Vishnu shrines of the Kathmandu Valley

Vishnu Narsingh sculpture in Bhaktapur, Nepal
Vishnu-Narsingh, Bhaktapur

Vishnu is a Hindu god who has so many different names. Besides, he comes in various forms or incarnations. There are many Vishnu temples and shrines within the Kathmandu Valley. One of the most impressive is the Reclining Vishnu at Budhanilkantha. There, Vishnu as Narayan reclines peacefully on a bed made from the coils of a huge snake Ananta. Ananta's eleven hoods form kind of a crown to the god's head. Even while he sleeps, Vishnu's eyes are half-opened. His four arms hold four attributes: the discus - symbol of the cosmic mind; the mace - primeval knowledge;the conch - the symbol of creating universe; and the lotus seed - the symbol for the moving universe and of all things that are good (eternity, prosperity, and purity).

Vishnu Narayan, the Sleeping Vishnu, sculpture, Nepal

This five-meter stone image of Vishnu-Narayan was placed there in the pond some 1400 years ago. The legend says that one day a farmer while working in the field hit a rock. Having dug it out he found a large statue of Vishnu buried in the ground. Actually, the name Budhanilkantha comes from "budha" which in ancient language meant "buried in the earth".
Devotees perform their rituals from a wooden platform near the reclining sculpture. They put red powder and flowers, splash themselves with the water of the pond. Every morning at around 9 o'clock a priest washes the god's face and makes offerings.

Vishnu sculpture at Changu Narayan temple, Nepal

Another interesting place dedicated to Vishnu is Changu Narayan temple. It is one of the oldest temples in the Valley. There you can see an image of lion-headed Vishnu-Narsingh; Vishnu-Vikrantha, a dwarf with six arms; Vishnu-Narayan reclining on Ananta; Vishnu with 10 heads and 10 arms going through the different layers of the universe. I have already written about this beautiful temple, so for more detailed information and photos see here.


One of the most celebrated Vishnu shrines in the Valley is Bishankhu Narayan. It is only a natural rock cave. A steep narrow stairway cut into the rock leads to a wooden platform in front of a tiny opening to the cave. The legend says that once Shiva hid there from the demon who had obtained him the power to turn all living things into ashes and dust by a touch of the hand. Vishnu convinced the demon to touch his own forehead and the demon turned himself to dust.


The Sekh Narayan rock temple is one more place to worship Vishnu. It has been a place of pilgrimage since 15th century. The temple is a small, dark, single-storey structure in wood and metal with erotic carvings on its struts. The main image of the shrine is Vishnu-Vikrantha dating from the 14th century.


Rather forgotten and neglected is the Machhe Narayan temple. It celebrates Vishnu's incarnation as a fish. The small stone temple occupies the center of a sacred pond. Inside there is a sculpture of Machhe Narayan standing up emerging from the mouth of a fish. You may have a marvelous view from here to the panorama of Kirtipur and the snow-covered peaks of the Himalaya as well.



The two-storey Ichangu Narayan temple was built in the 18th century. The usual attributes of Vishnu can be seen there and the carved struts are of special interest.


One more rather unusual shrine is Dhum Varahi. This brick shrine is placed between a pipal tree's roots and contains almost life-sized stone sculpture of Vishnu's incarnation as a half-man half-boar rescuing the goddess of Earth. The sculpture dating from the 6th century.


3 comments:

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  2. Great report! India and Nepal is the interesting pagan countries. They live in the Middle Ages.

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  3. Not exactly. These countries are mixture of modern and medieval :)

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