Mahakala on the Tibetan Plain

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Mahakala on the Tibetan Plain (Tib., Pötang Gönpo, wyl. bod thang dgon po), is a small shrine containing an image of Mahakala in the heart of Kathmandu on the side of its busiest road going north alongside Ratna Park.

Some consider that this Mahakala image is self-manifested, but learned masters usually agree that it is one of 108 Mahakala images carved by Nagarjuna that he placed in many holy places such as Bodhgaya to guard the teachings of the Buddha.

This particular form of Mahakala, with one face, two hands, holding a curved knife, a skull cup at his heart and a katvanga in the hollow of his left elbow, his two legs standing on a corpse, is of outstanding workmanship.

It is the guardian of Swayambhunath, so there’s a clear line of sight between the Mahakala image and Swayambhunath stupa. It is said that, if anybody should build anything between Swayambhunath stupa and the protector, it would be disastrous. People did build things and it was disastrous. But then the army wanted to build a huge encampment. What you will notice about this image is that it’s got glasses: a small image of the Swayambhunath stupa was stuck over each of its eyes before they built their military encampment. And now you can see modern Kathmandu between the two, and a lot of building has taken place.

Another legend associated with this image is that it just fell from the sky one day and landed here. The great Kagyu master, Shri Heruka spent a number of years in this temple. Many years ago a Nepalese master who also stayed at the temple once saw in a vision Shri Heruka and this image dancing in the sky around this area.

This particular image was attacked once by the army of the Sham Uddin in 1349 who tried to invade Nepal and they smashed away at it with mallets and hammers and so on. But they couldn’t break it at all. However, one particularly ferocious soldier managed to chip one of the toes, and it is said that the whole invading army died that night of some epidemic, and their faith never spread in Nepal. So now we can also see the feet are covered in silver. According to other accounts, they are responsible for the minor damage we see on the corpse throne and the image's face.

According to the local tales, this image used to be on Pulchowk hill near Patan; then it sailed through the air to the Tibetan Plain where it landed. Tibetans regard this image as a wish-fulfilling jewel.

Mahakala is a wrathful emanation of Avalokiteshvara. Wrathful emanations often come in response to obstructions to the practice of Dharma by certain classes of demons or spirits. The emanations will assume the form of those demons in order to subdue them as is the case with Ekadzati and the Mamos or Vajrakilaya and Rudra.

The place is called “Tibetan Plain” because it is the place where the Tibetan envoys of King Songtsen Gampo camped, when they came to Kathmandu to escort the Nepali princess Brhikuti who was to marry the Tibetan king.