The Avalokiteshvara Brothers of Kathmandu
A Garland of Jewels
In the heart of Kathmandu, alive with shops and horns and the grind of daily life, manifestations of the Buddha’s compassion – the Self-Arisen Avalokiteshvara Brothers – await. They are our link with the very beginnings of Buddhist influence in Tibet, long before Guru Rinpoche set foot in that northern land. Their arrival prepared the Tibetan soil for the Dharma’s roots to take hold, a significance not lost on the Lotus-Born Guru, as we shall see.
The Self-Arisen Avalokiteshvara Brothers are a group of three, four, or five statues whose emergence is bound up with King Songtsen Gampo’s quest to establish the Dharma in Tibet – an endeavor dating back to the early 7th century. For Tibetan Buddhists, the miraculous arrival of these Avalokiteshvara statues, and their role in the establishment of Dharma in their land, have long ensured their status as supremely sacred objects. Indeed, the Lotus-Born master himself paused here, on his way to Tibet at the behest of King Trisong Detsen, royal descendant of King Songsten Gampo. He paused in his journey and paid homage to these treasured statues, infusing them with his blessings, as many great masters have likewise done, throughout the centuries that followed.
Words from the Masters
The significance of this site is captured in the follow work:
The Sādhana of the Five Self-Arisen Noble Brothers - Shikpo Lingpa
How to get there
The Arya Jamali, one of the four or five “brothers”, is located in the heart of Kathmandu, in the Jan Bahal near Thamel and Ratna Park, while two others, Arya Bukham and Arya Akham are located in Patan, also easily accessible by taxi.
food and accommodation
Central Kathmandu offers a host of options for both traditional and traveller-oriented fare. Nearby Thamel offers the widest array of accommodation in the city, and is known as the hub for backpackers, trekkers, and tourists of all stripes.
Like a garland of jewels, the Self-Arisen Avalokiteshvara Brothers are set along an ancient trade route that begins in Patan and continues north through the Kathmandu Valley, tracing the Trisuli River all the way to Lhasa in Tibet. The full list of the five, and their locations, is as follows:
Arya Vati Zangpo of Kyirong, in Mangyul
Arya Bukham of Patan
Arya Jamali of Kathmandu
Arya Lokeshvara in the Potala Palace, in Lhasa
Arya Akham of Patan
Of the five Avalokiteshvara statues mentioned above, three are still preserved and venerated within the Kathmandu valley.
As you stroll through the busy streets of downtown Kathmandu, you will come upon treasure after treasure of Buddhist heritage. The blessed image of Avalokiteshvara known as Arya Jamali is one among a dense network of sacred sites that can be visited in succession over the course of a few hours.
Below, you will find an itinerary of major Buddhist sites arranged as a walking tour, beginning at the Mahakala of Ratna Park, at the very heart of Kathmandu city, and continuing west to the Durbar Square area, to the Arya Jamali, and then finally to Tham Bahal, where Atisha himself came, and where an incredibly sacred copy of the Prajnaparamita still resides. Along the way, there are plenty of opportunities for tea and coffee, while the tourist district of Thamel, close to Tham Bahal, offers a wide array of possibilities for lunch or dinner at the end of your pilgrimage.
Ratna Park Mahakala, the protector of Swayambhunath: 27°42'14.4"N 85°18'49.9"E
Located at the entrance to New Road, which leads to Durbar Square, Ratna Park Mahakala, known to Tibetans as the Bötang Gonpo, is a very special and sacred Mahakala statue – the designated protector shrine of Swayambhunath. Legend tells that an invading army was camped near the statue. When darkness fell, some of the officers got drunk and beat the statue with sticks, breaking its nose. That same night, the whole army perished in its sleep, and the valley was spared. Another strand of the legend is revealed in the name Bötang Gonpo, or Protector of the Tibetan Plain. This is the place where King Songtsen Gampo’s envoys camped when they came to Kathmandu to fetch the Nepali princess Brhikuti, to escort her back to Tibet to be his royal bride. In more recent times, local people would try to construct houses or offices in the statue’s line of sight across to Swayambhunath, but the buildings would simply collapse. To counter this, the statue was fitted with special sunglasses, with a picture of Swayambhunath on the inside of each lens. To this day, it still “wears” the sunglasses, and to this day it remains possible to erect buildings between Swayambhunath and the statue. Alcohol can be offered by pouring it into the statue’s bowl. For a small donation, the caretakers will also write down names to be included in prayers at a daily puja in front of the statue.
