the glory of this temple during the 11th and 13th century; still lots of real facts are missing. The oldest available document related to this temple is of the visits of Pundit Atisa from India in the early 11th century (1041 A.D.). In this short article I am trying my best effort to highlight some facts to make understand a common reader about this ancient temple complex.
Sartha Bahu is used to identify the leader of the merchants, in some of the early texts as well as in the poem from Kalidasa in the early 11th century. The Poubha (scroll painting) being displayed in the main court of Thamel, during the holy months of Gunlaa narrates the legendary story of the Voyage to Lhasa, being lead by Simha Sartha Bahu. Simha Sartha Bahu is believed to have established Bhagwan Bahal and the entire daily rituals and activities during the festival are being controlled by the Pradhan family from Thamel, who believe themselves as the descendents of Simha Sartha Bahu. Almost all Vihars in and around Kathmandu Valley are being managed by the community of the priest family either by the Bajracharya or the Shakya (Gristha Bhishu) family, but this Vihar is exceptional where the Pradhan family do control the management to run the day-to-day activities as well as various rituals during festivals. We see the Gajus on the rooftops of the religious buildings and temples and chaityas in the Buddhist temple. Both the Buddhist as well as the Hindu temple has the Gaju (the pinnacle) and a Kalash (the holy water vase) design but the main shrine of Thambahi has a chaitya and a metallic mirror on the spire. A banner of white cloth along with a metallic belt hangs down from the metallic mirror (or chaitya). (Locke, John K., S.J. Karunamaya 1986 page 474)
The four volume of Saharsha Prajnaparamita manuscript in the collection dated Nepal Sambat 344 Margasira Pratipada (1223 A.D.) is believed to have written by Jinashri Jnana and started by Manjushree. Jinashri is supposed to get inspired by Manjushree and found an auspicious moment to start writing the manuscript, but felt asleep. Manjushree is believed to have started writing the first three pages with his fingers. (The first three pages do have big scripts different than the remaining pages). When he woke up, found the auspicious moment already passed and was laminating; Manjushri came forward and instructed him to start writing without any disturbances as he has already started from the auspicious moment. This is a legend and we have no evidence regarding how long it took to write all the four volumes. The date N.S. 344 (1223 A.D.) might be the date it was completed or the date mentioned by someone else? King Pratap Malla (1641-1674) and Queen Lalmati after visiting this temple wrote three stanzas appreciating the holy manuscript. Laksavati Prajnaparamita (N.S. 780, 1658 A.D.). During GUNLAA, the Buddhist holy month (the ninth month of the Lunar Calendar) the four volumes are given to the Bajracharyas of four renowned Vihars of Kathmandu to recite from the top to bottom and are paid for doing so. This used to be the only time when the manuscript is able to be view by the general public. (Now-adays one can easily see it on paying a certain fee that is used for the temple expenses). During the last day of the display of the manuscript, the National (Royal) Kumari from Hanuman Dhoka is being carried on a chariot to Thambhil for viewing the manuscript and the Head Priest from Hanuman Dhoka used to recite a few lines from the first page and the last page in the presence of Kumari marking the end of reciting the holy manuscript Prajnaparamita. Pandit Hem Raj Sakya in his Nepal Sanskritya Mulukha 1969 (Main Entrance of the Culture of Nepal) did mention this manuscript as Laksavati Prajnaparamita. This signifies to have 100,000 stanzas. We have no idea regarding the total number of pages in the missing volume kept in Hanuman Dhoka. Tibetans did invade the temple and looted one volume which was recovered by the army and was deposited back in Hanuman Dhoka Palace during King Pratap Malla's period. Some people used to speak to have seen a manuscript having more similarity in scripts, being used during the rituals in Swet Bhairav Temple in Hanuman Dhoka; but there is no record in Hanuman Dhoka regarding this manuscript).
