Pashupatinath Temple: Shivling and Legends

Pashupatinath is the most important place of confluence for all the Hindus. It is dedicated to Shiva, revered as the Lord of all living beings. The site attracts numerous Hindu pilgrims, religious devotees, ordinary visitors, researchers, and cultural heritage tourists throughout the year.

Pashupatinath holds immense cultural, spiritual, archaeological, and natural significance, making it a cherished asset for Hindus and the global community. This sacred site, recognized for its profound historical and religious value, was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

Pashupati‘ means animal rescuer or caretaker of animals. From this point of view, it also indicates the Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, as stated in Hinduism, where a man was considered the equivalent of an animal in nature. Chapter 351 of Shiva Purana describes Pashupatinath Jyortiling. God and Pashupatinath’ Jyotirlinga, forms of God who see or protect humans and all other living beings alike, hold a special place.

Furthermore, it is believed that Pashupatinath Jyotirlinga embodies the essence of the land itself, signifying its supreme completeness and boundless influence. This sacred linga is perceived as eternal, existing without human intervention, as if formed by nature. This notion underscores its representation as a natural element, mirroring the completeness of the surrounding environment. 

The presence of Pashupatinath Jyotirlinga and the unwavering faith of ordinary people epitomize the enduring saga of human belief in nature. Seen as the protector of all living beings, Pashupatinath embodies the belief that humans are integral parts of creation, fostering a profound sense of interconnectedness. Worship of Pashupatinath thus signifies our recognition of belongingness and completeness within the natural world.

As his name suggests, Pashupatinath is revered as the guardian of all animals and fauna worldwide. Consequently, bulls are closely associated with him, symbolizing productivity and abundance. Shiva is thus regarded as a deity of production in his manifestation as Pashupati. An intriguing piece of evidence supporting this global recognition of Pashupatinath is in the ancient currency discovered at Mohenjodaro. Depictions of a yogi alongside various animals, including a rhinoceros, buffalo, tiger, and elephant, have been interpreted by scholars as representations of the ancient Taurus deity associated with Pashupatinath in later Hindu periods.

Pashupatinath in Kathmandu is considered half Shivalinga, and half Shivalinga is considered to be Kedarnath; therefore, visiting Kedarnath after visiting Kathmandu is regarded as a complete Shivalinga visit. 

Main Shrine of Pashupatinath

The Pashupatinath temple is a two-tier Pagoda (23.7 meters in height) with a gold-plated roof and a golden pinnacle on top of it. The temple is on a raised square plinth with four outer doors leading to a bigger square closed corridor for Parikrama, looking like an Antrala or Ardhamandapam surrounding the Garbhagriha, which is a smaller square, which again has a door in each direction symmetrical to the outer doors. These doors are plated with silver. Inside the Garbhagriha sits Mahadev Shiva or Rudra as Pashupatinath. This complex is made of stone and wood with metal cover and has many sculptures embedded in its walls, doors, and the Struts or Torana holding the pagoda roof.

The walls of the temple are adorned with aedicules or frames of artwork of different sizes and are embossed with work of Icons of celestial damsels, Images of Ashtha Bhairava and Shaivite, Vaishnavite, and Buddhist gods and goddesses. Below the roof are wooden windows with perforated artwork. Like in all Pagoda temples, the struts or wooden frames supporting the roof to the walls depict images of Mithuna’s and Kama’s yoga.

The Corners on the roofs have images of Simha, Bharunda, Sharabha, Naga, and Yalis plated in gold. There is a Purna Kalasha on the struts supporting the lower roof, which signifies the Shakti or Guhayeshwari, the consort of Mahadev Pashupatinath in the form of Sati Devi, whose head is perceived to have fallen in this place.

Pashupatinath Area 

It is also interesting that apart from the main temple of Pashupatinath, 491 temples of Gods and Goddesses are in the courtyard. In this way, Lord Pashupatinath himself represents harmony with all these gods. 

The temple compound has four doors. The western door is today’s main entrance, which leads to a compound; on entering the compound, one comes given the back of the huge Nandin covered with metal, probably bronze, but claimed to be gold plated, facing his master. This compound has enough space for a huge crowd to circumambulate the Principal deity of Pashupatinatha. This compound is also a compound of temples of many gods, including Kiritimukha Bhairava, Vasuki, Unmatta Bhairav, Brahma, Kotilingeshwar, Radha Krishna, Parthiveshwar, and has a Mukti mandap. 