Maru Sattal: 27°42'14.2"N 85°18'20.9"E
The temple of Maru Sattal (Kasthamandap, literally ‘wood-covered shelter’ in Nepali) is a popular location at Kathmandu Durbar Square. Legend tells that it was constructed from a single tree trunk. This temple served as a shrine for a statue of the mahasiddha Guru Goraknath, surrounded by four small Ganesha statues, and providing shelter for traders in the olden days. Guru Goraknath is renowned as both a Hindu and Buddhist saint. To Buddhists, he is an emanation of Guru Rinpoche and is counted among the 84 mahasiddhas. Though it collapsed in the 2015 earthquake, this beautiful wooden pagoda is currently being repaired and should soon be returned to its former glory.
Durbar Square Mahakala: 27°42'17.3"N 85°18'25.6"E
In Durbar Square itself is a huge six-armed Mahakala statue. A little further back, behind a wooden grille, is another Mahakala, though this one is golden-faced: 27°42'16.4"N 85°18'25.2"E.
Etum Bahal Tara: 27°42'25.3"N 85°18'29.2"E
Etum Bahal Tara is a small temple which enshrines three beautiful Tara statues, hidden in one of several small, linked courtyards. It was said by Trulshik Rinpoche that anyone who visits this temple will be liberated from the lower realms. The caretaker has said that, fifty years ago, the temple was surrounded by forest.
Arya Jamali (Seto Machindranath): 27°42'23.7"N 85°18'37.4"E
Here – the highlight of your tour through downtown Kathmandu – is Arya Jamali, the “Self-Arisen Avalokiteshvara Brother” popularly known as Seto Machindranath.
Annapurna Ajima Temple: 27°42'26.5"N 85°18'43.6"E
This temple contains a silver vase that is said to have come from the realm of the Nagas. It is believed to carry great blessings and to bestow wealth. Thus a lot of the shopkeepers in Kathmandu visit this temple. The Tibetans know the temple as Norbum, The Wealth Vase. It is common practice to offer flowers, butter lamps and money to the vase.
Kathesimbu Stupa: 27°42'34.4"N 85°18'35.2"E
This stupa was built from the remains of the Swayambhunath Stupa. It is said that there are relics of Shariputra inside. In the northeast corner is the Drubgön Changchub Chöling Monastery.
Drubgön Changchub Chöling: 27°42'34.9"N 85°18'36.0"E
Drubgön Changchub Chöling was built on the same spot as the apartment where Drubthob Rinpoche had lived for forty years. As the central object of worship, Rinpoche placed a life-sized image of Avalokiteshvara with a thousand eyes and a thousand hands in the main shrine hall, along with a life-size statue of the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo and his queens – the Nepalese Princess Bhrikuti and the Chinese Princess, Wengcheng. Following visionary guidance, Rinpoche also built a life-size statue of Guru Rinpoche in the youthful and radiant form of an eight-year-old boy. In 1979, he recognized the Self-Arisen Tara image (27°36'45.4"N 85°15'36.1"E) near Asura Cave & Yangleshö in Pharping, and constructed a small and beautiful temple around it, thus protecting the self-arisen image.
Tham Bahil: 27°42'56.3"N 85°18'45.4"E
Tham Bahil, also known as Bikramasila Mahabihar, and in some Tibetan sources as Rinchen Tsül, was once a thriving and important monastery in the Kathmandu Valley. It was founded by Atisha in 1040. Since then, many great masters such as Sumatikirti, Rechungpa, and Marpa Lotsawa have resided there. The central object is a beautiful golden Buddha statue. Tantric practitioners who worshipped at the sacred site of Nagarjuna Hill are said to have summoned and captured its blessing in this central image at Thamel Bahal. The temple also houses an ancient Prajnaparamita text, written in Sanskrit in gold ink on blue paper the color of lapis lazuli.’
Godawari: 27°35'17.1"N 85°22'46.0"E
The Bhairab temple and the Nau Dhara Kunda (Nine Taps Water Source) are in Godawari, a lush parkland southeast of the city centre. Newar Buddhists believe that these mark the area where the monk Akaramati found the sandalwood tree-trunk from which the Avalokiteshvara Brothers arose. It is also famed as place that is sacred to the dakini Yumka Dechen Gyalmo, (Queen of Great Bliss), associated with the Longchen Nyingtik tradition.