Pashupatinath: Nepal's most Sacred Temple

Pashupatinath: Nepal's most Sacred Temple
Photo by Ajeet Manandhar / Unsplash

Location

Introduction

Situated on the eastern outskirts of Kathmandu along the banks of the Bagmati River, Pashupatinath Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site cherished by both Hindus and Buddhists. This revered temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva in his manifestation as Pashupati, where “Pashu” signifies animals and “Pati” denotes protector, highlighting Shiva as the guardian of all creatures. While its exact age remains uncertain, legends trace its origins back to 400 BC.

The temple comes alive during major festivals like Teej and Maha Shivaratri, the latter known as “The Night of Lord Shiva.” During these celebrations, a diverse array of devotees, including Sadhus and ascetics from Nepal, India, and Bangladesh, gather to honor the sacred Shiva Lingam, creating a vibrant and spiritual atmosphere that underscores the temple's enduring significance.

white concrete building
Photo by Shaouraav Shreshtha / Unsplash

Architecture

The heart of Pashupatinath Temple features a magnificent two-story pagoda with a gilt roof, adorned with copper and gold sheets, intricately carved wooden rafters, and cubic sculptures. This central structure is housed within a fortified courtyard, vigilantly protected by the Nepali military and police. The temple complex boasts an impressive 518 temples, buildings, and structures. The four main doors of the central temple are clad in silver sheets, and its pinnacle gleams with gold. Among its most remarkable adornments is a colossal golden statue of Nandi, the sacred bull and vehicle of Lord Shiva. The main idol, a stone deity with four faces oriented in different directions, symbolizes the five primary elements: Earth, Water, Air, Light, and Ether.

On the western bank of the Bagmati River lies the Panch Deval complex, once a holy shrine, now serving as a sanctuary for elderly homeless individuals. The complex is dotted with Shiva Lingams, adding to its spiritual ambiance. Along the river’s right bank, funeral pyres are constructed for open-air cremations, a practice tourists can witness daily.

The temple grounds are animated by the presence of monkeys and deers, as well as wandering ascetic yogis known as Sadhus. These ascetics, identifiable by their distinct yellow or colorful body paintings, come to this sacred site in their quest for liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth through meditation. Many Sadhus spend their final days here, seeking to die, be cremated on the banks of the holy river, and journey onward with the waters of the sacred Bagmati. There is a deep-seated belief that those who pass away and are cremated at Pashupatinath Temple attain liberation and ascend to heaven.

How to get there?

The most convenient way to reach Pashupatinath Temple is by taxi, costing around $15. Once there, you can hire a guide for approximately $10, and the entrance fee to access the temple premises is $8. Various one-day tour packages are available, starting at $35. The inner temple courtyard welcomes visitors from 4am to 7pm, while the inner sanctum is open exclusively for morning worship from 5am to 12 noon, and evening prayers from 5pm to 7pm. Only Hindus are permitted inside the temple itself, but the outer courtyard is accessible to all. Typically, it takes around 2 to 3 hours to thoroughly explore the expansive and fascinating surroundings of Pashupatinath Temple.

Things to know before entering Pashupatinath Temple

  1. Photography is strictly forbidden within the temple premises, but it is permitted outside the temple area.
  2. Consuming alcohol and smoking are also prohibited within the temple grounds.
  3. When navigating around the temple, it is customary to move in a clockwise direction.

Things to do

  1. Visit Guheshwori Temple

Nestled along the banks of the Bagmati River, this temple is renowned as one of Nepal's revered Shakti Peeths. The goddess is venerated here in the form of a silver-plated waterhole, which remains covered by a silver kalash. This sacred site attracts both Hindus and Buddhists, who come to offer their worship to the divine Goddess.

  1. Meditation

Countless pilgrims flock to these sacred grounds in pursuit of inner peace. Meditation here is believed to rejuvenate one's energy and facilitate a deep exploration of one's spiritual essence. This journey of self-purification through self-observation begins with focusing on the natural breath to enhance concentration. With heightened awareness, practitioners then observe the ever-changing nature of body and mind, ultimately experiencing the universal truths of impermanence and suffering, and reaching a state of egoless existence.

  1. Watch Aarati in the banks of Bagmati River

One of the most captivating rituals at Pashupatinath Temple is the "Aarati," a ceremony of worship where light from ghee-soaked wicks is offered to the Divine. This ritual is conducted by three priests who, using oil lamps, lanterns, and other sacred elements, move them in circular motions while chanting sacred mantras. Devotees sing bhajans during the Aarati, creating a blissful and spiritually uplifting atmosphere. Open to everyone, this enchanting ritual begins at 6pm each evening, inviting all to partake in its divine reverence.

people standing near brown concrete building during daytime
Photo by Raimond Klavins / Unsplash
  1. Take the Pashupatinath Tour

Pashupatinath Temple is far more than a mere religious site; it is a vibrant blend of art, culture, peace, and devotion. Often described as an open-air museum, the temple complex showcases a stunning array of architectural designs. Statues and sculptures crafted from stone, metal, and wood are scattered throughout the area, making it a paradise for art enthusiasts. The doors and pillars are intricately carved with depictions of gods and griffins, adding to the site's allure. 

Within the complex, you'll find renowned temples such as Bhuwaneshwori, Dakshinamurti, Tamreshwor, Panchdewal, Biswarupa, Raj Rajeshwori, and the Kali temple, Virupaksha. Not to be missed is Kirateshwar Mahadev, where traditional Nepali music concerts are held on full moon nights, offering a unique cultural experience. Make sure to catch one of these enchanting performances!

smoke billowing out of a building next to a body of water
Photo by Rajat Kashyap / Unsplash
  1. Visit the Aarya Ghat (Cremation Place)

Aarya Ghat at Pashupatinath Temple holds a unique significance as the sole location in Nepal where the water is deemed most sacred. People from all over Nepal wish to have their final rest here after they pass away. Visitors to Pashupatinath also come to witness the traditional Hindu cremation process. It is widely believed that Aarya Ghat is the ideal place to attain moksha (salvation) after death, making it a deeply revered and spiritually significant site.

Conclusion

Pashupatinath is a vibrant open-air museum and a timeless testament to Nepal's rich spiritual and religious heritage, enhanced by its architectural grandeur. The temple's intricate woodwork, vibrant rituals, and serene surroundings invite introspection and reverence, creating a harmonious coexistence of the divine and the earthly. For those seeking spiritual solace, historical insight, or a glimpse into Nepal's living traditions, Pashupatinath Temple is an essential destination. It leaves an indelible mark on the heart and soul of every visitor. A visit to Pashupatinath Temple is truly worthwhile during your stay in Nepal, offering experiences unlike anything you have ever witnessed before.