Come February 24 this coming year, Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu will be crowded with throngs of devotees lining up in long queues to pay homage to the Lord of Creation and Destruction, Shiva, on the occasion of Maha Shivaratri, one of the biggest festivals in Nepal. Shiva, ‘The Auspicious One’ who goes by more than one thousand names, Pashupatinath (Lord of the Animals) being one such name. He is also known as Omkara (creator of ‘Om’ the sacred Hindu chant), Trilokpati (supreme ruler of the three realms), and Mahadev (greatest among the gods).
Pashupatinath Temple is a World Heritage Site monument zone, and exemplary of the pagoda style temples in the country. The complex, located on the banks of the holy Bagmati River, has numerous smaller temples as well as the cremation ghats, where all Hindus wish to have their last rites done. The main temple has silver-embossed doors, two gilded roofs, and a magnificent gold-plated bull facing the main entrance. The bull, Nandi, is the vehicle of Lord Shiva. Although it is believed that a temple stood at the site as far back as the 5th century, the present day temple dates to A.D. 1653.
Shiva is worshipped in his aniconic form of the Lingam (a phallic symbol representing divine generative energy), and inside the temple is six-foot-tall lingam with four faces. Besides Maha Shivaratri (the night of Shiva), Pashupatinath Temple is the focal point of religious occasions such as Teej, Sankranti, Ekadasi, Rakshabandhan, etc. Maha Shivartri is obviously the biggest occasion, and during this time, one will find a large contingent of ash-covered and dreadlocked sadhus who congregate from within and outside the country, especially India, to celebrate the night dedicated to the veneration of their lord, Shiva.
Similar will be the scenario, of course on a smaller scale, in the many Shiva temples throughout the land, of which there are some that are more famous than the others. One is Haleshi Mahadev in Khotang of eastern Nepal, which is popular as the Pashupatinath of the east. It is located within a cave in which Shiva is said to have hidden once during a battle with the demon Bhasmashur.
Nearer the capital, in Sipadol of Bhaktapur, is Doleshwor Mahadev, the deity of which is believed to be the head of the divine bull, a subterfuge Shiva had taken recourse to, to avoid the Pandavas who had come to him to seek his forgiveness for the large number of killings during the epic Kurukshetra War (as described in the Mahabharata). The Pandavas, on recognizing the bull as Shiva, had tried to stop him by pulling his tail, upon which the head had been severed, and lost for the next 4,000 years.
Further up in Panauti, some 32 km from Kathmandu, is located one of the tallest and largest of Nepal’s pagoda temples, the Indreshwor Mahadev Temple, dedicated to Shiva. It is situated in a large brick paved courtyard that also has some other temples. In addition to its magnificent three-story roof, the temple has fine woodcraft on its doors, windows, doors, and struts. The lingum inside the temple is said to have been created by the Lord himself.
Similarly, in Kirtipur, is another splendid shrine of Shiva called the Uma Maheshwor Temple. It is dedicated to both Shiva and his wife Parvati, and is also called Bhawani Shanker Temple. Two massive stone elephants with spiked backs stand guard on two sides of the stairway leading up to the three-roofed 17th century temple.
About 10 km from Kathmandu city center is a newly formed municipality called Gokarneswor, wherein is located the Gokarna Mahadev Temple, said to have been built in the 16th century. The temple has a beautiful golden torana above the main doorway, with Uma-Maheswor as the central figure. A large number of pilgrims make their way to the temple in late August or early September on the occasion of Gokarna Aunsi to honor their fathers, either deceased or living.
Up on Chandragiri Hill (2,251 m), some kilometers from Thankot of Kathmandu, is located the Bhaleshwor Mahadev Temple. Behind its founding, as is the case with many other temples, lies an interesting piece of mythology. Shiva’s favorite consort, Sati Devi, commits suicide by jumping into the sacred ritual fire of the yagna being conducted by her father, because he insults Shiva in the presence of those present, which includes many kings and princes. Shiva, in his wrath, embarks on a journey of destruction, carrying Sati’s corpse on his back. Where parts of her corpse falls, become venerated as ‘shakti-piths’ (power centers), and the place where her forehead falls, Chandragiri Hill, the Bhaleswor Temple is built.
One of the most recent additions to Shiva centers is the Kailashnath Mahadev statue at Sanga, some 20 km from the capital. This is no ordinary statue, being 144 ft in height, making it among the tallest statues in the world, and probably the tallest Shiva statue anywhere. Finished in 2014, it’s quite a tourist attraction today.