Nestled on the banks of the sacred Bagmati River in Kathmandu, Pashupatinath Temple is not simply a brick and stone structure but also a vibrant symphony of spirituality, history and culture. As you approach the area, the air thickens with the scent of incense and the whispers of ancient spells draw you into a world where time seems to stand still.
This World Heritage site, with its intricate carvings and awe-inspiring architecture, is a testament to the profoundness of Hinduism and the enduring legacy of Nepali artisans. In this article, we will explore the history, unique architecture and interesting things about this sacred temple! By the way, if you are a tourist and want to visit Pashupatinath temple, here is useful content for you.
History of Pashupatinath Temple
Pashupatinath Temple, situated on the banks of the Bagmati River in Kathmandu, Nepal, is one of the most significant and revered Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. Its history spans centuries and is intricately woven with legends, religious practices, and cultural significance for the people of Nepal and Hindu devotees worldwide.
The origin of Pashupatinath Temple is steeped in mythology. According to one legend, Lord Shiva and Parvati transformed themselves into antelopes and wandered through the forests of the Kathmandu Valley. Upon being spotted by the other gods and deities, Shiva, in an attempt to hide, submerged himself in the ground, with only his hump showing above the surface. The location where he dove is said to be the site of the main temple. Another legend posits that Pashupatinath Temple was built on the very spot where Shiva shed tears after creating the Bagmati River.
While the precise origins of the temple are shrouded in myth and time, historical records and architectural studies indicate that the main temple complex was established as early as the 5th century AD. However, various parts of the temple complex have been reconstructed, renovated, and expanded upon over the centuries, particularly during the reigns of the medieval Malla kings.
The main temple stands in the center of an expansive courtyard and is constructed in the Nepalese pagoda style. It features a two-tiered roof, intricately carved wooden rafters, and silver-plated doors. Surrounding the main temple are numerous smaller shrines and temples dedicated to other deities from the Hindu pantheon.
Pashupatinath is not only an architectural marvel but also a focal point for religious observance and cultural festivals. It is the site for the annual Maha Shivaratri festival, attracting thousands of pilgrims and devotees. Another significant ritual observed at the temple complex is the cremation rites. The ghats of the Bagmati River, adjacent to the temple, serve as the primary cremation site in Kathmandu. Hindus believe that being cremated here provides a direct passage to heaven.
Throughout history, the temple has also been a center for ascetic practices. Numerous sadhus (holy men) reside in and around the temple complex, dedicating their lives to meditation, asceticism, and the worship of Shiva.
Given its historical, cultural, and religious significance, the temple complex has been a focal point for conservation efforts. In 1979, UNESCO designated the Pashupatinath Temple a World Heritage Site, acknowledging its unique architecture and its place in the cultural heritage of Nepal and the broader Hindu community.
Where is Pashupatinath Temple located?
Pashupatinath Temple, a revered Hindu pilgrimage site, stands prominently on the banks of the Bagmati River in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal. To locate Pashupatinath temple while in Nepal, you should embark upon the following course of action:
- Starting Point – Kathmandu: Begin your journey in Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal. The temple is situated in the eastern part of this bustling metropolis.
- Transportation Modes: Utilize local transportation methods. Taxis are a prevalent and convenient option within Kathmandu. You may instruct the driver to take you directly to Pashupatinath Temple. Alternatively, local buses or rickshaws that serve this route are also available.
- Recognizing the Landmark: Upon nearing the vicinity of Pashupatinath, you will be greeted with an array of small shrines, cremation ghats (riverfront steps), and the grand edifice of the main temple itself, complete with its towering pagoda-style architecture.
- Seek Assistance if Required: If at any point you find yourself unsure of the direction, it is advisable to consult local residents or shopkeepers. Most locals are familiar with the temple, given its prominent stature in Nepali culture and religion.
- Digital Navigation: For a more tech-savvy approach, you can employ digital maps available on smartphones. Simply input “Pashupatinath Temple” into the search bar of your preferred navigation app. It will provide you with real-time directions to the temple from your current location.
In the digital age, getting to the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu is a relatively simple endeavor. The temple’s monumental presence in the city center ensures that you, as a visitor, will be able to locate it without much difficulty, provided you follow the directions mentioned above.
