The Historic Sacred Shrines in Surkhet
Surkhet valley was part of the Khas Kingdom that controlled parts of Nepal, India and Tibet between the 11th and early 14th centuries. The Sinja Valley in Jumla District of the Karnali Province was the kingdom’s capital city. However, the Surkhet valley which connects the northern Himalayas to southern plains of Terai was the central point of trade in the Middle Ages. There are several archaeological sites, temples and ruins located in the area.
The forests in Karnali region are dense and enigmatic, hiding numerous secrets within them. One such forest is the protected area surrounding Kakre Vihar in the Surkhet Valley. The Kakre Vihar protected area covers an area of 167 hectares of forested land. In the middle of the forest is the Kakre Vihar, a Buddhist temple with the most unique stone carvings in the country. It is a Shikhara style (curviliniear) temple decorated with Buddhist sculptural art representing Gautama Buddha and other Buddhist and Hindu deities. Artifacts scattered across the site include statues, stone walls, facades which were part of the temple in past.
Most of the sculptures in the temple portray Gautama Buddha in different mudras (gestures which symbolize divine manifestation) such as Gautama Buddha in Abhaya Mudra, Dana Mudra, Budhha in Dharmachakra Mudra and the Saravasti miracle. Furthermore, there are sculptures that narrate different tales and events in the life of Buddha such as the birth-story of the Buddha in which Mayadevi is seen standing on the platform together with her new born baby prince Siddartha Gautama, Buddha’s enlightment and Budhha holding honey offered by monkeys. Furthermore, there sculptures of Hindu deities like Shiva, Paravati and Saraswati carved in the temple.
According to some historians, Kakre Vihar was built by Khas King Ashok Challa (1223–1287). However, others believe it could have been built earlier during the reign Krachalla Deva (1207-1223). Krachalla Deva is often described as a devout Buddhist who also deeply respected Hinduism. The Khas kingdom was a confluence of Buddhism and Hinduism. Kakre Vihar is the oldest temple in Surkhet — several temples were built by the Khas Kings but most of them have been lost to time. The temple remained hidden in the forest for years and was only discovered by archeologists in the 20th century. The excavation and renovation of the temple began more than 5 decades ago when King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah visited the place and provided resources for its protection.
Lattikoili Mahadev Shivalaya
The Latikoili Mahadev is the most popular Shivalaya (temple of Hindu deity Shiva) in the region. The temple located west of Kakre Vihar temple in Latikoili, Surkhet is considered by some to be as old as Kare Vihar. However, according to the priest and caretaker of the temple, it was built by King of Jumla in 1639 B.S The fascinating thing about the temple is that it is believed the temple was built out of a single colossal stone. Next to the temple is a massive sculpture of Ardhanarishvara (half female, half male figure of god Shiva and goddess Parvati). holding the Trishul (Shiva’s trident). It is believed that only god Shiva and his companion goddess Parvati have the strength to bear the Trishul’s vast energy. It is a significant pilgrimage site of the Hindus in the region. The Shivalaya is visited by devotees all-year-long, particularly on Mondays. The festivals of Maha Shiva Ratri (the great night of Shiva) and Teej are celebrated here with great zeal.
People believe that worshipping the Mahadev cures developmental issues in infants and young children particularly the problems related to language and speech. According to a local legend, there was a latti koili (voiceless cuckoo) that used to roam around the village. One day, the bird accidentally dropped a flower on the lingam and it started singing.
Situated in Birendranagar, Surkhet stands the wish fulfilling goddess, Deuti Bajai. The temple exudes an aura of mystery and spirituality. This goddess is believed to fulfill your deepest wishes. Only the people from the Raji (ethnic tribe) community have the rights to be priest in the temple. Unlike many temples in the country, Raji women can also be priests. There are many myths associated with Deuti Bajai. One of the legends states that one day, while fishing in the Bheri river, a fisherman belonging to the Raji community caught something big in his fishing net. He was shocked when he discovered a lady in his fishing net. The maiden is said to have fulfilled the wishes of the villagers. She has been worshipped by people in Surkhet ever since. Thousands of devotees from mostly the eastern Terai and the surrounding hill districts come to visit the Goddess Deuti Bajai.