The Changu Narayan Temple
The Village of Changu Narayan
The Oldest Hindu Temple in Kathmandu
One of the temples that stayed in my memory of our trip to Nepal is Changu Narayan. It covers at least seventeen hundred years of Nepalese cultural development. It is full of the best examples of stone, wood, and metal craft in Kathmandu.
Changu, the site for this temple, is sometimes called Dolagiri, Dolparvat, Dolasikhar, Champakaranya or Champapur Mahanagar. Champapur Mahanagar, what Changu was called back in the 3rd century, was then a thriving metropolis with 700 houses. The priests still use this name in religious pujas.
Rebuilt around 1700 after it was destroyed by fire, UNESCO declared it in 1979 as one of the 7 world heritage sites in Kathmandu. This is largely due to the stone carvings and bas reliefs done between the 5th and 13th century and inscriptions found around the temple courtyard.
Perched on a ridge about 18 kms east of Kathmandu, Changu Narayan offers one of the spectacular views of Kathmandu. It is also one of those places that envelops you in solitude and peace. On the way, you will see farms most of which looked exactly like what they were centuries ago. On a clear day, you can have a peek at the Himalayan peaks and it is quite a treat.
The Changu Narayan Temple
Have you been to Changu Narayan - Share with us
Have you been to Changu Narayan?
How to Go to Changu Narayan
Car, Taxi or Bicycle from Kathmandu
To go to Changu Narayan, you can hire a taxi from Kathmandu or Bhaktapur depending on where you are staying.
If you are staying in Bhaktapur, you can walk there. I will not recommend that you see both Bhaktapur and Changu Narayan in one day unless you are really pressed for time. There is just too much to absorb in both that dedicating one day for each would be worth your while.
You can also go by bicycle from Kathmandu or Bhaktapur. I preferred the car as the temple is quite a walk uphill. It stands 1541 meters above sea level.
But, if you have the stamina, there are guided treks enjoyed by so many tourists because of the picturesque valley and the view of the Himalayas with homes and villages on the way that remind you of the not so recent times.
Walk Through the Village of Changu
The walk towards the temple is very interesting as you see homes of the villagers, farms interspersed with stores and restaurants. It is an ancient village with still some of the older homes lived in.
There are stores attracting the usual tourist dollars but not aggressively. In fact, I went in a thangka store and really enjoyed the conversation with the owner. I learned a lot about thangkas just by passing by that store. It was a school at the same time, the Champak Thanka Painting School, for those who want to learn how to paint thangkas. The present owner, Dim Lama, who is fifth generation thanka painter showed me the older works that his father did and the difference between these ones and the modern mass produced ones we see a lot of.
The Pillar of Stone at Changu Narayan
Stone Inscription in the Temple
Dated 464 A.D., the stone inscription in front of the temple details the story of Dharmadeva, a Nepalese King who died suddenly and was succeeded by his son who, after a series of victories in war inscribed the victory on a stone pillar. This is considered the oldest insciption on stone in Nepal.
The Legend of Changu Narayan
The Nitya Puja worship at Changu Narayan remembers this legend. This legend tells of how Lord Vishnu in his act of destroying the evil king Chand, killed a Brahmin Sumati. Sumati's teacher got very angry with Vishnu as that act was then considered a heinous crime. He put a curse on Vishnu, that in the future, he will be beheaded by a Brahman.
Vishnu wandered around on Garuda, the mythical half man, half bird form. Upon reaching Changu, a hermit by the name of Sudarsana, not recognizing Lord Vishnu, beheaded him. Vishnu, to mark his redemption from the evil he did, decided to live on the hill of Changu and declared that everyone who worships him at there on the day of the full moon or on Wednesdays will also be exonerated. Thus, the nitya puja ritual worship at Changu Narayan.
Here, to remember the beheading of Vishnu, his image is one of the head and the other of the body.
How Changu Narayan Temple was Built
Changu Narayan is believed to have been built by Haridutta Varma, a Licchavi king who ruled around 325 AD several generations before Manadev I. It is considered to be the oldest temple of Nepal.
Chronicles say that at that time Haridutta had ordered the building of four hilltop Narayan temples around the Valley, namely, Ichangu Narayan, Sikhara Narayan, and Lokapalasvamin. The inscription on Garuda Dhwaja, a pillar that tells of the victorious Manadev is the oldest inscription to have been discovered in Nepal.
The Statues in the Temple
Different Statues at Changu Narayan
The statues in this temple are very interesting. At the entrance of the main temple is a huge statue of a kneeling Garuda, the flying vehicle of Lord Vishnu. It dates back to the 5th century. Also here, in an ornate cage are the statues of The Malla King, Bhupalendra and his Queen, Bhuvanlaxmi.
There is also a sixth century stone statue of Vishnu Viswarup, the universal form of Lord Vishnu.
On the Lakshmi Narayan Temple there is an 8th century statue of six-armed Trivikratha (Lord Vamana). Next to it is a statue of Lord Narasimha, the man-lion incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Behind is a little black slab that has an image of Narayan lying on the traditional serpent Ananta and above it Lord Vishnu with 10 arms and heads.
Changu Narayan Entrance
Depictions of Incarnations of Vishnu
To the right of the temple entrance are smaller shrines and a platform with a carved stone on top. This bas-relief depicts two different incarnations of Vishnu.
At the bottom of the stone, Vishnu is shown reclining on a bed of snakes. Above this, a 10-headed standing Vishnu is depicted. The detail in this 5th- or 6th-century stone carving is amazing.
In the northeast corner of the courtyard is an important bas-relief that depicts Vishnu riding on the back of Garuda. This is the model for the image on the back of the Nepali 10-rupee note.
Gilded Doors in Changu Narayan
The beautifully gilded door is guarded by stone lions. It is beautifully crafted with intricate gilded windows on either side. On four pillars in the four corners are the symbols representing Lord Vishnu: the chakra (disc) and conch shell, the lotus (padma), and club (gada).
As you go around, you find doors made of bronze, bells decorated with dragons and girffins and devas looking out from the walls and steps. It is as if you are surrounded by spirits.
As you watch the video below, take note of the elaborate designs used in this temple. It is a feast to the eyes and a tribute to the talent and workmanship of the Newari artisans.
The Changu Narayan Temple temple is a showcase for Newari art and architecture of the early century as seen in the stone, wood and metal craft.
Right in the village of Changu is an old Newari house transformed into a museum. The descendants of the owners are on hand to show you the house and the ways of life of the Newaris, one of the most advanced cultures in Nepal.
You can see the typical family place for daily offering. Most modern Newari homes still have this offering room as a feature as they still practice their daily offering to the gods.
There is the typical Newari kitchen with its cooking utensils and pots. While in Kathmandu, try some Newari food. There are some restaurants that devote themselves to Newari kitchen often situated in a typical Newari home.
You can see how they stored food, milled rice and did crafts as the Newaris are one of the most artistic peoples in the Kathmandu Valley.
Newari Art - Know this art?
Are you familiar with Newari art?
© 2010 Mary Norton