monks of swyambhunath

The images displayed here are portraits of monks who reside and work in two monasteries in the capital city of Kathmandu in Nepal.  These images were taken between 2010 and 2011.

The monasteries, located at a Monument Zone called Swyambunath, are situated on a steep hill which also contains the stupa – a collection of shrines and temples – and is estimated to be 1500 years old.

The site occupies a sacred position among followers of Tibetan Buddhism. The Tibetan name for the site means ‘Sublime Trees’ for the many varieties of trees found on the hill. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Swyambunath as a World Heritage Site in 1979.

The site underwent extensive renovations in 2010, the first in over 90 years. The group that I work with, The Namsaling Community Development Centre, provided some consultation on community development and water management, as the site also serves as a residence for members of the Buddhacharya family, an aboriginal priest family related to the Newar ethnic group. The Buddhacharya families have been residing on this hill and serving the Swyambunath stupa since the fifth century, when four brothers were brought there as priests and caretakers. Now there are 28 families of Buddhacharya, including 250 people, living within the Monument Zone. People other than the Buddhacharya are not allowed to reside permanently on the hill, with the exception of the two monasteries within the Monument Zone, housing approximately 150 monks and students.

This project is different from my other projects in that it concentrates on a particular group in a very specific area. Tibetan Buddhists face pressure from the omnipresent forces of modernity, as well as the continuing suppression of their religion and culture from the Chinese occupation of Tibet.

The temple and surrounding buildings were badly damaged in the earthquakes of April and May 2015. Thankfully, there was no loss of life in the temple itself and an active restoration effort is underway.