SAMYAK FESTIVAL OF LALITPUR

By: Min Bahadur Shakya**

 

Introduction

Of all the Buddhist festivals of the Kathmandu Valley, the Samyak or Dipankara festival seems to be unique in many ways. A special highlight of this festival is the display of many large images of Dipankara in the courtyard of Nagbahal.

The word ‘Samyak’ implies the oneness of all sentient beings. In Buddhist literature, we find three forms of enlightenment, namely Enlightenment of Hearers (sravaka-bodhi), Enlightenment of Solitary Realizers (pratyeka-bodhi) and Perfect Unsurpassable Enlightenment (samyak-sambodhi). In this context, Samyak stands for ‘Perfect’ and Sambodhi for ‘Enlightenment’. The Samyak festival thus denotes those practices which lead to Perfect Enlightenment, namely, the path of the Bodhisattvas that will bring samyak-sambodhi.

The essence of this festival is the practice of Giving, or dana-paramita – specifically, to monks (Sakyas and Vajracaryas in the Newar Buddhist tradition) and to Buddhas, especially to Dipankara Buddha, who predicted Lord Sakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment in a previous lifetime. At this time, Newar Buddhists also honor and venerate the Bodhisattvas Avalokitesvara, Arya Tara, and so on. Sakyas and Vajracaryas are said to be householder Bodhisattva monks. It is on this occasion that they receive alms and dana from lay upasakas and upasikas. Often, those who give dana or make offerings are referred to simply asbhaktajana, or devotees.

 

Shakyamuni’s past life meeting with Dipankara Buddha

Once there lived a certain learned man who was well-versed in Brahmanical lore, who had 500 young Brahmins as pupils. One of these pupils was Megha, a young Brahmin who was learned, wise, judicious, and of keen intelligence.

Before long, he had learned all the Brahmanical mantras by heart. After completing his study of the Vedas, he left the Himalayas and went down into the country below, in order to seek the fee due to his teacher. With his staff, water-pot, hat, sandals, and mantle, he entered many villages, cities, and towns, and each of these places became free of affliction and calamity through Megha’s spiritual power. Along the way, he begged for money, and someone gave him 500 coins. He then decided to go to the royal city Dipavati, in order to see the city of a universal monarch, made of the seven precious things, and delightful to behold. When he entered the city, he saw that it was in festive array. He wondered to himself, “What holiday do we have here today, or what dramatic performance, or what festival? Perhaps king Arcimat has heard that the young Brahmin Megha, on completing his study of the Vedas, has come down from the Himalayas and is on his way to the royal city of Dipavati; hence this splendid decoration of the city!” And as he went on, he looked for someone he could question.

Just then, a young Brahmin girl came along — attractive, good-looking, reliable, gentle, and modest. She held a water jug and seven lotus flowers in her hands. Megha asked her, “Is there a festival in the city today?”

She replied with these verses:

You cannot, young man, be from around these parts;
a stranger from another city you must be.
You do not know that coming to this town is
the Benefactor of the World, the Bringer of the Light!
Dipankara, the leader of the world, the son
of king Arcismat, He, a greatly famous Buddha,
is drawing near. To honor him, this city
is decked in gay and festive garb.

Megha asked her: “How much did you pay or those seven lotus flowers?” She replied: “Five of them I bought for 5000 coins; two were given to me by a friend.” Megha said to her: “I will give you 500 coins, and in return you give me those five lotuses, and with them I shall worship Dipankara, the Lord. You can honor him with the remaining two.”

She replied: “You can have those five lotuses, but only on condition that for all future time, you take me as your wife. Wherever you may be reborn, there I shall be your wife, and you my husband.” Megha replied: “My heart is set on supreme enlightenment. How can I think of marriage?” She answered: “No need to desist from your quest! I shall not hinder you!”

So Megha consented, and said: “In exchange for those lotuses, I take you as my wife. I will be able to worship Dipankara, the Lord, and continue to strive for supreme enlightenment.” He gave her the 500 coins, and took the five lotus flowers. When he had heard the maiden speak of the Buddha, he was rapturous with joy.

