Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu - the abode of Lord of the Animals

Located right in the heart of Kathmandu, Pashupatinath Temple is one of the most important Hindu temple in the Indian subcontinent and as per some records has been a place of worship for over 1600 years. The story of the temple is made up of numerous myths, legends and yes, in parts also some history.

The present day temple is in the form of a two-tiered pagoda (a style common in this part of the world for temples) and has a height of 23.6m above ground. The garbhagriha, or the sanctum sanctorum, houses the one-meter high linga with four faces (chaturmukha) representing the presiding deity, Lord Pashupatinath.

Pashupatinath Temple photo Kathmandu Nepal
Pashupatinath Temple at Kathmandu, Nepal


Story of Pashupatinath Temple

Pashupatinath literally translates into 'God of the animals' and perhaps this is where the story of this iconic Hindu temple lies. Ironically it was in the 15th-16th century it was completely destroyed by the termites which ate up this wooden temple, and had to be rebuilt in it's present day form. The present day temple was given its present form under King Bhupalendra Malla in 1697.

Here's the simplest legend associated with the temple . Lord Shiva once fled from all the other gods to a forest where deers lived called Mrigasthali which is now a green patch just behind the Pashupatinath Temple. Both him and his consort Parvati slept there in the form of gazelle. However, the other Gods identified him a while later and wanted to bring him back to Varanasi which was devoid of it's reigning deity with the departure of Shiva. However, Shiva wasn't ready as yet to return and in the scuffle that broke out, one of his horns broke into four pieces. It was this horn that was originally worshipped as shivlinga, though eventually it was lost during the ages. The four-faced linga today is a representation of the horn which broke into four pieces.

My visit to Pashupatinath Temple

I visited the temple for the first time decades ago when I was still growing within my mother (she was about 6 months pregnant then), and for the second time only recently when I didn't just feel the place, but also experienced it. I love the feel of temples early in the morning and that's exactly what I did - got up before sunrise and reached the temple to see it glow in the morning light. Thankfully, the place wasn't crowded and had to wait only for about 10 minutes in the queue for darshan.

The most impressive part of the temple is the huge golden Nandi - the vehicle of Lord Shiva. It's beautifully made and blends perfectly with the rich decor of the temple.

Pashupatinath Temple photo Kathmandu Nepal
That's me at the entrance of the temple

Thereafter, I lit some lamps, burned the incense sticks, did parikrama and otherwise simply wandered around. Photography wasn't allowed in the temple, and even my mobile camera was at rest in my pocket. The main shrine is beautiful and the detailed stone and wooden carving can easily mesmerize even a non-believer. However, it's unlikely you will be allowed inside if you are a non-Hindu, and this includes all foreigners as well. The temple is officially accessible only for Hindus, and I have been told they are excellent at spotting non-Hindus right at the entrance and turning them back. The only other place where I've seen this before was at Jagannath Puri temple in Odisha, though there are a few more temples with this restriction.

Right behind the temple flows the legendary river Bagmati. Though within Kathmandu city the river has turned into a dirty stream of water with filth all over (reminded me of the rivers in Pune which are equally callously treated), behind the temple it actually looks clean and inviting. There is a ghat and one can go there and even take pictures. With limited time in hand, I just visited the temple and then come back.

Pashupatinath Temple photo Kathmandu Nepal
River Bagmati behind the main shrine

Pashupatinath Temple photo Kathmandu Nepal
Another old shrine close by

Now, within the main temple complex, there not only the main temple which houses the shivlinga, there are numerous other, big and small, shrines too. Some of these temples are actually older than the main temple, like the Chadeshvar and the Dharmashila. There are many shrines across the river Bagmati also which are worth visiting. In total there are around 492 temples, 15 Shivalayas (shrines of Lord Shiva) and 12 Jyotirlinga (phallic shrines) to explore.

Close to Pashupatinath Temple, there is another important place to visit - Guhyeshwari Temple which is one of the 108 Shaktipeeth where both the knees of the goddess are supposed to have fallen. This is one of the three Shaktipeeth sites in Nepal.

