Start of our Nepal Tour at Pashupatinath temple, Kathmandu

posted in: Asia, Heritage, Nepal | 76

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

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 World Heritage site, the Pashupatinath temple is one must-visit place in Kathmandu valley. 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. Hopefully, my experience here will translate into a travel guide to Pashupatinath mandir for you!

Importance 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

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 sacred 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 about 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

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 me 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

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

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.

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 courtyard

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

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

I found the area where devotees wash 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 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
A couple completing their wish ritual at Pashupatinath temple

At the Bagmati river

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

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 perfect alignment of all the doors of the cenotaph shrines.

Our guide mentioned that these shrines are actually cenotaphs of the royal family. One can sit by these cenotaphs and get a glimpse of the various religious rites that take place on the other bank of the river running along the temple. I would have loved to do that but we were racing against time and had to move to our next stop – the Budhanilkantha temple.

A quick visit to the Budhanilkantha temple, Kathmandu

The Budhanilkantha temple is nowhere 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

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

  • For one, I am used to seeing 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

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 thought 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 best time to visit Pashupatinath temple is early morning. The temple is open from 4 am to 9 pm every day. It is, however, closed for a few hours at noon.
  • The entrance to the Pashupatinath temple is free for Hindus. Only Hindus are allowed into the main temple.
  • If you are a foreigner, you will have only 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
  • 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 payment.


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

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