Meeting the God Regularly

Features Issue 85 Jul, 2010
Text by Ashesh Maharjan / Photo: ECS Media

It is not quite possible to avoid visiting temples often when you live in a city like Kathmandu, well known as the ‘City of Temples’. It is said that at one point in history temples outnumbered houses in this place. Though we no more have the luxury of this claim, the density of the temples still awes tourists and natives alike. There are votive shrines scattered throughout in the city. We can find one within a stone’s throw in every direction. What is even more amazing is that these temples are never unattended, they always have at least have a few if not many visitors throughout the day.

People in Kathmandu, whether they know or admit it or not, are religious (or some say superstitious). They thank god for a meritorious day, and regret the sight of an empty gagri (a narrow-necked water vessel) that morning for an unfortunate day. And feelings like these drive most of the people regularly to the temples, at least once a week or, at most, several times a day. They don’t even realize how religious they are because that’s what they have been taught since childhood; it’s their way of life.

Some temples are visited frequently and some are not. Banglamukhi Mandir is one of the temples which is almost always has many devotees; but on Thursdays, the place is teeming with people. Thursdays, for many residents, has become synonymous with Banglamukhi. They believe that worshiping and offering burning incense, flowers and fruits to Banglamukhi Mai every week will make their wishes come true. A local woman of Patan in her weekly darshan (to pay respect) to Banglamukhi temple says “Banglamukhi Mai really made my wishes come true, my son now holds a US visa and all the credit goes to Banglamukhi Mai and Manakamana Mai. I’m sure going to offer something big to Manakamana Mai this year.” God really made her happy.  Manakamana is another major Nepalese Hindu temple of wishes.

“I used to go to the temples just for the sake of going, a year or so ago,” says Prabin Sijhapati, a local of Bhaisipati, “but since my mother got sick and lost one of her kidneys, I’ve started to visit temples with a deep sense of faith and hope that god will look upon her.” Prabin is a very playful and amusing person and a converstionist, so nobody, including his best friend, would guess the anxiety he is facing. But when he enters the premises of a temple, he is a different person, very  grave and filled with hopes. “I no more go to temples with an intention of flirting with girls,” he says, ending the conversation on a humorous note.

Some less religious people, or those who claim themselves to be less religious, visit temples as well. But they have different reasons (or excuses) to go each morning. A young local Newar of Patan says:  “I don’t really believe in miracles, but I do visit temples every now and then when I walk past one,  and I do have faith.” For almost all, temple-going is a way of life. Some pay their respects to god by visiting temples during morning walks or on the way to or back from work or school.

As people here get old, they lean towards god even more and take on religious quests. They believe that this leads them to salvation. Some religious sites are as popular among youngsters as they are with the old folks. One of them is Krishna Mandir. Though this temple is mostly visited once a year during Krishnastami, the temple complex is always full of youngsters evenings and often until late at night. It’s their hang out. “After a day of college and work I come here with my friends to feel loosened,” one said. “And to have tea, chat with friend and just watch people passing by,” his friend interjected. The large number of white plastic tea cups scattered all around the place suggests the great popularity of the local tea shop. Basantapur is another similar place often crowded with people each evening; but by removing the itinerant street-vendors lately, it has become a bit less crowded.

The worship of one’s kul deuta (ancestral god) is considered important in Nepalese culture. This practice dates back to the Kirat Period (from about 900 .C to 300 AD). Kirat religion, based on fact, love, respect, appreciation and harmony, realized that all of these five principles of life were taught to them by their ancestors. This led them to start worshiping their ancestors, who for them were the greatest of gods. Each family in Kathmandu has their own ancestral god. They visit the temple of their kul deuta every year to pay respect to their patrilineal forebears. The day long ritual, called dewali, is like a family gathering and a picnic at the same time. “All the prosperity, status, fortune, health and all the good things that can happen to a family are believed to be the asirvad (blessings) of our kul deuta,” said an elderly local of Patan when asked about this ritual.

Pashupatinath, the most famous and most holy Hindu temple of all, is visited by people on religious pilgrimage from all over the Indian sub-continent. This holy place, an abode for long-haired sadhus and agile monkeys, is most visited during Maha Shivaratri in February. Swayambhunath, the biggest of all Buddhist shrines on top of a hill west of Kathmandu city, is also most visited once a year during Buddha Purnima in May/June. Another popular temple is Lord Ganesha in Chovar, where every year during a month long mela (festival) in November, thousands of devotees climb all the way up the hill of Chovar to worship Lord Ganesha. Temples like Suryavinayak, Karyavinayak and Dakchinkali are also visited at least once a year by the inhabitants of the valley, but they don’t have a fixed date on which they are worshiped.

Meeting god regularly is the way of life of the Nepalese in Kathmandu. They have reasons to visit temples every now and then all round a year. It gas shaped the history and culture and, not least, the daily lives of the people in this holy valley.