Panauti Tourist Attractions
This delightful small town (pop. 23,000) near Banepa remains relatively untouched by the changes taking place elsewhere in the Banepa Valley. Large and prestigious temples are the only reminders of past glories when Panauti enjoyed a prime position on two trade routes and even boasted a palace. Situated at the confluence of the Rivers Rosi and Punyamati, the town occupies a sacred site. A third river, called Lilamati, visible only to the wise, is said to flow into the others from the Gorakhnath Shrine on the hill above the town.
As a long established place of pilgrimage, large numbers of people gather at the confluence for purposes of ritual ablution, especially on Magh Sankranti, the first day of the holy month of Magh when the winter sun begins its journey north. Every twelfth year the ceremony becomes a full-scale mela, bringing a massive influx of pilgrims and sadhus to the normally peaceful little town - together with all the associated color and activity. The next mela will be in 2010. Another festival takes place at the end of the monsoon rains when the gods leave their temples and are drawn in a chariot procession through the streets, starting at the old Durbar Square.
The triple-roofed Shiva Temple was originally built over a lingam in 1294, making it the oldest surviving temple in Nepal. Kathmandu's Kasthamandapa is actually older, but did not start out as a shrine. The mandir - modeled on the Pashupatinath Temple - took on its present appearance in the 15th c., though the third story is of later date. The roof struts embellishing the two lower stories are acknowledged masterpieces of Nepalese wood-carving. Shiva is represented in various forms, and there are some small erotic scenes. The slender, perfectly proportioned figures, portrayed as in a dance, are extraordinarily graceful. The upper section of the temple is hung with pots and pans, offerings from young married couples hoping for a happy family life.
Among the shrines in the temple courtyard, dedicated to Bhairava, Narayan and Shiva, stand a shrine and column to Ahilya, around whom a strange legend is woven. Ahilya was the beautiful wife of a wise man whom the god Indra came passionately to desire, eventually seducing her by adopting human form. The wise man laid a curse on Indra whose body became covered with yonis, condemning the god to live in seclusion at the confluence of Panauti's two rivers with Indrayani his wife. Eventually Shiva's consort Parvati, taking pity on the innocent Indrayani, turned her into the invisible third river. Later Shiva, appearing in the form of the temple lingam, freed Indra from the curse.
The Brahmayani Mandir, opposite the Krishna Temple, is dedicated to the town's guardian deity. She is honored with an annual chariot festival of her own. The triple-tiered building dates from 1617. It was restored in 1982-83 with the aid of the French. There are remains of wall paintings in the interior.
Interesting stone sculptures can be seen at the riverside ghats. Earthquakes and floods have caused considerable damage, the ghats having been completely inundated at times. The Punyamati is spanned by a suspension bridge.
The confluence of the Rosi and Punyamati is marked by two shrines. The three-storied Krishna Temple stands on the point separating the rivers. Built in 1663 its carvings, though later, are similar in style to those of the Indreshvara Mandir.