Changu Narayan temple is one of the oldest Hindu temples of the Kathmandu valley and is believed to have been constructed in the 5th century. The temple is considered to be the oldest temple in which the shrine is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Changu Narayan is a two-story pagoda-style which is a milestone in Nepali temple architecture with substantial embossed works. The temple is surrounded by sculptures and arts related to Lord Vishnu. Also, there are temples of Lord Shiva, Ashta Matrika, Chhinnamasta, Kileshwor and Krishna inside the courtyard of the main temple. There are four entrances to the temple and these gates are guarded by life-size pairs of animals such as lions, sarabhas, griffins and elephants on each side of the entrances. The temple is all surrounded by the Champak tree forest.
The entire Kathmandu Valley is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, encompassing seven groups of monuments and buildings. These include the Durbar Squares of Hanuman Dhoka (Kathmandu), Patan and Bhaktapur; the Buddhist stupas of Swayambhu and Boudhanath; and the Hindu temples of Pashupati and Changu Narayan.
The main temple is decorated with some of the finest carvings in the Kathmandu Valley, and the collection of statues surrounding the temple is the best you’ll see outside the National Museum of Nepal.
But the gems of the collection are the statues and carvings dotted around the courtyard, the oldest dating back to the Licchavi era (400 to 750). Facing the west door of the temple is a statue of Garuda, the legendary bird that served as Vishnu’s mount, which dates back to the fifth century. And near this statue is the oldest stone inscription in the Kathmandu Valley, a message etched in 464 that tells the tale of how a king convinced his mother not to die by suicide after her husband’s death.
Other statues show Vishnu in his various incarnations or avatars. Vishnu appears as Narsingha, the man-lion, ripping a man apart with his fingers. He also appears as Vikrantha, the six-armed dwarf who transformed into a giant. And in the northwest corner of the complex is an image of Vishnu riding his faithful mount Garuda.
The temple complex and its numerous statues have survived a number of threats over the centuries. The most serious was a fire that swept through the compound in 1702, destroying many works. The temple was rebuilt in the following years.
More recently, the Gorkha Earthquake of April 2015 damaged 753 temples, shrines, and monasteries across Nepal, including 241 in Kathmandu. Changu Narayan suffered heavy damage but restoration projects began almost immediately. It was reopened the same year, and the Department of Archeology announced that the restoration project had been completed in November 2017.
The historical significance of the Changunarayan temple
The historical significance of the Changunarayan temple has been beautifully preserved at the Changu Museum, which is situated at the Mandir Walkway on the way to the temple. The museum holds a vast array of artifacts showcasing the historic weapons, musical instruments and monetary system of Nepal. The curator of the museum is an old man, who guides the visitors through artifacts showing the prehistoric years of the temple and tells an amazing tale of how the temple first came to be.
According to the legend, in very ancient times, a Gwala (cow-herder in English) bought a cow from a Brahmin named Sudarshan. The cow was known for producing large quantities of milk and the gwala used to take her to graze at the hilltop of Changu, which was then filled with Champak trees.
One day, after coming home from the hilltop, the gwala noticed that the cow had been producing very little milk as compared to its regular quantity. This continued for a few days and the gwala went to ask Sudarshan for his help regarding the matter. Sudarshan and the gwala decided to keep an eye on the cow to solve the mystery. The pair watched over the cow and noticed that the cow wandered to the shade of a particular tree while grazing in the forest.
The two decided to observe the cow more closely and hid behind a tree to find out that a small black boy would appear out of the tree and drink the cow’s milk, resulting in the less amount of milk received by the gwala. They immediately thought that the boy must be a devil hiding in the tree and decided to axe down the tree.
Upon cutting the tree down, fresh blood flowed out of the tree trunk and a beheaded Vishnu appeared before them. Seeing that they had cut off the head of Lord Vishnu himself, the Brahmin and the gwala pleaded for mercy with the Lord. The Lord, however, told them not to worry as it was his sins that led to his beheading.
The Lord informed the two that he had unintentionally killed Sudarshan’s father while hunting and now he has paid his sins off with his head. He told them that, after killing his father, the Lord was looking for a way to break his curse for the heinous crime. He flew into the forest on his mount, Garuda, and landed on top of the Changu hill. There he lived anonymously as the tree and survived on stolen milk from the cow. Now that the tree had been cut , he had been beheaded and was free from his crimes towards the Brahmin and his father.
Hearing these words from the Lord Vishnu, the Brahmin and the Gwala decided to establish a small temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu where the tree was rooted. This was in the 4th century and the temple has been a sacred place for Hindus ever since then.
where is changu narayan temple located?
Changu Narayan is located about 15 Km east of Kathmandu. From Kathmandu you can take the bus to Bhaktapur, then take another bus to the temple. There’s also a museum located on the way up to the temple. Inside the temple complex, you are free to explore most of the grounds, but only priests can enter the main temple. The entrance fee for foreign nationals is about 300 Nepalese rupees ($2.60 US).