Hinduists predominate in Nepal as 86.5%
of the population.
The next largest religious groups consist of Buddhists,
Muslims, 3.5% of the population.
Common to all of these religions is the integration
of religious expression within everyday life. In
contrast with Western religions, these religions
involve codes for- individual behavior and daily
rites of worship. In the morning, people gather
at temples, sanctuaries or river banks to offer
prayers and puja.
The word Hinduism was introduced in the 19th century
to define the aggregate beliefs of the Arya, immigrants
who left Central Asia in 1500 BC, and animist religions
of native populations in India.
Basic concepts. Cosmic law rules
the good order of the world, be aware and respect
cosmic law. Lead the life of a good Hindu, observe
rules, perform all rites, accept the caste of birth.
Caste system supplies code of conduct and rites
done. Encompasses all parts of life; rites but also
who to take drink from, associate with, marry, etc.
Principles of Hinduism. Dharma
religious law and moral code by which people can
earn enlightenment. Karma is the life balance of
action and reaction; individuals responsible for
decisions and consequences. Leading good Hindu life
will bring rebirth into a better life. Samsara is
cycle of reincarnations determined by karma. Moksha
is liberation from samsara; individual unites with
universal timelessness, ultimate serenity, nirvana.
Path to moksha is good Hindu life.
Each deity has different names, as well as different
symbols, attributes, tasks and powers according
to what god it represents. Each deity has a vehicle,
an animal usually which serves master. Primary Hindu
gods are Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
Brahma is the creator of the universe.
Attributes are the rosary, the receptacle of holy
water, the ladle and the book. Mount is a goose
or swan. Brahma usually represented with four heads,
allows him to watch over world. Very few statues
of Brahma since creation is done.
Saraswati is Brahma's consort
and is goddess of knowledge, learning and music.
She is often portrayed with four arms, plying the
veena (seven stringed musical instrument) with two
hands as well as holding a rosary and a book. Sits
on a lotus riding a peacock or a swan. Often a crescent
moon on forehead. Worshipped by Buddhists as a form
of Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of wisdom.
Vishnu is the preserver of life and the world.
Attributes are the conchshell, the disc, the lotus
and the mace. Mount is Garuda, a mythical half-man
and half-bird. He often appears in some of the following
Narayan, which means "he
who guides development in all fields" or universal
Buddha, ninth reincarnation of
Rama, warrior who rescued wife
Sita who had been taken by Ravan, demon-king of
Krishna, personification of manhood
who bewitched 'gopis' (milkmaids and shepherdesses)
with whom he frolicked. Forms of Rama and Krishna
more popular in India.
Shiva, the destroyer and regenerator.
Attributes are the trident, the tambourine, the
tiger skin, the club, and the lingam. Mount is Nandi
Pashupati, master and protector
of animals, especially of cattle, who is the friend
Bhairav, the form of Shiva eager
to destroy everything, including evil. Usually a
black statue, with necklace of human skulls.
Hanuman, the monkey god. Symbolizes
faithfulness and willingness to help. Associated
with successful military undertakings and assisted
Rama in fight against demon-king Ravan who kept
Ram's wife Sita imprisoned for 12 years.
Ganesh, (Ganapati) one of the
most popular gods in Nepal. Infallible, charitable
and has power to decide fate of any human enterprise.
Universal power. Shiva and Parvati's son. Shiva
was away, Parvati bore a son while he was gone.
Ordered son not to let anyone in. Shiva came home,
young guardsman barred him from entering so he chopped
off the guard's head with sword. Parvati terrorized,
Shiva promised to bring him back to life by beheading
the first living creature he found in the forest.
Saw elephant first, so cut off its head, rushed
back and put it on Ganesh's head. Ganesh always
dressed in red, four arms and body covered with
layers of sandalwood paste. Only one tusk, mount
is a shrew, sometimes mistaken for rat or mouse.
Consequently all three are sacred.
