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Pashupatinath Temple

The temple is square in shape.
Many decorative and functional structures were added to it from time to time.
Pashupatinath Temple

Pashupatinath, the Lord of Animals, is among the oldest in the Hindu pantheon of gods and goddesses. Scientific findings prove that Lord God Shiva was worshipped in this form, among others, in the Indian subcontinent before the permanent settlement of the Aryans. Archaeological excavations at Mohenjodaro and Harappa in Pakistan prove that he was worshipped there in the second millennium BC.

A square seal found at the excavation site depicts a yogi surrounded by animals; scholars regard has also been established that lingam was worshipped there at the time. (Many believe that the lingam is a phallic symbolization of Shiva, but in Sanskrit the word may mean a mask, a token, or a characteristic).


The cult of Pashupati is an ancient one. The Gopals, who were cow herders and the first ruling dynasty of Nepal, are credited with popularizing Pashupati. In the days when the Kathmandu Valley was a dense forest inhabited by the Gopals, one of the cows stopped giving milk. Finding this odd, the cow’s owner followed it one day. The cow went to the present site of Pashupati temple on the banks of the Bagmati River and started giving milk. The cow herder and his friends dug up the earth to see what was there. Suddenly a terrible flame came from the hole and killed every one who stood close by. This was reported to a hermit named Ne. He covered the flame with sand and clay and worshipped it as jyotirlinga.

Pashupati is worshipped by Hindus from all over the world. In the beginning there may only have been a shrine there, but Pashupati had become a state deity by the seventh century. Dated sculptures and inscriptions proved that he worship place definitely existed by the fifth century. According to an old chronicle of Nepal, the temple was at once a five-story structure. The present two-story structure was built in the seventeenth century.

The temple is square in shape. Many decorative and functional structures were added to it from time to time. The temple courtyard is full of shrines of various sized, and the whole area is a complex of statues and worship places. The temple has a sloping roof supported by wooden beams and struts. The struts are called toranas (meaning: “ankle bone” in Newari). In between these beautifully carved and highly decorative struts are screened windows. A golden pinnacle tops the temple.

Hindu shrines face specific directions for specific gods. Bhairav faces south, Ganesh faces east, Narayan west, and the Nawadurgar (the nine mother goddesses) north. The courtyard of Pashupati may be approached from the marked of Deopatan to the west, from the Aryaghat burning grounds to the east, from a quadrangle of sixty-four Shiva lingams to the south, and from the Rudrakeswar of Kailash to the north.

Sultan Samasuddhin from Bengal invaded Nepal in the fourteenth century and vandalized Pashupati and Swayambhu along with other heritage sites. He broke the main Shiva linga, and the present one was installed several years later. Since then, statues and shrines have been offered to Pashupati and the area is now rich and elegant. It is clear that he temple was built on a cliff and that he Bagmati flowed through a narrow gorge at the time. To avoid erosion, the ghats were made and steps were raised.

The best place to watch Pashupati is from the hill opposite Aryaghat. One can see the temple, the activities on the ghat, and the Panchaderal complex. Many trees on this hill are not indigenous, but have been imported from as far away as Argentina. Pines and monkey puzzle trees help make the area attractive. A short climb from here takes one to the courtyards of Viswarupa, Gorakhnath, Tribhuwan Parameswar, and old shrine of Kirateswar, a shrine of Gauri, and the Kailas area where many Shava lingas, some of them more than 1,400 years old, are scattered. From Kailas there are steps descending to the main entrance of Pashupati. A peep into the courtyard of Pashupati reveals an enormous gilded bell. The silver doors of the main temple shine brightly.

As one of the oldest temples in Nepal, this is an open museum of sculptural art. The fifteenth-century image of Vishnu Vikrana here depicts the dwarf incarnation of Vishnu. A half-buried Buddha, a huge Shiva Linga placed on a monolithic pedestal, and sculptures of Yama, Saraswati, Umamaheswara, Ardha Savriswara (half Shiva and half Vishnu), and the Garuda Narayan are among the most outstanding stone sculptures in the area. The terra cotta Vishnu is an excellent eighteenth-century example of this art form. Other terra cotta pieces include two devotees worshipping a Shiva lingam. In the Deopatan area, the temple of Bhavareswari and the rest houses of Panchaderal complex have some of the best woodcarving preserved in the Valley.

Pashupati is a unique example of religious toleration of Nepal, too. There are some very early Buddhist sculptures here. A lingam, now lost, was named Karunikeswar, another name of the Buddha.

A committee under the chairmanship of Her Majesty the Queen is looking after the maintenance of Pashupati. The Pashupati Area Development Trust is doing an excellent job of keeping the place clean, and a catalog of shrines, statues art-works in the area has been completed.

By Mukunda Raj Aryal

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