Meanwhile, the Lord had set out for Dipavati, accompanied by 80,000 monks, and by king Arcismat with 80,000 of his vassals and an entourage of many thousands. Megha saw Dipankara, the Lord, coming from afar. The Lord’s body had the thirty-two marks of a superior man, as well as the eighty secondary marks. He was endowed with the eighteen special dharmas of a Buddha, mighty with the Ten Powers of a Tathagata, and in possession of the four Grounds of self-confidence. He was like a great Naga, and had done all he had to do. His senses were turned inwards, and his mind did not turn to outer things. He had won the stable assurance of Dharma, his senses were calmed, his mind was calm, and he had reached perfect self-control and tranquility, like a well-guarded Naga who has conquered his senses — transparent as a pool, clear and unperturbed. He was beautiful and good to look at. No one ever got tired of seeing him, and there was nothing ungracious about him. The light which shone from his body extended as far as a league.

After he had seen the Buddha, Megha identified himself to him, and said to himself: “I also will be a Buddha in the world.” He then recited these verses:

Long is the time before this vision could arise.
Long is the time before Tathagatas appear.
Long is the time until my vow shall be fulfilled:
Yet a Buddha I’ll become, no doubt about it!

Thereupon Megha, feeling the thrill in his whole body, his mind filled with sublime joy and exaltation, threw those five lotus flowers to Dipankara, the Lord. The flowers remained suspended in midair, and formed a circle round the Lord’s radiant head. The young Brahmin girl also threw her two lotuses. They also stood suspended in the air, and so did those thrown by other people. This was one of the miracles by which Buddhas impress people, so that they may be receptive to the truth. The Buddha sustained this canopy of flowers, which stood above him in the air, so as to edify those beings who saw it, and to bring joy and happiness to Megha, the young Brahmin. And this canopy was lovely and fair to behold, with four pillars and entrances, garlanded with strips of colored cloth.

When Megha saw these lotus flowers suspended about the Lord’s radiant halo, and how lovely and pleasing they were, his body was flooded with great joy and gladness, and a sublime decision arose in his mind. He put his water-pot to one side, spread out his deer-skin cloak, and threw himself down at the feet of Dipankara, the Lord, wiping the soles of his feet with his hair, and aroused within himself the following thought: “Ah! May I too at some future period become a Tathagata, with all the attributes of a perfect Buddha, just as this Lord Dipankara is just now! May I too turn the wheel of the highest Dharma, as this Lord Dipankara does just now! Having crossed over, may I lead others across; having been freed, may I free others; having been comforted, may I comfort others — as does this Lord Dipankara! May I become like him, for the weal and happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the sake of a great multitude of living beings, for their weal and happiness, irrespective of whether they be gods or men!”

Dipankara, the Lord, with a Buddha’s supreme knowledge, knew how ready Megha, the young Brahmin, was to turn towards enlightenment. He knew that his past store of merit, as well as his recent vow, were without fault or defect, without blemish or scar. So he now predicted his future enlightenment, in these words: “You shall be, young Brahmin, in a future age, after immeasurable and incalculable aeons, in Kapilavastu, the city of the Sakyas, a Tathagata by the name of Sakyamuni; an arhat, a fully enlightened Buddha, perfect in knowledge and conduct, well-gone, a World-knower, unsurpassed, a leader of men to be tamed, a teacher of gods and men. Like me, you will have a body adorned with the thirty-two marks and the eighty secondary marks. You will have the eighteen special dharmas of a Buddha, be mighty with the Ten Powers of a Tathagata, and confident with his four grounds of self-confidence! Having crossed over, you will lead others across; having been freed, you will free others; having been comforted, you will comfort others; having won final Nirvana, you will help others to win it — as I do now! You will turn the wheel of the highest Dharma, preside over a harmoniously united body of disciples, and both gods and men will listen to you and believe. What I am now, that you will become one day — for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the sake of a great multitude of living beings, for their weal and happiness, be they gods or men!”

 

Legends on the origin of the Dipankara Festival of Patan

In about the 14th century, during the medieval period, descendants of king Bhaskaradeva Varma (1045–48 CE), who founded the Golden Temple or Hiranyavarna Mahavihara, established a religious trust in which the sponsors would honor ten elders as the embodiments of the Bodhisattvas who had actualized the ten perfections. One of those descendants married a lady from Bhaktapur belonging to the Thakuri dynasty. While the donor was participating in this trust, he invited his son’s father-in-law and feasted him with due honor and respect.

