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Ganesh in Nepal







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Chapter summary

Kathmandu

Bhaktapur

Jal Vinayaka (Chobar)

Museums

Kirtipur

Patan

Panauti and Banepa

Other locations

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Kathmandu

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Capital of Nepal with about 1 million inhabitants out of 20 million for the whole country, Kathmandu is a fascinating city. It was opened to foreign visitors in the 60's and its popularity got increasing in the following years. Of course, supposed right-thinking detractors have disparaged the hippy movement and the easy cannabis consumption; however, Kathmandu was also and above all the discovery of other spiritualities which led to the New Age premises.

Thanks to its physical and social environment, Kathmandu offers an exceptionnal charm. Prelude to trips to high Himalaya summits, the city is surrounded by smaller ranges of these wonderful mountains and even the basic visitors (I mean those who are not trekking specialists) are immediately impressed and seduced.

Although poor in the majority, the local people looks very kind and welcoming so that anybody is prone to forget the agressive aspects of this poverty. Nevertheless, the city is highly polluted, overpopulated and most often decayed.

Kathmandu represents also the bloom of a gorgeous architecture, in which an unsurpassed wood craftmanship of temples and palaces has made carved portals, lintels, beams and stalls.

Kathmandu is also and chiefly the overwhelming presence of the religion in the daily life. About this feeling, all what we can tell is nothing if compared with the reality. Even if one is not an expert in the matter, he will be striked by the profusion of temples, shrines, steles, statues carved in bas-relief or high relief dwelling wall recesses. Everywhere, one can lok at multiple-armed gods and goddesses, standing in charming or wrathful postures, which everyone is worshipping when passing nearby, with a short prayer, a salutation or an offering, small coins, flowers...

Historically, Nepal is a hindu country. Buddhism has been developing after the 8th century. This could have happened earlier, since the Buddha was born in a small kingdom of the low-lying areas of this country, in Lumbini (however, that place belonged to the indian territory at that time); but history decided another future.

Nowadays, the majority of the Nepalese population is hindu but strong buddhist minorities have developed, principally because of tibetan people in exile, who have created monasteries for religious communities or play a notable role in economic activities.

In fact, by many aspects, hinduism in Nepal is closely linked with the beliefs of the local tantric buddhism... and vice versa. A foreigner would not be able clearly define borders in the matter.

It's impossible here, to develop what is exactly nepalese or tibetan buddhism. It is a result of the interactions between the Mahâyâna Buddhism, the Great Vehicle, and the local religion of shamanism, called Bön, circa 8th century. Adding a certain number of hindu deities who became, according the buddhist point of view, secondary deities in charge to protect buddhism.

On the contrary, hindu gods and goddesses have been adapted to the local context, getting, for instance, specific iconographic features particular to the deities of tantric buddhism... For instance Shiva , highly worshipped in Nepal under his dreadful Bhairava form.

Therefore, one will meet (1) buddhist temples and buildings, like the stûpa in Swayambunath, near Kathmandu, or also the stupendous Bodnath, (2) temples devoted to hindu deities, under their local name.

Our dear Ganesh is very frequently met in Nepal, even though he is rarely seen in Tibet, in a few monasteries. In most cases, Ganesh can be considered as a hindu god only. But, he is sometimes seen as a buddhist protector, for exemple on thangka 
Sacred painting on tissue, from Tibet or Nepal or on some very rare bronze statues where he is subdued by Mahâkâla One of the terrible Shiva forms, 
protector of faith, in the northern buddhism.

Patan

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The cities in the Kathmandu valley are not very far from the capital, and even Patan is now bordering Kathmandu, thanks to a speed and uncontrolled urban growth.

In a past time not so ancient, since it was in 1768, the unity of the country was achieved under the rule of the Shah dynasty. Before that date the three cities, i.e. Kathmandu, Patan (Lalitpur) and Bhaktapur (Bhadgaon) formed state-cities, independent from each others. They were sorts of principalities, maintaining most times good relationships between them, although war periods occurred too.

Patan comprises a glamourous historical centre which gathers, around the Durbar Square, the royal palace and a series of temples : Vishvanath temple, Bhimsen temple, Hari Shankar temple, Jagannarayan temple, etc.

Ganesh can be met in many place in Patan. Most times, there are stone statues like the wonderful five-headed and ten-armed Ganesh whose Shakti is sitting on his left lap. One can wonder at him near the main entrance of the Mul Chowk (main courtyard of the Royal Palace). However, we will not forgive to look at all the small shrines in the streets and courtyards, found here and there...

