• Gregory Sharkey SJ

A Description of Tham Bahil (Bhagawan Bahal) by J. K. Locke

Following is a segment of Buddhist Monasteries of Nepal (BMN), a monumental study of the Newar Buddhist vihāras in Kathmandu Valley, by Father John K. Locke SJ (1933-2009).

This excerpt is his description of Vikramaśila Mahāvihāra, colloquially known as Tham Bahil, which is the source of the name given to the tourist district of Kathmandu – Thamel. Numbers in brackets refer to map locations in the printed version of BMN.

Thaṃ Bahī -- Vikramaśila Mahāvihāra* [96]

Bhagawān Bāhā Dharmadhātu Mahāvihāra Thamel

Thaṃ Bahī is one of the largest and best preserved bahī complexes in the Valley. It is situated in a lane which runs behind the old Kesar Mahal property and is the centre of what was until recent times a separate village outside of the city of Kathmandu. The modern name of the area, Thamel, is a corruption of Thaṃ Bahīl. At the street entrance to the bahī is a fine old entryway and resting place. To the right of the entrance is a small temple dedicated to Jati Ajimā whose identity will be explained below. Across the lane in front of the entrance are three medieval caityas set into a brick base. Below the caityas are three images: Akṣobhya flanked on his right by Prajñāpāramitā and on his left by Amitābha. To the side is a long rest house and in the grassy area behind the caityas is another larger, and much later, caitya and a shrine of Saraśvatī.

Passing through the entryway of the complex one comes into a vestibule which opens on to the bahī courtyard proper. Over the doorway leading inside is a wooden toraṇa dated N.S.806 which portrays the Buddha (Dharmadhātu Vāgiśvara) flanked by the Dharma (Prajñāpāramitā) on his right and the Saṃgha (Ṣaḍakṣari Lokeśvara) on his left. Above these figures are four of the Transcendent Buddhas (minus Vairocana) in their non-tantric form. On the right as one enters the bahī proper is a shrine of Mahākāl. The entire complex of the bahī has been preserved.

The main shrine is directly opposite the entrance and is of three storeys plus a large cupola. The shrine is marked by two sardulas at the entrance and two ordinary lions at the side. The carved doorway is surmounted by a metal repousse toraṇa depicting the Nāmasaṃgīti. On either side of the door are two small windows. The entire ground floor facade of the shrine has been covered with ceramic tiles. The first storey of the shrine has the usual overhanging balcony covered with lattice screens. Above this is another storey with a single opening flanked by boards to which have been attached an array of pots and pans. The tile roof is surmounted by a large cupola. Into the lattice work of the cupolas has been set a large picture of Sakya Muni Buddha. Above the roof of the cupola is a golden finial and a golden mirror (darpaṇa). The cella of the shrine is offset from the rest of the structure so that it is possible to circumambulate it. Though this is the main shrine of the bahī it does not house the kwāpā-dya but an image of Siṃha Sārtha Bāhu, also known as Guru-jujū, a legendary elder of the bahī whose story will be recounted below. The image is made in the style of the Dīpaṃkara images, i.e. a half image that a man can get inside of (or put on) and carry around. In addition to this image the shrine also contains a red faced Dīpaṃkara image known as Cakandya who is the most well-known deity of this bahī.

The rest of the complex is typical of the bahī, a two storied building with open halls on the ground floor and lattice covered, overhanging balconies above. There is one peculiarity to the ground floor though. Along the southern side of the ground floor is a doorway leading back to a recessed shrine which houses the kwāpā-dya of the bahī, an image of Amitābha facing north. In addition to this image the shrine also contains images of Akṣobhya, Kṣetrapāla, two images of Mañjuśrī, Mahākāl, Hanūmān and Ajimā. In the paved courtyard are four caityas and a maṇḍala.

There is another entryway into the complex from the south, and over this doorway is a wooden toraṇa depicting the Nāmasaṃgīti. This doorway opens on to a park-like area containing three caityas and a well. Because of the well it is known as Tuñ Cok, and all water used at the bahī for ritual purposes must be taken from this well. One of the caityas is a stylized caitya with four large Buddhas figures. Three of the Buddhas are identical showing the varada mudrā with the right hand and gathering the garments with the left hand below the waist. The fourth Buddhas shows the abhaya mudrā with his right hand. All of the Buddhas are given striated garments. Pal dates this monument to the tenth or eleventh century.[i] Along the eastern wall of this area is a rest house where the main image of the bahī is set up on the full moon day of Phālgun. The enclosed are is the place where the Pradhāns of this bahī are given their caste initiation (keyta pūjā), and when the two dya-pālās of the main shrine are initiated (Barechuyegu) they must spend four days as bhikṣus staying in a rest house to the side.

North of the main bahī structure is a second complex which was evidently also a similar bahī structure. All that remains now are the eastern and northern wings of the buildings. At the western end of the north arm is a typical Nepalese three-storied temple which is the official temple of the Kwā Bāhā Kumārī who is worshipped at the bahī four times a year. The temple has no other image and, unless the Kumārī is in residence, is empty. At the present time, however, the Kumārī is usually worshipped not in this shrine but in the āgaṃ on the first floor of Thaṃ Bahī proper. South of this second compound is another enclosed, grassy area with a plastered stūpa in the centre. This stūpa is the lineage deity of the Pradhāns attached to this bahī.

