The Pashupatinath Temple is a prominent religious symbol for Hindus in Nepal. Situated on both the banks of the Bagmati River, the beautiful Pagoda structured Temple was built in the 17th century.
The heritage of the Pashupatinath began several centuries before the temple was built. There are many legends of this temple and is also one of seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Nepal.
History of Pashupatinath Temple
According to mythology, Gods sometimes disguised themselves as animals, birds, or people in order to take a break from their cosmic duties and enjoy life on Earth. On one occasion, when Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati came to Earth in the form of deer, they landed in Sleshmantak, Nepal’s forest region. They were so fascinated by the glory of the land when they arrived at the banks of the Bagmati River that they decided to stay at Slesmantank for eternity. Other gods and goddesses wanted to bring them to back the cosmic work, but Lord Shiva refused. Gods then had no other choice but to force their repatriation and Lord Shiva as a deer lost one of his antlers during this terrible fight.
After about ten thousand years of the event a cow herder noticed that his Kamadhenu, a wish-fulfilling cow had taken shelter in a cave on the Chandravan mountain. Kamadhenu would go down to the place where the linga once existed and would pour milk on that very same spot every day. This led the locals who noticed Kamadhenu to wonder why the cow poured milk there. So, they removed the soil from that area and dug it out to find a beautiful shining linga. After the sight of the linga, the onlookers suddenly disappeared into it and were said to be free of all their sins and the cycle of birth and death. The locals then constructed a wooden temple to house the retrieved linga. The temple is believed to have existed on the site since 400 AD.
In 1697, Bhupatendra Malla built a new temple to replace the wooden one. The pagoda-style temple had five roofs which later were modified into the present-day two roofs’. The temple roofs are gold-plated. White granite and silver motifs clad the inside walls. Various carvings throughout the structure depict stories from scripture. The temple has four entrance gates made of silver, of which the primary is on the western side.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Girvan Yuddha Bikram Shah (1797–1816) dedicated four fortresses near the temple area in the name of Pashupatinath, expanding the temple to a little over one square mile. There are some Buddhist monasteries, Hindu temples, forests, ponds, dharmasalas, etc. Records from the reign of Girvan Yuddha Bikram’s father, King Rana Bahadur Shah (1775-1806), mention the management of various trusts for the worship of Pashupatinath.
The Shah dynasty, or Royal House of Gorkha, began in 1559 and only ended when the monarchy was abolished in 2008. Over the centuries, the ruling dynasties regarded Pashupatinath as the royal temple and saw to its maintenance and occasional renovation. In 1986 AD (2043 BS), the Pashupati Area Development Trust was formed with King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah as the first chief patron. It is this trust which now administrates the temple, with the Prime Minister as Chief Patron and the Minister of Culture, Tourism, and Civil Aviation as the Chairman.
Daily Rituals of Pashupatinath Temple
Unlike other historical heritage or museums, Pashupatinath is a center of energy with people participating at all times of the day, every day. The following are the daily rituals of Pashupatinath Temple:
4 AM: Visitors can enter through the west gate.
8:30 AM: After the Pujaris (Priests) enter, the Lord’s idols are bathed and cleaned, and the Lord’s clothes and jewels are changed for the day. Priests of Pashupatinath are called Bhattas.
9:30 AM: The Lord is offered Baal Bhog or breakfast.
10:00 AM: Those who want to do Puja are welcome to do so. It is also known as Farmayishi Puja, in which people request the Pujari carry out a Puja for specific reasons. The Puja lasts till 1:45 in the afternoon.
1:50 PM: The Lord is served lunch.
2:00 PM: Afternoon prayers end.
5:15 PM: The evening Aarati at the main Pashupatinath Temple begins.
6:00 PM onwards: Bagmati Aarati, which is performed on the banks of the River Bagmati, has recently gained popularity. On Saturdays, Mondays, and important occasions, the crowd is massive. During the evening Ganga Aarati, Shiva’s Tandava Bhajan is sung.
9 PM: Doors close.
Why is Shiva called Pashupatinath?
Pashupati is an aspect of Lord Shiva, one of the supreme trinities and the God of destruction. The term ‘Pashu’ means ‘animal’ and can also refer to ‘any being’. ‘Pati’ is ‘the Lord’ or ‘the Protector’. The name Pashupati is said to have been conferred on Shiva, by Vishnu, the God of protection, as Shiva was given the position of the Lord of the demons. Human beings who are governed by anger, pride, jealousy, ego, avarice, and ignorance are not superior to animals, and hence, it is believed that praying to Lord Pashupati can help people to overcome such vices and shortcomings.
Pashupati is not merely the Lord of animals He is a God, who symbolizes many profound aspects of five each. He has five heads, which represent the five important incarnations of Shiva viz. Sadyojatha, Vamadeva, Tatpurusha, Aghora, and Ishana. The five faces, “panchamukh” also look in five directions, in the four cardinal directions, and at the zenith. The one facing zenith is invisible that is why the Shiva Ling with 4 visible faces and one invisible is famously called “Chaturmukh”.