The eastern door to this compound leads to the Bagmati river bank in the form of a portico with stairs, which is used as an open cremation space.

In Nepalese civilization, the Bagmati River holds immense significance and is revered as the holiest of all rivers. Bathing in the Sangamtirtha/Aryatirtha, a pilgrimage site along the banks of the Bagmati River, is believed to bestow the same merits as performing the Aswamedha Yagya.

According to the religious text Himvat Khanda, bathing in this river during a solar or lunar eclipse and subsequently making donations, performing Yagya, and conducting ceremonial worship is said to multiply one’s merits manifold, up to a million times.

Devotees are supposed to take a holy bath in the Bagmati river located on the Pashupati premises, but the water quality could be better. Even though the Bagmati River is revered as the most sacred and Holy River in Hinduism, the solid waste and sewage put in it is destroying its quality and significance.

The Pashupatinath corridor is 246 hectares of space dissected by the Bagmati river, which, apart from the Pashupatinath temple, consists of a huge number of temples, approximately 491 in numbers dedicated to Gods and Goddesses, ashrams, scattered Idols or sculptures, and inscriptions all along the corridor and six cremation ghats. Some of the prominent temples are that of Ekadash Rudra Shiva, Gorakhnath, Guhayeshwari, Vatsala, Kirateshvara, Bhasmeshwara, Rajarajeshwari, Nava-Durga, Sita-Rama temples and a huge numbers of Shiva Lingams.

Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati used to visit the Shleshmantak jungle and wander, home to various gods and goddesses. This jungle has been utilized for Hindu funerals where cremation is neither preferred nor permitted, such as for newborns, yogis, and mendicants.

Faces of Pashupatinath Shivling 

The Pashupatinath Shivling has five faces, each representing different aspects of Lord Shiva. Despite its self-existence, the origin and gender texture of these faces remains a mystery. The linga’s height ranges between 0.9 m and 1.20 m.

  1. The western face, “saddojat,” symbolizes Shiva’s child form and awakened state. It is also associated with worldly vision. 
  2. The eastern face, called “Tattpurush,” depicts Shiva with Jata and is considered the form of Param Brahma or Kubera.
  3. The northern face, “Vamdev,” represents a blend of Shiva and Parvati, symbolizing equal acceptance of male and female existence. The moon can be seen towards Shiva and the kamandalu in the hands. The garland of Rudraksha can be seen in his hand towards Parvati. Its mouth is also called Ardhanarishvara or the creator’s face.
  4. The southern face, “Aghor,” portrays Shiva’s fierce yet calm nature, symbolizing the destroyer of inauspiciousness. 
  5. The fifth face, “Nirankar,” lacks a defined shape (formless) and is considered upward-facing, possessing mystical qualities. Only the temple priest can touch this sacred face, which is believed to provide salvation. Thus, the Pashupatinath Jyotirlinga encompasses multiple divine powers, making it unique among other Jyotirlingas.

Pashupatinath Jyotirlinga holds deep symbolic significance, fulfilling multiple desires and evoking profound mystery due to its shape and the conjectures surrounding it. The various forms depicted in the Shivling symbolize human aspirations and life goals, reflecting their emotions. 

Pashupatinath in Kathmandu is considered half Shivalinga, and half Shivalinga is considered to be Kedarnath; therefore, visiting Kedarnath after visiting Kathmandu is regarded as a complete Shivalinga visit. 

The significance of this Shivalinga being Jyotirlinga can be understood from the fact that the pilgrimage of 12 Jyotirlingas is considered incomplete without the sighting of Pashupatinath Jyotirlinga. 

Priest of Pashupatinath Temple

The path of Tantra, Mantra, and Yantra is described in Hinduism. Shaivism is of special importance in Pashupatinath. While sacrificial is given importance in the worship of Shakti in the Shakti Tantra, the Shaiva Tantra is a different path to salvation in which Shiva worshipers worship like the guardians of creatures under the influence of Pashupatinath. 

As a comprehensive system, the Shiva Tantra mandates that the head priest of the Pashupatinath temple be married to Shakti or the Goddess, emphasizing the holistic nature of temple worship.


Many ancient stories about Pashupatinath Linga are prevalent. 

Pandavas and Pashupatinath 

The tale behind one of these beliefs recounts the plight of the Pandavas following the Kurukshetra war. Overwhelmed with remorse for slaying their kin, they sought redemption for their actions, feeling burdened by guilt and a sense of wrongdoing. 

