Looking over the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu

Pashupati Temple – what you need to know

पशु [pashu] – livestock
मन्दिर [mandir] – temple
मुख [mukha] – face
क्षेत्र [kshetra] – area

पशुपतिनाथ मन्दिर [Pashupatinaath Mandir] is the temple of the God Pashupatinaath. नाथ simply means „Lord“. So often the God is refered to just as पशुपति. पति means „Master“ and पशु means „livestock, animals“. So he is the „Lord Master of the animals“. He is a incarnation of Lord Shiva, who has many residing places all over the South Asian continent – the most important being Varanasi at the river Ganga. Interestingly in historic texts the priests of Pashupati actually referred to Pashupatinaath mandir as the Varanasi of the Himals (the mountains).

The Mukhalinga

Shiva is usually revered in his Linga manifestations. Also in Pashupatinath Mandir the main sacro sanctum is a Mukhalinga: A Linga with the face of Lord Pashupati engraved. Linga is also the actual word for „penis“ and a linga stone sculpture also takes the form of an erect male penis. It symbolizes the reverence for the male energy. In a way you could say: It is the purest form of physical manifestation – the root manifestation from where all other physical manifestation in this reality stem from.

A Mukhalinga of Pashupati in India, in the Mandsaur Temple.
A Mukhalinga of Pashupati in India, in the Mandsaur Temple.
Photo by: Chandra Prakash Baherwani

How to get there and around?

The temple is located in a huge temple complex very close to the airport at the little Bagmati river, just outside the ringroad, downhill from Gaushala Chowk (a busy crossroad on Ringroad). Gaushala Chowk though is only one of several paths to reach Pashupati. Another interesting entry point should be from the north passing by the Shree Guhyeshwori Temple, further through the foresty area of Mrigasthal until you get a beautiful look at Pashupati from uphill. This is probably a much more pleasant approach than the crowded and busy approach from Gaushala (which I usually have taken when visiting).

Aside from the Pashupati temple you will find many other temples to deities of the Shiva pantheon. You will find many other lingams scattered around the area – and as the legend says you will also sense the presence of many more „hidden“ lingams. There are monkeys who will try to steal your food, and some ascetic sadhus whom you will disturb with your presence, and some other sadhus who will be happy to get a share of your money. And also you will get to see the Ghats: Stone terraces above the little Bagmati river, where the dead Nepali get burned.

The temple area of Pashupatinath Temple
Approaching the temple area from Mrigasthal

The hidden Linga – no entrance for foreigners

Unfortunately, a important thing you need to know is: You (being a foreigner विदेशी [wideshii] – regardless if you define yourself as Hindu or not) are not allowed to enter the actual मन्दिर [mandir] and take a look at the Pashupati Linga. The other मन्दिर [mandir] that you are not allowed to enter (as far as I know of) is the Guhyashwori Temple. I have often asked for reasons for this kind of discrimination. And the most common answer was: „Well the actual worshippers would be disturbed if all these tourists would be standing around taking pictures.“ Which of course makes sense, but then: Why do they let any South Asian looking person any देशी [deshii] in regardless of their religion? And why is a sincere practicer of Hinduism, who has a „foreign“ face barred from entry?

In a way I am amused by the thought that for me the Mukhalinga (the focal residing place of Pashupati, मुख [mukha] meaning “face”) will always remain a gupta linga (a hidden Linga) for me, which in certain Hindu traditions is regarded as even more holy than an actual visible/touchable stone-linga. A gupta Linga can be seen as the principle form of Shiva Jee and the Mukhalinga as only one of his many manifestations. If that thought gives you some peace, be free to adopt it for yourself.

A Shiva Linga in Basantapur Square Kathmandu
A Shiva Linga in Basantapur Square Kathmandu

Interestingly the Guhyashwori Temple, which is the temple for the female principle of Shiva, more specific the first wife of Shiva – even contains the idea of „gupta“ in her name: Guha – in Sanskrit means secret, hidden as well as vagina. So it is the idea – which is very prominent in Hindu Shaktism – that the divine state of physical pre-manifestation (of “pre-birth”) especially of pre-visibility – is the most pure form of divinity. Guha refers to the idea of the feminine energy that permeates everything and only allows the male energy to become form later through itself.

Anyways – even though as a foreigner – you are not allowed into the holiest sanctums, you are still expected to pay an entrance fee for entering the क्षेत्र [kshetra] (while non-surprisingly this fee does not apply to people who do not fall into the foreigner category).

Showing respect for the dead and mourners

But it is not only these discriminatory entrance rules and fees, that are difficult for me to accept. It is also the actual behaviour of many, many tourists when it comes to the burial fire ghats that are located at the Bagmati. It seems that having Photocamera somehow robs people of a sense of empathy and respect for those they encounter.

Seriously: If the fact that there is a burning dead body in front of you excites you that much – why don’t you start doing daytrips to the local crematorium in your hometown? That should work. And at least since the burial rites in Christian and Muslim communities happens after the burning – you would not at least disturb the mourning relatives. That would be a good solution. And then at least when you later post those pictures of burnings in Pashupati on Facebook or Flickr, you could also post a local burning of your own relative side-by-side?

And yes: Please especially in the religious sights: Dress properly: Cover your legs and your upper body – no deep cleavages or shirtlessness.

Do you need a guide?

I would say that really depends on you. I personally hate to be dragged around from sight to sight, getting one unasked for explanation after another. But I know there are people who truly love to be explained the architecture, history and religious significance of every single spot (and there are many in the Pashupati complex). So that is your choice. Just as usual: User your discerment. Just as in any other touristic spot there will be a few people who will try to cheat you out of your money. Just don’t trust people only because they smile at you. A lot of the responsibility for having a good time on your visit in Pashupati lies with you. As maybe anywhere in life.

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