The Ancient Town of Panauti and its Heritage
Panauti is one of the oldest towns in Nepal situated at the confluence of the two rivers Punyamata and Rosi. Legend has it that a third invisible river also meets with the two rivers, making it a Triveni (a scared place where three rivers meet). Many believe Panauti was named after the Punyamata river. Moreover, Panauti has been called by different names throughout history like Punyawati, Punyamatinagar, Panchal desh, Punanti and Palaati.
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The Ancient Town
The ancient town in Kavrepalanchok District offers a step back in time with its aged buildings, historical temples, narrow alleys and traditional living lifestyle. It is located about located 32 kilometers Southeast of the capital city Kathmandu. Many great kings and civilizations have left their endless traces here. Panauti was known for its strategic importance and trade background since the ancient times.
Some historical documents show that Panauti was established by King Ananda Malla during the 13th century. There are scriptures that state King Hari Singh Dev founded the town in the 14th century. Yet, archaeological findings prove that Panauti was settled much earlier, in the Kirant period more than 1,500 years ago. The town flourished during the Malla reign and is endowed with cultural sites and historical heritage dating back to the Malla kings.
The finest example of it being the Indreshwar Mahadev temple complex which has several shrines such as the impressive Unmatta Bhairava temple, Tulanarayan temple and a small museum which displays some impressive historical artefacts.
Indreshwar Mahadev temple
Indreshwar Mahadev temple is the largest temple in Panauti and one of the oldest in Nepal. It is believed that Gautama Maharishi, a Hindu sage mentioned in the Hindu epic Ramayana, lived in an ashram in Panauti with his wife Ahalya, who was considered as the most beautiful woman at the time.
According a folklore, Indra, the King of heaven, was attracted to Ahalya’s divine beauty. Indra disguised himself as the sage and entered Gautama’s ashram when the sage was away. On returning, Sage Gautama found his wife with Indra.
The furious sage Gautama cursed Lord Indra to be covered with a thousand vaginas all over his body, and Ahalya to be turned to stone. Indra redeemed himself after taking a holy dip in the Triveni and worshipping the Shiva lingam in the temple for 12 years and Ahalya was released from the curse and turned back to her human form when Ram, an avatar of Vishnu entered the ashram and his foot accidently brushed the stone.
Ahalya regained her human form but there’s a stone in the northern side of the temple which people believe is Ahalya in her stone form.
The Unmatta Bhairava temple
The Unmatta Bhairava temple in Panauti was built in the 16th century. The temple is dedicated to Unmatta Bhairava, one of eight manifestations of the god Bhairava, others being Asitanga, Ruru, Chanda, Krodha, Bheeshana and Samhara. Inside the temple there is a sculpture of God Bhairava with a white cloth draped around him. There are also other statues of goddesses.
It is believed that worshipping Unmatta Bhairava helps an individual control their ego, arrogance and narcissism. It is a two-storey temple with three open windows on the upper floor with figurines looking out of the windows. The figures are representation of Guru Gorakhnath, a Hindu saint in various ritual gestures and looking at the Indreshwar Mahadev temple.
Guru Gorakhnath was a Hindu yogi and a student of Matsyendranath. Historians don’t agree about when he lived because he is said to have appeared in different locations from 11th to 18th century. Gorakhnath had mastered all his senses and had complete control over kaam (sexuality), krodh (temper), lobh (greed) and moh (worldly attachments). There is also a temple dedicated to Gorakhnath on top of the Gorakhnath hill in Panauti which is a short hike away from the temple.
The Tulanarayan Temple, a dome style temple dedicated to Lord Naryana also known as Lord Vishnu is in the eastern side of the Indreshwar temple. There is an immense idol of Lord Vishnu carved in black stone inside the temple.
A 15th century inscription written on a gold plate mentions that King Jaya Singh donated gold equal to his body weight for the temple’s development. Another notable temple is the 18th century Brahmayani temple by the river which is dedicated to mother goddess Brahmayani. Infront of it is the Triveni ghat (the series of steps leading down to river).
Birthplace of Namo Buddha
Panauti is also a famous site for the people who follow Buddhism because it was the birthplace of Prince Mahasatwa also known as Namo Buddha. There is a tiny white stupa in the location where he is believed to have taken birth. The prince was known for his kindness.
One day during a jungle trip, he encountered a weak mother tigress who was unable to feed her 5 young cubs. He felt sorry for the poor animals and sacrificed himself in order to feed the starving tigress and her new born cubs. This act of compassion and sacrifice elevated the royal prince to the status of Buddha.
The bone relics of this Prince Mahasattva are housed in the stupa at Namobuddha. Namobuddha monastery, which is one of the most famous monasteries in the country is very close to Panauti.
The Palace Ruins and the Jatras of Panauti
Very little archaeological study has been done in the ruins of the Royal Palace of Panauti. An ancient well, old coins and stone taps were discovered during the excavation.
It was supposedly a huge palace with various courtyards and a temple of the goddess Taleju which is a prominent feature of all the royal palaces in Nepal. You can see squares inside which are the foundations where the palace and the temple used to stand.
It is said that there are approximately 30 Jatras in Panauti including the three-day long Panauti Jatra, a chariot festival which takes place every year at the end of monsoon.
The biggest event in Panuti is however, the Makar Mela (carnival) happening every 12 years. Thousands of devotees take a holy bath in the Triveni during the festival, hoping the rivers can wash away their sins just like it washed away Lord Indra’s sin.