The traditions of this bahī are unique. The bahī belongs to a group of Pradhān families, now comprising ten households with eighty six initiated male members. These Pradhāns, chatharī Shresthas, who belong to a caste that is usually considered to be strictly Hindu, are initiated here in Thaṃ Bahī, are married here, and have their lineage deity here. The initiation they receive is not the Barechuyegu but the kayatā pūjā. However, the officiating priest is a Vajracarya from Kwā Bāhā [1] in Kathmandu. The bahī is theirs and most informants told me that these Pradhāns comprise the saṃgha of the bahī and act as dya-pālās in the bahī shrine. This is incorrect. None of these Pradhāns ever receive the Barechuyegu and none of them ever act as dya-pālās in either the shrine of Siṃha Sārtha Bāhu or in the shrine of the kwāpā-dya. Nor do they perform the rituals at their āgaṃ shrine which is situated in the compound behind. However informants say that they could be given the Barechuyegu if they wanted. Instead they appoint two other men, pāñca tharī Shresthas, who are given the Barechuyegu and act as the dya-pālās in the main shrine of the bahī, i.e. the shrine of Siṃha Sārtha Bāhu. These Shresthas are also of a lineage that is usually considered Hindu. They are of a different lineage from the Pradhāns and have for centuries performed this function. However their succession is not automatic, they have to be appointed by the gūṭhī of the Pradhāns and they could be removed at any time by the Pradhāns. Their term of service is one month, hence these two serve on alternate months.

Informants from the bahīs of Kathmandu say that Thaṃ Bahī is completely separate from the bahīs of Kathmandu. It is not counted among the sixteen bahīs of Kathmandu and the people at Thaṃ Bahī have no rights and privileges in the overall bahī saṃgha of Kathmandu. However, when one of these two Bare-Shresthas dies a new man is selected to take his place, usually his son or, if there is no son, a nephew. He is given the Barechuyegu initiation and for this ceremony the five ‘Sthavira’ plus the sixteen elders of the bahīs of Kathmandu must come to validate the initiations.[ii] The Vajracaryas of Kwā Bāhā in Kathmandu function as priests at this ceremony. One of the Vajracaryas from Kwā Bāhā also serves as dya-pālā in the shrine of the kwāpā-dya. Neither of these Bare-shresthas are ever permitted in perform the nitya-pūjā in the shrine of the kwāpā-dya. For his services as dya-pālā the Vajracarya receives a house and 32 murīs of paddy each year.

At the time of the Barechuyegu ceremonies for one of these Bare-Shresthas there is always an elaborate feast known as phañ-bway. The expenses for the feast must be borne by the family of the Shrestha being initiated. However all of the arrangements for the feast must be made by a group of Jyāpūs known as the Dangu.[iii] This sub-caste of Jyāpūs are strictly Buddhist and, according to informants at Thaṃ Bahī, are the highest caste of all the Jyāpūs. In addition to the elders of the sixteen bahīs and the families of the Shresthas, all of the families of the Pradhāns of Thaṃ Bahī must be invited to this feast. Traditionally each guest was given six mānās of flattened rice and other food in proportion, but in recent years this has been somewhat diminished. The initiated Bare-Shrestha must throw this feast before he is allowed to take up his duties as dya-pālā in the shrine of Siṃha Sārtha Bāhu.

This bahī has connection with five of the bāhās of the Àcārya Gūṭhī: Kwā Bāhā, Jhwā Bāhā [10], Dhwākā [6] - Gaṃ Bāhā [7] and Lāyku Bahī (=Sikhamu Bāhā [55]). The Vajracaryas of Kwā Bāhā are the official priests for all regular rituals requiring the services of a Vajracarya. Vajracaryas from Kwā Bāhā, Gaṃ Bāhā, Dhwāka Bāhā and Jhwā Bāhā act as the priests for the āgaṃ deity of Thaṃ Bahī. For their services they are given a feast during Guñlā. During Guñlā and again on the full moon day of the month of Phālgun, the elders from each of these bāhās must come to Thaṃ Bahī to perform a pūjā (done by the senior elder of Kwā Bāhā) and recite the Prajñāpāramitā, an ancient copy of which is preserved at Thaṃ Bahī. The book is divided into four parts and one part each is read by the elder of Lāyku Bahī, Kwā Bāhā and Jhwā Bāhā and the fourth part is read either by the elder of Dhwākā Bāhā or the elder of Gaṃ Bāhā. For their services they were each traditionally given 30 pāthis of paddy, 3 pāthīs of mustard oil, 2 mānās of salt, 60 paisā worth of fire wood[iv], and 6 pāthīs of rice. However in recent times this has been reduced. On the full moon day of Guñlā the senior elder of Lāyku Bahī (=Sikhamu Bāhā) must come to Thaṃ Bahī to recite a text known as Sṛngaredi and the elder of Kwā Bāhā comes to perform a kalaśa pūjā.

