Built in the Lichhavi period, Changu Narayan Temple is said to be the oldest Hindu temple in the Kathmandu Valley
There are many temples spread across Kathmandu Valley and most of them date back to the Malla era. But there is one temple in the valley that was built before the Malla period. Perched on a hill, standing splendidly over the rice fields of Bhaktapur, the Changu Narayan Temple has a history that dates back to around 3000 years.
This UNESCO world heritage site is believed to have been built around the 4th century by Lichhavi King Mandev. This temple is one of the few sites from that period that is still standing today. Believed to be the oldest temple in the valley, this double-roofed pagoda styled temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu in his incarnation as Narayan.
As I enter the temple square, the priest is getting ready for the evening aarti. Walking around the temple I notice the struts on the roof have intricate carvings. Curious to know what they were, I ask the priest who tells me these struts have ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu and various other tantric goddesses on them. He then points to two large pillars next to the entrance and tells me they carry a conch and chakra disc which are the traditional symbols of Vishnu which have an inscription in Sanskrit and is assumed to have been erected around 400 AD.
All incarnations of Lord Vishnu are highly revered by Hindu devotees. A stone statue of Garuda kneels in front of the west face of the temple is said to have been there since the 5th century. Next to it, the priest says, is the oldest stone inscription in the valley where a Lichhavi king has persuaded his mother not to commit sati after his father’s death. If you look closely you will find a cage in front of the temple’s main entrance, where you can find small statues of former King of Bhaktapur, Bhupatindra Malla and his queen.
This ancient temple is home to many stone carvings that date back to the Lichhavi period. The statue of Vishnu in a half man and a half lion incarnation called Narsingha is something you shouldn’t miss. In the northwest corner of the compound is an exquisite 7th-century image of Vishnu astride Garuda, which is illustrated on the Rs 10 banknote. I had to check to be sure.
The temple is surrounded by sculptures and arts related to Lord Vishnu. You can find the 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, graffins and elephants on each side of the entrances.
As one walks towards the temple, you will notice the Changu Museum. This museum, opened in 2000 is believed to be Nepal’s first private museum and houses ancient coins, tools, art and other rare objects. As the area is inhabited by the Newar community, the museum also has a collection of ancient tools used by Newars during the medieval period. The entrance fee for Nepalese is NRs. 50 and NRs. 300 is charged for a foreigner.