Hariti Temple of Swayambhu
by: Min Bahadur Shakya
Anyone who visits Swayanmbhu Stupa in Kathmandu cannot mess the glorious Hariti Temple, a two story pagaoda decorated with exquisitely artistic motifs pregnant with spiritual significance. This golden two-story temple lies north-west of the Stupa,. The main entrance of the temple is flanked by two metal lions together with two Nepalese flags. Above the entrance of the temple are three brass torana depicting the Five protectress deities of Pancaraksaha mandala. The two gilded roofs were supported by artistic tonals/struts and gold-gilded metal plates depicting 16 worshipping deities. On the ground floor of the temple prayer wheels are fixed on railings to facilitate the devotees in rotating them. This contain the essence mantra of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara- "Om mani padme Hung,". Beneath the prayer wheels are a series of metal oil lamps surrounding he temple itself.
2. Iconography of the deity Hariti:
The deity Hariti is the consort of Pancika, the great Yaksha Jambala. she has two robust breast to feed her numerous children. According to Pancaraksha Sutra, she had five hundred sons, five hundred daughters and five hundred sons-in-law. Yet she is generally seen with five children: two in her lap, one on her back, one under her armpit and one near he legs. She is away depicted in sitting posture and seems to be very powerful within the yaksha community. She is regarded as the protectress of children as well as the Swayambhu region. also regarded as a dakini, she visits different placers and takes a care of children under twelve years of age. She can bestow accomplishments, counteract evil omens, exerts control over evil and also can punish those who desecrate Swayambhu Mahacaitya (Stupa). Being a consort of Jambnala, the deity of wealth, she can also eliminate the poverty of devotees who have faith in an d devotion to her. He abode is said to be Ratnajpitha, i.e. the treasure of jewels over which Swayambjhu Stupa was erected and stands as it is day.
3. Hariti as a healing deity:
Local people call Hariti by different names. She is sometimes called Ajimadya, i.e., Grandmothe goddess or sometimes Sitalamaju, the deity of smallpox. Those who are afflicted with this disease generally go to Hariti temple to present a ritual offering in order to cure it. A few decades ago, when Kathmandu/Nepal was not yet declared as a smallpox free zone, people flocked to the Hariti temple to present their ritual offerings (Newqari : Chahayekegu) to effect an instant cure. Fom this they had to register their names a few days earlier to the officiating Buddhist priest, usually Vajracharya from the Acharya Guthi of Kathmandu.
Now tat smallpox has disappeared from Kathmandu Valley, people visit Hariti to cure various diseases like the so-called 'space disease' afflicting children under twelve years of age. When this happens people hasten to dedicate some sort of offering in the form of 'Kisali", i.e., a clay pot with some rice grains and a betel nut. Sometimes the recovery is instaneous.
4. Hariti in the form of Spirit Possesor (Deo-Ma):
In Kathmandu valley there are a number of healers locally called Mata (mother). They are considered the very embodiment of the deity Hariti. When they are possessed by Hariti or sometimes by her children. these 'Matas' can perform healing, make astrological predictions, subdue witches, dispell evil omens occuring in the household and alleviate the social problems.
5. Origin of Hariti:
At one tome when Lord Buddha was residing at Rajgir near Patna, a powerful female Yaksha was creating much trouble and causing suffering to local people by stealing their children and devouring them. She used to gather at leas t 5oo children daily to fen her large family and thus local people were greatly terrified and were in a state of despair and distress. As the Lord Buddha was residing near Rajagriha at Vulture peak Mountain. at that time, people rushed to that place of requesting the Buddha to protect them from the demon, the Great Yakshani Hariti. Buddha then consoled them by saying that he would definitely subdue Hariti and proceeded to visit Hariti's residence. he took her dearest daughter Ananda and concealed her in his alms bowl. When Hariti came back to her residence and could not find her beloved daughter any where, she searched here and there, even in the mountains and seas, but of no avail. she lamented and cried bitterly for the loss of her beloved daughter and finally she approached the Buddha to find out where her daughter was. At this the Buddha admonished her saying that since children are dearer to every parent. It would be unwise to cause suffering ot people by devouring their children. Buddha instructed the Yakashni Hariti about the value of compassion. Hariti accepted Buddha's instruction heartily and made a commitment that she would never again harm or steal children, but instead protect them in future. At this Buddha returned her daughter Ananda to Hariti and made her a guardian of the Buddha's doctrine. Henceforth, she refrained from killing children and any sentient beings whatsoever and became a protectress of them.
When Shakyamuni Buddha was giving a discourse on the origin of Swayambhu Stupa to a host hof his Bodhisattvas and disciples, Hariti, the great Yakshani, appeared in the assembly of the Buddha's disciples near4 Manjushree Hill. After the conclusion of the Buddha's discourse hariti paid homage to Lord Buddha and requested permission to uphold the Buddha's doctrine by serving the Self'-existing Primordial One, (Swayambhu) the Great Guru Manjushree and Guru shantikar Acharya. Lord Buddha, perceiving her pure intention gave her permission to serve Swayambhu stupa and ensure the welfare of children. Since then, she has been residing in the Swayambhu region serving Making and as a protectress of the doctrine of Buddha.
6. Aspirations and deeds of Hariti:
According to Swayambhu Purana, it so happened that the Great Guru Shantikara Acharya consectrated the Swayambhu Stuapa with appropriate rituals according to Vajrayana tradition by invoking guardian deities of ten direction and deities of three planes of existence. They contributed towards the construction of the stupa. But the pinnacle of the stupa usually called 'Ushnisha cudamani' offered by Buddha Amitabha of Western Sukhavati heaven was slightly tilted. at this Guru Shantikara felt extremely disappointed for not being able to make it erect in spite of his manifold efforts.
In order to find the answer he meditate on Swayambhu, the Self-existing one. As a result, he found the answer in the following manner. "O Virtuous Shantikar, Great Yakshani Hariti was residing here with view to serve the self existing one. But, you wanted to avoid her since you thought hat she was a malignant-Yakshani, meat-eater and an evil-minded one. But actually she cherished great aspirations for the cause of Buddha's doctrine and for the cause of protecting this Swayambhu region. That is why the golden pinnacle on the top of the stupa was bent. when Hariti's aspirations will be fulfilled the golden pinnacle will also be erect. So, O Shantikara, give her proper food, a place to stay and service according to her wishes, then everything will be auspicious."
Hearing the instructions of Lord Swayambhu Adi-Buddha, Guru Shantikar Acharya fulfilled all the wishes of Hariti Mataju and asked her what sort of responsibility she wanted to shoulder. In reply, she made a following commitments:
i. I will take care of the places that represent the embodiment of Body, Speech and Mind of Tathagata three times a day.
ii. I will dedicate myself towards the protection of Vihara/monasteries from Mara's influence.
iii. I will take care of children under 12 years of age as much as I do for my won children.
iv. I will take care of this Swayambhu region by paying homage to Lord Swayambhu.
v. I will freely move through space and visit the places where Buddha is honoured an celebrated.
At this Guru Shantikara was highly pleased and gave her a blessing. granting her request to perform this service. Hence forth, whoever donates the ritual offering called 'Chahayeke Bali' for peace and happiness of the country and people to the goddess Hariti will have theirs wishes fulfilled.
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