During Guñlā at the time of the ‘showing of the gods’ they still have a display of images, the book of the Prajñāpāramitā written in golden letters and a large banner painting portraying the story of Siṃha Bāhu. Among the images shown are two female wooden images known as the ‘Aunties’, i.e. the Aunties (father’s sisters) of Siṃha Sārtha Bāhu. These aunts were supposed to have played a big part in his own life and consequently the fathers’ sisters of all of the Pradhāns still play a large role in the annual feasts and ceremonies at Thaṃ Bahī. They must be invited to all feasts.

The Kumārī worshipped at this bahī is the Kumārī of Kwā Bāhā whose main function is to serve as the deity of the Kumārī shrine at Thaṃ Bahī. There is little for her to do at Kwā Bāhā itself. She is brought to Thaṃ Bahī four times a year: at the time of the two disī pūjās (Pauṣ and Jyeṣṭha), during Dasain and the day after the full moon of the sacred month of Guñlā. Whenever she comes she is accompanied by the eldest Vajracarya of Kwā Bāhā and a group of musicians. Allen reports that she used to come during the earlier part of Guñlā for the recitation of the Prajñāpāramitā, but this has been discontinued.[v] This Kumārī is always selected from among the daughters of the Vajracaryas of Kwā Bāhā, but she is selected by a board consisting of the Rājguru (i.e. the Vajracarya Rājguru of Sikhamu Bāhā), the elders of Kwā Bāhā, the elders of the gūṭhī of the Pradhāns of Thaṃ Bahī, and the current dya-pālā (Bare-Shrestha) of Thaṃ Bahī. Allen gives a description of the installation and consecration of this Kumārī, a ceremony which takes place at Kwā Bāhā.[vi]

At the time of Dasain when the Kumārī is brought to Thaṃ Bahī she is worshipped by the Pradhāns (as Durgā?) in her shrine. They must perform a pūjā to her in her shrine before they perform the usual Dasain sacrifice in their homes. At the end of Dasain the Pradhāns of Thaṃ Bahī take out a Khaḍga Jātrā, a procession of the sword of Durgā.

The annual festival of the bahī is observed on the eighth day of the bright half of the month of Phālgun. For the ceremonies of this day the Vajracaryas from the above bāhās must come again to perform the rituals and recite the text of the Prajñāpāramitā. For their services they are each given thirty pāthis (of six mānās each) of husked rice by the Pradhāns.

On the full moon day of the month of Phālgun (the day of the Hindu festival of Holī) the image of Dīpaṃkara (Cakañ Dya) is taken out of its shrine and kept for the entire day in a rest house in Tuñ Cok where it is worshipped throughout the day. In the evening it is taken round the courtyard and back to its shrine. On the following day Cakañ Dya is taken out in procession from Thaṃ Bahī to Kathmandu. According to informants at Thaṃ Bahī this procession is connected with the recitation of the text of the Prajñāpāramitā which they refer to as the ‘Lun Àkha—Wa Àkha’=’the (Book Written) in Gold and Silver Letters’.

There is a legend connected with this book and its recitation. The book is reputed to have been written by Mañjuśrī himself which he then gave to the Nāgarājas for safe keeping. The nāgas took the book to the land of the gods. It was finally decided that it would be given to a man who had proved himself to be very brave and favoured by the gods. Dīpañkara was such a man and this became known to his mother one day when he was a child. One day his mother had sent him to take their flock of ducks out to a nearby pond. While he was tending the ducks he fell asleep. After some time his mother came searching for him and when she found him asleep near the pond she noticed that a five-headed serpent was shading his head from the sun. From this she understood that he was in reality a bodhisattva marked with the cuḍā maṇi on his head (i.e. the uṣṇiṣa, the excrescence on the head of a Buddha which is supposed to indicate his state of enlightenment). When the Nāgarāja came to know this, Dīpañkara was given the book of the Prajñāpāramitā with the command that it be recited each year at the time of Guñla. Evidently he deposited this book at the old site of the bahī at Sāmā Khusī.

A certain group of Jyāpūs were later deputed to bring the book to Thaṃ Bahī after a new foundation had been built there by Siṃha Sārtha Bāhu. A feast was then given to these Jyāpūs and it was determined that each year ten pāthīs of rice would be cooked as a feast for these Jyāpūs. These Jyāpūs known as the Walāchimī (the people from Walāchi) are still fed each year at the time of Guñlā; and at the time of the procession of Cakan Dya one of these Jyāpūs carries the book of the Prajñāpāramitā in the procession. This is the same group of Jyāpūs from whom the Jyāpū Phu Bare of Thatu Puiñ is chosen.[vii]

