Shiva is one of the most important and often cited Hindu gods. He is part of the Hindu Trinity and is considered as the Supreme God, the destroyer. The name Shiva means the auspicious one. He is often represented with the symbol of a linga or phallus and in the image of a handsome young man who is either dancing the Tandava or in deep meditation. He is the father of Ganesha and Murugan. Worshippers of Shiva are called Shivaites or Shaivas, and the worship is called Shaivism. In South Asia, there is a total of 275 temples whose main deity is Lord Shiva. These temples are called Paadal Petra Sthalams or in English, Holy Abodes of Shiva. In Nepal, there are a number of temples that are dedicated to the Lord Shiva. When pertaining to this major god, most Nepali Hindus will quickly refer to the Pashupatinath temple as a leading Shiva temple or Shiva Mandir.
Located along Bagmati River in the capital of Kathmandu, the two-storey Pashupatinath Temple is regarded as the most sacred in Kathmandu. It is designated as one of the many UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Nepal, but non-Hindu tourists are not allowed to enter, let alone come near it. Thousands of Hindu pilgrims from different parts of the country and the world come here every day and on several occasions. Some of the festivals that turn the temple into the most festive and most color place in the country are the Ekadasi, Sankranti, Rakshabandhan, Poornima and Maha Shivaratri Festivals, among others. The most anticipated is the Maha Shivaratri or Shivratri Festival when the temple is lit with lamps and remain open throughout the night. Hundreds of Hindu elders from all over Nepal and India come to fast for a day and bathe on the Bagmati River.
In addition to the many linga images and symbolisms pertaining to the Lord Shiva, Pashupatinath Temple offers so many attractions including the gold-plated statues of guardian gods, images of Vishnu, Surya, Ganesh and Devi, beautiful carved roof struts depicting Shiva’s family, and surrounding smaller temples, pagodas and courtyards. Bagmati River also offers other attractions such as 15 shrines and several bathing spots for pilgrims, such as the Arya Ghat, Bhasmeshvar Ghat and Gauri Ghat.
Next to India, Nepal has the most number of Shiva temples in the world. There are 41 in the Kathmandu area alone. In all, there are 125 Nepali temples and shrines dedicated to the Supreme Hindu God. Aside from Pashupatinath Temple, another prominent Shiva Mandir is the Kasthamandap temple because it was from this temple that Kathmandu got its name. Kasthamandap is literally translated as a wood-covered shelter, which is a fitting name since the temple was completely made of wood from a single tree. It was constructed by King Laxmi Narsingha Malla sometime in the early 16th century. This wooden temple is a three-storey temple that is one of the largest pagodas in the country. Once every year it gets filled with people who stay up all night during a major ceremony. The most important figure enshrined here is the statue of Gorakhnath, a highly respected disciple of Shivaism.