The Pashupatinath Temple is located on the banks of the Bagamati River in the eastern outskirts of Kathmandu. This is the most sacred of all the Hindu temples in Nepal and the seat of national deity, Lord Pashupatinath. This temple complex is on UNESCO World Heritage Sites list since 1979. The temple was erected anew in the 15th century by Lichhavi King Shupushpa after the previous building was consumed by termites. Over a time, countless further temples have been erected around this two storied temple. The area of Pashupatinath encompasses 264 hectares of land including 518 temples and monuments. Main pagoda style temple is located in the fortified courtyard within the complex on the western bank of the Bagamati River. The two storied roof is made of copper and is covered with gold. The temple is richly decorated with wooden sculptures and the most astonishing decoration of the temple is the huge statue of Nandi.
There are several complex stories involving the origins of Pashupatinath. One story goes that Shiva and Parvati came to the Kathmandu Valley and rested by the Bagamati while on a journey. Shiva was so impressed by its beauty and the surrounding forest that he and Parvati changed themselves into deers and walked into the forest. Many spots in Kathmandu Valley have been identified as places where Shiva went during his time as a deer. After a while the people and gods began to search for Shiva. Finally, after various complications, they found him in the forest, but he refused to leave. More complications ensued, but ultimately Lord Shiva announced that, since he had lived by the Bagamati river in a deer’s form, he would now be known as Pashupatinath, lord of all animals. It is said that whoever came here and beheld the lingam that appeared there would not be reborn as animal.
Only followers of Hinduism can enter the main temple, but all the other buildings are available for foreigners to visit. From the eastern bank of the river Bagamati the main temple can be seen in its whole beauty. Numerous religious buildings are also located on the eastern bank of the Bagamati, most of them devoted to Shiva. Along the western bank of the river numerous platforms for funeral pyres are built. The cremations on these platforms are a common sight at any point of time. Even though there are many other places in Kathmandu where cremations take place, this place is considered to be the best as the ashes are cleared into the Bagamati River which eventually flows in to the Ganges. By the river side there is a home were terminally ill people can wait for their death and can be cremated here. According to the Nepalese Hindu tradition, the dead body must be dipped three times in to the Bagamati River before cremation, so that the reincarnation cycle may be ended. Yes, here on the banks of sacred Bagamati, one moves from mortality to immortality. The chief mourner (usually the elder son) who lights the funeral pyre must take a holy river water bath immediately after cremation. Many relatives who join the funeral possession also take a bath in the Bagamati River or sprinkle the holy water on their bodies at the end of cremation. It is believed that the Bagamati River purifies the people spiritually.
Once you cross over to the eastern bank of the river, you will be met with many sadhus covered with ashes and colourful robes. Watch out for monkeys in the temple complex, who may snatch things from the tourists and pilgrims.