During the ceremony, the in-laws carefully observed all the rituals and performances except for one special, secret ceremony, in which their participation was not required. However, since the father-in-law was not privy to that secret ritual, he was offended.

Once, when the son was invited to Bhaktapur for dinner with his in-laws, he was asked about this secret ritual. Subsequently, the son invited his father-in-law to the secret ritual in which the Ten Elders were offered milk rice. The father-in-law, with evil intent, secretly poisoned the milk rice and offered it to the Ten Elders. The Ten Elders, knowing the malice of the guest from Bhaktapur, chanted the dharani called ‘Purification of poison’, and ate all the food as if though it were fit to eat. As a result of their Dharani recitation, they were unaffected, but in return the man from Bhaktapur experienced deadly suffering as though poisoned, even though he did not ingest the poison.

After consulting with astrologers, it was reported that this was a karmic consequence which afflicted the one who poisoned the food, and it could be annulled only when he confessed his sin to the Ten Elders. The poisoner confessed accordingly, and then the Ten Elders instructed those donors and sponsors who were present: “O devotees! Evil is growing in this world; your father-in-law, without any offence caused by our side, committed a great crime out of spite, and hence has to undergo this suffering as a result of his actions.” They then sprinkled some holy water on the sinner and cured him in an instant, with the power of the Ten Elders’ Bodhisattva motivation (bodhicitta).

Confessing his grievous fault, the sinner asked for their forgiveness, and pledged that he would not cause suffering to anybody in the future. He praised the awesome power of the great compassion of the Ten Elders.

Then the Ten Elders said, “O Man of Nhola Vihara of the Thakuri Dynasty! From now on, we will not be able to repeatedly return to this world; instead, we will appear in the form of these Ten Elders (the Dasaparamita Ajus). Please venerate and respect these elders as though they were themselves the Bodhisattvas of the Ten Perfections. You will in turn receive equal benefits and merit, and finally achieve ultimate happiness.” Speaking thus, they disappeared.

Because of this extraordinary event in the past, the Ten Elders are venerated till today as the Bodhisattvas of the Ten Perfections. Newar Buddhists traditionally invite them as honored guests at their rites and wedding ceremonies in order to receive their blessings.

Several years after this event, a man called Bhalibharada, of the Thakuri Dynasty, fell into severe poverty and had to do the menial job of collecting cow dung. He began to deposit the cow dung he gathered in his storeroom. Because of his poverty, he could not bear to tell his wife that he was storing cow dung rather than treasure in the storeroom. He was worried that she would see the cow dung, so he hid the key. Once he forgot to hide the key and his wife found it lying on the ground. Out of curiosity, she opened the storeroom and found that all the cow-dung had turned to gold. As he came back from the river, he was told that gold had been discovered in his storeroom. His wife told him that she never expected her husband had hidden such a vast amount of gold in his treasury. She asked why he suffered so much in spite of his tremendous wealth.

With great joy he told his wife, “O my beloved wife! With the blessings of the Triple Jewels, we received a vast amount of wealth. We have suffered because of our past non-virtuous deeds, but similarly, we received this vast wealth due to our past acts of generosity. Therefore, we should now establish a trust to further the cause of dharma, which brings benefits both for this life and the lives to come. What kind of dharma should we follow? Let us decide.”

Then his wife proposed that they follow Visnu, and suggested that he spend their wealth on worshipping the god. On the other hand, her husband preferred to follow the religion of Buddha, because it was handed down in his family for generations. But his wife was adamant in her decision. He thought it not proper to press the point, for this might sow discord in their conjugal life.

Therefore he devised a plan to solve the problem. He proposed to test the power of both religions, namely, Vaisnavism and Buddhism. They designated a seed of camphor for Buddhism and a Tulasi flower for Vaisnavism. They accepted that whichever plant sprouted first, they both would follow the corresponding religion. So they planted the seeds and waited. After some time, the couple saw the camphor sprouting first, and so they decided to adopt the way of the Buddha.

From that time on, they established a trust called the Samyak guthi. The trust committee is obliged to regularly invite the presence of all the images of Dipankara Buddha belonging to the various viharas of Patan, along with all the images of Arya Tara and the entire Buddhist Sangha consisting of Cailakas, Sramaneras, Brahmacarya bhiksus, Sakya bhiksus, Vajracaryas and so on.

