Panauti – an ancient religious village in Nepal

Panauti – an ancient religious village in Nepal

The history of Panauti
The name ‘Panauti’ is a formation of the Sanskrit word ‘Purnamati’ which symbolically means wholeness, completeness.

The beautiful mountain valley of Panauti is situated at the confluence of Roshamati, Punyamati and Lilavati rivers. Traditional houses, courtyards, temples and monuments create the outstanding atmosphere of this place. Houses are built traditionally and the unique roofs and windows prove the craftsmanship of this city. Small and narrow alleys are paved with stones and bricks. Public rest-houses(satal) are scattered all over the city. Every breath is a prayer and every stone is a god here. This is a city of a thousand gods and godesses. Cultural richness, the confluence of Roshamati, Punyamati and Lilavati all bring a sense of harmony to this city. In the middle of the city we can find the beautiful Indreshwar Mahadev Temple, which proves the richness of the city’s artisans and artifacts. Indreshwar Mahadev is the oldest preserved Hindu temple of Nepal, standing on a single base. The pagoda type temple is the religious centre of this area and thousands of devotees pray for salvation and liberation here.

Historical facts:
The small mythological city of Panauti was established in the medieval age between 750-1200 BC. Legend tells that Panauti was established in 1082 BC as the traditional town of Bhota(Banepa) and other towns of the region were also established during that time. Ananta Malla (1274-1307) protected the province under his regime and Panauti was mostly influenced and developed by this ancient Malla king. In 1295 the royal princess Virammadevi of the Bhota dynasty, the widow of Jayaditya (1238 -1293) rebuilt the Indreshwar Mahadev Temple, as it is explained in old scripts. In 1297 she also laid the marble foundation of the Grand Nandi in Pashupatinath and reconstructed the Changu Narayan temple inside the Kathmandu valley. The kingdom of Bhota was fascinated with Panauti because it was highly developed between the 14th-15th century. Diplomatic relations between these kingdoms and the Chinese Empire were developed in the time of Yaksya Malla. During the aera of Ranajit Malla, Panauti and all the surrounding areas came under the rule of ‘Bhadgaun'(today Bhaktapur). The Kailash Mountain of the western Himalayas, the residence of mystic Shiva, and the valley of Panauti had good connections. The artists of Panauti were Guptas and Kushans. Between the 14th-16th centuries these artists were invited to Tibet to paint scrolls and murals. Still some examples of these traditional paintings and long scrolls can be seen in Panauti’s Brahmayani Temple.

The Shiva Lingam of Panauti:
The Indreshwar Mahadev Temple is a Shiva temple with a ‘lingam’ with four faces (chaturmukh). This lingam is dedicated to the name of ‘Jayaswara’ which means victorious lord, one of the names by which the god Shiva is called. The lingam is the most eminent symbol of Lord Shiva, one of the major gods of Hinduism. It is a simple and abstract columnar object with a rounded top. Generally stone lingams are kept in temples and often gilded metal lingams are kept for private worship. Particularly the lingams of Indreshwar Mahadev Temple, Pashupatinath Temple and Changu Narayan Temple are adorned with four faces oriented to the cardinal directions (mukhalingams). The four visible heads of the lingam are known as Mahadeva (East), Nandivaktra (West), Agora (South) and Umavaktra (North). The shaft of the lingam itself symbolizes the fifth direction or the centre, which in Hindu tradition is believed to be the formless absolute and symbolizes the entire cosmos (Sadasiva).

The majestic façade of this Shiva sanctuary opens to the West, whereas in Pashupatinath the northern face is worshipped. In different Shiva temples, different faces are worshipped.

The Indreshwar Mahadev Temple:
The three-storied temple has a single base constructed of several tiers and the use of wooden, carved columns makes the difference to the eyes of the visitors. There are six tudals(carved wooden columns) on each side of the temple tilting 45 degrees to support the roof. The big tudals are around 15 feet long, beautifully carved with different gods and goddesses and a lot of different household goods offered by devotees hang from them. This temple has a unique and fictious third roof, which has been painted and protected by copper-gold marble. This Degas-type temple with accurate corners, equal distance from the middle of the structure and lions as guards on the stairs is a brilliant example of Newari architecture. This type of architecture probably originated in Nepal around or before the 5th century. The ancient square courtyard is around 15-14.5m large. There are three main gates in the south, east, and west of the courtyard. Around the temple many small shrines and temples have been built. Unmata Bhairav Temple with faces peeping out of the unique wooden windows, Krishna Temple and Ahilya Temple are located in the courtyard of Indreshwar Mahadev Temple. The temple of Brahmayani, the chief goddess, which was built in the 17th century and has been restored with French aid in 1982-83, stands on the northeastern side, across the Punyamati river. Krishna Narayan temple is another important temple with beautiful wooden carvings standing just near by the confluence of the rivers.

The legend of Panauti:
The religious importance of Panauti is connected to the appearance of Lord Shiva in Panauti, which is told in the ancient vedic scripts.

Gautam Rishi, a virtuous vedic sage, lived and meditated at the confluence of rivers in Panauti. Indra, the king of the gods, was attracted by the seductive beauty of Ahilya, the wife of Gautam Rishi. In order to seduce the charming young woman, Indra disguised himself as Ahilya’s husband and thus took advantage of her. Because of this involuntary blemish, Ahalya changed into a rock, which can be seen in the courtyard of the temple. When the sage discovered what had happened he put a spell on Indra, causing Indra’s body to become covered with yonis(female sexual organs). Naturally Indra was somehow put out by this. Indra and his wife Indrayani had met at this auspicious confluence of rivers. Eventually Parvati and Shiva took pity upon Indrayani and turned her into the third invisible river Padmavati that joins the two visible ones in Panauti. Years passed and Shiva decided to release Indra from his strange problem. Shiva appeared in Panauti as a great lingam and when Indra bathed in the river the yonis disappeared one by one changing into the third eye. The lingam is thought to be the one that stands in the temple and gives rise to the invisible river Lilavati, creating the auspicious ‘Sassi Tirtha’, the place to take the holy, purifying bath.

Nowadays there are two religious events of major importance celebrated in Panauti, one is the yearly chariot street procession in Jesth(May/June) at the beginning of monsoon, the other is the Makkar Mela, celebrated every twelve years(next time in 2010) at the confluence of the rivers, where hundredthousands of Hindu devotees come to Panauti to take a holy bath.

It is told, that devotees of Indreshwar Mahadeva (Shiva) who bathe at the confluence on a full moon-day, undoubtedly go to heaven.

Excerpts of an original text by Ram Kumar K.C., edited by Yurgan

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