Furthermore, only to quote some of them (click on “pictures” above to discover them) :

A standing white Ganesh, on a wood staff of the building in the courtyard (Mul Chowk) of the Royal Palace
A very nice gilt bronze ten-armed Ganesh with his Shakti on a staff of the Bhimsen temple
A blue four-armed dancing Ganesh, on a wood-staff of the Minanath temple, etc.

Bhaktapur

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Third famous centre of the Kathmandu valley, Bhaktapur is a small but very pretty city, with its old wood houses, its magnificent palace called the 55 windows palace, its innumerable temples that you must take time to discover...

Here again, most beautiful Ganesh statues are waiting for the visitor and the worshipper :

On the gilt bronze (Golden Gate or Sun Dokha) of the Royal Palace,
On temples torana Upper part of a carved wooden door, in the form of an arch,
At the Hanuman Ghat where one can look at excellent multiple-headed and multiple armed Ganesh statues, among which one must underline the supremacy of a large (1,5 m high) and impressive Ganesh
In a small Ganesh temple on the Potters' Square
In the Surje Vinâyaka temple dedicated to a particular form of Ganesh (out of the city, on a hill). Look at pictures.
And, obviously, in museums.

Jal Vinayaka temple in Chobar

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The Jal Vinayaka temple, dedicated to Ganesh, is located six km from Kathmandu, near the Chobar defile of the Bagmati, where a suspension-bridge for pedestrians, built in the early 20th century, cross the river.

The present temple has been constructed in 1603 but the sanctuary is, indeed, much older. Built with a triple roof, its displays on the wood-stalls, various Ganesh forms of different colors, over small erotic images. Facing the inner sanctuary, a huge rat, perched on a tall rectangular pedestal, looks at the Ganesh representation in the sanctuary. Here, the god is shown like an unshapped rock. As usual in Nepal, he receives animal sacrifices (poultry).

Kirtipur

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The Kirtipur city, on the top of a hill, towers over Kathmandu. In fact, Kirtipur is a Kathmandu suburb far from 5 km only, where is located, among others, the University campus, at the foot of the hill. The old city, on the summit, is a pleasant place to go for a walk. One will look at old typical Newari houses, visiting also the Bagh Bhairav and Uma Maheshvar temples. Around the Bagh Bhairav temple, one will meet some Ganesh representations, as well as in street small shrines.

Panauti and Banepa

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One has to go by road (Arniko Highway) to the eastern part of the Kathmandu valley, forty km from the city..

About 7 km south Banepa, apart the main highway, the Panauti village keeps the wonderful Indreshwar Mahadev temple. In the lane in front of the temple, a small Ganesh shrine abides a rough form of the god.

Coming back to Banepa, one will stop in the city centre, near a pond closed by walls. On its shore, stands one of the very best Ganesh of the valley. He is sitting on two rats and is about 1,5 m high. Going further in the north direction via a small road, one will arrive 1 km later to the Chandeshwari temple. Spendid, it is worth visiting, but no Ganesh has to be mentionned here.

Museums

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The main cities, Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur are true open air museums, at least for architectural items. But, one would miss great aesthetic delight in neglecting a visit to museums. The most beautiful one is doubtlessly the Patan Museum. Settled in a wing of the Royal Palace, on Durbar Square, it provides superb displays and the presented items are of the very high quality. If you intend to visit only one museum in Nepal, the Patan museum must be chosen.

The National Museum in Kathmandu is the most comprehensive or, better to say, the bigger one. If one spends the necessary time to visit it the detail, looking carefully at all the pieces, one discover many beautiful statues... But forget the oldish display. The National Museum is located at mid distance between Thamel, the touristic Kathmandu area, and Swayambhunath.

The Bhaktapur Museum, settled in the Royal Palace on Durbar Square, is mostly interesting for its many tibetan thangka. The room where some statues are on display is very limited (pictures forbidden).

Two other small museums must be mentioned in Bhaktapur : a museum of wood, and a museum of copper handicraft. Both are located behind the Dattatreya temple, on Tachupal Tole.

Other locations

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Ancient Ganesh can be found in many places in Nepal, particularly in the Kathmandu valley. It is often really difficult to get a good idea about how old they can be because the Malla style has been used for a very long period and is even still copied in reproductions. In addition, statues in shrines are vermilion-painted and receive daily liquid offerings, so that they often loose their original form.

We will indicate, as exemples for the visitor willing to ramble here and there, a few locations. Some are considered compulsory, because highly touristic, like Swayambhunath or Pashupatinath, others are less known, like Gokarna, Sekh Narayana, Panauti, Banepa, Sunkoti, Thetau, etc.

Go there, you will not regret it.

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