There are 54,864 total lines in the Four Volumes, (27 lines in one page - nine lines in three rows) four volumes containing 2,032 pages (517 pages in Vol.1, 506 in Vol. II, 512 in Vol. III and 497 in Vol. IV). If we guess 500 pages in the missing volume it will add 13,500 lines making a total of 68,364 lines. It is a very interesting fact about numerology in both Hindu and Buddhist mythologies that number nine plays a vital role. This is clearly understood in the layout of the page with three rows containing nine lines totaling twenty-seven lines, adding two and seven makes nine; so each and every volume also does have the same count ending with nine. This does not happen if we have eight lines with three rows even though nine lines with four rows do fulfill these criteria. The size does not look nice. The size of the page is rectangular, nine inches by eighteen inches written in real golden ink, which looks like a print rather than a hand written manuscript as the characters look uniform and looking at the nice and bright prints, it is hard to believe being written long ago.
The Legendary Story of the Caravan to Lhasa & Baidyo Boyagu
The ninth month of the Lunar Calendar (it starts from the dark moon night of the Festival of Lights) so called GUNLAA is being celebrated as the holy month by the Newar Buddhist community in Kathmandu Valley. During this festival antiques, images of Dipankar, images of different Gods and Goddesses, Poubha Paintings (Wilampau scroll painting, Thangka painting), traditional clothings are displayed in the courtyards of the Buddhist shrines - Baha and Bahi and is called Baidyo Boyagu. A copy of ancient wall hanging (Poubha, Wilampau, Thangka painting, Scroll painting) narrating the story of the legendary caravan to Lhasa is being displayed in the main courtyard of Bhagwan Bahal. According to the legend (a non-historical or unverified story), a group of five hundred young businessmen left for a caravan to Lhasa. The group did select Simha Sartha Bahu, a merchant with rich knowledge, as their leader. While crossing the River Bhramputra, they encountered an accident and were being rescued by five hundred young and exceptionally beautiful ladies. All members were busy in commerce and were enjoying with the young ladies as their wives; they did not think of returning home. One day Simha Sartha Bahu was given the dicine sight of Lord Avalokiteshwar (White Karunamaya) while in meditation and worship. In the dream Lord Avalokiteshwar told him that they are being under the captive of the devils (the man eaters) and told him to leave the city as soon as possible as it was a bewitched island. He was instructed to go to the northern side of the city to check a big compound surrounded by tall walls like a well, where they used to throw the skeletons. Avalokiteshwar also did promise to help them cross the river with a flying white horse and instructed not to look behind while crossing the river. He was able to climb a tree and saw lots of human skeletons behind the tall walls, where they were not forbidden to visit. He got convinced himself about the dream after visiting the northern side of the city. He made the plan to get an escape from the evil eyes of the damsels whom they mistakenly thought of their beloved wives. After getting their friends convinced, they planned to fetch an escape and went to the riverside in the middle of the night when their wives were fast asleep. He worshiped the Family God Avalokiteshwar (Karunamaya) and a flying horse appeared. All members got a ride over the horse and were flying over the river. While they were crossing the river, all ladies woke up and started flying over the river and those who looked behind were being taken back to the other side of the river. Simha Sartha Bahu was the only person who did not look behind, so was able to get back home leaving behind all his friends who looked behind and were under the captive of the she devils. Simha Sartha Bahu donated land and is believed to have established Thambahi in his hometown; with the wealth he earned from Lhasa (the traders usually bring gold from Tibet). Later on, with his spiritual power he gained popularity as Dipankar and became the leader of the entire community. The main image of Bhagwan Bahal which is known as Garujuju or Garud Bhagwan, is believed to be the image of Simha Sartha Bahu. The Dankini, his wife came to the court for justice with a baby on her lap claiming herself as his spouse. Finally he had to admit her as his life-partner. He then asked her which portion of the rice she wants to have --- the first, the middle or the last. She replied the first one thinking herself as senior. She is also honored as a divine Goddess Ajima, after her spiritual power and knowledge. This is how even today the sticky water (Jati) is being poured to the image of Jatikwa Ajima, before reaching the rice bowl to Garud Bhagwan. She has made a vow to protect the entire community; she also made a proposal least there be no openings in the rooftops of the buildings. This is why even today the Pradhans from the locality do not have open rooftops in their houses and being the descendant of Simha Sartha Bahu, they do not visit Lhasa because they are scared of being attracted by the she devils as a square revenge.
Reference Books (for further studies):