A landlocked former Hindu nation between India and China, Nepal has been a perfect amalgamation of nature’s most beautiful places and the rich history and architecture of its temples.
One of such iconic temples is the Pashupatinath temple. Pashupati means Lord of the animals and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Shri Pashupatinath temple is one of the Holiest Temples in the World.
History of Pashupatinath Temple
Story of Pashupatinath
It is believed that once Lord Shiva became tired of his abode, Kailash atop the Himalayas moved to Mrigasthali, the forest on the opposite bank of the Bagmati River. Lord Shiva was amazed by the beauty of the site. To remain hidden amongst the Gods, he tried to allude to them as a deer. Despite pleas from the Gods, Shiva used to return, so the Gods decided to use force to get him back to Kailasa. It is said that Lord Vishnu grabbed Lord Shiva(Deer) by his horns and shattered the horns into pieces.
Lord Vishnu then established a lingam on the banks of Bagmati river with the shattered pieces horn. As time passed, the temple was buried and forgotten. Later a cow is said to have noticed the Lingam and sprinkled her milk in the buried lingam. When the cow herders dug the spot where the cow sprinkled milk, they found the lost lingam and built the temple which is known as Pashupatinath temple.
The earliest evidence of the temple’s existence dates back to 400 A.D. The current main temple of the Pashupatinath complex was built at the end of the 17th century to replace the previous one, destroyed by termites. Pashupati was a tutelary deity of the ancient rulers of the Kathmandu Valley; in 605 AD, King Amshuvarma considered himself favored by touching the god’s feet.
Location of Pashupatinath Temple
The temple is located on the banks of the Bagmati River, Kathmandu. The temple is barred to non-Hindus, but a good view of the temple can be seen from the river’s opposite bank.
Architecture of Pashupatinath Temple
It is a square, two-tiered pagoda temple built on a single-tier plinth, and it stands 23.6 meters above the ground with richly ornamented gilt and silver-plated doors. Located on the Western bank of Bagmati, it is considered a masterpiece of Hindu architecture.
The two-storied roof is made from copper and is covered with gold. This richly decorated temple with wooden sculptures is believed to make wishes come true. One of the most astonishing decorations of the temple is the huge golden statue of Nandi – Shiva’s bull.
The struts under the roofs, dating from the late 17th century, are decorated with wood carvings of Parvati, Ganesha, Kumar, the Yoginis, Hanuman, Rama, Sita, Lakshman, and other gods and goddesses from the Ramayana.
The complex comprises many temples. South of the temple is Chadeshvar, an inscribed Licchhavi linga from the 7th century, and north of the temple is a 9th-century temple of Brahma. On the south side of Pashupatinath temple is the Dharmashila, a stone where sacred oaths are taken, and pillars with statues of various Shah kings.
In the northeast corner of the temple courtyard is the small pagoda temple of Vasuki, the King of the Nagas. According to the locals, Vasuki took up residence here to protect Pashupati. One can often see devotees circumambulating and worshipping Vasuki before entering the main sanctum.
The Bagmati River, which runs next to Pashupatinath Temple, has highly sacred properties. Thus the banks are lined with many ghats (bathing spots) for use by the pilgrim.
Arya Ghat, dating from the early 1900s, is of special importance. Along the right bank of Bagmati, numerous platforms for funeral pyres are built. The cremations on these platforms are a common activity.
The western bank of Bagmati also hosts the so-called Panch Deval (Five temples) complex, which once was a holy shrine but now serves as a shelter for destitute old people.
Across the Bagmati River are 15 votive shrines, the Pandra Shivalaya, built to enshrine lingams in memory of deceased persons between 1859 and 1869.
Pashupatinath temple is the most important temple dedicated to the god Shiva. Every year this temple attracts thousands of elderly followers of Hinduism. The crowd can be seen throughout the year, especially during Shivaratri, the Nepali festival Teej which holds special importance in the Hindu month of Shrawan.
Pilgrims arrive here to find shelter for the last several weeks of their lives, to meet death and be cremated on the banks of the river, and travel their last journey with the waters of the sacred river Bagmati, which later meets the holy river the Ganges.
It is believed that those who die in Pashupatinath Temple are reborn as a human, regardless of any misconduct that could worsen their karma.
As Shiva is considered the patron of animals and all living organisms, monkeys, and deer wander around the temple complex on both banks of Bagmati. Monkeys are very often unfriendly.
Sadhus are another common sighting in Pashupati. The yogis, allegedly trying to acquire liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth by meditating, are often camera friendly.