Read more: Pashupatinath Temple

Practical details for a visit

It's best to take a taxi and go there as parking space is limited and can get filled up fairly quickly on busy days. There is still no Uber or auto-rickshaw, so organizing a taxi in advance with your hotel might be the best option.

Timings for the temple

The gates of the temple open fairly early in the morning at 04.00 am and the temple is open till 07.00 pm. However, between noon to 5pm, the temple remains closed.

For non-Hindus

If you are not a Hindu, skip the trip to the main shrine, though you can still walk around and see the place. You need to leave your footwear much before you go to the shrine, though thankfully you can keep the socks on. It was already cold when I visited and my socks were a life saver! They will get wet and dirty by the time you come back.

Pashupatinath Temple photo Kathmandu Nepal
Pashupatinath temple from top (ref: Google maps)

It's fairly common to take a 'Pooja tokri' when you go inside. It's completely up to you though - I usually don't take anything with me.

Photography is absolutely prohibited and I was yelled upon when I took a picture of the shrine. You can keep the mobile phone in your pocket, but it's best to not use it for photography.

Comments

  1. Very detailed information. The photos have come out well!!

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  2. nice useful information
    thanks for sharing

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  3. amazingly painted a picture of your tour of the temple through words.......

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  4. WoW!!! Nice Click and best way to portrait your temple journey.

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  5. Interesting visit! Kathmandu has been growing on my list lately. Just a question, how do they know if you are a hindu or not when you try to enter? Just based on if you look like a tourist?

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  6. Sounds a really interesting place and love the history and mythology of the temple. Sounds like the termites were either non Hindus or Atheists.

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  7. Kathmandu is very high on my wish list as I'm fascinated by the history and the religion. Thanks for sharing your insights as being a non Hindu I would never be able to see inside for myself.

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  8. What a beautiful place, and I'd love to go there! Lord Shiva is well-known, but his stories are rarely told. So, thanks for sharing it with us.

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  9. A lot of information! Did you already know historic details about the temple or is the information presented at the temple or both? And is photography prohibited for religious reasons? Thanks.

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  10. I would love to visit Kathmandu, and visiting the city’s many temples will be part of the itinerary for sure. Pashupatinath Temple looks beautiful – haha definitely ironic that God to the animals got estroyed by termites though! Glad that they rebuilt. We have a similar mindset in terms of visiting temples in the morning – sunrise is always a spectacular time of day, and you usually beat any and all crowds who might descend later. Definitely helps that it's open so early in the morning!

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  11. PashupatiNath Temple doesnt remain open in afternoons. So its better to check timing before you visit. Siddhartha it open at 4:00 AM till 7:00 PM but in afternoon the doors to main shrine remains close.

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  12. I was not aware of the legend and never heard of horn being worshiped earlier. Interesting and from your description the temple premises seems to be calm and soothing.
    It must have been a goose pimples moment for you to be where your mom was with you in stomach. Very rare thing.

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  13. This is real Kathmandu is my first choice where I want to visit once in my life and spend 1 month at there and feel the fresh air and learn there great skills to live.

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  14. Kathmandu is one of those fairytale almost untouchable places in my mind for some reason. The temples are obviously the place to spend time. There's always so much to learn from them even if you have seen temples in other countries. I always prefer to see the temples at sunrise or sunset, both are equally beautiful and definitely less people.

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  15. I'm DYING to get to Kathmandu to be able to experience some really awesome temples. It's a shame that I wouldn't be able to enter this one. Are many of the temples that way? Luckily I can see this gorgeous temples through your eyes.

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  16. Wow. Your visit to the Pashupatinath Temple looks amazing. Taking the time off from work to travel really helps work motivation when you get back. I'll definitely keep in mind the photography rule whenever I travel. Being respectful is so important, as a traveler.

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  17. thanks for sharing this information. I would love to visit this place.

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