Parvati, Shiva's consort. In benevolent
forms, Devi, Uma, Shakti or Annapurna as the "dispenser
of abundance." As wreaking havoc, forms of
Kali, Durga or Bhagavati.
Based on meditations of GAUTAMA SIDDHARTA, also
called Sakyamuni (wise man of the Sakya clan) and
later the Buddha (Enlightened one). Philosophical
doctrine and code of conduct. Based on the three
jewels, Buddha himself, dharma, Buddha's teachings
and prescribed conduct, and sangha the community.
Buddha was born in Lumbini, Nepal
around 544 BC. Son of raja (title for rulers and
wealthy landlords) who sought reason for human misery.
Left his family and experimented and traveled; found
enlightenment through meditation at Bodh Gaya.
Dharma is the doctrine of four truths discovered
Existence is unhappiness.
Everything in life brings suffering, birth, responding
to needs and death. Origin of suffering is in needs,
wants and desires of men and being attached to material
values (illusions of the senses).
Unhappiness is caused by selfish cravings or passions.
Selfish cravings can be eliminated by renunciation
desires and following the eight-fold path:
Sangha is community of Buddhists.
Used to mean monastic community but concept broadened.
Showing the path to enlightenment.
About 100 years after Buddha's death, communities
disagreed and split over ways to achieve enlightenment.
Traditional school of Theravada Buddhists follows
Buddha's original teachings. Mahayana school accepts
some changes, various ways to enlightenment (became
Scripts appeared also introducing changes. Deification
of Buddha, and separation between mortal Buddha
like Siddharta who will reappear, and transcendental
ones which are only understood through meditation
(Dhyani Buddhas). While enlightenment reached through
individual effort, idea spread that meditation Buddhas
give merit to those who worship them. Bodhisattvas
are humans who reached enlightenment but instead
of joining nirvana chose to help others reach enlightenment.
Movement from with the Mahayana school appeared
in first century AD in fringe areas of India. Hindus
and Buddhists came into contact with animist religions
and integrated beliefs and practices. Yoga, physical
exercises to control body functions, mantras, repetitive
utterances, bijas, magic syllables, use of designs
and objects such as mandala and dorje. Transformed
into Lamaism which penetrated also into Nepal. Purpose
was to shorten the road to enlightenment with such
Prayer Flags and Prayer Wheels take prayers to
the sky, to the divinities. Idea that movement creates
power. Prayer wheels rotated clockwise to send mantra
to the divinities. Usually brass cylinder with pre-Sanskrit
script, ranja, writing. The wheel contains parchment
like paper upon which the Tibetan incantation OM
MANI PADME HUM (image top) is repeatedly printed.
Some rough translations of this mantra are
Oh, the jewel (mani) concealed in the lotus (padma)
One specific interpretation of this incantation
is that of a prayer the Boddhisattva Padmapani who
Oh, Padmapani, give me the jewel in the lotus,
which is the blessing on non-rebirth or attainment
of Nirvana through the acceptance of the Buddhist
A more general interpretation is
Oh, may the jewel remain in the lotus, meaning
may Buddha's teachings remain pure in our minds
Vajra or Dorje looks like two crowns with bases
attached by a metal ball. Each crown has four outer
spokes and one inner spoke to represent the meditation
Buddhas, united at the top to convey that they are
but one. Means "thunderbolt" symbolic
attribute of Hindu god Indra who is the divine power
of natural forces, and the "diamond",
the substance that is translucent and unbreakable.
The Dorje is primarily a symbol of power but is
also a representation of the male.
Ghanta, the bell is bronze and topped with crown
shaped handle. The bell symbolizes the female. In
a metaphysical sense, male represents knowledge
and female represents wisdom. Both important to
Statues and temples for Buddha or to Bodhisattvas.
Chaitya, a somewhat conical stone
structure, shrines for gratitude or worship. Always
show four statues representing each of the dhyana-Buddhas
or meditation Buddhas.
