Janakpur Temple: Janaki Mandir


Its called Janaki Mandir, the very large – surprisingly large – and important temple in Janakpur. I had seen pictures before I came and had expected a palace-like building on a hill somewhere, overlooking the town. But its not elevated. Its downtown, amid all the chaos. Just sitting there, overshadowing everything else.   Janakpur’s temple is dedicated to the gods Rama and Sita and, as they are major figures in Hinduism, Janakpur is an important pilgrimage site for Hindus.

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There was a protest going on the day we arrive, with crowds and police hanging out in front of the temple.

As I started to unravel some of the legends surrounding the gods, I began to notice references to them in paintings and sculptures. Upstairs in the cultural museum, for 15 rupees you can watch mechanical animations of the stories from Rama and Sita legends, protected behind glass.  Although a little cheesy for my taste, it was cute to see the effort put into them as colourful, dancing mechanized dolls slid up and down rails, chanting or dancing, relating scenes from the religious stories.   For me, the animated displays weren’t the reason to pay the entrance fee.  I loved the view you got down from there into the temple courtyard.  In a way it was the “usual” temple scene, with praying, eating, kids and cows all going on simultaneously.  But it was also different as the architecture was completely unexpected and unlike anything else I have seen in Nepal so far.

Janaki Temple

Inside the temple’s exterior walls, the main temple sits in the middle of the courtyard. This was a “shoe off” zone and probably not for non-hindus, so we never went inside.

The temple is around 150 years old and kept in very good condition, especially considering the many maintenance challenges here. But I couldn’t help wondering why so place so beautiful and so holy wasn’t kept cleaner. I did see someone trying to clean up, but she was old and slow, and only one person. The litter, dirty water and cow messes were everywhere. That was a real shame.

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There were many decorative pieces around the temple painted in the style of the local Maithil artists. Clearly this is another representation of the marriage of Rama and Sita.

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My first encounter of Janaki temple chanting was the evening of our second day in Janakpur when it started, broadcast noisily over loud speakers. 36 hours later it was still going strong, having continued all through the night and, quite honestly, it was starting to drive me a bit nuts. When I asked around I was told there the temple had a chanting tradition, which goes on 24/7 year round. This didn’t quite make sense as the town was quiet the first day, and sometime later the chanting inexplicably stopped. Did it go on 24/7 or not? I never did quite get to the bottom of it. The best we could figure out is perhaps someone paid for the chanting to be broadcast (during a wedding perhaps?) and the reminder of the time a holy man chants quietly in the temple somewhere,  hopefully geting someone to change shifts with him occasionally….. Ram Sita, Ram Sita….

Pashnupatinath Temple


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Monkey at Pashnupati Temple.  Don’t even ask…this guy’s not sharing his orange!

The first thing you see when you leave Kathmandu Airport is a “World Heritage Site” sign plastered several times along a rickety corrugated tin fence.  Behind it is an open area with garbage.  You wonder where the Unesco World Heritage site could possibly be in this ramshackle area and what kind of place it would be?  Its Pashnupatinath Temple, one of the most sacred sites in Nepal, attracting pilgrims from all over Nepal and India.  The temple complex straddles the Bagmati river which, until recently, people bathed in its very holy waters.  Unfortunately nowadays they are very dirty waters, and the bathing has stopped.  I’d heard terrible stories of a garbage-choked river, but now weekend clean up teams have been hard at work removing the trash, although the water remains very unclean.

Pashnupati is also a crematorium, and the bodies are burnt on the ghats alongside the river …..out in the open, for all to see.  The mourners gather by the burning pyres, the men shaving their heads as a sign of mourning.  Onlookers are on the other side of the river, at a respectable distance. There were very few westerners.  Just devotees visiting the temple, funeral parties, monkeys, and vendors selling devotional beads, garlands and gifts.  It was busy but not crowded, and we walked around largely undisturbed to look in amazement at the vast array of “life” (and death) going on around us.

Here are some snapshots from the overwhelming array of scenes going on all around:

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Crossing the Bagmati

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Funeral attendees beside the crematorium ghats

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Amongst the crowd, a mourner shaves his head.  Right there on the ghat.

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Preparing the wood for the funeral pyre

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The body is brought in

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the crematorium

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In case you are wondering, I was far enough away that I didn’t feel like I was intruding, otherwise I could never have taken the photos. It was so strange and so real at the same time…everything being played out in the open.

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Back on our side of the river, holy sandhu men sat…..

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….and the cows and pigeons hung out in peace…

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….most of the time!

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In front of the Hindu temple.  (Non-Hindus not allowed.)

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A whole lane of flower sellers lined the entrance to the temple.  Our first and last view in the Pashnupati complex.