Palanchok Bhagwati

Destination Issue 85 Jul, 2010
Text and Photo By Ravi Man Singh

May the divine Maharaja Sri Manadeva continue to direct  us more than 100 years. This
day, the wife of Samrat Grahapati, by name Vijyaswamini, set up the image of Goddess Bhagwati Vijayasri. Bikram Samvat 425(503 A.D), reads the epigraph on a stone stele, the jahari asan, said to be a goddess settee.  Following the consecration of this temple of Mahesmarjane Raktavarne Palanchok Bhagwati, the little known settlement called Jagpankpur, the present day Palanchok, became widely known and venerable. 
Going by the ancient myths, the emergence of the Palanchok temple was purely co-incidental. The then ruler of Nepal, the first king of the Licchavi dynasty, King Manadeva I (464-505 A.D.), once in his dream is visited by Godess Bhagwati who wishes her idol, located at a small village called Buchhakot (Kavre district),  be relocated some place with a northerly bearing. Guided by this divine vision, the King

and queen eventually set upon this sacred mission north of Buchhakot with the idol of Goddess Bhagwati. At sundown, the royal entourage pitches camp at a wooded hill called Jagpankpur. Next day at daybreak, the King and Queen with their retinue prepare to strike off camp. To the astonishment of everyone, the idol of Bhagwati despite every possible attempt made could not be hoisted. Mystery and uncertainty grips the royal camp. Priests are called in for consultation. Unexpected circumstances insinuated the Goddess Bhagwati to wish herself to be relocated at this very spot, the learned pundits and priests advised the King to this effect. Consequently, the foundation stone of Palanchok Bhagwati temple is laid. Every year, the residents of Buchhakot which sits atop a hill to the south of Palanchok (visible from the temple site) on the Sindhuli /Bardibas highway in Kavre district, visit Palanchok Bhagwati to pay their homage performing Chhyama Puja (a ritual asking forgiveness and granting of happiness and good health) on the full moon day of Baisakh (May) /Jestha (June).

Acknowledged as a Navadurga and united with the Shakti Peeth (holy places of cosmic powers), Palanchok Bhagwati Goddess is said to manifest herself in three different incarnations. The mornings find her as the embodiment of Supreme Power, the Divine Mother of the Universe, and the Savior of mankind from evil and misery, the Goddess Bhagwati or Ma Durga.  During the daytime, she reposes as Ma Saraswoti, the Goddess of Learning and Wisdom, and after sundown she transforms into the formidable Kali Ma, the terrible Destructress. The pujaris (priests) at the temple perform Nitya Puja (daily prayers) every morning. The evenings are scheduled for Aarati, paying homage to the Goddess by performing rites with lighted lamps.

Sacrificial ritual is another notable feature of this shrine. Unlike other temples, sacrifices are made here to propitiate the Goddess with no bar on days, even on Ekadashi ( the 11th day of a fortnight of a lunar month), Purne (full moon day) or Aunshi (The day with the darkest night with no moon of every lunar month).  Panchabalis (sacrifice of 5 kinds) that includes buffalo, goat, chicken, duck and sheep are made during the Dashain festival. Some devotees also offer pigeons meant for release or just duck eggs. Other form of worships, include bhakals (a vow made to the deity) lakh-batti ceremony (burning of 100,000 oil-dipped cotton lamps to win some favors), and just plain darshan (homage) and puja(veneration).

Revered as a pilgrimage site, the Bhagwati temple overflows with devotees on Saturdays and Tuesdays. On every Chandi Purnima or Baisakh Purnima (full moon day in May),  a festival marks the temple site with people streaming in from the nearby villages,  and towns mostly located‘ by the Arniko highway.   Twice every year, during Dashain and on Buddha Jayanti (Lord Buddha’s birth anniversary), chariots bearing the images of Goddess Bhagwati and Ma Kali are driven around the village of Palanchok Bhagwati.

Although the holy Hindu scriptures ordain the chanting of Vedic hymns (sacred scripture of divine knowledge) while worshipping Hindu God or Goddess, surprisingly, Buddhist tantrik( spiritual studies reflecting the practical aspect of Vedic tradition) verses are observed by the priests designated at the temple..

A five minute’s walk from the Bhagwati temple brings you to the temple of Goddess Kali, the Kalika temple. Devotees are supposed to first visit this Goddess, said to be the elder sister to Palanchok Bhagwati .The idol of Kali, resembling a stone pillar, is lodged in an inverted stance. “The reasons for this”, says the 65 years old senior priest of Palanchok temple, Mr. Vidyamananda Bajracharya, “was to stop the Kali’s frequent devouring of humans who happened to visit the Goddess after sundown. And to accomplish this the Gubhajus (priests from a newari clan) were sought  and Vedic mantras and tantrik rites were performed. However, this has no genealogy and there is no shred of evidence to support this legend,” remarks the priest. Palanchok Bhagwati is also said to be the elder sister to Sobha Bhagwati, and Naxal Bhagwati.

