Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Pashupatinath
The Pashupatinath Temple with its hallowed lingam is situated on the sacred Bagmati River 4 km (21/2 mi.) east of Kathmandu. Not only is Pashupatinath the principal Hindu shrine in Nepal, it is one of the foremost temples to Shiva on the Indian subcontinent.
Shiva is worshipped here as Pashupati, lord of beasts, who as protector of all living creatures is also the patron deity of Nepal. Temples, ashrams (hermitages), dharamsalas, shrines and ghats spread over a wide area along the Bagmati embankment. Pashupatinath is one of the UNESCO protected cultural monuments.Legend relates that Shiva once transformed himself into a gazelle to enjoy the delights of the Shleshmandaka grove on the river's bank. The other gods, searching for Shiva, recognized him in the handsome single-horned gazelle with three eyes. They seized it by the horn to make the god reveal himself, but the gazelle escaped, leaving the horn behind in its pursuers' hands. The horn became the lingam now worshipped as Shiva. From his shrine beside the sacred Bagmati, Shiva/Pashupati watches over all creatures. It is said that any man or beast or living thing who worships here is delivered from the cycle of rebirth.Although the Pashupati cult can be traced back to the 2nd c. bc, the shrine on the Bagmati was probably founded in the 3rd c. ad. The oldest inscription in Pashupatinath dates from ad 477. Numerous architectural fragments from the Licchavi period show the shrine to have flourished from an early date.Pashupati has been patron deity of the Kathmandu Valley since the early 7th c. At the time of the three city-kingdoms Pashupati shrines were erected in Bhaktapur and Kathmandu; in Patan an existing shrine, the Khumbeshvara Temple, becamed linked specifically with the god. The pilgrim route from Kathmandu's palace to Deopatan was also marked out at this time. Since then the temple has remained in continuous use with the exception of a brief period of Buddhist expansion.The cult was revived by the greatly beloved Indian teacher and holy man Shankara Charya who, in his seventh incarnation, went on a pilgrimage to Pashupatinath and found the temple empty of priests. He dispatched Brahmins from southern India to look after the shrine and is said to have been a priest there himself. Bhatta priests from the south of India have maintained the Pashupatinath Temple ever since.
The Pashupatinath Temple, sitting quietly on the river bank, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, the temple is only open to Hindus and for all else must be viewed from outside the gate.
Shiva Ratri Festival
As many as 100,000 pilgrims arrive in Pashupatinath for Shiva Ratri the sacred lingam is the focus of night-long devotion at Shiva's shrine.The festival is held on the fourteenth day of the new moon in early March. Shiva's pilgrim followers pour in by bus or on foot, mainly from India but also from other parts of Nepal. Having fasted for the previous 24 hours they wait patiently in long queues at the temple to make their offerings to the lingam. The poorer among them may give just a few drops of holy water and some margosa leaves while the rich shower the lingam with expensive gifts. Everyone, rich or poor, receives a symbolic blessing in the form of prasad.Nepal's royal family arrive in the evening to make obeisance before the lingam. The pilgrims maintain their vigil throughout the night; drums and flutes play and Shiva's 1008 different names are chanted. The aroma of incense and the smell of ganja hang heavy in the air. Ganja (cannabis) being Shiva's favorite herb, the sadhus draw at their chillums in the god's honor with many a "bom shankar". Pashupatinath's numerous lingams are doused with holy water and covered with flowers. Ritual ablutions are perfumed and yogis demonstrate their abnormal powers.
There is a tradition that the Guyeshvari Temple on the north side of Mrigasthali Hill is Pashupatinath's oldest shrine. In fact it was probably built in the 17th c. by Pratapa Malla, ruler of the city-kingdom of Kathmandu. Barred from entry, non-Hindus can only gaze at the outer wall.The legend of its origin is interesting. Himalaya, father of Parvati, invited the gods to a gathering, but snubbed Shiva, his daughter's consort, whom he called a long-haired ganja-smoking good-for-nothing. Parvati, deeply upset, hurled herself into the fire around which the gods were seated.Shiva arrived and lifted Parvati from the flames. Distraught, he bore her away. As Shiva went, not heeding where he trod, parts of his shakti's body fell to earth in 51 places where now there are 51 shrines or pithas. The most intimate part of her body fell here beside the Bagmati, which is why the temple is dedicated to Guyeshvari, meaning "secret, mysterious goddess". From this legend the custom of sati developed, whereby widows threw themselves on their husband's funeral pyre.
