In Nepal, we have thousands of fascinating
old building and temples almost all of which have religious
figures and symbols. It would be almost impossible to
know about each and every one of them. So, we discuss
some important figures and symbols.
Tantric pundits use different yantras, for tantric
puja or meditation,, Among the many yantras prevalent
the shree yantra (shree stands for "Lakshmi"
the goddess of prosperity) is said to be the most important
and is called the king of yantras by the tontric adepts.
Shree yantra is composed of two sets of triangles one
of which is compossed of Shree Kanthas (four male Shiva
triangles denothing gradually involved energy) and the
other set of trangles is composed of Shivayatis (five
female or shakti triangles denoting five senses of knowledge
and action, and five subtle and grooss forms of matter).
These two triangles reflect the unison of Shiva and
It is believed that Shakti is always in unison with
Shiva, existing within each and every being as the inner
self; the state of existence, consciousness and bliss.
Shiva is the Ashraya (basis) of Shakti which in turn,
being his creative faculty, is the basis of the whole
universe. hence, she is known as Shree the primordial
energy existing within Shiva and yantra is her divine
extension network, Without her operation, this visible
comos would not be possible.
This universe and all it's contents are basically composed
of panctatva or five basis elements comprising of Prithvi
(earth), Apas (water), Tejas (light), Maruta (wind)
and Aakash (sky). It is belived that our body is also
composed of the same basis elements called pindo. the
unison of Pinda, the individual body, with Brahmaanda,
the cosmic body, is beautifully represented by this
The objective of meditation on shree yantra is to unite
with the universal mother. in her forms of mind. life
and matter, to attain consciousness and divinity. the
yantr is therefore transformed from a material object
of lines and curves into a mental state of union with
The satkon is composed of two sets of overlapping triangles.
One is the symbol of Shiva, which stands for eternal
being (static by nature), and the other is a symbol
of Shakti, the most active female. This popular symbol
of the union of Shakti and Shiva, that indicated the
union of the two, is represented in several Nepali works
of art like the Mandala paintings, windows and doors
etc. the beautiful temple residence of Devi Annapurna
Ajima, at Bhotahiti tol in Kathmandu, has one of the
mast exquisite satkon patterns in its windows.
The Satkon signifies the five basic senses and the
extra sensory perception that significantly makes it
the six-pointed star; this symbol is believed to have
originated from ancient tantric Hinduism. On the other
hand the Buddhist believe that satkon symbolizes the
perfection of the higest form of wisdom (pragya), however,
the Mahayansists accept it as a great symbol of Pragya
(knowledge or enlightenment) and Upaya (active force
or the power of the female principal) united.
This ancient symbol appears to be the central core
of all the highly sophisticated symbols in Nepal Religious
Swastika, a Sanskrit word which means doing good for
all, is a very ancient oriental symbol. This symbol
can be seen woodcarvings, bronze castings, Thangka paintings
and many other traditional forms of art.
In Buddhism, the four hands of Swastika sighfying Maitree
(friendship), koruna (compassion), Mudita (happiness)
and Upershya (indifference), are four diving merits
artalents. This theory is very dominant in our culture.
According to Sadhanmala (one of the most authentic Buddhist
texts), the lour merits represent four ideal ways to
Nirvana every aspirant should mediate on.
It is believed that the Mahayanists, in due course
of time, developed on iconography based on all those
four merits and soon created Swastika to proudly add
to their pantheon of gods, the many deities were all
given the same merit names like Maitree, Karuna, Mudita
and Upekshya. Hindus as well Buddhists worship them
in Nepal. Among many such deities of Nepal, the four
most beautifully built bronze statues of these merit
gods can be seen in Hiranyavarana Mahavihar (golden
Temple) of patan built by vaskar Varma in 12th century.
The linga is the phallic symbol of lord Shiva and it
displays supreme power generally identified analogue
of cosmic deity. It occupies the womb cell in temples
while the outer structure of this double sex diety signifies
its determinate creative function. Creation, in tantra
is described as sexual self-relation. The Brihadaranyaka
Upanisad says that one alone knows no delight and so
the femela partner was generated.
According to the Puranas, Lord Shiva assumed the form
of lingam Uthe phallic symbol of universal pro-creation),
on the night of Shivaratri, to save the universe from
a big therat of destruction. It is said that when Lord
Shiva swallowed the Halahala poison, Which had emanated
from the intensive churning of the milky ocean, the
heat of the poison proved to be so unbearable that he
could not wait for a Himalayan showe, Gonga, the river
goddess, is said to have rushed to him and poured all
the waste she had in possession.
This helped him and so, even today, holy water is offered
through jalahari (a copper cup that hangs above the
shivalinga it is believed that Shiva was not called
enough even after Ganga Poured all the water the possessed
over him. He was cooled only when the whole of the moon
was tucked in the matted lock of his head; Shiv, after
having cooled himself become ecstatic and started dancing
the Tandava Nritya.
