Nepal in the Mahabharata Period, Part 18


BY: SUN STAFF - 1.11 2018

Bhima Sen 
Bhimsen Temple - Panauti, Nepal

Sri Krsna's liberation of Banasura, the Yadava dynasty's presence in Nepal, and the events that preceded and followed.

One of the most ancient temple towns in Kathmandu Valley is Panauti, an historical site lying 36 km. southeast from the capital city. Panauti was a small state given by King Bhupatindra Malla as dowry to his sister. The Indreswor Temple and Durbar square are located in the town's center, and there is a very fine sculpture of Bhimasen there, at the Bhimsen Temple. The 2015 earthquake caused no real damage in the town.

Situated at the confluence of the rivers Rosi and Punyamati, Panauti is regarded as a prayagtirtha of Nepal. A third currently unseen river, the Lilawati, is also said to converge here, making this a triveni-sangam.

At the end of the 13th Century, Panauti was integrated into the unified Kingdom of Nepal, along with Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur, which are all former capital cities of the Kathmandu Valley. A variety of Hindu and Buddhist shrines are found in Panauti, making it one of the region's most important medieval sites.

Panauti, Nepal 

The early pastimes of Bhima, the son of Pandu, have been mentioned in numerous historical texts about Nepal. Following are a few excerpts from the book, An Account of The Kingdom of Nepal by Dr. Francis Buchanan Hamilton, written in 1819 A.D. Describing the eastern parts of the dominions of Nepal and the mountain tribes who resided there during the Mahabharata Period, he writes:

"Until the arrival of the Rajputs, they seem all to have eaten every kind of animal food, and still do so whenever they are at liberty to indulge their inclinations. They still continue to drink spirituous liquors. Each tribe appears originally to have had a priesthood and deities peculiar to itself, although the worship of Bhim Sen, the son of Pandu, seems to be very general, and to have been that which preceded the doctrine of the Buddhas; but first the Lamas, or, perhaps, rather the Zogis, and then the Brahmans, have made encroachments, and at the same time introduced many new customs."

Hamilton also gives his thoughts as to the timeline of Bhima's arrival:

"The time when the Hindus penetrated into these regions is very uncertain. Bhim Sen, the son of Pandu, is said to have penetrated into these parts, and probably was the first who introduced any sort of improvement. He still continues to be a favourite object with the rude tribes, not only on the mountains, but in their vicinity.

Probably at no great distance from the time of that prince, and about the commencement of our era, Sakya, the last great teacher of the Bouddhists passed through the country, and settled at Lasa, where he is supposed to be still alive in the person whom we call the Grand Lama. His followers seem to have acquired a great ascendancy over all the tribes of Nepal, as well as in Thibet and Bhotan, which they retained until a subsequent colony of Hindus settled in the first of these countries, and introduced the Brahmans, who have had considerable success in destroying the heretical doctrines, although these have still numerous votaries."

He goes on to introduce a debate amongst historians of the day, and in particular the opinions of one Col. Kirkpatrick, who appears to have confused the timeline, not of Bhima's entry into the region, but of the Hindu influence arriving in Nepal, which he associates with the Bhimasen Cult. This timeline he tries to sync to other local forms of worship. Hamilton writes:

"Colonel Kirkpatrick, or perhaps rather his editor, seems to have entertained a very different opinion concerning the period when the Hindus penetrated into Nepal. Speaking of Sambhunath [a village in southeastern Nepal], he says, "After all, it is highly probable that the sanctity of this spot might be safely referred to a period very anterior both to the Newar and Khat Bhotiya dynasties (who preceded the Newars) of Nepaul, since the sacred books of the Hindus leave scarcely any room to doubt, that the religion of Brahma has been established from the most remote antiquity in this secluded valley, where there are nearly as many idols as inhabitants, there not being a fountain, a river, or hill within its limits, that is not consecrated to one or other of the Hindu deities."

What idea the author may have held of the terms Hindu and religion of Brahma, I cannot say. If he meant by Hindu whatever colonists may have come from the plains, I agree with him, and have stated, that Bhim Sen and Sakya Singha seem, in early ages, to have penetrated into the mountains, and to have introduced civilization. But I think him mistaken, if, by Hindu, he means the followers of the present Brahmans, introduced into India from Saka Dwip by the son of Krishna, contemporary with Bhim Sen; and if, by the religion of Brahma, he means the doctrine taught by these Brahmans, who do not, however, worship that deity."

Dr. Hamilton may have misinterpreted the writings of Col. Kirkpatrick when he referred to the 'religion of Brahma' in Nepal. The evidence of this might be found in the artifacts substantiating the worship of Lord Brahma (not the later 'brahmanical religion') in the Himalayan region.

In a 2009 Sun Feature series, "Worship of Lord Brahma", we documented a significant presence of Brahma worship throughout Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Nepal: the Adi Brahma Temple in Khokhan, Kullu Valley, HP; the Adi-Purkha Brahma Temple at Tihri-Uttarsal, HP; the Brahmhuti Temple at Hindola, Una, HP; and various Brahma temples and shrines in Nepal. Hamilton writes:

"In the first place, I have been assured, that, in the sacred books of the Hindus, that is to say, in the Puranas attributed to Vayasa, the Khas and Kiratas, the ancient inhabitants of the mountains, are always spoken of as impure infidels. Again, the number of idols and places consecrated in Nepal to the Hindu gods is no sort of proof that the doctrines of the Brahmans have existed long in the country; for the Bouddhists, who follow the doctrine of Sakya, admit of the worship of the same inferior deities (Devatas) with the Brahmans, both having probably adopted their worship from sects that had previously existed. Farther, the changes in the names of places, since the Hindu conquest, has been rapid almost beyond conception; for instance, the capitals of the three principalities into which Nepal was divided, and which are now called Kathmandu, Lalita Patana, and Bhatgang, and which, in 1802, I always heard called by these names, were, during the Newar government, which ended in 1767, called Yin Daise, Yulloo Daise, and Khopo Daise."

There is various historical evidence mentioned in the Brahma Worship articles that indicates the presence of Vedic Culture firmly planted in Nepal well in advance of the later brahmanical culture referred to above, and most likely dating at least as early as the Mahabharata Period, if not before.

The Giant Bhima 
15th c., Majapahit Style 
Victoria & Albert Museum Collection

Dr. Hamilton mentions another temple dedicated to the worship of Bhimasena in eastern Nepal, that we find no mention of except in his book, An Account of The Kingdom of Nepal:

"The chief place in Khatang is Dalka, on the Tamba kosi, upon a plain extending to Puchigat, on both sides of the Tamba kosi, and about a cose in width. This valley extends down the San kosi, from one-half to one cose in width. Dalka is a town like Timmi, in the valley of Nepal, which, I suppose, may contain 4000 people, and is chiefly inhabited by Newars, and built of brick. At it there is a celebrated temple of Bhim Sen, one of the sons of Pandu. The Pujari is a Newar, and the temple is considered as the eastern boundary of Nepal Proper."