The date assigned for this event is Phalguna Sukla Trtiya, i.e. the 3rd day of the waxing fortnight of the month of Phalguna. On the eve of this date, the committee elders are to hold a respectful reception for all the invited deities and offer them lamps. The following day, one should make full offerings (Samyakdana) to all the invited Buddha images, Bodhisattvas and Taras. Since the event required a lot of resources and manpower to convene, Bhalibharad donated a substantial estate and funds towards its sustenance. According to a chronicle, the committee could not continue its activities every year because of certain unavoidable circumstances. However, the Buddhist Sangha of Hiranyavarna Mahavihara managed to hold this event every fourth year. The tradition continues today, thanks to the organizers of the Samyak Festival who managed to sustain it over the centuries.

 

Historical Background

The earliest documentary evidence of the existence of Dipankara images is found in a palm-leaf document dated 565 NS (1345 CE) in the collection of Pandita Hemraj Shakya. It mentions that a donor, Jaya Raja Bharo, gilded a Dipankara Buddha image with gold lent from the Brahmacarya bhiksu Sri Akhayasri Thapaju, of Sripulacho Mahavihara.

Further evidence of this festival is found in another palm-leaf document from Dipankara Vihara, dated NS 596 (1476 CE), which records that the Sakyabhiksus of Hiranyavarna Mahavihara had sent an invitation to the Ten Elders of Dipankara Vihara in Bhaktapur to attend a Samyak feast. Another palm-leaf document dated NS 599 (1479 CE) from Pandita Hemraj Shakya’s collection is an invitation letter in which the Samyak festival organizer invites the bhiksus of Yampi Mahavihara for a Samyak feast to be held in Tahbahal.

Among the several known alms-bowl inscriptions, the most ancient is dated NS 645 (1525 CE). It says that on the eight day of the waxing half of Sravana, ie. Sravana Sukla Astami on a Thursday, Sri Harsasimha’s wife Herasmi, together with their sons and daughter, who hailed from Nyakhachowk Vihara, offered this alms bowl to the Dipankara Tathagatas and the Sarva Sangha, and wished for happiness and prosperity from the merits of this generosity.

In an another document, a bhiksu of Nakabahil sent an invitation to King Mahendra Simha (NS 837–843) to attend a special feast — Samyak — at Hiranyavarna Mahavihara in the month of Magha, NS 839 (1719 CE). Apart from these documents, no any other evidence has come to light to substantiate the early history of this august festival.

It is now thought that faith in Dipankara among the Newar community derived from the Buddhist traditions of the Kusana kingdom. Mary Slusser’s discussion of Dipankara Buddha in Nepal was the first to postulate a connection to the Gandharan region:

The cult of Dipankara Buddha achieved little popularity in India, except in Gandhara, whence it spread to Central Asia and China. Given the relatively late date of its prominence in Nepal, the Dipankara cult very likely came from this direction. Since Dipankara Buddha is considered, among other things, to be a protector of merchants, one can suppose he came into fashion in the period of the Three Kingdoms as the patron of Newar Traders who then so diligently plied the Tibet trade.(Slusser : Nepal Mandal, p. 293)

With the discovery of a Kusana sculpture from the reign of Jaya-varman, dated 185 CE, found at Handigaon and Maligaon, scholars are of the opinion that images of Dipankara have their origin in the cultural exchanges between the Kusana dynasty and the Kathmandu Valley.

One of the earliest Nepalese images of a standing Buddha displaying the ‘prediction of enlightenment’ gesture was published by Mary Slusser (Slusser: p. 448). However, the inscription on the base identifies it as Sakyamuni, the gift of a Sakya nun of Yamgal Vihara, Patan, made in 591 CE. Since images of Sakyamuni Buddha and Dipankara Buddha are both known to display this prediction of enlightenment gesture, identification is problematic and difficult.

