Would it be possible to cut off a mountain or a hill with a sword? There is a dramatic saga about a Buddhist deity, Manjushri (sometimes identified as an incarnation of goddess Saraswati) in connection to the current Kathmandu Valley. He is credited for transforming the big lake into a valley by means of his ‘Bajra’, a mythical and mighty lighting sword. Local legends suggest that it was a one blow cut.
Geologist and theologians rarely find much common ground but in this story of Kathmandu valley, they both agree that the valley, eternities ago was a lake. Swayambhunath and its elevated land used to be an Island. Geologists suggest that the lake was likely drained by a series of land erosions initiated a gradual but complete drainage of water eventually. Some claim that the erosion was likely an earthquake initiated one. The point of escape of water is known as Chobhar gorge today. It became the valley we can recognise today.
Old folklores and tales tell interesting stories regarding what exactly happened to the valley, its surroundings and the creatures living in the water. Folktales of both Buddhists and Hindu origins say the lake was home to supernatural Nagas (mythical serpents responsible for causing rain) who began to make attempts to escape the upcoming problems. Afraid of future droughts if the Nagas escaped. To stop the exodus of the rain makes, Manjushri commissioned a ‘dug-out’ lake as a refuge for the serpents near the point of escaping water. The lake is known today as ‘Tau Daha’. It is believed that the Nagas still live in the depths of Tau Daha. There is a small steep hill to the immediate west of the which is believed to be the heap of mud dug out from the location of the lake today.
Tau Daha today is a popular point of recreation. It is also well known for being a bird sanctuary (not officially) and point of stop for great many migratory birds of Central Asian – Indian migration route.
More fascinating is the story that Karkot Nag, the serpent king who had been the entrusted with the care of the invaluable treasure that was stolen by the Demon ‘Densur’ from Indra. Indra in Hinduism is the Lord and ruler of heaven who hid the treasure in Tau Daha. Just one and half century ago, the first Rana Prime Minister of Nepal, Jung Bahadur is said to have repeatedly commissioned a treasure hunt by digging Tau Daha several times over. No signs of Nagas nor the treasure were ever found.
Manjushri, the myths aside, was a real person whose existence have been recorded in history. He was born in China and was named Wen Shu. In between the bunches of temples, there is are temples and shrines of Wen Shu on the base of nearby the mountain of Wu Tai in Shanxi Province of Northern China. Arniko, the great Nepali artist from Kathmandu valley, made pilgrimage to his birth place and built a stupa as Shrine in dedication of Manjushri.
Legend has it that Manjushri wanted to reach and worship a striking lotus flower atop a small island that was floating on the Kathmandu Lake. It is said that two great saints at different eras had travelled to the lake and witnessed the beauty of the lotus flower atop the island. Based on the saints accounts, Manjushri lead an entourage to the lake. A learned man of his day, he recognised the potential of the valley and immediately initiated work to drain water out.
Two of his travelling companions were his two wives: Keshani and Upakeshani; they also accompanied Manjushri in his search for the point of drainage. Eventually due to exhaustion, They were obliged to reside at Phulacho and Dhilacho, known as Phulchowki and Champadevi respectively, today. Observation from the hills of the recently evacuated lake should have been a divine experience.
We are settled in the valley today. We perhaps have natural reasons to thank for but such folk tales are regarded as truth all over the world. Manjushri main motive was to reach the top of the hill with divine lotus, Swyambhu. After emptying a lake, manjushri is said to have built a city named Manjupatan, stretching from the base of Swayambhu hill to present day location of Guheshwori temple.
Like the person Manjushri, Manjupatan is a city recorded in history.. He was also the saint who first proposed the Mahayana philosophy, which later evolved into Mahayana sect in Buddhism, according to holy scriptures.
While the story of the lake and Manjushri’s exploits are widely believed by valley residents today, but there are other folk tales that differ from this version. Some suggest that it was the Lord Krishna who struck the mountain with a thunderbolt to pierce it and eventually evacuate. The Ganesh (Lord) shaped thunderbolt has created a similar impression in the Gorge that exists till today. There is a golden roofed temple of the deity Ganesh without a trunk just below the Gorge.