The architecture of Pashupatinath temple
The main temple of Pashupatinath is built in the Nepalese pagoda style. This architectural form showcases tiered wooden roofs that taper upwards, culminating in a gilded pinnacle. As you approach the structure, you will note the predominant use of wood and stone, materials that have been quintessential in Nepalese temple architecture.
Main Shrine: The temple’s sanctum houses the Jyotirlinga of Pashupatinath. This linga, or the symbolic representation of Lord Shiva, is enshrined within a cubic, four-faced (chaturmukha) structure, allowing devotees to offer prayers from all four cardinal directions. As you circle the sanctum, the intricacies of the carvings and the symbolic representations on each face become apparent.
Roofing and Pinnacle: The roofs, made from copper and overlaid with gold, gleam with a resplendent luster, particularly under the sun. As you elevate your gaze, the pinnacle, representing Mount Kailash, Lord Shiva’s abode, draws attention with its gilded sheen.
Entrance and Doors: The western entrance, the only accessible door to the temple’s main sanctum for devotees, is guarded by silver-plated doors. On observing closely, you will discern images of various deities intricately embossed onto these doors, narrating tales from Hindu mythology.
Wooden Craftsmanship: The temple’s rafters, struts, and beams are adorned with meticulously carved wooden figures. These figures, which you can view as you navigate the temple premises, depict various episodes from the Puranas and other sacred Hindu scriptures.
Surrounding Courtyard and Auxiliary Shrines: As you traverse the temple complex, the presence of numerous smaller shrines and auxiliary structures becomes evident. Each of these is an architectural delight in its own right, providing insights into the diverse styles and periods of Nepalese temple architecture.
Cremation Ghats: The eastern side of the temple, facing the Bagmati River, consists of a series of ghats or stone steps leading down to the river. Here, you can observe the architectural arrangement facilitating Hindu cremation rituals. The serene yet solemn atmosphere of the ghats starkly contrasts with the bustling temple precincts.
Influence and Synthesis: It’s imperative to understand that the architecture of Pashupatinath Temple is not isolated. As you study it in relation to other temples in the region, you will recognize the synthesis of various architectural influences, from the indigenous Newar style to elements borrowed from North Indian temple designs.
Pashupatinath temple serves as a veritable lexicon of Nepalese religious architecture. Its aesthetic appeal, combined with its profound spiritual resonance, ensures that you, as a viewer, are not merely observing a structure but engaging with a living testament to Nepal’s rich architectural heritage.
Ticket prices and opening hours to visit Pashupatinath Temple
If you plan to experience the cultural and spiritual richness of Pashupatinath temple, understanding the opening hours and ticket pricing is essential to optimize your visit.
- Summer Schedule:
- Morning: 4:30 AM – 12:00 PM
- Evening: 4:30 PM – 8:00 PM
- Winter Schedule:
- Morning: 5:30 AM – 12:00 PM
- Evening: 4:30 PM – 7:30 PM
These times indicate when you can enter the temple grounds. Arriving on time will ensure that you can fully immerse yourself in the temple atmosphere without any time constraints.
- For foreign tourists, an entrance fee of 1000 rupees is levied (Updated September 1, 2023).
- However, visitors from Nepal, India, or SAARC member countries are exempted from this fee and can access the temple free of charge.
You should ensure that you carry valid identification to avail of any applicable fee exemptions. Also, it is advised to carry the exact amount for the ticket to facilitate a smooth transaction at the entrance. A meticulous understanding of the temple’s operational hours and ticketing system not only facilitate your visit but also allow you to immerse in the rich heritage of Pashupatinath temple without any hindrances.
The best time to visit Pashupatinath temple
If you aim to fully appreciate the spiritual and cultural essence of the Pashupatinath temple in Nepal, timing your visit is of paramount importance.
Optimal Time: The ideal period to visit the Pashupatinath Temple stretches from July to December. During these months, the climate is relatively pleasant, and the temple witnesses an array of distinctive local festivals. Some of the significant festivals that you can partake in during this period include the Teej festival, Maha Shiv Ratri, and Bala Chaturthi.