The earliest image that can definitely be identified as Dipankara Buddha dates to the 13th century, and is located at Guita Bahi, Patan. (D. R. Regmi)

 

List of Deities Displayed in the Dipankara Festival

1. A Svayambhu Caitya
2. Vajrasattva image
3. Vajrasattva’s crown
4. Bhego Aju
5. Kvabaha Aju
6. Vasudhara
7. Jatadhari Lokesvara Karunamaya
8. Bungama Lokesvara
9. Chasan dyo
10. Embodiment of Lagankhel Stupa
12. Arya Tara from Tangabaha
13. Dipankara from Tangabaha
14. Dipankara from Kobahal
15. Dipankara from Dhumbaha
16. Arya Tara from Dhumbaha
17. Dipankara from Chukabaha
18. Dipankara from Kulimbaha
19. Dipankara and Bhalibharo from Kvabaha
20. Bahapa Deva
21. Dipankara from Wambaha
22. Dipankara from Daubaha
23. Dipankara from Tahbaha
24. Dipankara from Bubaha
25. Dipankara from Habaha
26. Dipankara from Jyobaha
27. Dipankara from Gujibaha
28. Bungama Lokesvara from Gujibaha
29. Dipankara from Bhinchebaha
30. Dipankara from Ukubaha
31. Dipankara from Subaha
32. Tara from Subaha
32. Dipankara from Yacchubaha
33. Tara from Yacchubaha
34. Dipankara from Kirtipur
35. Tara from Kirtipur
36. Dipankara from Jatibaha
37. Tara from Jatibaha
38. Adinath Lokesvara
39. Dipankara from Kirtipur
40. Tara from Kirtipur
41. Tara from Jadebaha
42. Tara from Kirtipur
43. Tara from Kirtipur
44. Tara from Okubaha
45. Tara from Okubaha
46. Tara from Bhinchebaha
47. Tara from Gujibaha
48. Tara from Guhibaha
49. Tara from Jyobaha
50. Tara from Jyobaha
51. Tara from Habaha
52. Tara from Habaha
53. Tara from Bubaha
54. Tara from Bubaha
55. Tara from Tabaha
56. Dipankara from Tabaha
57. Tara from Tabaha
58. Tara from Daubaha
59. Tara from Wombaha
60. Deva from Micchubaha
61. Ja Jayema Dipankara
62. Dipankara from Yatbaha
63. Dipankara from Darikabaha
64. Dipankara from Ikhachen baha
65. Tara from Chukabaha
66. Dipankara from Chukabaha
67. Tara from Chukabaha
68. Dipankara from Anandabaha
69. Tara from Mikhabaha
70. Dipankara from Akibaha
71. Dipankara from Athabaha
72. Dipankara from Mubaha
73. Chilandeva
74. Tara from Thyaka
75. Tara from Nyakhachowk
76. Maitridhvaja kamala Aju and Tara
77. Hilan Aju and Tara from Tajapha
78. Dipankara from Wonbaha: Kun Aju
79. Dipankara from Hauga
80. Tara from Hauga
81. Dipankara from Chapagaon
82. Tara from Chapagaon
83. Dipankara from Bubaha
84. Tara from Bubaha
85. Dipankara from Sibaha
86. Dipankara from Sibaha-Kachabaha
87. Tara from Sibaha-Kachabaha
88. Dipankara from Sibaha
89. Dipankara : Bhayo Aju
90. Tara
91. Dipankara from Mubaha
92. Tara from Mubaha
93. Tara from Chibahachuka
94. Bhiksu Aju
95. Dipankara from Ibahi-Thasandya
96. Dipankara from Bhinchebaha
97. Tara from Bhinchebaha
98. Dipankara from Subaha
99. Tara from Subaha
100. Dipankara from Thakunbaha
101. Tara from Thakunbaha
102. Dipankara from Ilabahi
103. Tara from Ilabahi
104. Dipankara from Dhunbaha
105. Tara from Dhunbaha
106. Dipankara from Tabaha
107. Yatabaha Kami Aju
108. Dharmasila Aju
109. Bhanasi Aju
110. Dipankara Munidhan (Dhakhwa)
111. Tara (Dhakhwa)
112. Dinapani Aju
113. Dharmadhvaja Aju and Tara
114. Dhusa Tara
115. Gajendravajra Tara
116. Danamuni Dhakhwa Tara
117. Bagnarsimha Tara Iku
118. Sakhati Jayema
119. Jog Aju Habaha
120. Dipankara from Kvabaha Napit
121. Dipankara from Chikanbahi -Dhanad