Pashupatinath, The Holiest Hindu Temple of Kathmandu

Pashupatinath, or Pashupati, is the most important Hindu temple in Kathmandu City, the capital of Nepal. Located on the banks of the Bagmati River some three kilometers from the center of town, Pashupatinath is devoted to Hindu God Shiva, or rather is one of his manifestations. As some 85% of Nepal’s population is Hindu, Pashupatinath is considered to be the protector or patron deity of Nepal.

As a result of its sanctity, the Pashupatinath temple has been a centerpiece of religious life particularly within the Kathmandu Valley ever since its founding some fourteen hundred years ago, and every Shiva devotee is expected to worship in it at least once in his life in order to be purged of his misdeeds and blessed. The cremation ghats found along the Bagmati river next to the temple and also the most holy cremation platforms in the valley, including the Arya Ghat, where members of the royal family have been historically always cremated.

The Pashupatinath shrine is constructed in a pagoda style of architecture with a double-tier golden roof and four massif silver doorways. The temple structure stands inside the core of a large complex that includes pilgrim’s quarters and cremation ghats. The inner sanctum of the shrine contains approximately three-feet high black stone Linga, the phallic symbol of Shiva characteristically carved lodged inside Yoni, the symbol of female, together representing the harmony between the masculine and feminine, good and evil, the two opposites of the oneness of the Universe. The holy Shiva Lingam of Pashupatinath has four faces and an invisible fifth face.

Although the Pashupatinath temple stood as a symbol of faith and that of a national deity for hundreds of years, when the institution of the King had been abolished, Nepal became officially parliamentary democracy and Nepalese communists took power, they have severely attempted to secularize the country. One of the first customs they attempted to replace was that Pashupatinath has been presided by priests from Brahmins caste of Karnataka state in south India, tradition that was started by Malla kings. These Brahmin clerics were the only ones allowed to touch the Lingam and the Nepalese Maoists in their fanatical anti-Indian fervor decided to replace the Indian priests with chosen Nepalese counterparts.

The move, however, ignited widespread discontent of the Hindus, condemning the performed religious ceremonies by Nepalese priests as sacrilege, stoutly defending the sanctity of Pashupatinath. In the end, Prachanda, the head of the Nepalese communists, was pressured to reverse the decision.

The busiest and most fascinating time at Pashupatinath is during Shivaratri, the celebration of Shiva’s birthday. Held during February or early March, thousands of pilgrims and sadhus, the wondering Hindu mendicant monks, regarded as holy ascetics who replicate Shiva, converge on Pashupatinath. Comparable gatherings take place also in the course of other faith based events, including celebration of Poornima, the Full Moon day.

The temple is on UNESCO World Heritage list.

Priya Harrison

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