The procession of Cakan Dya proceeds from Thaṃ Bahī to Jyāthā Tole in Kathmandu and from there round the following areas: Chusyā Bāhā, Musyā Bāhā, Kamalāchi, Bhotāhiti, Asan Tole, Mahābauddha, Mahamati, back again to Asan Tole to Takṣe Bāhā, Hāku Bāhā, Jana Bāhā, Indra Chok, Kilāgal and Ituṃ Bāhā, from there to Wotu Tole and Tadhañ Bāhā and from there past Hanūmān Dhõkā round the hole in the street in front of Kumārī Bāhā (which marks the site of an ancient caitya), to the Kot behind Hanūmān Dhokā, Yatakhā Bāhā, Naradevī, Swetakālī, Thāya Madu, Thañ Hiti and finally to Kwā Bāhā. At Kwā Bāhā the procession stops and pūjā is done to the Dīpaṃkara image and he dances.[viii] From there the procession goes back to Thaṃ Bahī. There a pūjā is performed to the image and then the image is escorted round the back to the local public toilet. When he returns Dīpaṃkara is turned first to the hill to the north known as Nāgārjuna’s hill so that he can have darśan of Nāgārjuna and then turned toward the direction of Sāmā Khusī so that he can see what is reputed to be the original site of the bahī. Then the image dances in front of the Ajimā shrine outside of Thaṃ Bahī and is finally ritually welcomed back into the bahī. At this time the women of the Pradhān clan also ritually welcome into their community any new brides who have been married into the clan within the past year. Finally Cakañ Dya is escorted back into the bahī under three umbrellas.

In Summary then this bahī and its community do not fit the usual pattern at all. In a sense the saṃgha of the bahī is comprised of the Pradhāns whose shrine this is and whose gūṭhī controls all of the land belonging to the bahī. However, they are not Bare and do not act as dya-pālās in the main shrine of the bahī. The dya-pālās are two Bar-Shresthas, Shresthas who have been given the Barechuyegu precisely to carry out this function, but who are not members of a recognized bāhā or bahī saṃgha and have one of the other duties and customs of the Bare. They perform the daily pūjā morning and evening in the shrine of Cakañ Dya, but the daily pūjā of the kwāpā-dya must be performed by Vajracarya from Kwā Bāhā. The Pradhāns themselves receive the ordinary Kaytā pūjā initiation of Pradhāns, but with a Vajracarya of Kwā Bāhā officiating. Their lineage deity is the stūpa to the north of Thaṃ Bahī proper. The bahī (i.e. the gūṭhī of the Pradhāns) still has a considerable income, about 300 murīs of paddy which comes from fields which the gūṭhī still owns around Sāhmā Khusi in the low lying area some distance north west of the bahī and below the British cemetery.

The history of this foundation is as intriguing as its current customs. The Swayambhū Puraṇa and Nepalese chronicles place its foundation back in pre-historic times in the time of Kanakamuni Buddha, one of the legendary Buddhas who is said to have lived before the historical Sakya Muni:

Once upon a time a certain Pandit of Vikram Śila Bihār in Benares, named Dharma Sri Mitra, was reciting some moral traditions from a book, when he came to the mantra of twelve letters, which he could not explain. Ascribing this inability to his not having visited Mañjuśrī, he determined to go to see him, and for this purpose went to Svayambhu. Mañjuśrī, having become aware of this through meditation, also went to Nepal, and began to plough a field, having yoked for that purpose a lion and a sardul (griffin). Seeing this strange sight, Dharma Sri Mitra went up to Mañjuśrī, and asked the way to China. Mañjuśrī replied that it was too late that day to commence his journey, and took him to his house, where he instantly caused a good vihar to spring up, in which he lodged his guest. During the night Dharma Sri Mitra overheard some conversation between Mañjuśrī and his wife, which made known to him the disguised Mañjuśrī, and he slept at the threshold of his room. In the morning Mañjuśrī made him his disciple, and told him the meaning of the mantra. The bihar, and the field which he was ploughing, when met by Dharma Sri Mitra, he called Sāwā Bhūmī; and to this day this is the field in which rice is planted before all the other fields in the valley.[ix]

This Sāwā Bhūmī is the land which Thaṃ Bahī still owns at Sāmā Khusi and Wright notes that in his day it was still the first spot where rice was planted each year.[x] There is a caitya there, and people say it is the site of a former vihāra.

Another legend, even more important for understanding the present traditions, is that of the merchant known as Siṃhasārtha Bāhu, Siṃhasārtha Àju or Guru-jujū. The story is a popular one and is contained in several collections of storeys of Nepal. Following is the storey as told by Wright’s Chronicles:

During the reign of Simha Ketu, a Descendent of Guṇakāmadeva, there was a virtuous merchant by name Sinhal. On a certain occasion he took five hundred Baniyās and proceeded northwards to Sinhal Dwip (Ceylon). On the way they saw a golden caitya, and, in spite of Sinhal’s warning, the Baniyās took away the gold from it. After crossing with great difficulty the arm of the ocean, in the passage of which the power of Sinhal alone saved them, they were met by five hundred and one Rakshasis (ogresses), who, in the form of lovely damsels, enchanted them, and each took one as a companion. The Lokeśvara Àryavalokiteswar, taking pity on Sinhal, appeared in the wick of his lamp, and told him what these damsels were, and that some day they would devour his followers. He added that, if he doubted him, he should go to Ashaya Kot and, if he wanted to be saved, he should go to the sea-shore, where on the fourth day he would meet a horse, which, after making obeisance, he should mount and cross the sea. Sinhal went to Ashaya (or Ayasa) Kot in the morning, where he saw all sorts of persons who had lost their limbs, which convinced him of the truth of what he had been told. He then collected his five hundred companions, and went to the sea-shore, where they mounted the horse Balah, which took them across the ocean. Their mistresses the Rakshasis pursued them, calling them by name. The baniyās, in spite of the warning of Àryavalokiteśvar, looked back, fell from the horse, and were devoured by their mistresses. Sinhal was the only one who arrived safely at home, followed by his Rakshasi, who remained outside his house, without any notice being taken of her by Sinhal. A rumour regarding a beautiful damsel having reached the ears of the Rājā of Sankasya-nagari, he sent for her, and kept her in his palace. One day the Rakshasi flew away to the sky, and summoned her sister Rakshasis who came and destroyed the Rājā and all his family. Sinhal, having heard of this, went to the Rājā’s darbār, and, reciting the mantras of Àryavalokiteswar, flourished his sword and drove away the Rakshasis. The people then elected him to be their king, and he ruled for a long time. He pulled down his own house, and built a bihār, and consecrated an image of Bodhisatwa. In consideration of the Rakshasi, who followed him from Ceylon, having been his mistress, he raised a temple for her worship, and assigned land for its support. He having no issue, the dynasty became extinct on his death. To the bihar which he built he gave the same name that Mañjuśrī gave to the one which he caused to spring up for Dharma Sri Mitra, viz. Vikram Sil Bihār.[xi]

This is the story which is recounted on the banner displayed each year at the time of the ‘showing of the gods’ during Guñla. The image in the main shrine is supposed to be Siṃha Sārtha Bāhu and the Jataka Ajimā shrine outside the bahī is the shrine of the ogress-mistress of Siṃha Sārtha Bāhu. The story implies that the vihāra supposedly built by Mañjuśrī for Dharamśrī Mitra was in ruins by this time and that the new one which Siṃhasārtha Bāhu built was not on the same site, but near his darbār. The original site is supposed to have been the area where the bahī still has its fields. There is a tradition that the area of Thaṃ Bahī once had its own king. Thaṃ Bahī always lay well outside the city of Kathmandu, and it is entirely possible that it was the seat of some feudatory lord who was considered a local king.

Some of the early history of this foundation is preserved for us in Tibetan records. Atisa, or Dīpaṃkara Śrījñāna as he was known in India, left India in A.D.1041 to begin his journey to Tibet where he eventually revived the Dharma after the earlier period of persecution and decay. He spent the year 1041 in Nepal. His biography records his visit to Nepal and it is confirmed by a letter he wrote from Nepal to King Naya Pala of Bengal and a work entitled Cārya-saṃgraham-pradīpa which he composed in Nepal for a deaf disciple of his. Atisa spent some time in the Valley and visited the Swayambhu Mahācaitya. Then he set off for another place. “They then reached the plain of Palpa called Palpoi-than. At this time the king named Anantakirti who ruled over Nepal held his court there. He received Atisa with much cordiality and reverence.” Atisa persuaded the king to build a monastery which was to be called the Thaṃ (sTham) vihāra and the king even allowed “his son prince Padmaprabha to be ordained as monk-pupil of Atisa.” It is added that Atisa left Nepal for Tibet after the work on the Thaṃ vihāra was commenced. The prince Padmaprabha had lessons in Tibetan and Sanskrit and eventually became an adept in Buddhism.’[xii] The Blue Annals attests to the same visit: ‘They spent one year(in Nepal), and built the great temple of sTham Vihāra, and deposited there provisions (in support) of a numerous clergy. Many were ordained … He [Atisa] used to say that at the temple of Stham vihāra, the manner of taking food and the manner of conducting the study of the Doctrine (by the monks) were good.’[xiii]

The account from the biography has raised more questions than it has answered because of the reference to Pālpā and a king called Anantakīrti who is unknown. In his latest edition Petech has shed considerable light on the whole question by going back to the original Tibetan sources. It is now clear that the translator of Atisa’s biography, relying on the earlier interpretation of S.C. Das,[xiv] has misunderstood the text. Following is the relevant passage from Petech:

When Atisa arrived in Nepal he took up residence at the Śiṃ-kun shrine (Swayambhū Nāth), where he found waiting for him the royal monk of Gu-ge with the means necessary for his journey, and where he was received with the utmost reverence by the local Paṇḍits and by his own brother Vīryacandra; they seated him on the throne usually reserved for the mahārāja (rgyal-po c’enpo). He was supplied with every kind of necessities by the ‘rājā (rgyal-po) of Śiṃ-kun. The K’ri-son Bhāro of Nepal too came to visit him and invited him to his home.

