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Pilgrimage to Pashupatinath – Meeting the Lord

Pashupatinath
Pashupatinath

Besides pilgrims, many Indian visitors travelling to Nepal, be it holiday or business, invariably make it a point to visit the World Heritage Site of Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu. The Hindu of South Asia believes that they’re going to the four dhams (pilgrimage sites) of Dwarika, Kedar, Rameshwar and Jagannath in India would be quite fruitless without a final trip to Pashupatinath. Located 5 km from the city centre and staddling both shores of the Baghmati River, the Pashupatinath temple houses the sacred lingam (phallic symbol) of Lord Shiva, the Lord of Animals.
Pashupatinath temple
So, why is Pashupatinath so revered? Pashupatinath, besides merely being a Shiva temple, has several attributes that make it extra special. It contains one of only a few such multi-faced Shiva lingas in the entire region. Additionally, the stone symbol at Pashupatinath is said to be the only one that has been worshipped for centuries without a single recess in between. The most important feature of the temple, however, is that rare unifying force that it exerts among the people of the region. It stands as a symbol of unity that not only brings together the different sects of Hinduism – Vaishanavas, Shaivas and Shaktas- under a single fold but is also highly revered by followers of Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and others which gives it a rare identity.

Apart from its Spiritual standing, the Pashupatinath temple complex is a unique heritage site for archaeology enthusiast and a charming and lively spot for those interested in religion and culture. Besides the main temple, Pashupatinath also has images, shrines, rest houses, ghats (platform near the river bank used for ritual bathing and cremation) and parkland that captivates all those who come here.
The temple of Lord Pashupatinath stands in the centre of an open courtyard which can be approached from all four directions. The main gate can be reached from the market of Deopatan to the west, from the Arya Ghat burning grounds to the east, from the quadrangle of 64 Shiva lingas to the south, and from the Rudraleswar of Kailash to the north.

The temple itself is constructed on a raised platform. Built-in the architectural style of a pagoda, it has roofs that are coated in gold and four doors on its sides that are made of silver and intricately carved wood. There are niches containing artistic images of various Gods, Goddesses and nymphs on both sides of each of the temple doors. The tympanums right above the door and the struts supporting the roof are other attractions that make the temple unique.
pashupatinath

According to Gopalraj Vamsavali, one of the oldest chronicles of Nepal’s history, the main temple was built around the fifth or sixth century during the reign of King Supuspa Dev. Architectural experts suggest that the history of the main temple goes back to 1359 AD. The current structure dates from 1697 AD, but there are legends that tell of an even earlier tale. The well-known Mahabharat epic describes many important pilgrimage sites in Nepal, including that of Masheswarpur, which is another name of Pashupatinath. As the Mahabharat is thought to have been written about 5000 years ago, the temple must have existed even before then.

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. Both Shiva and Parwati were bewildered by the beauty of the forest and they staring foraging the forest in the form of deer. Other Gods were frantically searching for them and when the gods discovered him there and tried to bring him back forcibly then one of his horns broke into four pieces. After this, Shiva became manifest as Pashupati (Lord of Animals) in a four-face (chaturmukha) linga. 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.
sadhu at pashupatinath

Pashupatinath temple can be best watched and observed from the tree-shaded hill opposite the Arya Ghat on the western bank of the Baghmati river. From here one can see clearly the temple, activities on the ghat and the panchaderal complex. A short climb from here takes the visitor to the courtyard of Viswarup, Gorakhnath, Tribhuvan Parameshwor, an old shrine of Kirateswar, a shrine of Gauri, and Kailas area where many Shiva lingams – some more than 1,400 years old – are scattered.

Pashupatinath’s long history is reflected in other structures built over hundreds of years. Rajrajewari, a temple with a brass-plated roof, was built in 1407 AD. A glided water spout, housed in Nawali Tole near the Jayabageswari temple at Deopatan, was constructed in 1387 by King Jayasthiti Malla. The temple of Guheswari, was restored in 1653 by Malla King. The Bhubaneswari temple was constructed in the 17th century whereas Dakshinamurti was erected in the 18th century. Similarly, Goraknath Sikhara was also constructed in the 18th century and contains a footprint of the legendary Goraknath, an ascetic, wandering incarnation of Shiva.

As one of the oldest temples in Nepal, Pashupatinath is a living museum of sculptural art. You will find a half-buried Buddha, a huge Shiva linga placed on a monolithic pedestal, and sculptures of Yama, Saraswati, Umamaheswar, Ardha Savriswar (half Shiva and half Bishnu) and Garuda Narayan are some of the finest stone sculptures in the area. An 18th-century terra cotta Bishnu is an excellent example of art hailing from that period.
One of the major attractions for Hindu pilgrims to Pashupatinath is the Ghats. In Hinduism, rivers are holy; and the Baghmati river cradling Pashupatinath carries a special meaning for followers of the faith. A 2nd or 3rd century stone image of Birupaksha can be found at Arya ghat. The Surya Ghat, next to the Arya Ghat, contains a 6th-century Surya-mandala. Construction of the Gauri Ghat started in the 19th century with some of its sculptures as old as the 17th century.

As Pashupatinath is invaluable in its religious, cultural and archaeological aspects, efforts have been taken to preserve its sanctity and protect and promote the site. The Pashupati Area Development Trust, under the patronage of Her Majesty the Queen, is involved in keeping the area clean and promoting activities to preserve this unique religious and cultural heritage.

Although Pashupatinath is abuzz with religious activity every day of the year, it becomes even more so during the Shivaratri festival, the Great Night of Lord Shiva, which is one of the most colourful festivals in the country. This festival falls towards the end of winter in February. Hundreds of devotees from remote corners of Nepal, India and elsewhere in the region gather at Pashupatinath to pay homage to Shiva, the Lord of Animals. Ash-covered, wild-haired Sadhus, wandering ascetics who emulate, descend upon Pashupati days before the actual festival to pray and meditate. On the day of the festival, devotees take ritual dips in the Baghmati river, go on a fast and submerge for hours of darkness in prayer.

Accessibility: Pashupatinath is easily accessible to visitors. Buses and Microvan run frequently from the Ratna park area to Gaushala, which is where the temple is located. A private taxi can also be hired to take you there.
Accommodation: Apart from the many excellent hotels in the city, accommodation abounds in the Pashupatinath area. Due to its increased popularity among Indian visitors, there are numerous high-end hotels catering to the needs of visitors. The Pashupatinath Area Development Trust offers any help that it can to provide comfort and a pleasant stay for the pilgrims and its large building often doubles as a Dharamsala or a rest house.
Credit: Samrat Upadhaya
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