The Glory of Nepal

Bookworm Issue 127 Jun, 2012

Reviewed by Don Messerschmidt

A Mythological Guidebook to Kathmandu Valley Based on the Nepala-Mahatmya & Himavatkhanda

Do you have any idea how many sacred sites are located in the Kathmandu Valley? Have you ever wanted to go out and discover a few of them? If so, then this amazing guidebook will help you discover the religious basis of the Hindu holy sites. The authors, William P. Forbes with Vijay Kumar Chaube, have done a great service by translating the relevant literature and interpreting the sacred qualities of the Kathmandu Valley.

The main source of their work is the Nepala-Mahatmya, part of the historical Puranic literature in the Sanskrit language, the root language of ancient Hindu religion and culture. The Purans describe the great events of Hinduism and of South Asia’s mythic foundations. They are a major part of the old Aryan scriptures revealing the Himalayan abode of the gods and the Vedic dharma. In addition to the Mahatmya, parts of The Glory of Nepal are translated from a companion Sanskrit text known as the Himavatkhanda.

Nepal is known for mountains great sanctity, for the birthplace of the Buddha at Lumbini and of Sita, World Mother and wife of Shri Rama, at Janakpur, for the source of many great rivers and the location of many Hindu holy places. Amidst all its wonders the ancient Nepala-Mahatmya presents “a solid background for comprehending the religious and cultural beliefs and assumptions of mythological Nepal.”

In nine stories, The Glory of Nepal addresses three main issues: < Why the Himalayas are holy, < Why there are so many temples in the land, and < The origins of Hindu religious belief. The book’s nine chapters answer these questions: (1) How the Himalaya Became Holy, (2) How Human Beings Discovered the Wonderful Powers of the Himalaya, (3) How Shiva, as Pashupati, Settled in the Sacred Valley of Nepal, (4) How Vishnu Appeared as Changu-Narayan, and How the Greast Goddess Settled as Chandeshvari in this Sacred Valley, (5) How the First Human Pilgrim Came to this Sacred Valley, (6) How Ganesha Appeared Here as Suryavinayaka, (7) How Shri Krishna Saved the Sacred Valley When it was flooded by a Mighty Demon, or the Victory of Pradyumna, (8) How the Moon Came to the Sacred Valley and Regained His Lustre, and (9) How Bhringi, as Bunadhya, Circumambulated the Sacred Valley and Got Back His Divine Powers. It is in Chapter 9 that we learn how to find the sacred sites and shrines. It also spells out how pilgrims should comport themselves − what and when to eat, where and how to sleep, what rituals to perform, what mantras to receive.

The step by step guide to visiting the valley’s many sacred sites begins on page 202, followed conveniently by the ‘Location of Places Mentioned in the Story’ (in order of appearance), which makes it all the easier to follow, story by story, site by site.

In a personal commentary, Forbes describes the personal journey that led him to translate and interpret the ancient writings about the valley’s sacred places. He writes that at first he could find no explanation for the sanctity of the Himalayas. “Nobody,” he writes, “seemed to know the how or why of it.” In his subsequent translations of the ancient literature, he eventually “found some explanation, although not a ‘scientific’ one, of the unusual presence that the Himalayas seemed to possess... It also seemed to give me a more concrete notion of their influence on me since I had moved to this beautiful valley in their lap.”

Forbes also accessed the translations and commentaries by many authorities, including Nepal’s venerable Yogi Naraharinath, and Muktinath Khanal, Kedarnath Sharma, Helga Uebach, Horst Brinkhaus, Jayaraj Acharya, and others, as well as detailed religious geographies and encyclopedic dictionaries. It’s a well-sourced guidebook.

The book also has a Map, Glossary, Bibliography, Forbes’ commentary entitled ‘How I got a Life from the Nepala-Mahatmya’, and a ‘Summation’ by Chaube. It is recommended for anyone wishing to delve into the sanctity of the Valley and to set out on their own pilgrimage of  discovery.