The Pashupatinath Temple (Nepali: पशुपतिनाथ मन्दिर) is a famous and sacred Hindu temple complex that is located on the banks of the Bagmati River, approximately 5 kilometres north-east of Kathmandu in the eastern part of Kathmandu Valley, the capital of Nepal. The temple serves as the seat of Nepal’s national deity, Lord Pashupatinath. This temple complex was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites’s list in 1979. This “extensive Hindu temple precinct” is a “sprawling collection of temples, ashrams, images and inscriptions raised over the centuries along the banks of the sacred Bagmati river” and is included as one of the seven monument groups in UNESCO’s designation of Kathmandu Valley as a cultural heritage site. One of the major Festivals of the temple is Maha Shivaratri on which day over 1 million devotees visit here.

The temple is one of the 275 Tamil Paadal Petra Sthalams (Holy Abodes of Shiva) on the continent. Kotirudra Samhita, Chapter 11 on the Shivalingas of the North, in Shiva Purana mentions this Shivalinga as the bestower of all wishes.

The temple was erected anew in the 5th century by Lichchavi King Prachanda Dev after the previous building was consumed by termites. Over time, many more temples have been erected around this two -storied temple. These include the Vaishnava temple complex with a Rama temple from the 14th century and the Guhyeshwari Temple mentioned in an 11th-century manuscript.

Legend surrounding the origin of the temple

Pashupatinath Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Kathmandu. It is not known for certain when Pashupatinath Temple was built. But according to Nepal Mahatmaya and Himvatkhanda, the deity here gained great fame there as Pashupati, the Lord of all Pashus, which are living as well as non-living beings. Pashupatinath Temple’s existence dates back to 400 B.C. The richly ornamented pagoda houses the sacred linga or holy symbol of Lord Shiva. There are many legends describing as to how the temple of Lord Aalok Pashupatinath came to existence here. Some of them are narrated below.

The Cow Legend

Legend says that Lord Shiva and Parvati once took the form of an antelope and sported unknown in the forest on the Bagmati river’s east bank. The gods later caught up with him and grabbing him by one of his horns, forced him to resume his divine form. The broken horn was worshipped as a Sivalinga but over time it was buried and lost. Centuries later astonished herdsmen found one of his cows showering the earth with milk. Digging deep at the site, he discovered the divine linga of Pashupatinath.

The Lichchhavi Legend

According to Gopalraj Aalok Vamsavali, the oldest ever chronicle in Nepal, this temple was built by Prachanda Deva, a Lichchhavi King, who according to the stone inscription erected by Jayadeva 11 in the courtyard of Pashupatinath in 753 AD, happened to be the ruler 39 generations before Manadeva (464-505 AD).

The Devalaya Legend

Another chronicle states that Pashupatinath Temple was in the form of Linga shaped Devalaya before Supuspa Deva constructed a five-storey temple of Pashupatinath in this place. As the time passed, the need for repairing and renovating this temple arose. It is learnt that this temple was reconstructed by a medieval King named Shivadeva (1099-1126 AD). It was renovated by Ananta Malla adding a roof to it. Thousands of pilgrims from all over the world come to pay homage to this temple, that is also known as ‘The Temple of Living Beings’.

Other beliefs

There are several complex stories involving the origins of Pashupatinath. One story goes, in brief, that Shiva and Parvati came to the Kathmandu Valley and rested by the Bagmati while on a journey. Shiva was so impressed by its beauty and the surrounding forest that he and Parvati changed themselves into deer and walked into the forest. Many spots in the Kathmandu Valley have been identified as places where Shiva went during his time as a deer. After a while, the people and gods began to search for Shiva. Finally, after various complications, they found him in the forest, but he refused to leave. More complications ensued, but ultimately Lord Shiva announced that, since he had lived by the Bagmati river in a deer’s form, he would now be known as Pashupatinath, Lord of all animals. It is said that whoever came here and beheld the lingam that appeared there would not be reborn as an animal.

Finding of Shiva Linga at Pashupatinath Temple

It is said that the wish-fulfilling cow Kamadhenu took shelter in a cave on the Chandravan mountain. Everyday Kamadhenu went down to the place the lingam was sunken into the soil and poured her milk on top of the soil. After a few thousand years some people saw Kamadhenu pouring milk on that same spot every day, and started to wonder what that would be. So they removed the soil and found the beautiful shining lingam and started worshiping it.

Pashupatinath Temple

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