After the demise of his companion rGya brTson-‘grus-seṃ-ge, Atīśa spent most of his time at Bal-po rdzong. Then he shifted to Bal-po’i-T’an), where he presided over the funeral ceremonies for his dead friend. He was received there by mahārāja (rgyal-po c’en-po) of Nepal Grags-pa-mt’a’-yas. The Master presented him with the elephant that had carried him up from India and asked for permission to build a vihāra at T’an. The king agreed and furnished him with the means for the undertaking. He also entrusted to him his own son padma-‘od, to whom Atīśa imparted the vows of a novice. Then he returned to Bal-po rdzong with the Gu-ge envoys.

The T’an vihāra was built as a double convent, of which the one section was called Rāja vihāra and the other, although no name is given, was apparently the T’an vihāra proper.[xv]

Bal-po rdzon means ‘the castle of Nepal’ and is the Tibetan name for Nuwākot.[xvi] Balpo’o-T’an means literally ‘the plain of Nepal’, but here it seems to be a proper name[xvii], i.e. Tañ (or Taṃ) in the Valley of Nepal. Hence there is no question of Pālpā at all. The king Grags-pa-mt ‘a’-yas (Anantakīrti or Anantayasas is unknown, but this was a time of confusion with perhaps a civil war from about A.D.1039-1045.[xviii] It was also a time when local feudatories were looked upon as local kings. The name of the king does not appear in the earlier Tibetan accounts and Petech surmises that it may well be a later invention.[xix] It might also be the name of the local feudatory of Thamel.

About A.D.1200 the abbot of this vihāra was the famous Vibhūticandra.[xx] Vibhūticandra was a prince who had abandoned his inheritance to become a monk. He was first at Jagadalla, the last great seat of Buddhist learning founded by a Pāla king, and was a disciple of Śākya Śrībhadra. When the Moslems attacked Jagadalla Śākya Śrībhadra and his two disciples Vibhūticandra and Danaśila, fled to Nepal and Tibet. Much of the later tantric literature of the Tibetan canon was an outgrowth of the teaching of these two disciples of Śākya Śrībhadra.[xxi]

The thread of the history of Thaṃ Bahī is picked up again a little more than a hundred years later by a Tibetan pilgrim to Nepal, Dharmaśvāmin. He arrived in Nepal in A.D.1226 and remained in Nepal until 1234 when he went on to India to visit the Buddhist pilgrimage sites there. While in Nepal he lived at a vihāra near Swayambhūnāth and studied under Ratnarakṣita. He describes two other Buddhist sites in the Valley: the vihāra of Bu-kham with its image of Avalokiteśvara (Buṃga-dya) and Thaṃ Vihāra.

Further, in Nepala there is a Vihāra called Tham, also called the ‘first Vihara’ or the ‘upper Vihara.’ (In this vihāra there was a Stūpa on which every evening a light appeared which was observed by the Venerable Lord (jo-bo-re, Atīśa) who inquired of all, ‘What was it’, but they did not know; only an old woman remarked, ‘This must be the coloured dust after the erection of the maṇḍala by the Buddha Kāsyapa.’ The Lord (Atīśa) then erected a temple to worship it. In front of this Stūpa, there is a golden image of Sakyamuni. It is called the Lord Abhayadāna. The Indians [i.e. the Nepalese] call this sacred place Dharmadhātuvihāra.

In the monastery was an abbot’s seat gilded and adorned with pearls, (for the erection of which) eighty ounces of natural gold were used, besides the other four kinds of ornaments. The founder (of the monastery) invited the Guru [Atīśa] to occupy the seat and honoured him. From then till the present time the religious rites are properly observed (in the monastery). The Dharmaśvāmin said that he did not stay there, but resided at the Svayambhū-chaitya because there was a monastery there.’[xxii]

It is noteworthy that according to Dharmasvāmin’s account and the account of the Blue Annals Atīśa did not found the monastery but built a shrine for the light shining from the caitya and possibly renewed the discipline of the monastery.

As mentioned above Thaṃ Bahī has an ancient copy of the Prajñāpāramitā, supposedly written by Mañjuśrī himself. This manuscript is dated in N.S.344 and the colophon mentions ‘Dharmadhātu Mahāvihāra’.[xxiii] N.S.344 corresponds to A.D.1223-24 just two years before the arrival of Dharmaśvāmin in Nepal, and its confirmation of the name given by Dharmaśvāmin is significant. Manuscripts, or course, are not permanent fixtures, and Thaṃ Bahī could well have acquired this text at a later date from some other place; but this seems unlikely. The manuscript was certainly in the possession of Thaṃ Bahī in N.S.769 when the monastery was visited by King Pratāp Malla who added a note to the manuscript recording his visit to the monastery at that time with his favourite wife Lālmatī. According to the note the queen asked the king to explain the meaning of the book. He replied that it was not possible for him to interpret the thoughts contained in the great book.[xxiv]

