Start of our Nepal Tour at Pashupatinath temple, Kathmandu

posted in: Asia, Heritage, Nepal | 42

I know I left you high and dry after concluding my last post on my epic Indo-Nepal road trip just as I started talking of our final destination. I did promise you that I will share this in my next post.So, here goes as promised – the first of the many Nepal series that you will see on my blog. After our crazy arrival into Kathmandu, we started our next morning a little leisurely and with an apt destination  – the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu.

Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu
Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu

Note the use of the word apt. I say so as temples are a symbol of good beginnings and also, as a great place to Thank the higher power for all the good things in life. I do not know if the ScoutMyTrip team deliberately chose this as the first destination of Nepal (maybe they needed to thank the Almighty for surviving our company ;-)) or was it by destiny – it just seemed perfect to begin our journey in Nepal. A UNESCO heritage site, the Pashupatinath temple is one place that every traveler to Kathmandu visits. For some, it is a pilgrimage while for others it is a fantastic heritage monument to discover. For me – it was a lovely insight into how similar yet dissimilar Nepal was to India.

History of the Pashupatinath temple

Pashupatinath literally means “Lord of the animals“. This name was given to Lord Shiva following a legend around this very temple. There are several versions of it but I will stick to the one that our guide at Pashupatinath mentioned. It is said that Lord Shiva had taken the form of a deer and was caught later by the Gods. Though he returned back with the other Gods, he left with reluctance and an announcement that he be known as the “Lord of animals”. After he left, a Shiva Linga was found in this very place that he had made home and this forms the center of the Pashupatinath temple today.

Pashupatinath temple as seen from the other bank of River Bagmati
Pashupatinath temple as seen from the other bank of River Bagmati

Belief has it that whoever glimpses this linga will never be born again as an animal. This is possibly one of the reasons why they say that even after you have worshiped Lord Shiva at the 12 Jyotirlinga temples in India, your pilgrimage is not complete till you have visited the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu.

No one really knows the first date of the temple’s origin. Some sources pin it down to around 400 BC. The only confirmed date associated with this temple is the 15th Century when King of the Licchavi Kingdom rebuilt the whole temple – restoring it from its termite infested state.

The Architecture of the Pashupatinath temple

What was earlier a wood structure, now also has Silver and gold adorning it. For many of you, there might be curiosity on what the temple really looks like – for only Hindus are allowed in. Though photography was not allowed within the temple, I shall do my best to explain what I did witness within.

Pagoda Styled roof of the Pashupatinath temple
Pagoda Styled roof of the Pashupatinath temple

To start with, there are some minor temples outside the main gate of the Pashupatinath temple. There are plenty of interesting structures here as well but I shall get down to those in the next section. The main temple is shaped like a Pagoda with a high roof that is held up well with interesting sculptures. Facing the main temple is a huge bronze Nandi. Though our guide informed that it was second only to the Lepakshi temple near Bangalore, I have my own doubts.

The beautifully carved figurines holding up the roof of the Pashupatinath temple
The beautifully carved figurines holding up the roof of the Pashupatinath temple

There two sanctums that lead to the main linga. The only ones that are allowed to the innermost sanctums are the 4 priests who originate from India. This is where I was the most amused as the guide went into details on how they were chosen from Karnataka and were known as the Bhats. I was half tempted to tell him my surname but thought better of it. I really did not want to bet on what reaction I would get.

Getting back to the story of the Bhats. This tradition of priests from South India handling the linga was started by the great scholar Adi Shankaracharya with the sole aim of uniting India. Even till date, this tradition is held strong. There are other caretakers within the temple, but they are allowed only till the outer sanctum.

 

One of the sculptured doorway of the Pashupatinath temple
One of the sculptured doorway of the Pashupatinath temple

The Linga was not so visible from where I stood but I got a good idea of what it looked like after I visited the Budhanilkantha temple. It is said to have four heads of Lord Shiva, each of which faces the 4 doors of the Pashupatinath temple. These are open every day till 1:30 pm and we missed it just by a whisker. Hence, we could glimpse only from the main temple door.

The linga at the Budhanilkantha temple in Kathmandu.
The linga at the Budhanilkantha temple in Kathmandu.

Around the main temple are several other minor shrines, dedicated to several other Lords like Lord Ganesha, Lord Hanuman and Lord Bhairavnath (another avatar of Lord Shiva). It is from behind the temple that we spotted the River Bagmati, on whose banks stands the Pashupatinath temple.