Desperate to absolve themselves of this stain, they turned to Shiva for liberation. However, Shiva, recognizing the gravity of their transgression, evaded their attempts at redemption. Assuming the guise of a buffalo, he fled from their presence, prompting the Pandavas to pursue him. When Pandavas caught the Shiva in the form of a Buffalo, Shiva vanished into the earth in chaos, only to reappear, his body fragmented into different parts.

  1. His forehead fell in Pashupatinath of Nepal; this temple is considered the most special. 
  2. A buffalo hump fell in Kedarnath. 
  3. The two legs in front of the buffalo fell at Tungnath, which is in Kedar’s path. 
  4. The buffalo’s navel portion fell in the Indian part of the Himalayas, in Madhya-Maheshwar. It is a very powerful gem that complements linga. 
  5. The place where the buffalo horns fell is called Kalpnath.

In this way, different pieces of his body are found in different places. 

Deer Form of Lord Ashutosh 

Apart from this, there is a legend and story in vogue; a legend of Shiva is mentioned in the Puranas. 

Once Lord Ashutosh was attracted to the beautiful Tapobhumi, he left Kailash to live in Kathmandu. Pravati also learned about this, and she assumed the form of an antelope and accompanied him.  In this Pashupat region of Nepal, they began to roam, becoming a three-horned antelope. Hence, this region is called the Pashupat region or Mrigasthali. Seeing Shiva thus absent, Lord Brahma Vishnu got worried, and both gods walked on earth searching for Shiva. 

In this beautiful area, they saw the attractive 3-horned antelope grazing. He feared to be Shiva in this antelope. Brahma immediately recognized from yoga science that it is not antelope but the Shivais only.  Soon, he jumped and tried to catch the antelope’s horn. The horn broke and became three pieces. A piece of the same horn fell in this sacred area, generating Mahamudra, who became famous as Pashupatinath. 

Visiting Pashupatinath 

Pashupatinath Jyotirlinga serves as a path to material happiness and a means to attain liberation from worldly life. Worshipers who visit Pashupatinath temple amidst the lap of nature find themselves absorbed in its serene surroundings, seeking salvation. 

The transient nature of human life prompts individuals to pursue specific objectives, with salvation being a significant pursuit. Pashupatinath attracts many such seekers, suggesting that salvation is achieved by immersing oneself in the divine presence of Pashupatinath. 

The significance of this sacred place lies in its ability to free devotees from worldly attachments, offering a serene experience, especially during times of death. The cremation site along the banks of the Bagmati River symbolizes a peaceful farewell from earthly bonds. Furthermore, Pashupatinath’s allure extends globally, drawing tourists worldwide, thus enhancing the place’s importance.

Pashupatinath Jyotirlinga is a path to material happiness and liberation from worldly concerns. Worshipers who visit Pashupatinath amidst the embrace of nature often find themselves immersed in its serene surroundings, seeking salvation. 

The transient nature of human life compels individuals to pursue limited objectives, with salvation being a significant goal among them. Pashupatinath’s allure draws many seeking spiritual liberation, recognizing that true salvation may require sacrifice in his presence. 

Pashupatinath’s premises on the side of the Bagmati River are believed to provide a calm and serene experience to the person near death. The cremation venue on the banks of the River Bagmati pledges itself to a vibrant and worldly bond-free farewell. 

The sanctity of this place is revered for its ability to free worshipers from worldly attachments and provide a tranquil experience, especially in times of transition, such as during funeral rites along the banks of the river Bagmati. The global appeal of Pashupatinath attracts tourists from around the world, further highlighting its significance.

The portrayal of Shiva in the Pashupatinath Temple reflects a profound understanding of human nature. The temple views humankind as inherently connected to the broader natural world and capable of embodying both good and evil aspects. The temple’s esoteric scriptures hold a unique significance in facilitating ultimate salvation, offering supplicants a sense of peace and fulfillment, both physically and spiritually. Within this sacred space, Shiva is revered as a deity and a source of praise, support, nourishment, guidance, and liberation for devotees.

Why Hindu

We, a group of youths born into Hindu families, were raised in the rich culture of Vedic Sanatan Dharma, embracing its cultures and traditions. Post-graduation, recognizing the immense value of our Sanatan Dharma for humanity, we initiated the "Why Hindu" project. With guidance from our elders, we aim to create awareness about Hindu Dharma, delve into Vedic scripture, explore Vedic mantras, and elucidate the significance of festivals. Through this endeavor, we strive to share the profound teachings of our heritage, fostering understanding and appreciation for the timeless principles of Sanatan Dharma.

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