Changu Narayan

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Timings : 24 hours

Time Required : 1-2 hrs

Entry Fee : No entry fee

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Changu Narayan, Bhaktapur Overview

Changu Narayan is a synonymous word with both the old Nepalese temple and the village that surrounds it. Located in the Bhaktapur district some 12 km east of Kathmandu, Changu Narayan is the oldest temple in Nepal and has an authentic Newari style architecture very true to its roots. With its two-storey brick-red edifice, the beautiful temple perches atop a hill which is also called Changu or sometimes Dolagiri.

The Changu Narayan temple is devoted to Lord Vishnu and houses several of his avatars and some other deities as well. And like every other Hindu temple in the subcontinent, this temple too has two separate faiths regarding its past – one corresponds with the recorded history as we know it and another one is a legend as told by the local folklore. Surrounding Changu Narayan are dense woods of Champak tree, and this forest plays an important role in the legends associated with the temple.

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Legend of Changu Narayan

Cow Herder Story
One is about a cow herder or Gwala – the Hindi word for his profession. The Gwala bought a cow from Sudarshan and used to take it for grazing in the pastures of Kathmandu valley. One day when the cow went to one of the trees in the Champak forest, she gave very little milk, compared to the other days when she produced milk in large quantities.

Helpless, Gwala asked help from Sudarshan. However, they could not solve the problem either. One day they saw a small boy coming out of that particular tree and drinking milk from the cow. Thinking him to be a reincarnation of the devil, they cut down the Champak tree immediately. As the tree started bleeding out, they felt they had made a grave mistake by taking a life.

That is when Lord Vishnu arrived in front of them and said that it was not their fault as he was himself cursed for killing Sudarshana’s father while hunting, though unintentionally. Thus, he had to roam around the earth on his mount Garuda. When they cut the tree, they beheaded his earthly incarnation, thus freeing him from the bound of the curse. Knowing this, the two mortals started worshipping Vishnu then and there. The priests of Changu Naraya temple are said to be Sudarshan’s descendants and the conservators to be the bloodline of the Gwala.

Changu Narayan Main Temple
Changu Narayan Main Temple

The Brahmin Story
The other legend is a much localised one, where they believe that 400 years ago a mighty warrior of the valley named Pranjal was defeated here by another Nepali warrior called Changu. He won over the hearts of the Nepalese people, and they built Changu Narayan to pay tribute to him.

Changu Narayan Temple Architecture

The first thing that captures the eye and the mind is the towering architecture of Changu Narayan. It is neither Shikhara nor Pagoda style, but purely Newari, as stated by several experts of sociology and anthropology. The main shrine right in the middle of the temple premise has four gates. Each of them is guarded by pairs of holy animal gargoyles – lions, elephants, sarabha and Garuda himself.

Changu Narayan Temple
Lions at the entrance of Changu NarayanSource

Among these, the one guarded by Garuda on the western side is the main gate. Take your time to observe the snake carving gilds on the door and the stone pillars before the gate. The four symbols of Vishnu – chakra or disc weapon, khadga or the weapon that replaces the traditional mace in Vishnu idols, kamal or lotus bud and shankha or conch shell are carved meticulously. These stone pillars are the one with the inscriptions mentioned before of King Manadeva. This is considered as the oldest written inscription text in Nepal at present. Inside, the idol is of Vishnu Narayan in his Preserver of the Universe avatar.

The exteriors of the temple deserve equal attention, irrespective of whether you are a spiritual person or not. Around the courtyard of Changu Narayan temple, all ten avatars of Vishnu are prominently displayed in authentic Newari style. At the southwest corner, he is Narsimha – his man-lion incarnation and as Vikaranta or Vamana – his dwarf manifestation who later becomes a giant.

Look for the 1500-year-old, ten-headed and ten-armed stone carving of Vishnu. It is a unique piece which cannot be seen in other Hindu temples. The Garuda Narayan idol where Vishnu rides on his vahaan as per the curse of the legend is also glimpse-worthy. Other shrines in Changu Narayan temple complex includes the headless Tantric goddess Chhinnamasta, Kileshwor shrine for Lord Shiva, Ashta Matrika temple and a small shrine for King Bhupatindra Malla and his queen Bhuvanlaxmi near the main entrance.

How to Reach

There are buses from Kathmandu every half an hour which takes around 30 minutes to reach the temple. The bus fare is around NPR 40

History of Changu Narayan

Changu Narayan is probably the oldest temple as per the recorded history of Nepal. Its inscriptions date back to the 3rd century AD. The stone pillars near the main entrance are from around 464 AD when King Manadeva of Licchavi dynasty was ruling over Nepal. On the pillar, details about Manadeva’s military exploits and other stories are inscribed elaborately. The date of establishment is assumed to be 325 AD, during the time of Licchavi King Hari Datta Verma, because this era is the most culturally-enriching one in Nepal’s history.

Later on, the temple was restored during the Malla reign in the 16th-17th century by Ganga Rani, Queen Consort of Siva Simha Malla. Changu Narayan has been rebuilt and renovated many times, and the latest one was after the unfortunate 2015 Nepal earthquake.

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