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How Many Steps to Swayambhu?

It’s been a little more than three years now that, when going for jogging, I go up to Swayambhualmost every alternate day, taking the eastern stairway. If you jog, you will know what I mean when I say you tend to count your own steps. So, I counted the steps. I counted the stairways.

I am also designing a guided tour program of SwayambhuMahachaitya (great stupa),targeting both domestic and international tourists, so I do a lot of research online and offline about the temple. In Wikipedia, I found to my surprise that it is listed as having 365 steps. In the course of my research, I have come across other records, like 318, in the books SwayambhuDarpan, written by Mr. PrakashBajracharyain2012, and SwayambhuMahachaitya (2004), written by Mr. HemrajShakya.

Similarly, in an article called ‘Sermons in Stones’, written by Mr. Kamal RatnaTuladhar and published in a daily on November 3, 2012, it is mentioned as being 360 steps. In ‘SwayambhuKhutkilaSayaBarsa’ (100 Years of Swayambhu’s Steps), published in a daily’s Saturday supplement on January 14, 2012, it is 318 again. In another article,‘SwayambhuNirmanKoSayaBarsa and TirtharajkoSamjhana’(100 Years of the Construction of Swayambhu Steps and Remembering Tirthraj) published in Sandharva magazine, and written by BimalaManandhar and NirmalaManadhar, they have said that “there are 318, but some say there are 360 steps”. Then, there is aTV channel’s news clip made sometime in 2012, where it is quoted as 360, and in all the blogs I have read until now, all have said ‘365 steps’. However, nobody has mentioned their source for the number. Most probably, they all took it from Wikipedia.

My curiosity took me to Mr. BaikunthaManandhar (68), grandson of Mr. TirthrajManandhar. He showed me the plate of the photograph taken of Tirthraj while the construction was underway.  He told me that some 15 years back, he himself had counted 326 steps. 

Tirthraj, who was a resident of MakhanTole then, commissioned the construction of this stairway in 1912. He was an officer in Rana Prime Minister Chandra Shumsher’s court, bearing the designation of a Subba, and he was responsible for 12 different tasks. Later, he resigned from the post and commissioned the construction of the stairway as “dharmadan” (religious donation), donatinghisown money. 

According to an article by Mr. HemrajShakya published by SwayambhuVikashMandal (1978), the stone slabs for the staircases were brought from Hattiban, Matsyegaon, inKirtipur, and a few other places in the valley. Each staircase is 10 feet in width.And, the length of the stairway (from Bhagawan Pau to the gilded VajraMandal up in SwayambhuMahachaitya) is 210 feet. The stairway to Manjushree Hill from Shantipur’s end, and the one going down from Waayupur (adjacent to Swayambhu Museum), were also made by him.

Before the destructive earthquake of April 25, 2015, there were 417 staircases from Bhagawan Pau to the gilded VajraMandal up on SwayambhuMahachaitya. Later, they added two more. At present, post-earthquake, after the repair and maintenance, there are 424 steps (made of stones, of course) on the stairway.

To borrow the TV channel’s words:Not only is TirthrajManandhar’s contribution unforgettable; it encourages us all to do deeds for the benefit of others.

Recently, I contacted a contributor who looks after the Swayambhunath page in Wikipedia and informed him of my findings. He told me that it has been like that since 2007 (the year he joined), and that it has no solid basis. And, the person who first wrote it is no longer active. 

The common people around the world take Wikipedia as a trustworthy source of information. However, since it has its own rules and practices in changing/ updating its contents, you cannot immediately change/ amend/ update information as and when you want to without solid proof. So, for now, we have decided to take that ‘365 steps’ out. At least people visiting the page would not be misinformed. There are also a few other things on the page that need to be worked on. We are on it.

Now, I have two things to say: First, correct information should be given about the stairway that leads to a major attraction for the tourists coming from the world over and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site monument. Second, while Prime MinisterChandra Shumsher is confined to the pages of history, TirthrajManandhar—through his good deed (this stairway)—lives today and will live tomorrow when you and I ourselves have become history. A personality such as him should be celebrated as a national hero.