Kathmandu Valley- A City of Myths

Kathmandu valley is where mythology and geology intertwine. One can find a story behind every temple, monument, locality or festival in these cities. The stories and the myths here have been handed from generation to generation. Here are some of the myths that surround the three medieval cities.

Kathmandu Valley- A City of Myths

The capital city as well as the cultural heart of Nepal, the Kathmandu valley is a place with a lot to offer for each visitor ranging from spectacular views, cultural interactions, and a vibrant tapestry of religion.

However, the valley is not just a geographical wonder but also a treasure trove of history which has been defined through various myths and legends over the centuries.

The same myths have shaped the identity of the valley, and they continue to reflect the past, present, and shape the future of the valley. From gods mingling with the mere mortals to creation of different temples and monuments, there is a story for each significant thing in the valley.

So, let’s delve into the myths surrounding the Kathmandu Valley and unveil the stories that have shaped the very landscape that we see today.

Overview of Kathmandu Valley

Perched at an altitude of 1,400 meters (4,600 ft), Kathmandu Valley is located in the hilly region of the central part of Nepal. As the name suggests, it is a fertile valley which is surrounded by four hills, namely: Shivapuri, Nagarjun, Chandragiri, and Pulchoki.

The valley is the political center of the country as well as a melting pot of culture as you will not see the immense cultural events and depth present in the valley in any other part of Nepal.

Kathmandu Valley

While the valley once used to serve as the crossroad for the trade route between India and Tibet, now it is home to the most powerful political centers of Nepal upon which the country is relying.

Besides that, Kathmandu Valley is also home to seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites including Pashupatinath Temple, Swayambhunath, Boudhanath, Kathmandu Durbar Square, and more.

It is culturally, historically, as well as religiously significant and Hinduism and Buddhism are the two religions dominating Kathmandu Valley while Newars are the indigenous inhabitants of the valley.

The Myth of Creation of Kathmandu Valley

The first and foremost myth related to Kathmandu Valley is the myth related to the creation of the valley itself. Legends have it that the valley full of hustle and bustle that you see today was once a vast, shimmering lake.

As per this story, this lake was filled with floating lotuses. A benevolent Bodhisattva from Tibet- Manjushree saw a lotus blooming on a hilltop in the center of the lake.

This fascinated him and he desired to reach the lotus. In the attempt to reach it, he wielded his mighty sword called Chandrahrasha to create a passage which led to the formation of a gorge and drained out all the water from the valley.

This is how the fertile Kathmandu Valley came into existence. This said gorge is present even today at around 6 km southwest from Kathmandu Valley at Chobhar hill.

The hill where the bright flame was coming out of the Lotus is now home to the Swayambhunath Stupa which is one of the most revered sites for Buddhists and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

While this is the more famous myth, it’s another variation credits the creation of Kathmandu Valley to the divine wheel- the Sudarshana Chakra of Lord Krishna.

Both ways, the geological evidence supports that there actually existed a lake in place of Kathmandu Valley, further bolstering these myths.

The Legend of Kasthamandap

Now that we know the myth surrounding the creation of Kathmandu valley, is there any myth surrounding how the valley derived its name? Well, there is one. Because as we said, Kathmandu valley is a city of myths.

The name of the city ‘Kathmandu’ is derived from the term ‘Kasthamandap’ which is an ancient temple situated in the heart of the valley. Kastha Mandap literally translates to a wooden pavilion where religious and sacred ceremonies are observed.

The said Kasthamandap temple is believed to be constructed using the wood of a single Sal tree which is considered a unique blend of architectural excellence of people and divine intervention. This temple is often linked to revered sage Gorakhnath who is said to have meditated here.

This one of the most important temple buildings in Nepal not only gives Kathmandu Valley its name but it is also a symbol of the rich architectural heritage that the valley houses.

Therefore, when the temple faced severe damage during the 2015 earthquake, significant efforts were taken to restore it and preserve the mythological and historical heritage of Kathmandu Valley.

The Living Goddess: Kumari

The Kathmandu Valley also features a unique tradition of the living Goddess called the Kumari. Considered to be the living incarnation of Goddess Taleju Bhawani, a Kumari is a young girl selected from the Newar Community.

The origin of the Kumari tradition also has many stories surrounding it. One of the most popular ones is that the Goddess Taleju Bhawani used to visit the King of Kathmandu in human form always at night to advise him and play dice.

However, one night the King looked at her lustfully and expressed romantic interest in her which angered the Goddess. She then declared that she would stop visiting him and also predicted the end of his reign and fall of his dynasty.

After lots of pleading from the King, the Goddess then said that she would no longer appear in person, but she would manifest in the body of a virgin / young girl chosen as the Kumari and the King would have to worship her.

Kumari goddess
Kumari goddess

Ever since, this tradition has been followed. The selection of the Kumari is a rigorous process which takes place once around every decade, basically 3-4 years before the current Kumari is expected to have her first menstruation.

In this, young girls of the age four to five years old from the Shakya caste undergo a series to tests to prove their qualities and divinities to match 32 attributes of physical perfection as per the Kumari tradition.

Some of these qualities include having perfect health, black hair, expressive eyes, unblemished skin, sonorous voice, and also signs of courage like fearlessness which includes spending a night among severed heads of sacrificed animals.