In view of the new evidence and the clearing up of the confusion about Pālpā, there seems now no doubt that Thaṃ Bahī is indeed the Taṃ Vihāra of the Tibetan records which they associate with Atīśa. Those familiar with the Tibetan Tradition also tell me that the large caitya situated in the grassy area to the north of Thaṃ Bahī is of a particular style which in Tibet is always associated with Atīśa. Thaṃ, as Dharmaśvāmin remarks, means upper and can therefore mean northern. It is common Newari word and could be applied to any vihāra located in the upper or northern sector of Kathmandu or Patan. However, we know of no other Thaṃ Vihāra from that period, and Thaṃ Bahī is situated straight north of Thaṃ Hiti at the northern limits of the old city of Kathmandu. The Sanskrit name which Dharmaśvāmin gives -- Dharmadhātu Vihāra -- is different from the present Sanskrit name of Thaṃ Bahī—Vikramaśila Mahāvihāra. However, the earliest confirmed reference to this Sanskrit name is dated N.S.783. It is entirely possible that the name was changed to commemorate the famous monastery from which Atīśa came or that there was more than one establishment at this site. It is also true, as Regmi remarks, that there are no references in any Nepali source to Atīśa’s visit to Nepal, not in the chronicles, nor in inscriptions nor manuscripts.[xxv] This is not unusual. There are no recollections of any of the famous pandits and siddhas who flourished in the Valley from the eleventh through the fourteenth centuries as attested by the Tibetan sources, but they certainly existed.[xxvi]

Dhanavajra Vajracarya informs me that the gūṭhīyārs of Thaṃ Bahī have a number of palm leaf documents, all of which predate Ratna Malla of Kathmandu (A.D.1485-1520). So far these have not been made available for study. If they are made available they will perhaps shed considerable light on the later history of Thaṃ Bahī and the question of the two recorded Sanskrit names. In the meantime I would suggest the following hypothesis. Thaṃ Bahī is an ancient foundation which pre-dates the time of Atīśa. Atīśa visited the site and erected here either a caitya (possibly the still extant caitya to the north) or a second vihāra and did much to improve the discipline and learning of the monks resident in the monastery. There were at least two foundations at this site, one a monastery for bhikṣus known as Dharmadhātu Vihāra and the second a sort of chapel or Buddhist shrine for the use of the court of the local feudatory of whom the present Pradhāns are the descendents. This was possibly called Rāja Vihāra, as the Tibetan sources indicate, but was later called Vikramaśila Mahāvihāra to commemorate Atīśa—Dīpaṃkara Śrījñāna of the famous Vikramaśila Mahāvihāra. Dharmadhātu Vihāra was situated in what is now known as Tuñ Cok to the south or in the still enclosed area to the north. The southern site is favoured by the presence of the 11-12th century caitya, the fact that the image of Dīpaṃkara (Cakañ Dya) is placed there for the whole day on the full moon day of Phālgun, the fact that the newly initiated dya-pālās must reside there for three days living the life of a bhikṣu, and the fact that the Kṣetra-pālā at this site is the place where all sacred refuse from all rituals is thrown (i.e. this is the main Kṣetra-pālā of the whole complex). A further confirmation comes from a tradition recounted by one of the informants at Taṃ Bahī. According to this tradition the kwāpā-dya image now enshrined along the southern arm of Vikramaśila Mahāvihāra was the kwāpā-dya of another vihāra situated to the south. It is significant that the dya-pālā at Vikramaśila (an initiated ‘Shrestha=lay person) may not perform the nitya pūjā in this shrine, it must always be performed by a Vajracarya from Kwā Bāhā (i.e. a true bhikṣu = a member of a recognized Bare saṃgha).

There are few other early references to Thaṃ Bahī. The earliest reference is found in a contemporary note on a manuscript which lists Thaṃ Bahīri as one of the places set fire to by the troops of Mukuṇḍa Sen, The Rājā of Pālā when he attacked the Valley in N.S.646.[xxvii] In N.S.752 the gūṭhī of Thaṃ Vahīri, under the leadership of the Thakālī Candra Siṃha, had teliya bricks made for the seat of the āgaṃ deity and for building a new temple. Ornaments were also offered to the deity at this time.[xxviii] According to an inscription on the steps leading into the shrine of Siṃha Sārtha Bāhu, one Mahāpātra Kṛṣṇa Siṃha Bhāro repaired the caitya in the courtyard in N.S.78, in memory of his father Guṇa Siṃha Bhāro of Vikramaśila Mahāvihāra.[xxix] In N.S.802 One Hari Siṃha Bhāro renovated the courtyard and installed two images of Mañjuśrī and one of Saraśvati. In the inscription he refers to the bahī as Śrī 3 Gandhulī Bāhāra. This should not be taken as another name for the vihāra. We have seen in several inscriptions that the Buddha image of a bahī is often referred to as Śrī Gandhulī. Hence I would take this not as a proper name of this bahī but as a common name, the vihāra of the Buddha. On the second day of the dark half of the month of Śrāvan in N.S.845, one Hāku Siṃha of Taṃ Vahīra entered the shrine of Gandhulī Devatā (=the Buddha) and offered images of the sun and moon and one set of clothes or the deity plus one set of clothes for the Kumārī. Finally Śānti Pūjā and a Yajña were performed to the āgaṃ deity.[xxx]

[i]Pal, p. 107-09 and Plate 172.

