Pashupatinath, or Pashupati, is a Hindu temple on the banks of the Bagmati River in Deopatan, a village 3 km northwest of Kathmandu. It is dedicated to a manifestation of Shiva called Pashupati (Lord of Animals). It attracts thousands of pilgrims each year and has become well known far beyond the Kathmandu Valley. The temple is barred to non-Hindus, but a good view of the temple can be had from the opposite bank of the river.
History of Pashupatinath Temple
It is not known for certain when Pashupatinath was founded. Tradition says it was constructed by Pashupreksha of the Somadeva Dynasty in the 3rd century BC, but the first historical records date from the 13th century. The ascetic Pashupata sect was likely related to its foundation.
Pashupati was a tutelary deity of the ancient rulers of the Kathmandu Valley; in 605 AD, Amshuvarman considered himself favored by his touching of the god's feet.
By the later Middle Ages, many imitations of the temple had been built, such as in Bhaktapur (1480), Lalitpur (1566) and Benares (early 19th century). The original temple was destroyed several times until it was given its present form under King Bhupalendra Malla in 1697.
According to a legend recorded in local texts, especially the Nepalamahatmya and the Himavatkhanda, the Hindu god Shiva once fled from the other gods in Varanasi to Mrigasthali, the forest on the opposite bank of the Bagmati River from the temple. There, in the form of a gazelle, he slept with his consort Parvati. When the gods discovered him there and tried to bring him back to Varanasi, he leapt across the river to the opposite bank, where one of his horns broke into four pieces. After this, Shiva became manifest as Pashupati (Lord of Animals) in a four-face (chaturmukha) linga.
What to See at Pashupatinath Temple
Pashupati Temple stands in the center of the town of Deopatan, in the middle of an open courtyard. It is a square, two-tiered pagoda temple built on a single-tier plinth, and it stands 23.6 meters above the ground. Richly ornamented gilt and silver-plated doors are on all sides.
On both sides of each door are niches of various sizes containing gold-painted images of guardian deities. Inside the temple itself is a narrow ambulatory around the sanctum. The sanctum contains a one-meter high linga with four faces (chaturmukha) representing Pashupati, as well as images of Vishnu, Surya, Devi and Ganesh.
The priests of Pashaputinath are called Bhattas and the chief priest is called Mool Bhatt or Raval. The chief priest is answerable only to the King of Nepal and reports to him on temple matters on a periodic basis.
The struts under the roofs, dating from the late 17th century, are decorated with wood carvings of members of Shiva's family such as Parvati, Ganesh, Kumar or the Yoginis, as well as Hanuman, Rama, Sita, Lakshman and other gods and goddesses from the Ramayana.
Pashaputi Temple's extensive grounds include many other old and important temples, shrines and statues. South of the temple, for instance, is Chadeshvar, an inscribed Licchavi linga from the 7th century, and north of the temple is a 9th-century temple of Brahma. On the south side of Pashupati 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. Vasuki has the form of a Naga (mythical snake) from the waist upwards, while the lower parts are an intricate tangle of snakes' bodies. According to local belief, Vasuki took up residence here in order to protect Pashupati. One can often see devotees circumambulating and worshipping Vasuki before entering the main sanctum.
The Bagmati River, which runs next to Pashaputinath Temple, has highly sacred properties. Thus the banks are lined with many ghats (bathing spots) for use by pilgrims. Renovating or furnishing these sites has always been regarded as meritorious.
Arya Ghat, dating from the early 1900s, is of special importance because it is the only place where lustral water for Pashupatinath Temple can be obtained and it is where members of the royal family are cremated. The main cremation site is Bhasmeshvar Ghat, which is the most-used cremation site in the Kathmandu Valley. The preferred bathing spot for women is the Gauri Ghat, to the north.
Across the Bagmati River are 15 votive shrines, the Pandra Shivalaya, which were built to enshrine lingas in memory of deceased persons between 1859 and 1869.
Quick Facts on Pashupatinath Temple
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||27.710473° N, 85.348921° E|
|Address:||Deopatan, Kathmandu, Nepal|
|Hours:||Open only to Hindus.|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Pashupatinath Temple|
- Michael Hutt, ed., Nepal (1994), pp. 180-86.
- Pashupatinath - Asian Trekking
One of the most sacred Hindu temples of Nepal – Pashupatinath Temple is located on both banks of Bagmati River on the eastern outskirts of Kathmandu.
Pashupatinath is the most important temple dedicated to god Shiva. Every year this temple attracts hundreds of elderly followers of Hinduism.
They arrive here to find shelter for the last several weeks of their lives, to meet death, 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 Ganges. Hinduists from every corner of Nepal and India are arriving here to die.
It is believed that those who die in Pashupatinath Temple are reborn as a human, regardless of any misconduct that could worsen their karma. The exact day of their death is predicted by astrologers of the temple. If you are attracted to the places where the spirit of death can be felt, then consider Pashupatinath as your first destination. It is a temple with special atmosphere of death; death is present in almost every ritual and every corner of it.
The main temple of Pashupatinath is a building with a bunk roof and a golden spire.
It is located on the Western bank of Bagmati and is considered a masterpiece of Hindu architecture.
It is a cubic construction with four main doors, all covered with silver sheets.
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.
Only followers of Hinduism can enter the main temple, but all the other buildings are available for foreigners to visit. From the Eastern bank of the river the main temple can be seen in its whole beauty. The western bank of Bagmati also hosts the so called Panch Deval (Five temples) complex, which once was a holy shrine but now serves a shelter for destitute old people.
Numerous religious buildings are also located on the eastern bank of Bagmati, most of them are devoted to Shiva. The majority of these buildings are small single storey constructions made from stone. From the outside these buildings are reminding crypts, but in reality these are sacral buildings, created for holding the symbol of the deity Shiva – lingam (erect phallus). Lingams can be found all over the complex.
Along the right bank of Bagmati numerous platforms for funeral pyres are built. The cremations on these platforms are a common activity.
Usually tourists have the chance to see at least one open-air cremation.
The majority of religious rituals are culturally unusual and even mind-blowing for Westerners, but probably the most culturally unusual thing in Pashupatinath is the specific smell of cremated bodies. Unlike any expectation the smell has nothing in common with the smell of decaying flesh, but rather reminds the smell of clabber mixed with different spices.
Another culturally shocking thing in Pashupatinath is the image of local women washing clothes downstream the river. The waters of Bagmati contain animal fat because of the ashes of cremated Shiva followers and easily wash the dirt from linen. It is believed that this is how the soap was invented.
As far as Shiva is considered the patron of animals and all living organisms, monkeys and deers are wandering all around the temple complex on both banks of Bagmati. Monkeys are very often unfriendly, they beg for food, snatch things from careless tourists and may even be dangerous.
It is also very common to meet sadhus in Pahsupathinath.
Sadhus are wandering ascetic yogis, who are trying to acquire liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth by meditating.
They have very unique appearance with specific yellow paintings on their bodies.
Majority of sadhus are very tourist friendly and eager to pose for the photos with foreigners, but it is not free of charge. They live in caves or tiny cells on the territory of Pashupatinath. Sadhus have extremely ascetic and even miserable life but for a Westerner their independent and unconstrained behavior looks mysterious.