If you are looking for a spiritual experience in Nepal, you should not miss visiting the Pashupatinath Temple, one of the most sacred Hindu temples in the world. Located on the banks of the Bagmati River, this temple complex is dedicated to Lord Shiva, the destroyer and transformer of the Hindu trinity. Here are some facts and features of this ancient and magnificent temple that will inspire you to explore its history, architecture, and culture.
The History of the Pashupatinath Temple
The origin of the Pashupatinath Temple is shrouded in mystery and legend. According to one myth, Shiva and his consort Parvati took the form of antelopes and roamed in the forest near the Bagmati River. The other gods tried to capture them, but Shiva broke one of his horns and escaped. The horn was worshipped as a linga, a symbol of Shiva’s energy, and later became buried and lost. Centuries later, a cowherd discovered the linga when his cow showered milk on the ground. He dug up the linga and built a shrine around it, which became the Pashupatinath Temple
According to historical records, the temple’s existence dates back to at least 400 CE, but the current structure was built in 1692 CE by King Bhupatindra Malla after the previous one was destroyed by termites. Over time, many more temples, shrines, images, and inscriptions were added to the complex by various kings, priests, and devotees. The temple is also one of the Paadal Petra Sthalams, or holy places praised by Tamil saints, on the Indian subcontinent.
The Architecture of the Pashupatinath Temple
The Pashupatinath Temple is a masterpiece of Nepalese pagoda-style architecture, with a two-storied roof covered with gold plates and silver doors. The main shrine houses the linga of Shiva, which is adorned with four faces representing his different aspects: Tatpurusha (east), Aghora (south), Sadyojata (west), and Vamadeva (north). The fifth face, Ishana (upward), is invisible and represents his transcendental nature. Only Hindus are allowed to enter the inner sanctum of the temple, where they can offer prayers and receive blessings from the priests
The temple complex covers an area of 246 hectares (2,460,000 m2) and contains 519 temples and shrines. Some of the notable ones are:
- The Vaishnava Temple Complex: A group of temples dedicated to Vishnu, Shiva’s counterpart in the Hindu trinity. It includes a Rama temple from the 14th century and a Narayan temple from the 15th century.
- The Guhyeshwari Temple: A temple dedicated to Parvati, Shiva’s consort, also known as Guhyeshwari or Guhjeshwari. It is one of the Shakti Peethas or places where Parvati’s body parts fell after she immolated herself in grief over Shiva’s death.
- The Boudhanath Stupa: A large Buddhist stupa located about 3 km away from the Pashupatinath Temple. It is one of the largest and most sacred stupas in Nepal and attracts many Tibetan pilgrims
The Culture of the Pashupatinath Temple
The Pashupatinath Temple is not only a place of worship but also a center of culture and tradition. It hosts many festivals and ceremonies throughout the year, especially during Maha Shivaratri (the great night of Shiva), Teej (the women’s festival), Janai Purnima (the sacred thread festival), and Bala Chaturdashi (the festival of lights). During these occasions, thousands of pilgrims flock to the temple to offer prayers, sacrifices, and donations and perform rituals.
One of the most striking features of the temple is its role as a cremation site. According to Hindu belief, dying near or being cremated at Pashupatinath ensures liberation from the cycle of rebirth. Therefore, many Hindus choose to spend their last days here or bring their deceased relatives here for cremation. The cremation ghats are located along the Bagmati River, where pyres are lit and ashes are scattered into the water. Visitors can witness this solemn but fascinating process from a respectful distance.
Another interesting aspect of the temple is its association with animals. As Pashupati means “lord of animals”, the temple is home to many animals, especially deer, goats, and monkeys. They roam freely on the temple grounds and are considered sacred and protected. Some of them are even fed by the devotees and priests. The temple also hosts an annual animal sacrifice during the Dashain festival, where hundreds of buffaloes, goats, chickens, and ducks are slaughtered and offered to Shiva.
The Pashupatinath Temple: A Must-See Attraction in Kathmandu
The Pashupatinath Temple is a unique and captivating destination for anyone who wants to experience the rich and diverse culture of Nepal. It offers a glimpse into the ancient and modern aspects of Hinduism, as well as the beauty and harmony of nature and architecture. Whether you are a devout Hindu, a curious tourist, or a spiritual seeker, you will find something to inspire and enlighten you at the Pashupatinath Temple.