Nestled in the lush greenery of the Bhaktapur district of Nepal, the Changu Narayan Temple stands as a testament to the rich cultural heritage of the region. Built-in the 4th century by the Licchavi dynasty, the temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and is believed to be one of the oldest temples in the country. The temple complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and attracts thousands of visitors every year. Its intricate carvings, magnificent stone sculptures, and stunning architecture make it a must-visit destination for anyone interested in history, culture, and art.
History and Significance
The Changu Narayan Temple has a long and fascinating history that dates back to the 4th century. It was built by the Licchavi dynasty, which ruled Nepal from the 3rd to the 7th century. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, one of the three main gods in Hinduism, and is considered one of the oldest and most important temples in Nepal.
The Legend of Changu Narayan
Long ago, a Gwala, or cow herder, purchased a cow from a Brahmin named Sudarshan. This cow was known for producing copious amounts of milk, so the cow herder took her to graze in Changu, a forest of Champak trees. Every day, while grazing, the cow went to the shade of a particular tree, where a young boy would drink her milk. However, in the evening, when the cow was milked, only a tiny amount of milk was obtained. The cow herder became very sad and contacted Sudarshan to complain. Sudarshan agreed to observe the cow’s daytime activity, so he and the cow herder hid behind the tree the next day.
To their surprise, a small black boy emerged from the tree and started drinking the cow’s milk. The men were outraged, believing the boy to be a demon and the tree to be its abode. Therefore, Sudarshan cut down the Champak tree, and fresh human blood spurted from the tree. Realizing their terrible mistake, the two men were distraught and began to cry.
Lord Vishnu then appeared from the tree and explained that it was not their fault. He told the story of how he had accidentally killed Sudarshan’s father while hunting in the forest, and as punishment, he was cursed to wander the earth on his mount, Garuda. Eventually, he found himself on the hill in Changu, living in anonymity and surviving on the stolen milk. When the Brahmin cut down the tree, Vishnu was freed from his sins.
After hearing Vishnu’s story, the Brahmin and cow herder resolved to establish a small temple in Lord Vishnu’s name and worship the site. Since then, the place has been considered sacred, with Sudarshan’s descendant serving as a priest of the temple and the cow herder’s descendants as Ghutiyars or conservators.
Architecture and Design
The temple’s unique architecture is a blend of the Licchavi and Newari styles, which are characteristic of the Kathmandu Valley. The temple’s central sanctum is a two-story pagoda-style structure with a golden pinnacle, and the four corners of the temple are adorned with four smaller pagodas. The temple’s wooden roof is decorated with images of gods and goddesses and features intricately carved brackets and struts.
Monuments and Sculptures at Changu Narayan Temple
Changu Narayan Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Nepal, known for its stunning collection of ancient monuments and sculptures. One can find these remarkable pieces of history while visiting the temple from the right side after entering from the main entrance (Eastern gate) to the courtyard.
- Chhinnamasta Temple:
Dedicated to Chhinnamasta Devi, this temple depicts the goddess beheading herself and offering her blood to feed the hungry Dakini and Varnini.
- Vishnu Vikrant:
A 7th-century sculpture of Trivikram Vishnu depicts the scene from the popular Hindu myth of Lord Vishnu and his beloved Bali Raja.
- Historical Pillar:
Erected by Mandeva in 464 AD, this pillar is a testament to the ancient history of the Changu Narayan Temple.
Garuda is the flying vehicle of Lord Vishnu, which has a human face and is considered a devoted follower of Vishnu.
- Chanda Narayan (Garuda Narayan):
This 7th-century stone sculpture of Vishnu riding on Garuda has been depicted on the 10 rupee paper note issued by Nepal Rastra Bank.
- Sridhar Vishnu:
A 9th-century stone sculpture of Vishnu, Laxmi, and Garuda, stands on the pedestals of various motifs.
- Vaikuntha Vishnu:
A 16th-century sculpture of Vishnu seated on the Lalitasan position on the six-armed Garuda, with Laxmi seated on his lap.
This 7th-century stone sculpture is beautifully carved and depicts the scene from the Bhagwat Gita, in which Lord Krishna manifests his universal form to his devotee Arjun.
A 7th-century sculpture of Narasimha, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, killing the demon King Hiranyakasyapa to save his beloved devotee Prahalad.
These small two-storied temples are dedicated to Lord Shiva, who is believed to have appeared in this place for the protection of the hill.
The Changu Narayan Temple is famous for its collection of stone sculptures that are housed in the temple’s outer courtyard. These sculptures depict various Hindu deities, mythical creatures, and scenes from Hindu epics. The most famous of these sculptures is the statue of Garuda, the mythical half-man, half-bird creature who is the mount of Lord Vishnu. This statue is considered one of the finest examples of Nepali stone sculpture and is a testament to the skills of the craftsmen who worked on it.
Inner Courtyard and Shrine
The temple’s inner courtyard is home to the main shrine, which houses a 5-foot-tall image of Lord Vishnu. The image is made of black stone and is considered one of the most beautiful images of Lord Vishnu in Nepal. The shrine is decorated with intricate carvings, and the walls are adorned with frescoes that depict scenes from Hindu mythology.
The Changu Narayan Temple is not just a religious site but also a center of cultural activities. The temple hosts various festivals and events throughout the year, including the Changu Narayan Jatra, a week-long festival that celebrates the temple’s rich cultural heritage. During the festival, the temple comes alive with music, dance, and cultural performances that showcase the best of Nepali art and culture.
In conclusion, the Changu Narayan Temple is a cultural and architectural marvel that has stood the test of time. Its unique blend of styles, stunning sculptures, and rich history make it a must-visit destination for anyone interested in exploring Nepal’s rich cultural heritage. Whether you are a history buff, an art enthusiast, or a spiritual seeker, the Changu Narayan Temple is a destination that should not be missed.