The Sheshnaryan Temple & Rigzin Drubte Ghatshal Monastery
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A God, a King and a prophetic vision
Lord Vishnu is one of the principal deities of Hinduism. He is part of the holy trinity that consists of three gods — Brahma, the creator, Shiva, the god of destruction and Vishnu who is responsible for the protection the universe.
Vishnu is often depicted sleeping in a snake bed. The snake being Sheshnaaga, the King of snakes. Vishnu has four hands. His hands hold four symbolic objects in them, representing the things he is in charge for: the conch, the chakra, the club, and the lotus flower.
Kings of Nepal had a unique relationship with Lord Vishnu. They were often regarded as incarnations of Vishnu. However, they were prohibited from visiting the most iconic Vishnu idol in Nepal, the Budanilkantha temple.
According to legend, King Pratap Malla had a prophetic vision in the 17th century that if the kings of the valley visited the temple of Budanilkantha, they would die. Nevertheless, there have been numerous Vishnu temples built by Kings all over Nepal, particularly in the Kathmandu Valley.
Sheshnarayan village lies on the road to Dakshinkali and is now part of the Dakshinkali municipality. The place got its name from the Sheshnarayan Temple (Shesh meaning cosmic snake and Naryana meaning the one who rests on waters of creation).
The temple is one of the four Narayan (Lord Vishnu) temples in the valley, the others being Changu Narayan temple in Bhaktapur, Ichangu Narayan 3km northwest of Swayambhunath and Bishanku Narayan in Godawari, Lalitpur. Lichhavi kings were great devotees of Vishnu and many of them followed Vaishnavism.
The temples were built in the four corners of the valley during the Lichhavi era to protect the valley from evil powers and enemy forces. It is believed that the four temples were established by Lichhavi King Vishnu Gupta, although the history of some of the Narayan temples pre-date his reign and many of them have been renovated and rebuilt many times by several kings including the Malla Kings who ruled the valley after the Lichhavi Kings.
After walking the stairs leading to the temple, there is a large stalactite shaped like a cow’s udder and under it lay the Sheshnarayan Temple. According to the priest, milk used to flow down from the formation to the temple.
Facing the temples were artfully carved Lichhavi era statues of the gods Hanuman and Garuda. There is a pond below the temple called “Basuki kunda”. According to a legend, the pond was created when an old priest of the temple could no longer fetch water from the Bagmati River to perform the daily rituals.
After heavy rain, the water level of the pond became so great that the priest couldn’t cross it to reach the temple from his house close to the temple. Suddenly, a pair of Nagas (serpents) appeared and stretched themselves across the water to form a bridge, helping the priest to reach the other side.
Every year, the locals put slender wooden poles into the pond to pay tribute to the two serpents and to commemorate the event.
Water from this holy pond flows into the other four tiny ponds with semi-submerged carvings. There are colourful fish moving around the carvings showcasing how nature has taken over the heritage site.
Rigzin Drubte Ghatshal Monastery
In the same complex, close to the the Sheshnarayan Temple is the oldest monastery in Pharping, Rigzin Drubte Ghatshal Monastery. It is a great example of religious and cultural pluralism in Nepal. Most Nepali people practice religion in a pluralistic way.
The cultural and social proximity between Hinduism and Buddhism is a result of interaction and accommodation over thousand years. There is a tiny opening on the monastery’s wall that leads into a small cave. It is believed that Padmasambhava “Born from a Lotus” also known as Guru Rinpoche meditated in the cave for 7 years, 7 months and 7 days.
Buddhist devotees light up candles outside the cave, honoring Guru Rinpoche. There is another cave known as the Asura cave, half a mile away from the first cave. It is believed Padmasambhava practised the completion stage of Yangdak Heruka in the cave.
According to an age-old tale, a tunnel connects Asura cave to the cave down below. The hand print outside the cave has different stories attached to it as well. While some believe it is the hand print of Guru Rinpoche himself, others believe that one of followers of Guru Rinpoche was so astonished by seeing him that he slapped hard on the rock forming the print.
The cave is illuminated by butter lamps and a Buddhist monk can often be seen in deep meditative inside. The site is near the ancient town of Pharping, which is considered as an important centre of Tibetan Buddhism in Nepal.
According to the locals, Pharping used to be called “Phamting”, because it was the birthplace of Phamtingpa, the son of Buddhist Mahasiddha, Naropa. The place is also known as Yanglesho among Tibetans. There are numerous Buddhist monasteries in Pharping which is worth exploring.