[ii]This is the information given by the elders of the sixteen bahīs of Kathmandu. However, the people of Thaï Bahī say that eighteen elders come—two each from the following bahīs: Cā Bahī, Dugañ, Bahī, Nhāykhañ Bahī, Cwākhañ Bahī, Maru Bahī, Khusi Bahī, Bilāsa Bahī, Makhañ Bahī, Na Bahī. Hence no one comes from either Syañgu Bahī or Kotu Cā Bahī. The other bahīs not represented actually have no saṃgha.

[iii]This Dangu is not the same as Dongol.

[iv]This is a good example of what happens when customary offerings and stipends become fixed at a monetary rate. Most offerings and stipends were traditionally specified as so much produce. Later many of these were changed to fixed amount of money, hence the 34 paise fines levied by the Àcārya Gūṭhī. At one time 60 paise would have bought enough firewood to cook a feast; today it will not buy one box of matches.

[v]Michael, Allen, The Cult of Kumari, p. 39. Informants at Thaï Bahī say she still comes during Guṃla, but this is doubtful. People constantly report what is supposed to happen rather than what actually happens.

[vi]Allen, p. 40.

[vii]This is the account of the festival given by informants at Thaï Bahī. Published accounts give a different explanation . They say that the festival commemorates the return from Lhasa of Siïha Sārtha Bāhu or alternately the sindūr jātrā which took place at the time of the coronation of Siïha Sārtha Bāhu after he overcame the ogress who had killed the king. For example, See Manavajra Vajacarya, Hamro CāÕ Parvaharūko, p. 126-30.

[viii]The image of Cakañ Dya (Dīpaṃkara) is like the usual images, a half image so constructed that a man puts the image on like an over-sized mask and walks round with it. The route is interesting as it is a procession round the ‘cities’ of Suvarṇapraṇāli (Thatu Phuñ) and Kāntipur (Dathu Puiñ). It does not go into KāṣṭhamaṇÕapa (Kwathu Puiñ) at all and does not visit Sikamu Bāhā but only the site of the ancient caitya in front of it.

[ix]WRIGHT, p. 54-85.

[x]WRIGHT, p. 85.

[xi]WRIGHT, p. 85. The story is an adaptation of the story of one of the eight miracles of Avalokitesvara as told in the KāraṇÕavyūha (See SLUSSER 1:263 note 47). There are many versions of the story; I give the one from Wright because the borrowings from the original story are more obvious. In most Nepal versions Siïha Sārtha Bāhu goes to Tibet, not Sri Lanka. In the original story the trader goes to Sri Lanka which is what Wright’s story has, but then says he goes north to Sri Lanka. For other versions see Kesar Lal, Lore and Legend of Nepal, p. 28-30, Man Mohan Sharma, p. 24-26; Karna Sakya and Linda Griffith, p. 28-30. The name Siïha Sārtha Bāhu comes from the Sanskrit sārthavāha which means the leader of a trading caravan and is used in this sense in the Licchavi inscriptions. See ABHILEKH, p. 50-54 and 59-60.

[xii]Chattoppadhyaya, p. 322.

[xiii]Roerich, p. 247.

[xiv]PETECH, p. 42, note 4.

[xv]Ibid., p. 42-3.

[xvi]Ibid., p.42, note5.

[xvii]Ibid., note 5.

[xviii]Ibid., p. 41.

[xix]Ibid., p. 41, note 6.

[xx]Ibid, p. 43.

[xxi]Sukumar Datt, p. 351, 378-9.

[xxii]Roerich, p. 55-56.

[xxiii]Hem Raj Sakya, Nepāl Sañskṛtiya Mulukha, p. 44.

[xxiv]Saphalya Amatya, ‘Vikiramasila Mahavihara and its Valuable Contents’, p. II Supplement.

[xxv]Regmi surmises that Thaï Bahī is the Hlam Vihāra referred to in two medieval inscriptions, but there is no evidence for this.

[xxvi]There are two very clear examples of this collective amnesia. This first is Phamtiṃ Pā, a famous Nepali, who with his two brothers flourished shortly after the time of Atisa and about whom there is abundant material in the Blue Annals. The fame of this man was known all over Tibet and a large number of men came to study under him and receive initiations from his hands. The other example is Vana Ratna, an Indian whom the Tibetans. Call the ‘Last Great Pandit’. He spent many years in Nepal, went to Tibet and finally returned to Nepal retiring at Gopicandra Mahāvihāra (Pinthu Bahī) in Patan. Pinthu Bahī still exists, but no one there has ever heard of Vana Ratna. Yet here exists a painting of Vana Ratna’s wife, made the year after his death, with a Newari inscription which explains who he was and the fact that the died at Gopicandra Mahāvihāra. (See the section on Pintu Bahī in Patan.) What this painting shows is that one can prove nothing from the silence of Newari sources. The positive Tibetan sources are always to be preferred to the Newar collective amnesia.

[xxvii]Pūrṇimā, 45:8-9.

[xxviii]Translated for me by Sankarman Rajvamsi from a manuscript of pūjā rituals in a private collection.

[xxix]KANTIPUR SILALEKH, p. 64*65.


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