Facing north, Buddha Amogasiddhi
with right hand upward and palms outward to express
fearlessness and blessing (associated with green).
Facing east, Buddha Akshobya,
right hand outstretched with fingers touching earth
calling Earth-goddess to witness that Buddha resisted
temptations put forth by demon Mara who was trying
to lure him away from his meditations. Also thought
of as calling to witness Buddha's deserving supreme
Facing south, Buddha Ratnasambhawa
with right hand palm outward to express compassion.
Facing west, Buddha Amithaba,
two hands folded, resting on lap in meditation.
Some chaityas or scrolls show a fifth central figure,
the Buddha Vairocana who is above or in the middle
of the previously mentioned four. Hands folded in
front of chest he is perfect sovereignty as "turning
the wheel of the Buddhist doctrine." white.
Another common Buddhist statue is that of the Tara,
either white or green Tara. Were the two wives of
Srong Tsam Gampo, King of Tibet that they converted
to their faith, Buddhism. Deified.
Bodhisattvas honored often are Padmapani, holds
a lotus flower and is master or reincarnations.
Manjushri is honored as bearer of wisdom by Buddhists
and Hindus. Holds book of knowledge in left hand
and a sword to strike ignorance with right.
A historical look demonstrates that artistic expression
reflects the religious and ethnic diversity within
the valley. Nepalese art became prominent in the
13th century through the work of Balbahu, also known
as Arniko, an architect for the king of Tibet and
possibly the Emperor of China. Nepalese art is recognized
for its candour, simplicity and harmony balanced
with intricacy and decoration. The Malla dynasty
promoted all forms of artistic expression from the
14th to the 19th centuries. Tibetan forms of expression
influenced art in the valley beginning in the 17th
century. Tantric and Buddhist themes introduced
greater differentiation between Nepalese and Indian
People walking the streets of Kathmandu cannot fail
to notice the abundance of religious buildings in
the city. Temples exist near or around royal palaces,
as well as at important geographical locations including
the top of hills, river banks or near wells. Private
temples were built anywhere and can be found in
almost every neighbourhood.
The temples are sites of magnificent stone and wood
carvings. Most of the stone carvings are from the
eleventh and twelfth centuries and reflect the influence
of Indian art from the Gupta (5 and 6th century
A.D.) and the Palasena (10th to 12th century AD.)
periods. Wood carvings are predominantly from the
eighteenth century used to decorate pillars, door
and window frames, cornices and supporting struts.
Struts of Hindu temples usually contain an erotic
scene which attracts speculation from visitors.
The motivation for such motifs are natural; in countries
where death is predominant, procreation is sacred
in some respects as the embodiment of life-giving
energies and fertility. Sexual union also represents
the union of the individual with the universe in
the Vedas which are Hindu texts.
Temples are usually one of three types; pagodas,
shikaras or stupas. Stupas are exclusively a Buddhist
temple, but pagodas and shikaras may be Hindu or
Buddhist. Buddhist temples are almost always surrounded
by a wall with a defined entrance way. A wall of
prayer wheels often surrounds the temple. Whether
Hindu or Buddhist, these temples are not places
of religious gatherings popular within Christianity
and Muslim religions but are sites of individual
Pagodas (devala in Nepali) are
usually square or rectangular with a simple geometric
design. The base of the temple holds an image of
the god honored by the presence of the temple. The
temple has several roofs which get proportionately
smaller with height. The number of roofs is usually
odd, since odd numbers are more auspicious than
even numbers. Many scholars believe that the pagoda
style of roofing mimics the multi-tiered style of
umbrellas held over royalty or images of deities
during processions. The building is usually brick,
although the foundation may consist of stone blocks.
