|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