The ancient temple of Changu Narayana is located on a high hilltop that is also known as Changu or Dolagiri. The temple is surrounded by forest with champak tree and a small village, known as Changu Village. The temple is located in Changu VDC of Bhaktapur District, Nepal. This hill is about 8 miles east of Kathmandu and a few miles north of Bhaktapur. The Manahara River flows beside the hill. This shrine is dedicated to Lord Visnu and held in especial reverence by the Hindu people. This temple is considered as the oldest temple in Nepal.
History of Changu Narayan
The pagoda style temple has several masterpieces of 5th and 12th century Nepalese art. According to legends Changu Narayan temple existed as early as 325 A.D. in the time of King Licchavi King Hari Datta Verma and it is one of Nepal's richest structures historically as well as artistically. In the grounds there is a stone pillar inscription of great importance recording the military exploits of King Man Deva who reigned from 496 A.D. to 524 A.D. The first epigraphic evidence of Nepalese history found in the temple premises during the reign of the Licchavi King Mandeva dating back to 464 A.D. shows that Changu had already been established as a sacred site in the 3rd century A.D. It is the earliest inscription known in Nepal. The temple was restored during the lifetime of Ganga Rani, consort of Siva Simha Malla who reigned from 1585 to 1614. There are records of the temple burning in the year of 822 Nepal Samvat (1702 A.D.), after which reconstruction was carried out. More inscriptions in gilt-copper plates were added by Bhaskara Malla in 1708 A.D.
Legend about Changu Narayan
In ancient time a Gwala, a cow herder, had brought a cow from a Brahman named Sudashan. The cow was known for producing large quantity of milk. The Gwala used to take the cow to Changu for grazing. At that time Changu was a forest of Champak tree. While grazing the cow it always goes to the shade of a particular tree. In the evening when the Gwala took the cow home and started milking the cow he got only very few amount of milk. This continued several days. He became very sad so he called the Brahmin and told him that the cow is not giving enough milk. Brahmin after observing the fact from his own eyes then planned with the Gwala to inspect the activities of cow during the day while she was grazing in the forest. Both Brahmin and Gwala hide themselves behind the trees and speculate the activities of cow. The cow went into the shade of a particular champak tree. To their surprise a small black boy came out from the tree and started liking the cow milk. Both became very furious and they thought that the boy must be the devil and tree must be its home. So Brahmin cut down the champak tree. When the Brahmin was cutting down the tree a fresh human blood came out from the tree. Both Brahmin and Gwala became worried and they thought that they have committed the great crime and they started crying.From the tree lord Vishnu emerged out and he told the Brahmin that it was not their fault. Lord Vishnu told them the story that he had committed a heinous crime by killing Shudarshan’s father unknowingly while hunting in the forest. After that he was cursed for the crime. He then wandered on earth on his mouth, the ‘Garuda’ eventually descending on the hill at Changu. There he lived in anonymity, surviving on milk stolen from a cow. When Brahmin cut down the tree, lord Vishnu was beheaded which freed Lord Vishnu from his sins. After hearing these words from Vishnu, Brahmin and Gwala started worshiping the place and they established a small time in the name of Lord Vishnu. Ever since that day, the site has been held sacred. . Even today we can find the descendant of Sudarshan Brahimin as priest of the temple and the descendents of Gwala as ghutiyars (conservators).
Changu Narayan Temple is situated at the top of the hill surrounded by forest of Champ tree. On the main way to temple courtyard, we can find human settlement. People from Newar community live in and around Changu Narayan area. With the development in tourism in this place, we can find many medium and small sized hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, etc. An ancient stone tap is located on the way to changunaran which is believed to have existed since the time of Lichhavi.
About Temple art and architectures:
Changu Narayan is considered as the oldest temple of Nepal. It remains a milestone in Nepali temple architecture with rich embossed works. The two storied roof temple is standing in a high plinth of stone. According to Professor Madhan Rimal ,Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Tribhuwan University, the temple is neither in Shikhara Style nor the Pagoda style. It has a unique architecture which he would like to describe as traditional Nepali style temple. The temple is all surrounded by sculptures and arts related to Lord Vishnu. Also we can find the temples of lord Shiva, Ashta Matrika, Chhinnamasta, Kileshwor and Krishna inside the courtyard of main temple. There are four entrances to the temple and these four entrance gates are guarded by life size pairs of animals such as lions, sarabhas, graffins and elephants on each side of the entrances. The ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu and the other idols are carved in the struts, which support the roof. The entrance door looks like gold plated with carving of Nagas (snakes). On the main entrance gate (i.e. western entrance gate), we can find the Chakra, Sankha, Kamal and Khadga all at the top of a stone pillar. These stone pillars has inscription in Sanskrit. This inscription is considered to be the oldest inscription of Nepal and the stone inscription pillar was erected by Lichhavi King Manadeva in 464 AD. The following monument are located while visiting the temple from the right side after entering from the main entrance (Eastern gate) to courtyard.
