The Sacred Origins of the Svayambhcaitya and the Kathmandu Valley

Center for Buddhist Studies Colloquium with Alexander von Rospatt (UC, Berkeley)

Friday, April 22, 2005
3:00 PM - 4:30 PM
243 Royce Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095

The most important shrine for the Newar Buddhists of the Kathmandu Valley is the SvayambhÚcaitya. The beginnings of this caitya are shrouded in darkness, but I suspect that it was erected in the process of introducing Buddhism to the Valley more than fifteen hundred years ago.  More precisely, I will develop the hypothesis that the SvayambhÚcaitya was not an entirely new establishment, but built upon an autochthonous sacred site already in place. As I will argue, rather than simply being wiped out, the pre-existing cult came to persist in an accommodated form, and indeed does so to the present day.


In the second part of my presentation I will pursue the same topic through the lens of the SvayambhÚpurÁÆa, a Newar Buddhist text that presumably originated around the fifteenth century and has to be seen as part of a concerted effort of re-inventing Newar Buddhism after the demise of Buddhism on the Indian mainland.  After analysing the SvayambhÚpurÁÆa’s mythical account of the origins of the SvayambhÚcaitya, I will show how, in accordance with the perspectives of the exoteric and esoteric tradition of Newar Buddhism, this text adopts different strategies in order to render the SvayambhÚcaitya and the Kathmandu Valley as a whole a sacred place that is at the center of the Buddhist universe.

Professor Alexander von Rospatt received his B.A. from the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London) in 1985, and his M.A. (1988), Ph.D (1993) and Habilitation (2000) at the University of Hamburg. He specializes in the doctrinal history of Indian Buddhism, and in Newar Buddhism, the only Indic Mahayana tradition that continues to persist in its original South Asian setting (in the Kathmandu Valley) right to the present . His first book (Stuttgart, 1995) sets forth the development and early history of the Buddhist doctrine of momentariness. His new book (to be published in 2005) deals with the ritual history of the Svayambhu Stupa of Kathmandu.

Cost : Free

Sponsor(s): Center for Buddhist Studies, Asia Institute

Center for Buddhist Studies • 11385 Bunche Hall • Box 951487 • Los Angeles, CA 90095-1487
Tel: (310) 825-2089 • Fax: (310) 206-3555 • Email:

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