The Godly Trail in Kathmandu

Sundus Rasheed takes a fascinating tour of Kathmandu’s religious trail 

There is something intriguing and powerful about deeply religious societies and Nepal is one where religiosity and freedom of religion mix freely – Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and most recently Christianity.

Until 2006, Nepal was the world’s only Hindu kingdom. It is a now a secular state but Hinduism and religion in general remains a huge part of Nepali history, culture and also its charm. The Hinduism I experienced in Nepal was very different from what we have grown up watching in Indian movies or even our Hindu neighbours at home. It is richer, more colourful and powerful – even the pantheon of gods seems to be different.

The Pashupatinath temple on the banks of the Bagmati River in eastern Kathmandu is one of Hinduism’s holiest sites and the foremost temple of Lord Shiva in the world. Lord Pashupatinath is an avatar/incarnate of Lord Shiva. Non-Hindus or foreigners are not allowed into the temple. The path to god is never easy but nevertheless, I made it.

Entrance to the inner sanctum of the Pashupatinath Temple

No cameras are allowed beyond this point – that’s the behind of a large cow bowing down to Lord Pashupatinath

God does not discriminate

There are long queues to make offerings and you will find people who offer to help to cut the queue – but I was a bit scared to ‘cheat’ in a temple so I waited patiently. I handed over my offerings to the priest who was clearly not a local – fair skinned, broad and decidedly more ‘Lahori’ looking than Nepali! My guide later told me that the high priests of Pashupatinath have been a Brahmin family from South India and that attempts to replace the Brahmin family with local priests has always failed.

 The Pashupatinath Temple is big business for Kathmandu. Thousands of pilgrims flock to the temple everyday. Hotels, restaurants and bazaars dot the area around the temple. Also, if you don’t have an offering to make to Lord Pashupatinath, don’t bother getting in line. The guardians of god will turn you away.

Need a rudrakshra

Need a ‘rudrakshra’ or a hundred?

There are temples – big and small, new and old – all over Kathmandu. Lord Shiva remains the most popular deity with his various avatars. ‘Bhairava’ is a rather fierce manifestation of Shiva and pretty much responsible for the annihilation part of Shiva’s job description.

5th century

5th Century carving of Bhairava in Hanuman Dhoka, Kathmandu

hope Bhairav

Hope Bhairav doesn’t mind tourists

Hanuman Dhoka is a great place to see small temples in Kathmandu town. They are not as well maintained as the temples in the other Kathmandu valley towns of Patan and Bakhtapur but they do have more foot fall and you’ll find more believers ‘in action’ here. There is something so peaceful about watching people pray.

templeSome 10 kilometers away from Hanuman Dhoka – which is the center of Kathmandu city – is the Budhanilkantha Temple of Lord Vishnu. Carved out of a single piece of basalt rock, Vishnu seems to be reclining on a bed of coiled snakes over the cosmic ocean – how’s that for a resting place?

vishnu

Vishnu and snakes carved out of a single rock

The awakening of Lord Vishnu from his rather long slumber is celebrated around October-November with thousands of pilgrims visiting the temple. Rumour has it that this sculpture of Vishnu was discovered by a farmer and his wife while plowing the land. Throughout most of history, Vishnu has remained the most popular deity in Nepal with some centuries dominated by Shiva. The Budhanilkantha Temple should be a must-visit on your Godly Trail.

Last but not the least – the most celebrated Nepali deity outside Nepal – Kumari, The Living Goddess.

no entrance
Sorry guys, I got nothing. Just kidding.

Within the Hanuman Dhoka is the home of the celebrated living goddess of Kathmandu. Contrary to popular belief, there is not one but three living goddesses in the Kathmandu valley – one each in Kathmandu, Patan and Bakhtapur. The Kathmandu/Hanuman Dhoka Living Goddess, Kumari, is by far the most public one – she makes an appearance at 4.30pm everyday for the visitors to have a look. She also grants a special audience to those who are well-connected of course. You can buy postcards with her picture on it outside her house but you may not take a picture of her when she makes her daily balcony appearance.

kumari ticket

The credits

balcony

The window where Kumari makes her daily appearance

forbidden

The Hindu faith takes on a grand role in the life of the average Nepali – whether he/she is Hindu or not. It is in the very fabric of Nepal – the history, myths, legends and reality come together to create a godly trail unlike any other.

Comments
8 Responses to “The Godly Trail in Kathmandu”
  1. Ashutosh says:

    I am glad you enjoyed your trip. Personally I am not in favour of some temples barring entry to Non – Hindu’s. Everyone should be allowed in.However these restrictions have a strong logic, established temple etiquette and long tradition behind them. It would have been more respectful not to flout those regulations.

  2. Sharon says:

    Places for worship should be open to everyone, even for an atheist.

    In the past, Mrs. Indira Gandhi was not allowed in a temple in Orissa.

    This is unacceptable.

    God belongs to all.

    • Anees says:

      The day that God belongs to humanity will be day after which there will be peace, tranquility and even prosperity on planet earth. And this is not going to happen-ever until perhaps, humanity will goes back to the beginning of their origins when the fully devloped modern human looked up the sky for the spirits to guide him to his prey so that he / she can eat and survive for a few more days. That was the only time God belonged to the humanity be they lived in Africa and some of them reportedly in Eurasia. Let us take a look around us – do we beleive that the priests, the mullahs, the monks,the bishops, the pandits, the pujaris, the rabbis and let us not forget our beloved politicians and all of them will let you and me even consider the universaility of the Divine? . The definitive answer is NO.

  3. Suzan says:

    What a wonderful guide to Kathmandu. Sounds and looks lovely

  4. observer says:

    If a Hindu/ non-Muslim were to try the same stunt at Mecca, I am sure he would come to a lot of grief.

    • Naveen says:

      Miss Sundus surely knows how to give a sarcastic grin to that ‘Entrance for Hindus only’ board.

      Pranks apart, I pray for the day we can get rid of all such boards from every hindu temple and revert back to the good old ->
      “ayaṁ bandhurayaṁ nēti gaṇanā laghucētasām | udāracaritānām tu vasudhaiva kuṭumbakam ||”

      (Discrimination saying “this one is a relative; this other one is a stranger” is for the mean-minded. For those who’re known as magnanimous, the entire world constitutes but a family.)

  5. Raja says:

    One of the picture captions reads: “That is the behind of a large cow”. For your information, that is not a cow. It is the idol of Nandi, the bull, the mount of Lord Shiva. I know most Pakistani Muslims are very contemptuous of Hinduism. But please, if you are visiting a Hindu holy place, at least take the pains of acquainting yourself a bit with Hindu mythology. It will save you ignorant comments like the one above.

  6. Nazar says:

    Non Muslims not allowed in Mecca. We should respect such restrictions, where imposed by other religions.

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