Gunla Festival at Swayambhu Temple

Of all the religious sites in Kathmandu, Nepal, the Swayambhu Temple is the most well-known and one of the most active temples in the region. Visitors come to the temple to marvel at its carved decorations, Buddhist art work, massive staircase and statues, while worshippers flock to the temple to pay their respect and practice their religion. The Swayambhu Temple dates back to earlier than the fifth century; and the temple is not only vital to the history of Kathmandu but to traditional festivals, such as the Gunla Festival.

Before the monsoon season reaches the landscapes of Nepal, locals have ensured that their fields are plowed and crops are sown in time for one of their most important festivals. The Gunla Festival has been celebrated in the Kathmandu Valley for centuries and was started by Buddha 2 500 years ago. Buddhists of the region celebrate the “rains’ retreat”, and the festival lasts for thirty days. It is usually begun fifteen days before the first full moon appears in the month of August, and lasts for fifteen days after the full moon, but the festival has also been celebrated in September. Most worshippers begin their day at four o’clock in the morning, climbing the steep hill of the Swayambhu Temple to begin their daily prayers. Prayer will continue to take place every day of the Gunla Festival and processions of worshippers carrying oil lamps and prayer flags are a common sight. The smell of burning incense fills the air and religious statues are decorated, while the teachings of Buddha are read out to the crowd.

The festival is also celebrated with traditional religious music, fasting, meditation and chanting. As the days of the festival pass, the numbers of worshipers increase as they travel far distances to participate in the Gunla Festival. While the rain begins to quench the thirst of the earth, worshipers remember the teachings of Buddha and pray at the shrine of the Swayambhu Temple. The temple is a significant religious location in regard to the festival. The Gunla Festival remains an event that is unique to the Kathmandu Valley and very important to Buddhists.