Swayambhunath stupa is the most ancient and one of the holiest spiritual spots in Kathmandu valley in Nepal. It is believed that circumambulating the ridge 13 times a day will wash away all sins and bad merit accumulated so far, including left over from past lives.
As per the 15th century Swayambhu purana, a Buddhist scripture about the origin of Kathmandu valley, a miraculous lotus planted by the Lord Buddha blossomed from the lake covering Kathmandu valley and mysteriously radiated a brilliant light, thus the place name, Swayambhu, meaning 'self-created or self-existent'.
Stone inscription evidence reveals that the site of the now Swayambhunath stupa was already an important Buddhist pilgrimage destination since the 5th century AD, although its origin date back much before the arrival of Buddhism in the valley. Saints, sages and divinities travelled to the lake to venerate this miraculous light for its power to grant enlightenment.
As per a stone inscription, Bodhisattva Manjushri (Jampelyang), the god of wisdom, was also one of the divinities who flew across the mountains of China and Tibet upon his blue lion to worship the lotus immediately after he saw a vision of the Swayambhu light while meditating at the sacred mountain of Wu Tai Shan on the China-Tibet border. Impressed by the radiant light and the power of the lotus to cleanse sins, with his great sword of wisdom, Manjushri cut a gorge on the mountains surrounding the lake, draining out the water and thus the Katmandu valley was born. The lotus was transformed into a hill and the light became the Swayabhunath stupa.
From the base of the hill are 365 steps, leading up to the monument guarded by two lions. On all four sides of the neck of the main monument are a pair of eyes of the Buddha conveying the message of Buddha's omniscience. Nepali numeral one sits between the eyes, which is interpreted in the Swayambhu purana as symbolizing a single way to enlightenment, which is the Buddhist path. It also signifies the wisdom to look within. No ears are drawn because it is said that the Buddha is not interested in hearing prayers in praise of him. The area surrounding the monument is filled with temples, painted images of deities and numerous other religious symbols. Many small shrines with statues of tantric and shamanistic deities and prayer wheels dot the monument.
His Holiness the late Dudjom Rinpoche, Jigdrel Yeshe Dorje, the head of Nyingma school, had told his patrons that doing 13 koras of the Swayambhunath stupa is equal to prostrating 100,000 times. He also said that doing so would liberate sentient beings from lower realms and that any religious kora (circumambulation), for that matter, could cleanse sentient beings of bad karma and liberate them from samsara.
Learned Buddhist masters explain that, while making kora, a person should engage the body in circumambulation, the speech in chanting prayers and the mind focused on Buddha dharma.
Every morning, before dawn, hundreds of locals and pilgrims from other places of Nepal and other countries circumambulate the monument. Walking briskly takes an average person about 30 minutes to complete a round, while older people could take an hour.