The structure of Palanchok Bhagwati temple is based on pagoda style. Studies reveal that the architectural marvels of pagoda style were initiated in Nepal during the Licchavi era.  This architecture was first brought to Nepal from Myanmar (Burma) in the Licchavi period and later adopted in China spreading far and wide into Asia. The pagoda-styled Palanchok temple is three tiered with wide overhanging eaves supported by intricately carved sal-wood tundals (struts). The topmost slanting roof is finished in burnished gold while the rest in copper gilt. The walls of the temple are finished in brick and elaborate wood carvings while the windows are latticed. The carved main gate is finished in heavy gold plated metal.  A triangular golden gajur (spire), embodying a jeweled crown, kalash(water vessel), lotus and a gong, make up the pinnacle. Bells and leaves in bronze hang in profusion under the eaves. To the front of the temple, two dhojas (long narrow pennons/banners), one gold-plated and the other a copper gilt, symbolizing the paths for the Gods to descend, dangle down the spire. Bronze and stone lions stand sentinel over the temple. The four-walls of the temple also houses, stone deities of Shiwa, Narayan, Mahalaxmi, Saraswati , Anantadevi , Ganesh and even Murkuttas(headless demons). The ubiquitous bells and gongs abound the temple. Outside the northern wall of the temple lies a slab of stone known as the Betal (phantom) where, according to the myths, sky and patal (the infernal regions) rendezvous on full moon nights.

Enshrined within the temple, the one meter tall idol of Bhagwati carved in polished black stone exhibits the exquisite features of Nepalese art and sculpture. Endowed with 18 arms, the idol is bedecked with silver ornaments. Swathed in vermillion, the Goddess Bhagwati’s arms brandish  a horde of astra/nastra (weaponry and symbols) like the patra (vessel), trishul (trident), axe, damaru (a miniature hand-held drum), chakra (lord Visnu’s disc), gadha (mace), Khunda (scimitar), fish, patra (skulls) and bell. More prodigious arms of Bhagwati extend and grab Mahisasur’s (demon King) toupee and the buffalo”s (Mahisasur’s incarnation) tail. Slain Shumbha and Nishumbha (demons, acting as Mahisasur’s henchmen) lie by the goddess’s feet.  Mounted on a lion, one of her feet tramples Mahisasur, while the hand holding the trident stabs him.

Located on a hilltop at an altitude of 5125 feet from sea level, this historic Palanchok Bhagwati temple, 56 kilometers east of Kathmandu valley, is accessible through the Arniko highway.  Only a two hours’ drive from Kathmandu, the road runs through familiar towns like Bhaktapur, Banepa and Dhulikhel. After Dhulikhel the road wends downhill to the fertile Panchkhal valley.  After Panchkhal, at a small settlement called Lamidanda (47 k.m. from Ktm), the road diverges uphill for the last leg of 9 kilometers to the temple. Notable places on this stretch include the Hokse village and the Nepal Army’s UN Peace Keeping Force training barracks.

Places of interest at Palanchok include a historic village with red soil plastered stucco houses, the Satthi Ghare (60 houses), the only settlement Palanchok had in the early stages. Save for a handful of houses, the entire village was rebuilt after being razed to the ground by the colossal earthquake of 1990 B.S. Miraculously, no harm came to the temple; however, the massive tremor led the temple to tilt slightly to the right.

The forepart of the temple is thronged with vendors selling flowers, duck eggs, coconuts and puja (worship) items. To the west, the temple overlooks a stunning view of the outspread Panchkhal valley with the sprawling fields as the Ravi Khola (stream) also known as Jhiku Khola, meanders through the middle. To the east the ridge drops to a breathtaking landscape of hills after wooded hills interspersed with terraced fields while the river Sunkoshi, partly visible from that distance, cuts through the middle. If you are a little observant, you will find Peepul and eucalyptus trees, almost 200 to 400 years old in the vicinity of the temple.

Close to the temple, mostly tea shops and eateries line up the street. If you are keen on tingling your taste buds, try the sel-rotis (round rice-flour dough-nuts), a local delicacy, fried before your eyes by the road-side shops. For foreign as well as domestic tourists, comfortable overnight stays are also available at The Retreat, the only resort at Palanchok.

Ravi Man Singh may be contacted at