Scenic Beauty and Temple Surroundings: Positioned alongside the sacred river, and nestled amidst winding hills interspersed with trees, the golden dome of the temple, imbued with the patina of time, harmoniously blends with the ethereal sky, crafting a solemn and spiritual ambiance. Experiencing firsthand the shrines, statues, and intricate decorations both inside and outside the temple, while immersing yourself amongst the devout crowd immersed in prayer amidst a haze of incense and resonating chime sounds, is truly unparalleled.
Access to the Main Temple: It is crucial for you to know that only those who follow the Hindu faith are permitted entry into the main temple. However, the auxiliary shrines surrounding it welcome all visitors. Beyond the primary temple, several smaller sanctuaries situated on the eastern banks of the Bagmati River also venerate Lord Shiva. Predominantly, these shrines are constructed of stone, symbolizing the might and majesty of Shiva.
Devotees and Atmosphere: The common sight of pilgrims offering tributes at the shrines, and ascetics clad in the traditional attire of sadhus meditating in the temple courtyard, amplifies the spiritual milieu. Pashupatinath Temple is accessible daily. If you wish to avail the services of an English-speaking guide, it requires an additional fee beyond the entrance ticket. The most propitious moments for a visit are during early mornings for the prayer ceremonies and late evenings. The temple remains closed in the afternoons. During your visit, you will find that the ascetics might have specific requirements concerning appropriate attire, underscoring the sanctity of the place. Additionally, photography during cremation ceremonies is strictly prohibited.
Which festivals are celebrated at Pashupatinath Temple?
Pashupatinath Temple is home to many festivals and rituals throughout the year. As a tourist or researcher, understanding these festivals will give you insight into the religion and cultural complexity of the region.
- Maha Shivaratri: One of the most significant festivals celebrated at the temple, Maha Shivaratri attracts tens of thousands of pilgrims. On this day, you will witness a vast sea of devotees queuing to offer prayers to Lord Shiva. Night-long vigils, traditional music, and dance performances are notable aspects of this celebration.
- Teej: Predominantly a women’s festival, Teej sees Hindu women, dressed in red saris, congregating at Pashupatinath Temple to pray for marital bliss and the well-being of their husbands. If you visit during this time, you will observe a kaleidoscope of colors and melodies that captivate the senses.
- Balachaturdashi: Rooted deeply in the history of the Kathmandu Valley, this festival involves the sowing of seven types of grains around the temple premises. During this period, you can observe devotees engrossed in the ritualistic process of sowing seeds, which is believed to ensure a place in heaven for their departed ancestors.
- Ekadashi: Celebrated on the eleventh lunar day of every fortnight, Ekadashi is an observance of fasting and prayer dedicated to Lord Vishnu. While visiting the temple on this day, you will encounter a heightened state of devotional activity, with many adherents engaging in prayer and ritual.
- Rishi Panchami: This festival is observed in honor of the Sapta Rishi, or the seven sages. During Rishi Panchami, women undergo ritual purifications as an act of penance. Your presence during this festival will allow you to discern the multifaceted rituals that blend purification with veneration.
- Pashupati Mukh Herne Jatra (Face Watching Festival): On this day, the silver-plated doors of the temple, which are usually closed, are opened for devotees. You will witness the devout gather in large numbers to view the deity and seek blessings.
- Nag Panchami: Celebrated in reverence to the snake deity, Nag Panchami involves offerings of milk to snake idols and the pasting of snake images over doorways. If you choose to immerse yourself in this festival at Pashupatinath, you will gain a nuanced understanding of the harmony between nature and faith in Hinduism.
To maximize your understanding of these festivals, LotusBuddhas recommends joining local guides or scholars on a visit to Pashupatinath Temple. Such interactions will allow you to understand not only the superficial rituals but also the underlying philosophies and historical contexts that give these celebrations depth and meaning.
Cremation rituals at Pashupatinath Temple
Pashupatinath Temple in Nepal is not merely a revered spiritual edifice; it is also an epicenter for open-air cremations, a ritual deeply rooted in Hindu traditions. As you visit, you may witness these rituals taking place by the riverbanks.
Sacred Final Resting Place: Every year, numerous elderly Hindus travel to Pashupatinath, seeking to spend their last weeks here. Their aspiration is to depart from this life, be cremated on the banks of the Bagmati River, and have their earthly journey conclude in the sanctified waters of the Bagmati.