Shankha is a Sanskrit word used to denote a sleek and
smooth conch shell. It is believed that if the Shankha
is blown with skill, It can scare away evil spirits
and is described as a killer of germs and enemies. According
to some scholars, it can also be used for preparing
many kinds of Anurvedic medicines and that a certain
dose of its powder can cure jaundice, gall bladder,
The Hindus as well as Buddhists drink water from a
shankha before they break a fast and almost all temple
prayers are accompanied by the blowing of the Shankha.
It is strongly believed that the Shankha had been shaped
from the holy waters showered from heaven. Thus it is
regarded as a divine jewel always held by Lord Vishnu
on his right hand. It was also used as safety bands
for young ladies to wear, around their hands, in the
form of bracelets and its necklaces were worn to cost
away evil eyes.
Chakra (the wheel of righ action)
Chakra or the wheel of righteousness is emblem or tool
used as a holy symbol by Hindus and Buddhists. Vishnu,
the Hindu god of preservation, always holds a chakra
to do away with demons and to protect his devotees and
to make sure that Dharma (righteousness does not retrograde.
In Buddhism, some interpret the Chakra as the wheel
of life and see it as the eachings of Buddha. We might
as well say that it's purpose is similar in Buddhism
and Hinduism because the first teachings of Buddha began
with the turning of the Wheel of Dharma.
Singamoo (ceremonial vermilion container)
This ceremonial container is used for storing vermilion
powder for religious purposes. The consecrated vermilion
inside the container represents Laxmi, the goddess of
wealth and abundance. the upper portion of the Sinhamoo
is either shaped like three, five or seven tiered oriental
umbrella serving as a ceremonial canopy of Laxmi, Singamoo
is used in almost all-religious ceremonies particularly
in the Newari community.
Jwala Nhyekan (A ceremonial metal mirror)
Jwala Nhyekan, an ancient religious object, has a plain
circle as the central portion surrounded by stylized
flames that come to the peak at the top. It is indispensable
in all kinds of religious ceremonies in the Newari community
of Kathmandu valley. This is used by the Buddhists as
well as the Hindus to symbolize inner vision and is
also regarded a representation of Saraswati, the goodness
of learning and creative arts.
Kalasha (a holy ceremonial water jar)
Kailash is a typical traditional water jar usually
mode of brass, which has a round body with the base
and mouth beautifully designed like a full-blown lotus.
Kalasha, the symbol of the universal mother goddess,
is supposed to contain Amrit (inexhaustible elixir),
which never dries and makes one immortal. It was said
in ancient times that the sprinkling of Kailash-water,
accompanied by mantra, Over ones head would ensure plenty,
purity and prosperity.
Lotus (the flower of wisdom)
The lotus is among the most popular motifs in Nepali
arts, it is a symbol of mental purity and detachment.
In Nepal, It is also a symbol of divinity as some Hindu
as well as Buddhist gods are seen sitting on them showing
that they are divine.
Torana a gateway leading to a temple or a holy place
of worship, is semi-circular in form and is placed above
temple doorways. Toran mostly found made on wood or
stone and some are lavishly gilded with brass, others
are even beautifully embellished with several artistic
Vajra, which means 'thunderbolt, is used in the Vajrayani
as well as Mahayani sect of Buddhism. It is described
as an ever illuminating, indestructible and adamantine
element, often identified as a divine symbol of the
changeless absolute, in a Buddhist text. The vajra is
always accompanied by a bell, for Vajra stands for the
male principle whereas a bell for the female principle.
A Vajra accompanied by a bell is a ritualistic requirement
for every Buddhist religious ceremony. In every Buddhist
religious ceremony, the Buddhist priest holds a Vajra
on his right hand and a bell on the other.
Bell The sound of a bell in Hindu philosophy symbolizes
the Nata-Brahma (seed-sound) originating from Brahma,
the Supreme Being. The ringing of a bell has always
been an integral part of prayers for most religions
in Nepal. We find bells in every temple and thus, it
is of importance to every religion.
Almost every Buddhist temple has prayer wheels, which
was introduced by Tibetans. These cylindrical wheels
have prayers carved on them. The proyer seen in almost
all prayer wheel is am mani padme hum. (I bow down to
the divine jewel or Buddha seated on the lotus).
Sukunda is a traditional Nepal aoil lamp made of brass.
The front part of a Sukunda is shaped like the god Ganesha,
the god of success and good luck. It has a tiny cup
to put the wick and a fascinating loop handle designed
with a five-headed serpent raising its head. It also
has a small spoon, with the naga-kanya atop, used for
replenishing the oil from the reservoir. the artistic
work on this traditional lamp reflects the remote past
of a very famous Buddhist legend about a Naga (snake)
and a lake.