Outer gates of the Pashupatinath temple

One of the temple guardians at Pashupatinath temple
One of the temple guardians at Pashupatinath temple

They say that some parts of the outer gates collapsed during the April 2015 earthquake. When I questioned the guide, he denied the same and said that all was well. However, a lot of other locals did point out that there was damage here. None of it is that visible now and what remains are some hidden and interesting corners. Take this candle topped fence.

Candles along the gates of Pashupatinath temple
Candles along the gates of Pashupatinath temple

A smaller shrine with stone idols of Lord Shiva and his family seems to be the starting point of the Pashupatinath pilgrimage. As I observed all the Hindus first circle around this shrine, take the blessings and then proceed to the main Pashupatinath temple.

Smaller shrine that seems to be the start of the Pashupatinath pilgrimage
Smaller shrine that seems to be the start of the Pashupatinath pilgrimage

I found the area where devotees wash themselves before visiting the temple quite an interesting and artistic one. I mean, just take a look at that tap. It definitely is elaborately designed.

The area where the devotees wash before entering the Pashupatinath templev
The area where the devotees wash before entering the Pashupatinath temple

The most captivating for me was this pyre of sorts with vessels containing burning coal. I was given a sugar cane stick and told to toss the coals in each of the plates. Moving clockwise, you are to pray and wish for something – all of which is said to come true! 🙂

Making a wish - Capt Deepak and GoPro Man Ankit - at Pashupatinath temple
Making a wish – Capt Deepak and GoPro Man Ankit – at Pashupatinath temple
A couple completing their wish ritual at Pashupatinath temple
A couple completing their wish ritual at Pashupatinath temple

At the Bagmati river

The smaller temple complex behind the Pashupatinath temple
The smaller temple complex behind the Pashupatinath temple

Having glimpsed at the other bank of the Bagmati river from the Pashupatinath temple, I was sure that my visit would not be complete without a quick detour to the other side. Thanks to the Scoutmytrip team, I did not have to give it a miss for I know I would have so regretted it otherwise. Behind the temple is where the Non-Hindus get to witness the Pashupatinath temple. It is here that you can see huge gongs, tiny shrines and the cremation pyres.

The cremation pyre area around the Bagmati river. On the left is the Pashupatinath temple, on the right are the smaller shrines made for the royalty
The cremation pyre area around the Bagmati river. On the left is the Pashupatinath temple, on the right are the smaller shrines made for the royalty

I skipped over the bridge to the other bank to feast my eyes on what really caught my interest in the first place. It was this huge line of smaller temples that seemed to be perfectly aligned – such that their entrances formed a single passage. What am I babbling? Check the pictures below and you will understand it.

The Royal cenotaphs opposite the Pashupatinath temple, Kathmandu
The Royal cenotaphs opposite the Pashupatinath temple, Kathmandu
The perfect alignment of all the doors of the cenotaph shrines.
The perfect alignment of all the doors of the cenotaph shrines.

Our guide mentioned that these shrines are actually cenotaphs of the royal family. Though there were a lot of other sights to see around here, we had to race against time and move ahead to our next stop – the Budhanilkantha temple.

A quick visit to the Budhanilkantha temple, Kathmandu

The Budhanilkantha temple is no where connected to the Pashupatinath temple. However, before I end the first half of our Day one in Kathmandu, I wanted to share a quick tour of the same. This is a much smaller temple that is dedicated to Lord Vishnu . There are no elaborate structures in this temple. It is in fact, an open air temple. The interesting feature here is the floating idol of Lord Vishnu that was found almost 1000 years back by a farmer ploughing his land.

The floating Vishnu idol at the Budhanilkantha temple in Kathmandu
The floating Vishnu idol at the Budhanilkantha temple in Kathmandu

Now there are numerous things that fascinated me about this idol –

  • For one, I am used to see only a reclining Lord Vishnu – mostly on his side or in a half seated position. This is the first where I have seen him lying on his back.
  • No royalty ever visited this temple as it is said that if they do, they will lose their power.
  • The idol is said to be floating in the pond. There is no scientific evidence and no tests have been allowed but well, just the claim itself is fascinating.
  • When you get down to the periphery of the idol and look at the base, you will see a perfect reflection of the idol in water. I tried this one and it is true!

With that we broke up for lunch, before heading to our next destination that gives you a glimpse of the Buddhist way of life in Nepal. However, for that, you will have a bit of a wait.

Comparing the Indian & Nepali Cultures

Having visited the Pashupatinath temple, there were a few interesting things that I realized about how intertwined the Indian and Nepali cultures were. Naturally so, given that the major religion in Nepal is Hinduism. However, having said so, it is quite dissimilar in a lot of ways.

