It had been raining heavily as we walked down four kilometers of muddy road within Shivapuri National Park to Nagi Gompa, a small nunnery in Shivapuri Hill where nuns express their faith through sacred music, prayer and meditation. Our clothes were soaked, our umbrellas past useless. But as we neared the nunnery, the rain miraculously slowed down to a light drizzle before stopping completely. We climbed the steps to Nagi Gompa looking at the vista unfolding before us – the towering hills, fog rolling over the hilltops, the glint of the golden spires of the neighboring gompas and the sprawling city below us.
The serene atmosphere of Nagi Gompa, located in Shivapuri National Park,
is the perfect respite from city life in Kathmandu
The steps led us around a well-maintained garden and a house for the nuns to stay under construction, which is overseen by a woman in billowing saffron robes. She smiled at us when she saw us and motioned us to continue onwards. Just ahead of us was a small gompa. The smaller and older of the two gompas of the nunnery was built a little more than a hundred years ago. It was renovated by Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, who was recognized by H.H. Khakyab Dorje, the 15th Gyalwang Karmapa, as the reincarnation of Chowang Tulku as well as that of Nubchen Sangye Yeshe, one of the chief disciples of Padmasambhava. Guru Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche also built the bigger Nagi Gompa, which is almost 50 years old. His teachings are revered in the nunnery; his effigy graces the hall within the gompa.
The nunnery was peacefully quiet, the silence punctuated only by the caws of crows and grazing cows lowing near the gompa. All the nuns were in class studying their Tibetan texts, informed Ani Gyan Tara, the nun who graciously talked to us that day. There are around 100 nuns in the nunnery, ranging between 12 to 90 years of age, who have come from as near as Bhaktapur to as far as Tibet. Whatever the caste or place of origin, all these women came to Nagi Gompa to immerse themselves completely in meditation and prayer. Some of the nuns are brought to the nunnery as children by their parents as per the customs followed by Tibetans, Sherpas, Manangis and Gorkha’s Lubre castes. Most come on their own in search of salvation or a life of religion and righteousness.
A typical day at Nagi Gompa begins at 5:30 am with prayers and pujas. The nuns read the sacred texts and offer rice, water and oil, light incense to Lord Buddha and chant hymns till 7:30. Pujas start again at 4 pm in the afternoon. The older nuns, who are too frail to come to the gompa hall, meditate and pray in their own rooms. At present, 10 nuns of Nagi Gompa are in their meditation retreat during which time they go to isolated rooms above the gompa and stay there to meditate and pray in seclusion. Many nuns undertake such meditation retreats more than once.
Inside the gompa, the hall is high-ceilinged and impressive. Every inch is covered in traditional Tibetan religious art painted in bright colors. As in most gompas, the hall is lined with mats for the nuns to sit and sing hymns and pray. A small bell, a bajra, praying beads and a prayer book written in Tibetan are placed before each mat. The huge statues of Karunamaya, the Goddess of Generosity, Sakyamuni and two of his incarnates, and paintings of all the avatars of the Buddha look down benevolently from the walls of the gompa. Two huge gongs stand at the doorway, ready to be played during the chanting and singing sessions.
As we thanked Ani Gyan Tara for showing us around and left the gompa, we could see young nuns back from their lessons, carrying satchels and umbrellas and chatting happily. Prayer flags fluttered in the wind, and as we bade farewell to Nagi Gompa, we marveled at the simple, caring life of the nuns. “We nuns do not pray just for ourselves,” the soft-spoken Gyan Tara had said, smiling gently. “We pray for the salvation and good of everybody.”