Gokarneshwar – A sacred site on the bank of the Bagmati River
The Bagmati River is a sacred body of water to Hindus. A holy dip in the Bagmati river is said to free people from all the sins they have committed in this lifetime. There are numerous legends surrounding the formation of the river and the creation of temples on its banks.
Along with the great Pashupatinath temple, Gokarneshwar, also known as Gokarna is one of the holiest places located on the banks of river Bagmati in Kathmandu. The Gokarneshwar Mahadev Temple is a prominent Shiva temple on the bank of the Bagmati River.
According to legend, Ravana, the King of demons did penance at Gokarneshwar to please Lord Shiva. Kushe Aunsi, the fathers’ day festival in Nepal is also known as Gokarna Aunsi. Numerous people throng the town of Gokarna on this day to perform annual death ritual in the memory of their deceased fathers in order to bring them peace and salvation.
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The history and legend of Gokarneshwar
The present day three-tiered pagoda style temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is located in Gokarneshwar municipality, Kathmandu which is 4 kilometers away from the famous Boudanath Stupa. The Gokarneshwar Mahadev temple was built in the 16th century.
However, archaeological evidences in and around the temple date back to the Lichhavi era. It is believed that Gokarna was a sacred site even before the Lichhavi rule, during the Kirant rule. Gokarna was the capital city of the Kirant Dynasty when they ruled the Kathmandu Valley.
During the rule of the 28th Kirant King Patuk, there was a beautiful palace in Gokarna. The Soma dynasty rulers attacked his palace many times from the west. Although the Kiranti soldiers repelled their attacks, the palace was damaged and the King was forced to move to Shankhamul. The King built a royal palace called “Patuk Durbar” in Patan.
Religiously, the place itself existed long before the Kirant dynasty. Gokarna has been mentioned in puranas (Hindu literature) including the famous Shree Swasthani Bartha Katha. As the story goes, Lord Shiva was wandering the forests of Gokarna in the disguise of a deer.
In the absence of Mahadev himself, chaos ensued in the universe. Goddess Parvati spotted Lord Shiva who had taken the form of the Chital deer. She requested the gods Vishnu, Brahma and Indra to catch the deer. The powerful gods came down to earth and somehow caught the deer but his horn was broken into 3 pieces during the struggle. The deer escaped but later transformed into his original form as Lord Shiva.
He gave the 3 pieces to Lord Vishnu, Brahma and Indra. One of them was kept in heaven, another in hell and the third piece was buried on the grounds of Gokarna where the temple was later built.
The Tree Shrine and rare sculptures
A popular attraction in Gokarna is the Bal Bhakteshwor Mahadev temple which has been taken over my nature. The Bal Bhakteshwor Mahadev is known as the “tree shrine”. The Peepal tree originally grew out of a small temple which is gradually becoming part of nature. The Peepal is a sacred tree in Hinduism. It is believed that, Lord Brahma lives in the peepal tree’s roots, Lord Vishnu lives in its trunk, and Lord Shiva lives in its leaves.
Some of the rarest sculptures of Hindu deities can be found in the temple premises such as a rare sculpture of God Indra on top of his elephant Airavata, which reinforces his characteristic of King of the Gods.
Indra also known as the god of rain and regent of the heavens is surrounded by 4 idols of Apsaras, the female spirits of cloud and water. Another idol that stands out is the unique idol of Goddess Ganga with four arms and a pot on her head from which she pours the Ganga River.
Goddess Ganga is personification of the divine river Ganga. Ganga is considered as the holiest River on earth by Hindus and most of the big tributaries of the Ganga flow down from Nepal. Furthermore, you can also see a glorious statue of Sitala Ma who is the goddess associated with curing smallpox. She is also known as the protector of children.
Bodhisattva Gaganganja and Prince Gokarna
It is believed that a long time ago, there was a Prince named Gokarna who committed a lot of sins and caused a lot of chaos in the kingdom of Gokarna. The King who was a great ruler, couldn’t tolerate his son’s terrible behaviour and sent him into exile.
However, the King couldn’t bear the separation with his son and passed away. The king’s spirit didn’t get salvation and roamed around the kingdom as a ghost. Meanwhile, the prince who was in exile suffered a lot too. Upon realizing the pain he caused to the King and others, the prince did penance in Punya tirtha.
Pleased by his dedication, Bodhisattva Gaganganja (One of the 8 Bodhisattvas) appeared before the prince and instructed him to perform the necessary rituals so that his father’s spirit could find peace. The prince performed the rituals and the King’s spirit finally found peace. Since then, it is believed that, if the children perform Shraddha (make a ceremonial offering to the deceased father) at Gokarneshwar then they can gain deliverance from the circle of life and death.
Uttar Bahini Temple area
Another place in Gokarna where the rituals are performed is the Uttar Bahini temple are which lies to the west of the Gokarneshwar Mahadev temple. The place is called Uttar Bahini because the Bagmati river here moves Uttar (North).
It is also known as Uttar Gaya, referring to the Gaya, a holy site in India. There is a historic temple of Kanti Bhairava on the bank of the river. It is Octagonal single roof temple dedicated to both Lord Shiva and Bhairva. The temple has been revered by the locals since the reign of Lichhavi King Mandev.
On the occasion of Mata Tirtha Aunsi, the Nepali Mother’s Day, a special Jatra (festival) is held in the temple where the gods Bhairava, Kumari and Ganesh are worshipped. A Panchamukhi Hanumana (five faced Hanumana) is also part of the Uttar Bahini temple area. The temple is located on the other side of the river. Panchamukhi Hanumana is a virat (supreme) form of Lord Hanumana.
He is depicted with five divine faces (Hanumana, Narsimha, Garuda, Varaha, Hayagriva) staring in different directions. It is said that he protects people from evil spirits, ghosts and gives them strength to face their biggest fears.