Prayers at Pashupatinath: Connecting spiritually with Nepal

NepalModi5Blessings, prayer and healing. After charming Nepal with his stirring speech in parliament, it was time for India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi to offer prayers at Pashupatinath temple, one of the holiest of Hindu shrines, which is a must-visit place for devotees on both sides of the border.

Clad in a saffron coloured kurta-pyjama, a shawl draping his shoulder and forearm, and a garland of rudrakash neatly hanging around his neck, Modi paid obeisance at the 5th century temple. “Felt extremely blessed on offering prayers at the Pashupatinath temple this morning,” tweeted a content Modi on August 4.

As a mark of devotion, Modi granted Rs 25 crore (around 4 million dollars) to build a ‘dharamshala’ in the temple complex and offered 2,500 kg of sandalwood to the trust that manages this world heritage site.

Pashupatinath is a living reminder of the deep-seated spiritual and cultural affinity between India and Nepal. There is a 260-year-old tradition of recruiting Indian priests in the Pashupati temple, where thousands of devotees from India flock every day to seek Lord Shiva’s blessings.

It is in these acts of private devotion that India-Nepal relation acquire an added resonance. “There is a temple in Kashi where the priest is from Nepal, and the priest of Pashupatinath is from India,” said Modi in his speech to Nepal’s parliament on August 3.

“I come from Somnath’s land… I started my parliamentary journey from Kashi. Today I am standing at the feet of Pashupatinath,” he added, alluding to his home state Gujarat, his parliamentary seat Varanasi and the famous Shiva temple in Nepal.

And Pashupatinath is not the only connector. Civilizational contacts are embedded in links between Lumbini and Sarnath, Muktinath and Tirupati, Pashupatinath and Kashi Vishwanath, Janakpur and Ayodhya, Guhyeshwari and Kamakhya.

These ancient civilisational ties could be leveraged to enhance contemporary connections. Pilgrimage circuits can be established between shrines on either sides of the porous border, making it easier for travelers on their spiritual journey.

In a recent article for The Indian Express, analyst C. Raja Mohan points out that the “modernisation of the Buddhist circuit in India can be combined with the development of Lumbini and other holy places in Nepal. Similarly, pilgrimage networks centred on Ayodhya and Janakpur can be brought up to world standards. Connectivity has long been a buzz word in India’s regional diplomacy. In the case of India’s frontier with Nepal, a serious pursuit of connectivity could be simply transformative.”

Modi has already given a fresh impetus to this long-discussed idea by suggesting that Nepal can capitalise on its tourism potential as over one billion people in India want to visit Pashupatinath and Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha, at least once in their lifetime.

If Delhi and Kathmandu show initiative, these ancient civilizational linkages can also serve as platforms on which to build the shared future of the two fraternal neighbours.