One of the shrines of Ganesha in the Pashupatinath temple's outer complex
One of the shrines of Ganesha in the Pashupatinath temple’s outer complex

Take for example, the worship to Lord Ganesha. While in India, he is the Lord of Good Beginnings . Here in Nepal, he is considered as the God of Power and is appeased with a lot of animal sacrifice. Cows, Goats and Sheep are commonly slaughtered on Ganesh Chaturthi, a festival that is celebrated in a completely different manner in India.

And then there is the depiction of the Lords itself. The Nepali illustration of the same is quite unlike the Indian ones and yet, when you see those idols, you will spot a certain similarity in the way they are projected. To me, these differences were the ones that were quite interesting. Something that I will dig into deeper. And for sure, will share with you.

There were many other parallels that I will draw out for you as we go along the rest of my Kathmandu trip. For now, let me know what you though of our humble beginning of our tour of Nepal. Did Pashupatinath temple fascinate you? What part of it did you really like? You know where to let me know.

Getting here:

  • Kathmandu has its own airport and the easiest way to get in is by air. However, if you are as adventurous as me, I would not say no to trying out a road trip from India.
  • Pashupatinath temple is quite within the Kathmandu city. You can easily reach it by using the local cabs.
  • The Budhanilkantha temple is just 8 kms from the Pashupatinath temple. Again, you can hire a cab to visit it.

Travel Tips:

  • The Pashupatinath temple is open from 4 am to 9 pm everyday. It is however, closed for a few hours in the noon.
  • The entrance to the Pashupatinath temple is free for Hindus. Only Hindus are allowed into the main temple.
  • If you are a foreigners, you will have only a limited access to the Pashupatinath temple. There is a charge of 1000 Nepali rupees for the same.
  • Guide facilities are available at the temple for around Nepali rupees 800.
  • If you wish to offer your prayers to the Lord or do an Abhisheka,  you will need to shell out additional money. Prices for these are different for different types of offerings.
Rudraksha garlands - offerings for Pashupatinath temple
Rudraksha garlands – offerings for Pashupatinath temple
  • The offerings – flowers, rudraksha, incense etc are available right across the temple. You can purchase the same directly from here, using Nepali Rupees or Indian Rupees.
  • Remember to follow the rules of the Hindu temple that I had shared here. Most of them apply here. You will have to remove your shoes when going into the main temple. No temple socks are  permitted here.
  • Beware of monkeys around the temple, especially in the Ghat area.
  • You will find several priests around the temple meditating. They will be happy to let you take a picture of them for a fee. If you accidentally click them, they will definitely notice and demand a payment.

 

P.S: I visited these temples as a part of my Indo-Nepal road trip with ScoutMyTrip

 

Share the Thrill of Travel

42 Responses

  1. Jai Shambho!
    Brought back memories of the mercenary sadhus modeling

    • Oh yes, those sadhus added some character to this place. It sure was a lovely experience there with you Sirji.

  2. This is truly interesting and beautiful. The intricate design of the temples is really stunning. I imagine how hard it is to came up with that idea about the design. I haven’t been to this place and hopefully soon If I get the chance. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

    • This place is quite revered by the Hindus and for the fact that there are such interesting sights around it, you must visit it when you are in Kathmandu. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Great post, it brought back memories! We were there 6 months before the earthquake – happy to see it’s wasn’t impacted too much (or if it was it’s been restored). I can second your ‘beware of the monkey’ tip….one decided to use my head as a toilet

    • Argh…that must be scary. The monkey on the head! Glad to hear from someone who had been earlier that things are pretty much normal now. Cheers Tanya

  4. Thanks for the detailed virtual tour of Pashupatinath Temple Ami. It is one of the dream destinations of my parents. And I have heard a lot about the spiritual power of this temple from them. It is as beautiful as they described to me

    • I hope you get down to visiting it Neha. I am sure you will find it pretty fascinating.

  5. With all the temples there must be to see there in Kath, it’s neat how you took one and focused on it like a laser. Better than just casually seeing them all (although perhaps you did see them all). neat.

    • I could not cover them all but I sure did cover a few in detail. Thanks for stopping by Tom.

  6. Wow!! Didnt know Ganesha is of different significance in Nepal. Animal slaughter was something I really didn’t know as a practice for celebrating ganesha chaturthi. Very interesting.

    • I too, discovered it after going there. Interesting to see how different the connotation are, isnt it?

