Situated four kilometers from Bhaktapur, the 4th century two-tiered Changu Narayan Temple has always been believed to be the oldest temple in the valley, but according to Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust (KVPT), the oldest pagoda type temple in the Valley is the Sulima Ratnesvara Temple in Sulima, Patan.changunarayan However, leaving this aside, an inscription on a stone pillar (Garuda Dhwaja) dating back to 464 A.D. in Changu Narayan Temple, is Nepal’s oldest stone inscription. Changu Narayan Temple is believed to have been built by Licchavi king Haridatta Varma around 325 A.D. It has undergone many reconstructions through the years. This historical temple is home to some of the finest artistry of the valley’s Newar artisans and examples of their fabled skill can be seen in the many stone, wood, and metal craft around the temple complex. It includes a life-sized 5th century statue of Garuda on his knees in front of the main doors of the temple. Inside the temple is a magnificent 10-headed and 10-armed 5th century stone icon of Lord Vishnu.
The hilltop temple of Changu Narayan, located 4 kilometers north of Bhaktapur, is the oldest Vishnu shrine in Kathmandu Valley. Founded as early as 325 AD, it is one of Nepal’s most beautiful and historically important structures. Reconstructed in 1702 following its destruction by fire, the two-storey temple has many intricate carvings of the ten incarnations of Vishnu and different multi-armed Tantric goddesses. Changu Narayan’s true gems, however, are the Lichhavai period (4th to 9th centuries) stone, wood, and metal carvings in the courtyard surrounding the main temple.
While visiting this World Heritage Site, do remember that you are looking at one of the finest examples of a pagoda style temple that is so prevalent in and around the Kathmandu valley. It would be good to know that there are certain specific stipulations that have to be strictly adhered to when building such a temple. For instance, the ground plan of every Hindu temple must conform to a single graph. This has to be in sync with the Vastu Purush Mandala, an architectural yantra.changu 2 This word is derived from the Sanskrit word, ‘Yam’, meaning, to sustain, hold or support the inherent energy inherent, object or concept in a specific element and consists of ‘a geometrical diagram with abstract symbols’. In the Kathmandu valley, in addition, temples usually have intricate woodcarvings, metal-sheeted roofs, detailed struts (tundals), a pinnacle (gajura), low doors, a pataka (a metal banner descending from the roof) and a torana, which is placed over doorways.
Toranas are made of either wood or wood plated with metals. Most of them are elaborately carved with, on both sides of, a chhapu (a fierce beast biting a snake), a gaye (a goddess on a makara (sea monster)), Jamuna (a goddess atop a kachuwa (tortoise)) and an apsara (an angel holding garlands). The torana over the main doorway of Changu Narayan Temple is especially impressive, depicting as it does, a Garuda (man/bird carrier of Vishnu) with a naga (serpent) at each side of the mouth over the above-mentioned figures. Certainly, this is one aspect of Changu Narayan Temple that you must an eye out for when visiting this World Heritage Site.
Near the Changu Narayan Temple is a modest looking brick building with carved windows and a mahogany door over which the words “Changu Museum” is inscribed with pasted coins. It might be a modest museum, but it has quite an eclectic collection of artifacts. You will come across things like old cow gallstones, ancient leather coins, and so on here. The Changu Museum is now more than decade-old and is perhaps the one and only private museum in Nepal. Just past the entrance are a series of watercolors portraying the legend of Changu Narayan’s origin. The story goes like this: a cowherd once owned a cow prized for its copious production of milk and which he had bought from a Brahmin. It so happened that the cow’s milk was stolen daily by a child living in a tree. On discovering this, they (the Brahmin and the cowherd) cut down the tree believing that an evil spirit dwelled there. But, inside the tree, a beheaded Lord Vishnu (also known as Narayan) was found. The child was an incarnation of his. The cowherd and the Brahmin begged pardon of the god. However, He told them that in His previous life, he had been responsible for the Brahmin’s father’s death and was now paying for His sin. A Changu Narayan stone idol was erected then and there.
On the museum’s three floors, the displayed artifacts are labeled in both English and Nepali. You will see a good collection of traditional musical instruments, as well as many weapons including a 400-year-old shield (dhal) made of tough rhinoceros hide. Especially intriguing are three bowls of preserved rice grains – one bowl has grains that are 140-year-old, another has grains as old as 175 years and one has 225-year-old grains. Equally intriguing is a fist-sized gallstone of a cow and a musk deer’s navel. You will also see a nice array of Nepali coins and bank notes that includes a very old leather coin and a 5th century copper coin.
Legendary places in the temple
Garuda Idol: Inside the Changunarayan temple is a esteemed figure of Garuda. The statue is offered sweets by the devotees every year on Nag Panchami. This is done in remembrance of the epic struggle with the great snake Taksaka. The drops of moisture, believed to be effective against diseases such as leprosy and ulcers, are collected by the priests.
King Bhupendra Malla Statues: Statues of King Bhupatindra Malla of Kathmandu and his mother can also be seen in a shrine. Bloody fighting characterised their politics during the 17th century but both were generous when it came to revering the gods.
Vishnu Sculpture: To the north of the temple is a sculpture of Lord Vishnu seated on Garuda (Garudasana Vishnu). This image appears on the Nepalese 10 rupee note. Vishnu sculpture dates back to 9th century.
Important Vishnu Sculptures:
Vishwaroop: Vishwaroop sculpture, dating back to 8th century A.D., presents Lord Vishnu in his universal form.
Vishnu Vikrant: The stone idol, harking back to the 8th century A.D, is of the most powerful form of Lord Vishnu. It is related to the Hindu legend of Vaman, an incarnation of Vishnu, who measured space with feet.
Vishnu Riding Garuda: This figure of Vishnu mounting Garuda, the mythical bird, dates back to the 10th century A.D.
Narsimhha Vishnu : This form of Lord Vishnu, the Narsimha, is in half human and half lion form.