In Nepal, religion permeates every facet of life with festivals, daily rituals, family celebrations and religious observances. At every step one can see temples and shrines, processions and devotional music. Although Nepal is famous as the world’s only Hindu Nation, it is an intricate and beautiful tapestry woven of Hinduism, Buddhism and other faiths loving together in tolerance and harmony.
Shiva, the destroyer, is historically the god most worshipped in the country. He may be worshipped as the holy ascetic, depicted with his consort Parvati and holding a trident and a small drum or more often in the form of the linga, an elongated stone representing his generative powers. The most important linga is situating in the holy shrine of Pashupatinath to west of Kathmandu. In front of Shiva temples one usually sees a statue of Nandi, the divine bull that serves as Shiva’s vehicle. Another popular form of Shiva in Nepal is the terrifying Bhirav. Different aspects of Bhairav play major roles in many of the Valley’s festivals.
Vishnu, whose primary duty is to assure the preservation of the world and all living forms, is believed to have visited the earth ten times, each times as a different incarnation or avatar. He is often depicted as a boar, a tortoise, a man-lion and a fish-his four animal incarnations. Throughout South Asia he is most often worshipped in two well-known human forms: prince Ram the hero of the epic Ramayana and the pastoral god Krishna. In Nepal he is often worshipped in his omnipotent form of Narayan, and in some of his most lovely images is seen astride the man-bird Garuda his vehicle.
The archetypal mother or female, goddess in of particular importance in Nepal. She is worshipped in many aspects: as Durga, protector and slayer of the buffalo demon, as Taleju, patron deity of the Valley rulers, and as Kumari, and the living virgin goddess. . Other female goddesses include Laxmi, goddess of wealth and Saraswati, goddess of knowledge and arts. Another widely venerated god is elephant-headed Ganesh, the remover of obstacles and the source of good fortune. Other deities such as Red Machhendranath, are special to Nepal alone and are celebrated with unique local festivals.
There is a variety of Buddhist practices in Nepal, the Buddhism of the endemic Newar people, perhaps related to the ancient Buddhism that passed out of India one thousand year ago; the Buddhism of the Sherpa, Tamang and Tibetan people and the relatively modern incursion of Theravadin or Southern Buddhism.
The central beliefs and practices date back to the time of its founder, Prince Siddhartha Gautam who was born in Lumbini in the southern Terai in about 534 B.C. Until the age of 29, the young prince led a sheltered life in the palace of his father, completely unaware of the problems and suffering of the world outside his palace wall. One day he convinced his charioteer to take him outside the palace, where he was shocked at the sight of an old man, a sick man, a corpse and an ascetic. The realization of the true misery of the world persuaded the prince to abandon his luxurious life and goes into the forests to seek enlightenment to end human suffering. For many years, Gautam practiced asceticism without success. One night beneath a pepal tree in the forest of Bodh Gaya he became enlightened. Henceforth known as Lord Buddha, the ‘enlightened one’ he traveled around northern India and southern Nepal preaching the Middle Path to enlightenment. At the age of eighty he passed into the final enlightenment.
Lumbini, the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautam. The Shakya prince and the ultimate Buddha, the Enlightened One, is the pilgrimage destination of the world’s millions of people faithful to all schools of Buddhism. UNESCO lists this nativity site, identified by Indian Emperor Ashoka’s commemorative pillar as a World Heritage Site.
The main attraction at Lumbini remains the Sacred Garden, which spread over 8sq km and possessing all the treasures of the historic area. The Mayadevi temple is the main attraction for pilgrims and archaeologists alike. Here we find a bas relief of Mayadevi, Buddha’s mother giving birth to him. Standing west to the Mayadevi shrine is the oldest monument of Nepal, the Ashoka Pillar. Emperor Ashoka erected the pillar in 249 B.C. to commemorate his pilgrimage to the sacred site. To the south of the pillar, we find the sacred pond, Puskarni, where Queen Mayadevi had taken a bath just before giving birth to Lord Buddha.
There are other places of interest too nearby. It is accessible by air from Kathmandu to Bhairawa. From Kathmandu it takes about eight hours by bus or car.