Priesthood and Shrines at Pashupatinath Vicinity
Pashupatinath has many other Hindu and Buddhist temples inside its premises. A huge golden bull, the Nandi sits outside facing the main temple of Lord Pashupatinath, looking at his lord and Master. Right in front of it is yet another miniature Nandi. Inside the Temple at the sanatorium sanctum (Garbhagriha), is the divine stone Linga of Pashupatinath God with a Silver Serpent. This Chaturmukh Linga symbolizes the various avatars of Shiva – Sadyojata or Barun facing West, Vamdeva also called Uma Maheswara facing north, Tatpurusha facing East, Aghor facing South, and Ishana facing Zenith. These representations stand for the five primary elements of Hinduism that is Earth, Water, Air, Fire, and Space.
Each face has two hand-like projections holding a Rudraksha Mala on the right hand and a Kamandalu (a gourd-shaped water vessel) on the left hand. The Pashupatinath Shivalinga always wears his golden dress or Vastra unlike other Shiva lingas and it is only at the time of Abhishekh (cleansing ceremony) that the Vastra is removed. Therefore, the Abhishekh of God Pashupatinath Linga can be done through the appointed main priests of the Temple only.
Unlike other Hindu temples, the priesthood of Pashupatinath is not hereditary. The five main priests are Trilinga Bhatt brahmins of the Krishna Yajur Veda tradition from Karnataka, Andhra, or Maharashtra in South India. They are followers of Dakshinamnaya Sringeri Sharada Peetham, the first of the monasteries to be founded by Adi Shankara in the 7th century. They must be virtuous, born vegetarians, fully trained in Vedic recitation, initiated in Pashupata Yoga, and expert in Saiva Agama. The priestly tradition of Pashupatinath Temple has played a major role in furthering the harmonious relationship between Nepal and India for many centuries.
The Saiva Agama sometimes called the Shivagamas is a grouping of texts that cover various theoretical and practical aspects of life and worship for Shaivate Hindus, the Shiva followers. The Saiva Agamas are believed to have originated with Lord Shiva himself.
Idols and shrines of Hindu deities like Ganesh, Kartikey, Laxmi, Hanuman, Unnamatta Bhairava, Ram, Sita, Nine Durgas, Vasuki Naag, Sleeping Vishnu etc are housed inside many mini-temples within the complex. The Guhyeshwari temple is an important one and is the temple of Shiva’s consort Sati Devi (one of the many forms of Goddess Parvati) which is placed near the primary temple.
There are 108 Shivalingas shrines and idols of various names scattered around the temple, and many times Shiva is seen holding a Deer (Mrigadhara). The Kirateshwar Mahadev Temple within the complex host a devotional music concert every full moon night.
Significance of Pashupatinath Temple
There are a total of twelve Jyotirlingas throughout the world. According to mythology, Shiva revealed himself as a great pillar of light, piercing the world. Jyotirlingam are the locations where the light has made contact with the earth. All the twelve Jyotirlingams in the world are now Shiva mandir sites.
Regarded as an incredibly sacred pilgrimage destination, the Pashupatinath temple is one of these twelve sites. This temple is believed to bring salvation to a souls’ sins committed (un)knowingly all their lives. Many saints and elders spend their last days at the temple to ensure that they die in this place of religious salvation.
Cremation Ritual at the Arya Ghat of Pashupatinath Temple
Shree Pashupatinath to many is known for a place to cremate the dead and mourn for their loved ones.
When a deceased arrives at the Arya Ghat all arrangements can be made in advance and with great care, the last rites are carried out. First, the body is brought to the Bagmati river by the northern area near the bridge, it is covered by a plastic sheet and accompanied by personnel in white gloves. Mourning is held in full view of the temple-goers. Three dozen gather around the body as it receives its final rites. The dead’s bare feet are washed in the odorous, green waters of the Bagmati. Rice grains offerings are made and marigolds are laid on its face. Eventually, the body is given a flamboyant exit.
The corpse entered quite medically, but it exits shrouded in the bright safron-colored satin cloth draped over its body. Chains of marigolds are draped over the cloth as it is borne aloft by mourners.
From here the body is carried out and placed over a wooden pyre. A stretcher is built from simple bamboo or light wood onto which to lay the body. Then the wood is laid beneath the body to build a type of foot-tall bed for the body. Easy burning chaff is used to the flames alight. Service personnel and sometimes relatives of the dead lay on the chaff to keep the fires burning in a process that can take more than four hours for the body to turn into ashes and the soul attaining moksha.
Other Attractions at Pashupatinath
Many Shiva festivals like Maha Shivaratri, Shrawan Sombar, Bala Chaturdashi, Janai Purnima, etc are observed at Pashupatinath throughout the year. But the most colorful one has to be the Haritalika Teej, the annual festival of Hindu married women in Nepal when they fast all day and pray for the well-being of their husbands and family. On this day the temple is only open to women, who come in large numbers all dressed in mainly red, pink, orange, yellow, and green. The three-day festival includes dancing, singing, and on the last day a feast prepared by the men. It is considered the Hindu festival of womanhood.