There are some things that even words together with photographs cannot do justice to. Hiranyavarna Mahavihar in Kwabahal of Patan, Lalitpur, is one such experience. The beauty of its structure and the fascination of its environment are things that must be experienced personally by being there. On an especially chilly winter morning, as I walk through the narrow lanes of Patan, I observe that the side lanes are still and silent. I know that they will be filled with throngs of people in an hour’s time, and numerous shops will have opened for business, their colourful fare on display. However, it’s only 5:00 a.m. and I am but a solitary walker. But, as I go through an ancient door guarded by two stone lions and enter the precincts of Hiranyavarna Mahavihar (The Golden Temple), I realize that I have come to a place that is bustling with life. I am told that the Nitya Puja (the main deity worship) takes place at 3:00 a.m. every day!
Monasteries where Buddhist disciples live and learn their scriptures are known as ‘Vihars’. This is more than that –this is a ‘Mahavihar’ (maha: large). Of all the 18 vihars in Patan, the Hiranyavarna Mahavihar is the largest and most important, and one in which religious rites as written in the holy sutras (religious texts) are followed exactly as prescribed. This is according to Asta Man Bajracharya, one of the vihar priests whom I meet in the Hiranyavarna Mahavihar Digi (community building) which houses the Chandamaharoshanaya Goddess (also known as Sankata). People seek her blessings to be free from bad grahas and dashas (preordained circumstances according to astrological configurations).
There are two other priests besides Asta Ram Bajracharya. One of them is continuously reciting a sutra with his left hand inside a cloth pouch. According to Asta Ram, he is doing a path (invocation of spiritual blessings). A path can vary in length of time and include, Prajna Paramita path, the most popular one. Preserved as a sanctified volume written in golden script, the Prajna Paramita is kept at the temple of Sakyamuni Buddha in front which also has a silver icon of Swayambhu Stupa. At the main temple’s silver embossed doors stand two priests who are busy accepting worshippers’ offerings to be placed at the Sakyamuni’s feet. Every morning, some rice is kept at all of the temple’s four corners. Why so, you may ask. Well, it is an age-old practice and it is to feed the mice that are believed to be living in the temple. Legend has it that the vihar’s location was determined by Licchavi King Bhasker Dev Verma (12th century AD) after having a vision of a golden mouse chasing a cat.
Around the courtyard are other icons that include Vajra Satva, Namo Sangeeti and goddesses Tara and Manjushree as well as Mahakal and Guheswori. On the northern side, on the floor above, is a gumba (prayer hall) in which rows of monks sit reciting prayers in front of the eight handed Buddha (Amoghapasa Lokeswor). Along the walls are old paubha paintings. On the opposite side, also on the first floor, is Amitabha Sukhawati Bhawan hacing the six feet tall statue of Amitabha Buddha. With so much to see, one can easily get lost for a couple of hours immersed in the enthralling environment of Hiranyavarna Mahavihar. It is an experience that will leave you with a spiritual yearning!