Hindu Belief and Rituals: From the Hindu perspective, the souls of those cleansed in the sacred river after death are purified from all sins, ensuring their attainment of ‘Moksha’ or liberation, allowing them to transcend the cycle of birth and death in the next realm.
The Bagmati River’s Significance: Flowing directly past the Pashupatinath Temple, the Bagmati River is venerated not only by Hindus but also by Buddhists, denoting its importance in both religious traditions and its vital role in cremation rituals.
- Preparation: The deceased’s body is covered, concealing their face. A family member, often a female relative, approaches to bid a final farewell and traditionally places rice in the deceased’s mouth, symbolizing the sustenance for their onward spiritual journey.
- Purification: The body is then ritually bathed in the river, preparing it for the subsequent cremation. This act of cleansing is crucial, marking the purification of the soul before it moves to the afterlife.
- Cremation: Following the purification, the eldest male member of the family typically undertakes the responsibility of lighting the funeral pyre. This step is of paramount significance, symbolizing the separation of the soul from the body and its release from the mortal world.
- Concluding Rites: Once the cremation concludes, the ashes are dispersed into the Bagmati River. This final step reaffirms the belief in the cycle of life and death, with the ashes returning to nature, while the soul ascends to the divine realm.
While seeing these rituals can be difficult for those unfamiliar with the customs of Hinduism, understanding the deep beliefs and meanings behind them will provide a deep appreciation insight into Hinduism’s views on death, rebirth, and the ultimate liberation of the soul. If you decide to perform these rituals, LotusBuddhas advise you to do them with utmost respect, maintain distance and refrain from any disruptive behavior.
Notes for tourists when coming to Pashupatinath Temple
Pashupatinath Temple is a site of great cultural, historical and spiritual significance for the people of Nepal. If you, as a tourist, are planning to visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site, adhering to the following guidelines and considerations will ensure a respectful and enriching experience:
- Dress Code: It is imperative that you dress modestly when visiting Pashupatinath Temple. Men should wear pants while women should preferably wear ankle-length skirts or pants. Covering the shoulders is advisable for both genders.
- Restricted Entry: Understand that the main temple complex is restricted to Hindus only. However, you can explore the surrounding areas, including the ghats and smaller shrines, and appreciate the architecture and rituals from a distance.
- Photography: While photography is allowed in most parts of the temple complex, there are specific areas, particularly the inner sanctums, where it is prohibited. Always look for signs or ask local authorities before you capture any images.
- Conduct: Displaying reverence is essential. You should maintain silence in the prayer areas. Remember to remove your shoes before entering any of the temple’s precincts.
- Engage with Guides: For an in-depth understanding of the temple’s history and rituals, consider hiring a local guide. Not only will this provide you with rich insights, but it will also help navigate the sprawling temple complex.
- Beware of Monkeys: The temple premises are home to a significant monkey population. While they are generally harmless, it is recommended that you avoid feeding them and be cautious with your belongings.
- Cremation Rituals: The temple’s ghats are often sites of cremation ceremonies. While observing these rituals can be an insight into Nepali Hindu practices, it is crucial that you maintain a respectful distance and refrain from intrusive photography or commentary.
- Donations and Offerings: Be wary of unsolicited demands for donations. If you wish to make an offering or donation, do so at the official temple counters or through recognized priests.
- Local Customs: As a sign of respect, always walk clockwise around temples and shrines. Moreover, if you intend to engage in any rituals or ceremonies, it is advisable to consult with temple priests or authorities beforehand.
- Stay Safe: Like any other major tourist attraction, be alert to pickpockets. Keeping your valuables secure and being cautious will ensure a hassle-free experience.
To sum up, a visit to Pashupatinath Temple offers a unique immersion into Nepal’s cultural and spiritual tapestry. To truly appreciate its importance, you should approach this site with an open mind, respect for local customs, and a genuine interest in learning about the multitude of rituals and beliefs that define it this sacred space.
Through a visit to Pashupatinath Temple, you will gain a profound vantage point into the soul of Hinduism, capturing its reflections on life, death and the cyclical nature of existence . Apart from its religious prominence, this temple is also a mesmerizing mosaic of culture, art and history. Recognized as a World Heritage Site, it attracts countless pilgrims and tourists every year, cementing its status as not only the crown jewel of Nepal but also a centerpiece in Kathmandu’s rich tapestry.