Boudhanath Stupa: History & Earthquake Renovation

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In 2015, a major earthquake shook Nepal and damaged many important structures. In this lesson, we'll examine the Boudhanath stupa, and see how this religious site defined Nepal's rebuilding.

The Shaken Stupa

There are some incredible monuments and buildings that were built centuries ago. Unfortunately, nature doesn't always seem to appreciate the significance of these sites. In 2015, the Tibetan Buddhist temple of Boudhanath was badly damaged by an earthquake. However, what nature nearly destroyed, humanity found a way to put back together.

Design and History of the Boudhanath Stupa

Let's start by getting to know this temple. Boudhanath is a Buddhist religious site, or a stupa, located in Kathmandu, Nepal. It's actually the largest and most sacred Tibetan Buddhist site outside of Tibet itself. The stupa is easily identifiable by the massive, semicircular white dome and the towering spire, with unblinking eyes painted on each side that stare into the four directions. The overall shape represents a Buddhist mandala (a cosmological map) and the path towards enlightenment, as well as the mythical center of the cosmos, Mount Meru. According to Buddhist tradition, this site is said to hold the remains of the Kassapa Buddha, the 27th of the named Buddhas.

The Boudhanath stupa
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The precise history of the Boudhanath stupa is unknown. There are numerous myths surrounding its creation, but perhaps the most famous it the Tibetan version, which claims that an old woman was moved to build a Buddhist shrine here centuries ago. That woman petitioned the king to give her some land, which he did not intend to do. However, the Bodhisattvas moved within him and compelled him to. The woman began building the dome, and work was completed by her four sons (sometimes said to be from four different fathers and representing the four cardinal directions).

Historians who have worked with this site believe it was most likely built in the 14th century, after the Mughal Empire of West Asia and India invaded the Nepali territories. It does seem possible, and even likely however, that Buddhist shrines may have existed in this location long before the erection of the current stupa.

Destruction and Rebuilding

For centuries, the Boudhanath stupa was an important pilgrimage site and place of worship. However, on April 25 of 2015, a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked Nepal. The devastation was enormous. Roughly 9,000 people were killed, millions lost their homes, and dozens of important religious sites were severely damaged. Boudhanath was one of them. The domed stupa actually proved relatively resistant to the earthquake, but the spire was destroyed.

The 2015 earthquake devastated Nepal
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Reconstruction began almost immediately and lasted a little over a year. The spire was finally repaired and restored to its original place, and the structure reopened amidst a three-day purification ceremony in 2016 (during which flower petals were poured over the site from a helicopter).

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