This ritual, although sounding glorious, can be life altering for the young girl chosen as the Kumari as once she gets her first period, she loses this divinity status and goes back to leading a normal life which is quite impossible after years of living a certain ‘godly’ life.

However, the Kumari’s presence is considered to bring protection and prosperity to the people of valley, and she is also worshipped and paraded around the city in a chariot during Indra Jatra which is the biggest Jatra of Nepal.

The Tale of Boudhanath Stupa

Another UNESCO World heritage site, Boudhanath Stupa is one of the most significant Buddhist Stupas in Nepal. It is also one of the largest spherical stupas in the world.

Located in northern outskirts of Kathmandu, it is a major pilgrimage site for Buddhists. However, the creation of Boudhanath Stupa is also related to a mythical legend.

As per the story from Padmasambhava Buddhism, there was a lady called Jajima who was born within an ordinary family of the earth. She had four husbands and gave birth to four sons from each of them.

Boudhanath Stupa
Boudhanath Stupa

All of them being religious, they decided to build the largest Chhorten (Stupa). Majyamija gave the land needed for the stupa and the construction started. All materials were carried on elephant, horses, donkey, etc.

Majyamija died four years later and the sons terminated the Stupa. It took them almost seven years to complete the whole Stupa.

Later, the four sons prayed to respectively become in their next life, a King, a Scholar, a Guru, and a Minister, the first two to disseminate the religion and the two latter to protect it from demonic attacks.

All of them got their prayers fulfilled. Nonetheless, none of them had prayed for the animals that helped build the Stupa. Thus, the Elephant and the Donkey, prayed to become demons in the next life who would destroy religion.

Boudhanath Stupa

Hearing about those prayers the Crow, the cowherds and shepherds prayed as well to become in their next life the assassins of the demons and allow religion to prosper.

All prayers were fulfilled, and each person became what they asked for in their next life. Therefore, it is believed that if anyone makes a round of the stupa and prays, whatever the prayers may be, the wishes are fulfilled.

Another legend suggests that the stupa was built by a poultry farmer who used the relics of a previous Buddha to make the stupa on the land given by a King. As the site holds relics of Kashyapa Buddha, it is a significant spiritual site.

The Mythical Guardians of Kathmandu Valley

The Kathmandu Valley is also said to have mythical guardians all thanks to the Indian emperor Ashoka who visited the valley in the 3rd century BCE, and he erected four stupas in the valley.

These stupas were erected at the cardinal points of the valley to protect it from all harm, and these are located in Pulchowk, Lagankhel, Ibahi, and Teta. These stupas represent peace and protection in the form of silent guardians.

They are also a representation of significance of Buddhism in Nepal and the Kathmandu Valley.

The Existence of Pashupatinath Temple

One of the most revered spiritual sites for Hindus, the Pashupatinath Temple is one of the primary temples of Lord Shiva where he manifests himself as the lord of all the animals. This temple also has many stories revolving around its origin.

To put it in brief, one story says that Lord Shiva and Parvati came to the Kathmandu Valley and rested by the Bagmati while on a journey and Shiva got enchanted by its beauty and the surrounding forest.

So much so that he and Parvati changed themselves into deer and walked into the forest. After a while, the people and gods began to search for Shiva. Finally, after various complications, they found him in the forest, but he refused to leave.

Pashupatinath Temple
Pashupatinath Temple

Ultimately Lord Shiva announced that, since he had lived by the Bagmati River in a deer’s form, he would now be known as Pashupatinath, Lord of all animals.

Another legend, the more popular one, has it that there once was a wish-fulfiling cow called Kamadhenu who took shelter in the Chandravan mountain. However, it was found that the cow used to go and pour her milk at the same spot every day.

When it caught people’s interest, they found that at the same spot there was a Shiva Lingam which was buried beneath the soil and the cow was pouring milk on the same lingam.

The same location where the Lingam was found is the present day Pashupatinath Temple. It is said that whoever came here and beheld the lingam that appeared there would not be reborn as an animal.

The Myth of Budhanilkantha Temple and The Royals

The Budhanilkantha Temple is one of the most revered shrines for the Hindus of Kathmandu Valley and it is the temple of the Hindu deity Lord Vishnu. The temple features a large reclining stone statue of Lord Maha Vishnu.

It is situated at the foothill of the Shivapuri Hills and this reclining statue of Lord Vishnu is considered to be the largest stone statue of Lord Vishnu lying between snakes in a pond in Nepal.

This temple welcomes the pilgrims with open arms and a sense of tranquility hits you as you go there. While all the visitors are welcome here- the Royal family is not. And there is a myth that surrounds this belief.

It is said that when King Pratap Malla constructed Rani Pokhari to reduce the grief of the mourning queen after their son passed away, he brought water from the Budanilkantha temple of Narayanthan and kept that water in Rani Pokhari.

He continuously did this until one night he had a dream. In the dream came the angered god of Budanilkantha, God Vishnu and cursed him for using the holy water for his selfish satisfaction.

He said, “if the King or his descendants ever step on lord Vishnu’s temple then it would be the day that they die”. This prophetic vision scared him and became the reason why the royal family had never visited the temple since then.

After this myth the Royal Family, that has ended now, never went to Budanilkantha of Narayanthan. The statue there is believed to have emerged from the ground and said to have great power.

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