The doors and windows are wood with latticed patterns
for adornment. A torana sits above the door, also
of wood or bronze-plated wood, depicting the triumph
of good over evil with the image of a gryphon holding
in its grip a naga or kirtimukha. The struts of
the temple (tunal in Nepali), carved wooden brackets
which support the projecting roof eaves at a 45
degree angle, consist of a deity standing upon a
lotus flower above a decorative scene, often erotic,
carved upon the lower part of the strut. The struts
in the corners of the pagoda often depict a roaring
lion or mythical animal which conveys power. The
roofs are plated with copper or gilded bronze and
the corners of the roofs always turn upward. These
corners end in a human or animal's head facing downward
and a bird in flight on the upward slant. A metal
ribbon hangs from the topmost point almost to the
ground, symbolizing the path for the deity to descend
to earth and people to rise to the divine. Kinkinimala
adorn the edge of the roofs; unmoving bells with
a thin metal clapper which tinkles against the bell
in the wind. One or two bronze bells also stand
near the entrance of the pagoda. Protecting this
entrance are bronze or stone images of dragons or
lions. Mirrors often hang from a temple wall; these
are a modern addition to ensure that a woman's tika
is neatly placed in the center of her forehead.
Examples of pagoda style temples are the Taleju
Mandir in Kathmandu's Durbar Square, the Golden
Temple in Patan and the Nyatapola in Bhaktapur.
Shikaras are similar in design
to Indian temples, best recognized by a majestic
dome roof. Some describe the dome as an unopened
lotus flower or a folder royal umbrella. The base
of the temple is square with many stories of balconies.
Two famous shikaras are the Krishna Mandir and the
Mahabuddha, both located in Patan.
Stupas, designed as funeral mounds,
usually have a cubic base with a spherical body
and a towered roof. This design mimics the mandala
design, a cosmic representation of the universe
conducive to meditation. The cubic base symbolizes
the earth's solidity, the spherical mound symbolizes
water, the tower is fire, the ring above it air,
and the crowned top symbolizes ether. Thirteen steps
between the mound and the tower represent the number
of steps to attaining perfect knowledge. Most of
the stupa is painted masonry white but the four
sides of the tower hold the omniscient eyes of Buddha.
The eyes watch over the universe, and the symbol
between the two prominent eyes is the third eye
which allows one to see beyond and inside the self.
The symbol in the typical position of the nose is
the Devanagari script for the number one, to remind
people that only one way exists to salvation. The
stupas, designed to hold remains or relics, are
not hollow. People encircle stupas by walking clockwise,
often spinning prayer wheels embedded in the wall
surrounding the temple. Boudhanath and Swayambhunath,
the largest stupas in Kathmandu, are approximately
2000 years old.
The earliest paintings appeared in 11th century
AD. and consisted of illustrated manuscripts on
palm leaf or rice paper. Thangkas, a more predominant
form of painting, are popular among Buddhists in
Nepal as well as in Tibet and date back to the late
14th century. These paintings on cotton are rectangular
in shape and usually longer than they are wide.
They are framed with three stripes of Chinese brocade
of blue, yellow and red which represent the rainbow
which separates sacred objects from the material
world. Older Thangkas consisted of mineral-based
colors, while current Thangkas are produced with
vegetable-based or chemical colors. Frequent themes
of Thangkas include images of Buddhist figures,
mandala designs, the wheel of life design, or depiction
of scenes or stories.
Mandalas are geometrical patterns
which assist in the practice of meditation, as well
as symbolize the nature of the universe. The symmetrical
pattern reflects the development of the cosmos from
an essential Principle and its rotation around a
Other Buddhist symbols are common
to Thangkas and wall paintings. A picture of four
guardians may adorn the entrance to a monastery;
two images are benevolent to greet worshippers,
and two are fierce looking to protect against evil
spirits. Other symbols are the wheel of moral law,
the umbrella to protect against evil, the victory
banner of Buddha's doctrine, two golden fish which
represent wealth, the endless knot of eternal re-birth
of everything, the flower-vase holding eternal bliss,
the conch-shell proclaiming the benefits of enlightenment,
and the lotus flower which symbolizes purity and
the release of spirituality from earthly roots.