The Bagmati ghats are an integral part of the Pashupatinath complex. Daily ablutions in the sacred though badly polluted river bring Hindus the promise of escape from the cycle of rebirth.The same hope attends the cremation of the dead. Accompanied by male relatives - the women stay at home to weep - the dying are laid with their feet touching the water and given a last sip from the river to drink. The eldest son conducts the ritual. When the time comes the fire is lit with surprisingly little ceremony. Afterwards the ashes are consigned to the Bagmati on their journey to the Ganges.Cremations, though carried out in public, are intensely personal religious affairs. Spectators brandishing video cameras and telephoto lenses are, generally speaking, resented. While there is no law against taking photos, discretion is recommended.
This little open shrine dedicated to the goddess Vatsala is thought to be the remnant of a temple which occupied the site as recently as the last century. The image dates from the 12th c. Vatsala is an aspect of Parvati whom Pashupati himself accorded a position close to him.The need first to bathe in the Bagmati and then to worship Vatsala before entering the Pashupatinath Temple is a recurrent theme in many legends. Although Vatsala means "tender" or "caring", human sacrifices were still being made to the goddess in the reign of King Shiva Deva Varman.Also in the shrine is a 7th c. image of a female deity associated with Lakshmi. The figure stands on a tortoise, vehicle of the river goddess Yamuna.
The Arya Ghat, immediately below the temple at the foot of a steep flight of steps, was built in the reign of Pratapa Malla. It is reserved for the cremation of royalty. Access is barred to non-Hindus.Further along the embankment small shrines in the rock are adorned with ancient sculptures, thought to be of former rulers of the Valley. A little pagoda situated between the two bridges has a torana showing the goddess Durga slaying the buffalo demon. Next to it is a small brick shrine with a terracotta image of Ananta Narayan, the gift of the potters caste in the mid 16th c.
Directly opposite the Pashupatinath Temple stand a row of 11 stone chaityas containing lingams. Beyond them is a classic single-faced lingam (ekmukhi) attributed to the 6th c. The carved figure is particularly appealing, the features being gentle and serene.From the terraces there is a view across the river to the main temple.
Mrigasthali, the hill on the opposite, east bank of the Bagmati, was the site of the grove where Shiva dallied as a gazelle. Its terraces and temple complexes mostly date from the 19th c. Amid the newer, but already sorry-looking buildings are some much older, more noteworthy sculptures. Steps built during Jung Bahadur's reign ascend Mrigasthali Hill. Devotional images of Shiva abound.
Raja Rajeshvari Mandir
Downstream of the second bridge stands the Raja Rajeshvari Mandir, the southernmost of Pashupatinath's temple complexes on the west bank of the Bagmati. Like the temple, the ghat in front of it is dedicated to the goddess Raja Rajeshvari. Non-Hindus are barred from the temple court. The ghat is in almost continuous use for cremations.
Beyond the Pashupatinath Temple the ground on the west side of the Bagmati rises to form Kailash Hill. Named after the sacred mountain it is thought to have been the site of an old royal fort. Sundry stone columns and other fragments have been incorporated into the long series of steps from the temple up the hill.
The massive lingam in front of the Raja Rajeshvari Mandir is estimated to be 1500 years old. It is said to have replaced a fountain in whose water a person might see their next incarnation reflected. Fearing this could cause unrest among his people the king had the fountain filled in and the large lingam set up instead.
A particularly delightful 6th c. statue of Buddha can be seen in front of steps on the east side of the Raja Rajeshvari Mandir near the outer wall. The calm, benign features recall similar Buddha figures at Chabahil and Swayambhunath.
A trident and the bull Nandi embellish the shikhara-style Gorakhnath Mandir at the top of the hill, reflecting the celebrated yogi's close association with Shiva.
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