Kathmandu Valley in Nepal is home to many UNESCO World Heritage Sites and one of them is the Pashupatinath Temple that is beautifully located along the banks of the Bagmati River to the east of the capital city of Kathmandu. The temple is an important Hindu temple dedicated to the Lord Vishna and the seat of Lord Pashupati, Nepal’s national deity. It is intricately ornamented with a number of sacred linga or phallic images of Lord Shiva. Since this is considered a most holy religious site, only Hindus are allowed to enter; non-Hindus may not even cross the river to approach it. Thousands of Hindu pilgrims from all over the world come here annually and refer to the temple as The Temple of Living Beings. It is one the 275 Shiva temples that are referred to as Holy Abodes of Shiva (Paadal Petra Sthalams) in South Asia.
This important two-storey temple was completely renovated and rebuilt in the 17th century by King Bhupendra Malla after the original structure crumbled to termites. Additional temples were then constructed surrounding Pashupatinath, including the Vaishnava temple complex, the 14th-century Ram Temple and 11th-century Guhyeshwari Temple. Traditionally, only designated priests from South India performed the services at Pashupatinath. They were called Bhat-Brahmins or Bhattas, while the chief priest was called Mool Bhatt or Raval. The chief priest reported only to the king and was an important figure in society. The tradition of calling in priests from South India was practiced for more than 350 years beginning in the 8th century until recently after the Nepali monarch was demolished in 2008. The practice was started by Sage Shankaracharya, a great and well respected Hindu teacher. Another purpose for this tradition specifically for this temple in Kathmandu was to stop the practice of offering human sacrifice.
As the oldest temple in Kathmandu, various legends surround Pashupatinath’s mysterious beginnings that date most probably back to 400 A.D. based on the popularity of Pashupati, the god of animals from whom the temple was named. One of the legands is called the Cow Legend and it talks about Lord Shiva taking the form of an antilope and roaming around the forests near the Bagmati River. When he was summoned by the gods to return to his divine form, they forced him and grabbed him by his horn. The horn broke off and was worshipped as a linga, but was later buried and lost. After several centuries, a local herdsman accidentally unearthed the sacred horn after his cow wet the dirt ground with its milk.
Two other legends are the Licchavi Legend and Devalaya Legend. The Licchavi legend claims that the temple had his origins from a Licchavi King in 753 A.D. This claim was according to Gopalraj Vamsavali, the oldest historical document in Nepal. Meanwhile, the Devalaya legend upholds that the temple was originally shaped as a giant linga but was later repaired and renovated to the temple that it is today. This legend also claims that Pashupatinath was reconstructed by a certain King Shivadeva and renovated by Ananta Malla.