It is believed that all miseries / sorrows are relieved once you visit this temple (Mukti=Nirvana, Nath=God). The famous temple of Lord Muktinath lies in the district of Mustang and is situated about 18km northeast of Jomsom at an altitude of about 3,749m. The main shrine is a pagoda shaped temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Set into the wall around it is 108 waterspouts from which pour holy water. The temple is situated on a high mountain range and is visited during fair weather. There are two ways to get to Muktinath from Kathmandu. Either takes a direct flight from Kathmandu via Pokhara to jomsom and hike for a 7-8 hours via Kagbeni or to trek all the way from Pokhara which takes 7-8 days. It is believed that one should visit this temple after competing pilgrimages of four Dhams in India. This temple held sacred by Hindus as well as Buddhists. The Jwala Mai temple nearby contains a spring and an eternal flame fed by natural gas underground. Jomsom is a major center in the Annapurna region. There is a world-class accommodation facility in Jomsom from where one can enjoy remarkable natural beauty.
One of the most famous pilgrimage destinations of Nepal is Gosainkunda Lake which is situated at an altitude of about 4,360m. The best approach to Gosainkunda is through Dhunche, 132km to the northeast of Kathmandu. Dhunche is linked with Kathmandu by a motorable road. Surrounded by high mountains on the north and the south, the lake is grand and picturesque. There are other nice nine famous Lakes such as Saraswati, Bhairav, Sourya, Ganesh Kunda etc.
Devghat is a popular pilgrimage spot situated at the confluence of the Kali Gandaki and Trisuli rivers. It lies just north of the Chitwan National Park. During the Magay Sakranti festival in January, Hindu devotees gather here to take holy dips in the river. There are a number of scared and history sites around Devghat which provide interesting side trips: the Triveni temple and Balmiki ashram where the great sage Balmiki had his retreat, the Someswar Kalika temple and fort, Pandavanag where the protagonists of the Mahabharat once lived and the Kabilaspur fort built by the old kings of Palpa.
This temple place at an altitude of 3900 ft. offer very good views of the Ganesh, Manaslu and Annapurna group. The surrounding village though is a mixture of 20th century Nepali bar rock and 2nd World War aftermath. Every day hundreds make the journey to worship at Manakamana’s Bhagwati Mandir. For Nag Panchami, in late July or early August, celebrants construct an entire shrine out of flowers and foliage. Visiting Manakamana is a very Nepali thing to do, and even if you don’t sacrifice a goat you’ll feel like you’ve received an initiation into the society.
Pathibhara situated at the top of Kutidanda and Haaspokhari in Mechi Highway is called as small Pathibhara regarded as the younger sister of Pathibhara in Taplejung. From this hill covered with green forest one can have a view of Terain plains, Mahabharat Range and Mount Kanchanjunga. This place with plenty of transportation facilities seems to have abundant feasibility for Gliding. Thousands of people pay homage to the goddess Pathibhara daily.
This historic of Jaleshwar lies in the city of Jaleswar, the headquaters of Janakpur zone. Jaleswar Mahadev is one of Nepal’s prominent places of pilgrimage and is mentioned in the Hindu epic, Padam Purana.
According to legend, a hermit named Jagadish arrived in the lonesome forest of Jaleshwar and had a dream in which he was directed to conduct excavation at the spot. In accordance with the dream, he began digging and soon found an image of Jaleshwar Mahadev. He then built a temple with some gold, which he brought from a place called Sunukhadagarh.
Just in front of Jaleshwar Mahadev temple there are two sacred ponds, called Barunsar and Kshiresar. During the Ram Navami Bivaha Panchami feativals, thousands of pilgrims assemble at these ponds.
In the upper part of Dolakha Township lies the temple of Bhimeshwar, popularly known as Dolakha Bhimsen. The people of Dolakha regard Bhimeswar as their supreme lord. The roofless temple houses a Shiva Linga, underneath which is a holy pond. Fairs are held at this temple on such occasions as Bala Chaturdashi, Ram Nava, Chaitra Astami and Bhima Ekadashi. During the Dashain festival, goats are sacrificed here.
Approximately 200 meter from the Bhimeshwar temple is the temple of Tripurasundari where devotees assemble during the festivals of Chaitrastami and Dashian. Only the priest of this temple is allowed a glimpse of the image enshrined within.
In the western part of the district of Pyuthan (Rapti Zone) lies Swargadwari, a place of Hindu pilgrimage. Swaragadwari lies almost 26 kilometers south of Khalanga Bazar, the district headquarters of Pyuthan. During the festivals of Baisakh Poornima and Kartik Poornima pilgrims from different parts of Nepal and India come to pay homage.
Source: Ministry of Culture, Tourism & Civil Aviation, Nepal