The fable of the four unanimous brothers involves
an elephant standing near a fruit-bearing tree with
a monkey on its back. The monkey holds a rabbit
on its shoulder and a bird perches on the rabbit.
All hold a piece of fruit. The bird maintained that
while enjoying the shade and fruit of the tree,
they owe gratitude to him since he planted the seed
of the tree. The rabbit replied that while the bird
sprinkles seed without regard, he watered the seed
daily and conscientiously. The monkey stated that
it was his dung, not the planting or the watering
which was essential to the seed's growth. The elephant
acknowledged their contributions, but said that
it was his protection of the plant from other animals
which made the tree's growth possible. The moral
of the story is that cooperation causes fruitfulness.
The wheel of life symbolizes the endless cycle
of reincarnations. A demon holds the wheel with
fangs and claws to symbolize how repulsive it can
be to participate in life. Buddha is portrayed outside
of the wheel standing erect since he reached enlightenment
and escaped the cycle of rebirth. The center of
the image is a circle which contains the three vices;
the rooster symbolizes lust, the snake symbolizes
hatred, and the boar symbolizes ignorance. A ring
around this circle shows the six stages of reincarnation;
at the bottom is hell for the doomed, followed by
the world of the pretas which are greedy and slaves
to their desires, the last inferior world of the
animals portrayed with a pastoral scene, the human
world of towns and villages, the world of the Titans
which wage war against the gods, and the world of
the gods portraying beauty and serenity. Another
ring illustrates small images to teach a lesson;
a blind woman using a stick to walk symbolizes impulses
created from ignorance, the potter manifests these
impulses with the focus on feeling, a monkey picking
up fruit represents the consciousness of acting
on impulses, men in a boat symbolize that consciousness
can create individuality but also separation, an
empty house with an open door represents sensory
perceptions translated into action by the mind (perceptions
enter through windows but leave as actions out the
door), a couple embracing shows how sensory perception
creates physical desires, a man hit by an arrow
demonstrates that touch excites the senses with
pain or pleasure, a woman filling a man's cup shows
that excitement of the senses creates a thirst for
more, a monkey grabbing for fruit shows desire becoming
a demand for more, the expecting mother shows that
such eagerness for more is part of existence, the
child's birth demonstrates birth as a necessary
condition, and a man carrying a body shows death
as a necessary condition of existence.
Literature appeared in the valley during the 18th
century. Poetry is the predominant form of writing
from this period, but most authors are unknown.
The following centuries brought more poets and writers
inspired by religion as well as social problems.
Musical lyrics celebrate the beauty of nature and
life, or convey a legend.
Bronze figures, sometimes alloyed with copper, appeared
in the valley around 8th century AD. These images
usually represented religious deities or legendary
figures. The most frequently used production technique
is that of cire perdue, a form of wax casting. Images
often contain embedded semi-precious stones, usually
coral or turquoise, or are gilded with gold.
Jewelry of gold and silver reflects the preferences
of ethnic groups. Gurung women often wear large
disc earrings of bronze and copper, while Sherpa
women often have turquoise and silver earrings.
Other forms of jewelry include nose rings, pendants,
engraved silver belts, anklets and bracelets. See
sample pictures in Shopping: Souvenir and Gift Items
Pottery flourishes in Patan and Thimi, a locality
near Bhaktapur. Common forms of pottery are terra
cotta oil lamps used to light homes during the festival
Dipawali, and flower pots decorated with peacocks
preservation of art
People constantly express concern about the preservation
of art in the valley. Many temples and statues are
in various stages of disrepair. Two earthquakes,
one in 1833 and one in 1934, left a wake of destruction
in the country. Until recently, Nepal lacked people
with the scientific knowledge required for artistic
restoration. Authorities also battle with the establishment
of priorities; financing the development of infrastructure
and addressing social and health concerns of the
population detracts money from restoration projects.
Foreign aid projects specifically addressing the
maintenance of palace squares and other historical
sites are becoming more popular and provide valuable
assistance in the preservation of Nepalese art.