Monument To A Syncretic Tradition
- The Pashupatinath temple, whose origins date to the 5th century, is considered one of the holiest Shiva temples
- A World Heritage site, the pagoda-style temple has a golden roof, silver doors, with a five-faced Shivalinga in its sanctum, symbolising Shiva as Lord of all Living Beings
- The temple's head priests and his assistants have been recruited from south India, mainly from Karnataka's Sringeri Math, for at least 700 years
- Nepal's Maoist-led government wants to end the tradition, have Nepalese priests
***That the proposed visit of Rajiv Gandhi with wife Sonia, two decades ago, to Kathmandu's Pashupatinath Temple was shot down by its presiding priests is part of the ancient temple's modern lore. "They did not object to Rajiv," Narottam Vaidya, a former temple trustee, vividly recalls. "But they made it clear that they would close the gates if Sonia came." If tales like this, and the signs banning the entry of non-Hindus (even as packs upon packs of shrieking monkeys, barking dogs and even rats run around freely in the abode of the Lord of the Beasts) reek of religious exclusivity, they are only one aspect of life and worship at this 5th century shrine.
The other aspect is that Pashupatinath is a monument to syncretism. A Shivalinga as tall as a man rests under a pagoda, its five faces representing five incarnations of Shiva—Sadjayata, Vamdeva, Tatpurusha, Aghora and Ishana. Vedic and tantric forms of worship coexist here, as do residues of Nepal's animist traditions. On Buddha Purnima, the linga is worshipped as a Buddha. And, finally, as headlines in India and Nepal have repeatedly reminded us over the last few days, the presiding priests (bhattas), who tend to the linga every day at Nepal's holiest shrine in a series of intricate rituals, have been drawn for over 10 centuries not from the local population, but from parts of the subcontinent beyond the Vindhyas. A compelling reason for this practice, says Kathmandu-based sociologist Sudhindra Sharma, was the desire of ancient Shankaracharyas to unite and order the Shaivaite world, both geographically and in greater adherence to classical Hinduism. This process, he says, has also led to the appointment of Nepali priests in temples across India. "In this context," says Sharma, "Nepal-India labels don't make sense."