Bajra Yogini is the eldest of a ferocious foursome of tantric goddesses specially venerated in the Kathmandu Valley. To Buddhist Newars – her main devotees – she is identified with Ugratara, the wrathful, corpse-trampling emanation of Tara, one of the female aspects of Buddhahood. Hindus identify her as Durga (Kali), the most terrifying of the eight mother goddesses. She’s also known as Khadga Yogini, for the sword (khadga) held in her right hand.

The current Bajra Yogini temple dates from the seventeenth century, though the smaller building next to it is more ancient: indeed, its natural stone dome may well be the original seventh-century object of worship at this site. The stone just to the right of the temple door is a nag (snake) shrine.

The pilgrim’s rest-house

Steps lead up, past scurrying troupes of monkeys, to a picturesque, Rana-era pilgrim’s rest-house, set around a courtyard. The wing nearest the temple houses a subsidiary shrine to Bajra Yogini, tucked away on the first floor. Touching the goddess herself is forbidden, so this gilt copper copy was created for the annual jatra procession down to Sankhu (held for nine days from the full to the new moon of March–April); as a mother goddess, she is flanked by her two children.

On the ground floor, a seventh-century Buddha head and an enormous overturned frying pan are displayed. These belong respectively to Vrisadev, whose decapitation led to the founding of Boudha and to an ancient king who offered his own body as a daily sacrificial fry-up to Bajra Yogini. According to legend, the goddess would restore him to life and endow him with supernatural powers; when a rival tried to copy the trick, the goddess accepted his flesh, with no resurrection, and then turned over the frying pan to indicate that she would require no more sacrifices. Blood sacrifices are now performed only in front of the triangular stone of Bhairab, Bajra Yogini’s consort, which guards the path some hundred-odd steps below the temple; on the average day it gleams darkly with fresh blood.

The caves

In the back wall of the compound, a small square opening indicates a meditation cave. Another cave just behind the pati west of the compound (recognizable by the faint Tibetan inscription of the Avalokitesvara mantra over the door) is known as Dharma Pap Gupha: those who can squeeze through the opening into the inner chamber demonstrate their virtue (dharma); those who can’t, their vice (pap).

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