- Historical pillar erected by Mandeva in 464 AD
- Garuda:- flying vehicle of Lord Vishnu which has got a human face and is a devotee of Vishnu.
- Statue of Bhupalendra Malla, King of Kantipur and his queen BhuwanLakshmi.
- Chanda Narayan (Garuda Narayan):- 7th century stone sculpture of Vishnu riding on Garuda. This sculpture has been depicted in the 10 rupee paper note issued by Nepal Rastra Bank
- Sridhar Vishnu:- 9th century stone sculpture of Vishnu, Laxmi and Garuda which stands on the pedestals of various motifs.
- Vaikuntha Vishnu :- 16th century sculpture of Vishnu seated on the lalitason position on the six armed Garuda and Laxmi seated on the lap of Vishnu
- Chhinnamasta:- Temple dedicated to Chhinnamasta devi, who beheaded herself, offered her own blood to feed the hungry Dakini and Varnini.
- Vishworup:- 7th century stone sculpture- beautifully carved that depicts the scene from the Bhagwat Gita, in which Lord Krishna manifests his universal form to his devotee Arjun.
- Vishnu Vikrant :- 7th century sculpture of Trivikram Vishnu that depicts the scene of popular Hindu myth of Lord Vishnu and his beloved Bali Raja.
- Narasimha :- 7th century sculpture of Narasimha , an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, killing the demon King Hiranyakasyapa to save his beloved devotee Prahalad.
- Kileshwor:- small two storied temples of Lord Shiva, who is believed to have appeared in this place for the protection of the hill.
An information center is established at the entrance to Changu Village. They issue tickets to tourist. The information center has a public toilet for tourist. Also drinking water facilities is available for tourist. But the drink water facilities have not been managed properly. Only direct tap water is available there. According to Binaya Raj Shrestha, owner of Chagu Museum and the member of temple management committee, on an average 150 foreigners visit Changu.
A private museum is also located on in the Changu Narayan on the way to temple. According to Binaya Raj Shrestha, the owner of the museum, it is the first private museum of Nepal and it has the collection of ancient coins, tools, arts and architectures. There is an excellent collection of ancient, historical, artistic, religious, archaeological, cultural and other rare objects. The museum has a good collection of ancient tools used by Newar family during the medieval period. It was established o the occasion of millennium year 2000 AD with the permission of Changu Narayan VDC. The entrance fee for Nepalese is NRs. 30 and NRs. 60 is charged for foreigner. On an average 35 visitors visit this museum in a day. Mostly foreigners and Nepali students visit this museum.
Festivals and Fairs
Since the ancient period, many festivals and fairs have been organized on various occasions. One of the main festivals of Changu is called Changu Narayan Jatra. The festival ‘Mahashanan’ held here as an important festival. On the day of ‘Jugadi Nawami’ and ‘Haribodhini Ekadashi’ special puja is conducted in Changu. Daily puja and aarati is conducted in temple and on the occasion of family rituals, such as birthday, marriage, etc local conduct special puja in the temple.
Changu Narayan Temple is enlisted on the list of world heritage sites. The valuable stone sculpture and the ancient inscriptions have archeological, historical and cultural significance. Changu Narayan VDC is formed a committee called Changu Narayan Temple management Committee which is the responsible body to work for protection, preservation and management. Likewise Department of Archeology and Palace Management Office, Bhaktapur has also provided assistance on the conservation and preservation of the temple. Many local youth clubs are involved in managing festivals, organizing awareness programs in and around temple area.
Rampant mining of sand and stones from the Manohara stream is going on since long time. Local administration has failed to control the mining activities. Because of the mining activities the temple area has become prone to landslides. Due to overgrazing in the nearby forest, the chances of soil erosion and landslide are very high. The surrounding forest area should be protected in order to protect the temple area. The sculptures are very unique masterpieces. There is a challenge regarding their security. Also the temple is getting older so renovation is necessary. The tourist information center has not been managed properly and they have not maintained good record of tourist. The museum is not issuing ticket bill after payment is made by Nepali visitors, which is bad. Although Changu is only 8 miles east of Kathmandu, bus service is still difficult. Newly constructed road to Changu is good but due to lack of proper local transportation arrangement, it is very difficult for tourist to reach there. A frequent bus service from Kathmandu to Changu is necessary for tourism to flourish in the area.
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