  7. Nepal is definitely one of my top places to visit and I’m actually hoping this year! This is such a great read for me to have at least some information about interesting things about this amazing place. The floating idol is so incredible for me.

    • I am sure you will enjoy it there. Nepal does have a lot to offer. Thanks for stopping by Cathy.

  8. Thanks for this interesting post. I did not realize that Hinduism was the main religion in Nepal. It is good to know that I would not be allowed in all parts of the temple, but I certainly understand why. It would be worth it to go anyway to see the beautiful architecture and gold colors!

    • While you can’t visit the main temple, there is no stopping at the cremation ground and around. There is plenty to see here itself. And you can glimpse the main temple from here. You must definitely go!

  9. Hi Ami,

    Neat! I betcha those priests will remind you to pay them if you snap and don’t pay LOL. I recall this on visiting a large temple complex in Kathmandu in 2013. Hungry for that money 😉 We loved Kathmandu. The city has such an old world flavor. Like you step back centuries any time you visit a temple or older area of town.

    Thanks for sharing:)

    Ryan

    • Thanks Ryan for stopping by. And those priests do snap at you! I suppose you saw that for yourself 🙂

  10. It is interesting to note the history and architecture behind the Pashupatinath temple. In my opinion, the parallel that was drawn between Indian and Nepali culture was unique and shows the passion of the author towards travel. Thank you for sharing such an insightful and enlightening post!
    (Ambuj Saxena)

  11. siddharthandshruti

    Such a interesting story. Did not know about the folklore surrounding the floating Vishnu. We would love to know more about the differences and similarities. Sad to know that they still continue animal sacrifices. 🙁

    • Yes, the animal sacrifice thing created quite a riot. It is sad but it still exists. Nepal was fun otherwise. Stay tuned for more 🙂

  12. I Like your clicks

  13. I remember visiting this temple as a child and I have very vague memories of a huge complex full of crowds, chaos and noise. I guess everything seems much larger when you are a child. 🙂

  14. A well written and very interesting post. Ami, recently I visited Badrinath and there too the head priest is from Kerala and that also some particular Bahamians. The architecture of temple is worth admiring and so many lined smaller temples look beautiful. The taps at washing area are different as well as interesting and the best is floating idol of lord Vishnu. Wow! Loved your post as well as pictures.

    • Thank you so much Suruchi. It was indeed quite an experience here. Glad you too liked it.

  15. I love visiting Temples! ! After visiting some in Thailand I feel like I wanna explore more! Nepal is definitely on my list of places visit soon! Great and well written post !

    • Thank you so much Ada. Maybe you should visit Nepal like me – a road trip from India. That way you get to see more temples.

  16. Nepal is definitely somewhere that is on my bucket list. Thanks for sharing the details and history behind the temple. Will become very handy for future reference (I hope very soon!).

  17. I feel so educated! What an interesting story, and aside from the history the architecture is just beautiful. I feel like I’m really missing out having never really explored any of this region and Nepal is now shooting to the top of my list. Thanks for sharing your passion.

  18. I cannot believe the amount of temples you have there in India. And I’m amazed at how intact the religion and tradition in your country are. Having been exposed to so many Indian blogs recently, I realized there is so much to see there and I wonder when will I be able to start.

    I can see what you meant about the perfect alignment of he entrances in the Royal Cenotaphs. It’s amazing.

  19. Your post shows me just how much I missed when I visited Pashupatinath! Hiring a local guide would have been smart, but I was feeling too cheap. Next time for sure!

  20. I was eagerly waiting for this post after your cliff hanger in the last! The temple architecture looks gorgeous! Reminds me a bit of Kerala style as well!

  21. The temples are absolutely gorgeous! Nepal is on my list! I have got to get there one day!

  22. I went to Pashupatinath temple with my parents when I was a kid! Though I don’t have any memories of it!

  23. The Pashupatinath temple is grand and has such a mystical aura around it. It was indeed apt that you started your Nepal odyssey with a visit to this sacred temple. I have always been fascinated by the culture of Nepal and how it is so close to our own. This can probably be attributed to the migration of people from beyond Nepal and Central Asia over the ages.

  24. The Pashupatinath Temple looks so charming, love the architecture. Your photos are amazing, making me even more impatient to go! Hope to make it to Nepal one day. 🙂

  25. Ah! Nepal and Pashupathinathtemple. Brings back fond memories. How I would love to go back…

  26. What a detailed and informative post. I was most fascinated about the floating, or at least claimed to be floating, lord Vishnu. It looks very impressive. If it really is floating then it is even more impressive but i am not sure if it is any way possible.

Would love to know what you think