The Buddhist Pilgrimage Site of Chabahil

The small community of Chabahil is strategically situated between Kathmandu and Bodnath in Nepal, at the cross-roads of two historical and important trade routes – one from India via Kathmandu to Tibet and the other from the south via Patan. The community has virtually been absorbed by the expanding Kathmandu city, but nevertheless remains historically and religiously significant.

Chabahil is home to a Licchavi stupa, which is considered by many experts to be the oldest Buddhist stupa in the Kathmandu Valley. Known as the Charumati Vihara or Chabahil stupa, it possibly dates back to the 3rd century BC. Inscriptions found in the stupa suggest that it was built under the direction of Emperor King Ashoka’s daughter, Princess Charumati. Legend has it that Princess Charumati saw an arrowhead transformed into a stone on the spot where the stupa was subsequently built.

Stupas – Buddhist mound-like structures or monuments – are found in many Southeast Asian countries, as well as in some Western countries. A stupa was originally only a simple mound of clay or mud that was formed to cover supposed relics of the Buddha. The cremated remains of the Buddha were divided and buried under eight stupas. An additional two stupas encased the urn and the embers. After Emperor Ashoka converted to Buddhism in the 3rd century BC, he arranged for the building of several thousand stupas. He had the original stupas opened and the remains distributed between the newly built stupas. In this way the stupa changed from being primarily a burial place, to being an object of veneration. This change also brought about a change in the shape and decoration of stupas.

Around the Chabahil stupa are a number of small chaityas – Buddhist shrines incorporating a stupa – dating back to between the 5th and 8th century. The site also includes a 9th century statue of Bodhisattva. Standing at about a meter high, this statue is considered by many to be one of the most superb pieces of sculpture in the Kathmandu Valley. Situated nearby is the small Chandra Binayak Genesh temple, which has an expertly crafted double roof made from brass.

Nepal is home to a chain of Buddhist holy sites, monasteries and shrines which attract pilgrims from far and wide and Chabahil is considered to be an important pilgrimage site.