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Hiranya Varna Mahavihar (Kwa Baha)

Hidden away from the crowded streets and crossroads of the ancient city of Lalitpur (Patan/Yala) is one of the most intriguing, most elegant, and most ornate Buddhist monuments of Nepal: the monastery called Hiranya Varna Mahavihar.  To tourists it is more often known as The Golden Temple.

This Buddhist temple complex is believed to have been constructed in the twelth century by a ruler called Bhaskara Dev Varma.  He was born a Hindu but became a great devotee of Lord Shakyamuni Buddha.  Over the entrance doorway there are two wooden struts carved with the two most important Hindu gods, Shiva and Vishnu, who guard this Buddhist temple.  It is one of the distinctive features of Hiranya Varna Mahavihar that many strict and elaborate rituals are maintained here which have been abandoned or were never performed in other such monastery temples.

The principal priest of this monastery is a young boy who must on no account be over twelve years old.  With the assistance of an older boy or young man, he carries out the regular liturgical service in the shrine of the main Buddha.  Both priests must be members of the monastery and they serve for a period of one month, during which time they must stay inside the courtyard.  The only exception to this is that twice a day the younger priest circulates the area where most of the monastery members live ringing a bell, at the end of the morning service and before the evening service.

The main temple in the courtyard is a three-tiered rectangular pagoda structure dominating the entire complex.  Its roofs and screened windows, including cornices and struts, are all gilded with gold.  The temple banners that hang down from the roof to the level of the doorway are remarkable.  A legend links them with the Buddha, who used them as a ladder to come down from heaven to earth.

Ratna Chaitya Swayambhu Stupa
Ratna Chaitya temple is set perfectly in the middle of the courtyard surrounded by the monastic buildings on all sides.  The chaitya inside the temple is identified with the famous Swayambhu Chaitya in Kathmandu.  Four Nagas (snake gods) hang down from the top of the temple with their heads raised and their eyes watchful; they guard the temple.  According to local tradition this shrine is the oldest part of the complex, older even than the shrine of the principal Buddha.

Shree Guru Vajrasattva
Shree Guru Vajrasattva is regarded as the supreme celestial Buddha by Nepalese Buddhists, and as the priest of other Buddhas.  Unlike them he is not represented on one side of a caitya but has independent shrines.  In Hiranya Varna Mahavihar he is to be found in the north-west corner of the ground floor, along with other divinities.

The Holy Scripture called Pragya Paramita
The holy scripture, Pragya Paramita or The Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines, has been preserved here since ancient times and is frequently recited by Vajracharya priests.  It is a common practice of local people to commission such a recitation, either when a member of the family is ill or on an auspicious occasion, such as a wedding.

Shree Amoghapasha Lokeshwara
On the first floor (second floor in American parlance) in the northern wing of the monastery there is a life-size statue of Amoghapasha Lokeshwara.  This deity is brilliant in appearance, with a pure white body and eight arms.  The statue is said to date from the early 14th century.  This hall is decorated with murals in  the Tibetan style.

Arya Tara Goddess
At ground level on the south side of the complex there are two smiling goddesses called Arya Tara.  In Nepal Tara is generally regarded as the goddess of inspiration and inner vision, and it is here that on holy days the hymn-singing group called the Taremam Sangha meets.

Vajrabir Mahakala
Mahakala is a Hindu deity of the Brahma group.  He is also one of the eight terrible deities of the Buddhist pantheon, with snake ornaments, sharp teeth, protruding belly, and wearing a tiger skin.  He is dark blue in colour.  As he is the defender of land and order, he is placed at the entrance of Buddhist temples.

Shree Namasangiti
Namasangiti, whose shrine is in the north-east corner on the ground floor, is an emanation of the celestial Buddha, Vairochana.  Just as the goddess Pragya Paramita is an embodiment of the scripture of the same name, so this god is a deification of the important Mahayana and Tantric scripture called the Namasangiti, which is recited every morning as part of the daily liturgy.  Namasangiti is white in colour, has one face with eyes half-closed in meditation, and six arms.

Four Lokeshwaras
In four corners of the verandah around the courtyard are four outstanding medieval cast bronze statues of different forms of Lokeshwara.

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