oldest Hindu temple which still exists

Changu Narayan Temple, in Kathmandu


History

The pagoda style temple has several masterpieces of 5th and 12th century Nepalese art. According to legends Changu Narayan temple existed as early as 325 A.D. in the time of Licchavi King Hari Datta Verma and it is one of Nepal’s richest structures historically as well as artistically. In the grounds there is a stone pillar inscription of great importance recording the military exploits of King Man Deva who reigned from 496 A.D. to 524 A.D. The first epigraphic evidence of Nepalese history found in the temple premises during the reign of the Licchavi King Mandeva dating back to 464 A.D. shows that Changu had already been established as a sacred site in the 3rd century A.D. It is the earliest inscription known in Nepal. The temple was restored during the lifetime of Ganga Rani, consort of Siva Simha Malla who reigned from 1585 to 1614.


To the left of the entrance to Changu Narayan is a shrine of Shree Ganesh.

The double-roofed Changu Narayan Temple has intricate roof struts with multi-armed Tantric deities, masterpieces of Newari carving.
Legend

In ancient time a Gwala, a cow herder, had brought a cow from a Brahman named Sudarshan. The cow was known for producing large quantity of milk. The Gwala used to take the cow to Changu for grazing. At that time Changu was a forest of Champak tree. While grazing the cow it always went to the shade of a particular tree. In the evening when the Gwala took the cow home and started milking the cow he got only very few amount of milk. This continued several days. He became very sad so he called the Brahmin and told him that the cow is not giving enough milk. Brahmin after observing the fact from his own eyes then planned with the Gwala to inspect the activities of cow during the day while she was grazing in the forest. Both Brahmin and Gwala hide themselves behind the trees and spectate the activities of the cow. The cow went into the shade of a particular champak tree. To their surprise a small black boy came out from the tree and started drinking the cow milk. Both became very furious and they thought that the boy must be the devil and tree must be its home. So Brahmin cut down the champak tree. When the Brahmin was cutting down the tree a fresh human blood came out from the tree. Both Brahmin and Gwala became worried and they thought that they have committed the great crime and they started crying.

From the tree lord Vishnu emerged out and he told the Brahmin that it was not their fault. Lord Vishnu told them the story that he had committed a heinous crime by killing Sudarshan’s father unknowingly while hunting in the forest. After that he was cursed for the crime. He then wandered on earth on his mouth, the ‘Garuda’ eventually descending on the hill at Changu. There he lived in anonymity, surviving on milk stolen from a cow. When Brahmin cut down the tree, lord Vishnu was beheaded which freed Lord Vishnu from his sins. After hearing these words from Vishnu, Brahmin and Gwala started worshipping the place and they established a small temple in the name of Lord Vishnu. Ever since that day, the site has been held sacred. . Even today we can find the descendant of Sudarshan Brahmin as priest of the temple and the descendents of Gwala as ghutiyars (conservators).

A small black slab from 5C or 6C at Changu Narayan has a 10-headed and 10-armed standing Vishnu, with another Vishnu reclining on the serpent Ananta below. The scenes are divided into three sections – the heavens, the world of men, and the underworld below.
In front of the Lakshmi Narayan Temple at the far left corner is an 8C statue of a six-armed Vishnu Vikrantha athletically jumping with his legs wide apart. The six-armed dwarf was transformed into a giant capable of crossing the universe in three steps.
Just past the Vishnu Vikrantha statue in front of the Lakshmi Narayan Temple is a beautiful 11C or 12C Vishnu statue in the form of the half-man, half-lion Narasingha who disembowels a demon lying on his knees.
The Temple art and architecture:
Changu Narayan is considered to be the oldest temple of Nepal. The temple is surrounded by sculptures and arts related to Lord Vishnu. Also we can find the temples of lord Shiva, Ashta Matrika, Chhinnamasta, Kileshwor and Krishna inside the courtyard of main temple. There are four entrances to the temple and these gates are guarded by life size pairs of animals such as lions, sarabhas, graffins and elephants on each side of the entrances. The ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu and the other idols are carved in the struts, which support the roof. The entrance door is gilded with carvings of Nagas (snakes). On the main entrance gate (i.e. western entrance gate), we can find the Chakra, Sankha, Kamal and Khadga all at the top of a stone pillar. These stone pillars has inscription in Sanskrit. This inscription is considered to be the oldest inscription of Nepal and the stone inscription pillar was erected by Lichhavi King Manadeva in 464 AD. The following monument are located while visiting the temple from the right side after entering from the main entrance (Eastern gate) to courtyard.
Historical pillar erected by Mandeva in 464 AD

Garuda:- flying vehicle of Lord Vishnu which has got a human face and is a devotee of Vishnu.
Statue of Bhupalendra Malla, King of Kantipur and his queen BhuwanLakshmi.

Chanda Narayan (Garuda Narayan):- 7th century stone sculpture of Vishnu riding on Garuda. This sculpture has been depicted in the 10 rupee paper note issued by Nepal Rastra Bank

Sridhar Vishnu:- 9th century stone sculpture of Vishnu, Laxmi and Garuda which stands on the pedestals of various motifs.

Vaikuntha Vishnu :- 16th century sculpture of Vishnu seated on the lalitason position on the six armed Garuda and Laxmi seated on the lap of Vishnu

Chhinnamasta:- Temple dedicated to Chhinnamasta devi, who beheaded herself, offered her own blood to feed the hungry Dakini and Varnini.


Vishworup:- 7th century stone sculpture- beautifully carved that depicts the scene from the Bhagwat Gita, in which Lord Krishna manifests his universal form to his devotee Arjun.

Vishnu Vikrant :- 7th century sculpture of Trivikram Vishnu that depicts the scene of popular Hindu myth of Lord Vishnu and his beloved Bali Raja.


Narasimha :- 7th century sculpture of Narasimha , an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, killing the demon King Hiranyakasyapa to save his beloved devotee Prahalad.


Kileshwor:- small two storied temples of Lord Shiva, who is believed to have appeared in this place for the protection of the hill.
Two snow lions guard the main entrance to the Changu Narayan Temple which has a beautifully gilded door and window

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