A long time ago Kathmandu valley was a lake inhabited
by snakes. in the middle of the lake, there was a beautiful
flame of a lotus with a thousand petals. Buddha Mahamanjushree
after hearing about it rushed to the valley, all the
way from china, and he drained the lake by striking
his magic sword at the southern hill of the valley leaving
the valley open to all. The most famous Buddhist stupa
of Swayambhunath is believed to have originated from
the same legendary lotus-flame.
In Newari language sukunda means a beautiful lake.
It is said that the oil reservoir of a sukund represents
the legendary lake, its mouth with the unfolded lotus
motif represents the lotus with a thousand petals and
the cup attached to it in which the lamp is lighted
represents the self-existent divine flame. The lord
Gonesha in front represents the great guru who is there
to teach everyone the supreme acts of god. No ceremony
in Nepal is initiated with out the lighting of the Sukunda.
This traditional lamp is abit different from the Sukunda.
Khaadalu, in Newari, mearts a hanging window lamp. Many
years ago, when there was no electricity, these lamps
were used for lighting shrines and the streets of Kathmandu.
We can still see these oriental brass lamps, with a
few mythical dragons watchfully guarding its flame from
both sides, hung in many old houses but they are only
lighted on festive occasions.
As the age-old custom has it, only housewives are supposed
to light this lamp and many still have faith in the
myth that if this lamp were not lighted after it gets
Goad laxmi, the goddess of wealth, would be displeased.
'Shubham bhavatu kalyanom aarogya dhanasampati mamashatru
vinashaya deepaiyot namastute" an old prayer recited
while lighterning the Khadaalu means you the great doer
of welfare for your devotees, the one who bestows upon
us health, happiness, wealth and the destruction of
our enemies (darkness and ingorance). Salutation to
you, the great divine light.
Janai, a holy thread, worn around the neck by Brahmins
and Chetris denotes Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. It is
believed that all the three gods reside in the holy
thread making it a divine.
The mantra to invoke the desired diet begins with the
word 'Aum" it is believed that the one who realizes
the significance of this mantra will easily reach god.
According to a very old Nepali tradition a person planning
a journey first consults on astrologer to figure out
the right time for the person to begin a journey. Then
on the day fixed for the person to leave the person's
family organizes a farewell ceremony the main highlight
of which is a ritual dish (sagun) which is supposed
to bring the person good luck. Sagun is the ritual dish
which consists of a boiled eggs, a thick round is usually
given accompanied either by alcohol or yogurt and a
vermilion mark on his/her forehead locally called Teeko.
Makara, meaning crocodile in Sanskrit, is a traditional
motif used in decorative art, which is very common in
Nepal. This motif can be found used in Nepali temple
toranas (tympanums), traditional water and wine jars,
spouts bronze containers, jewelry etc.
The makara is shown having watchful eyes, very sharp
teeth, flaming lips, two little legs ad at times it
is shown having a tough scaly body, four legs and a
long floriated tail. Makara is more symbol of a flow
of water from the mouth of makara in spouts reflects
the cycle of relation.
Brahma, the self created god of creation, is said to
have created the cosmos Brahma, in art forms, is depicted
a god having a long beard, radiant skin, wearing while
robes, with four arms and at times mounted on a goose.
Legend has it that this event urged him to create a
new world for himself. After the world was created he
started feeling unbearably lonely, so, he created a
female partner for himself with whom he fell in love
at very first sight. The female (also identified as
Savitri and Saraswati), who was extremely beautiful,
was awfully embarrassed because of Brahama's passionate
behavior towards her. She tried to run away from Brahma,
would spring up. The female finding no other alternative
sprang up toward the sky and another head of brahma
sprung up. Brahma grabbed the helpless female who was
his caught as well as wife in this way Brahma got his
five heads but it is believed that his fifth head was
cut off as a punishment for his sinful affair with his
Indra, traditionally regarded as the god of heaven.
The vedas describe him as the valiant fighter who destroys
devils and drought and gives people rain and food. This
could be the reason for his popularity. The Purans too
speak highly of Indra, often dramatizing his numerous
battles against devils.
Indra Jatra is a very famous festival celebrated in
to honor of Indra.
Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and fine arts,
is often portrayed having a pure white form seated on
a full blown lotus or mounted on a Hansa (swan), The
Hansa is often regarded as our inner-consciousness and
s said to be capable of driving away Avidya or ignorance.
Anong and is said to be capable of driving away Avidya
or ignorance. Among her four arms the two lower arms
are shown playing the veena and the upper hands are
shown holding a book and a rosary. Manjushree, the Buddhist
goddess of knowledge and inner-vision is also worshipped
equally as saraswati is worshipped among the Hindus.
Saraswati puja is a festival celebrated during spring
by students. According to an age-old tradition a young
child is introduced to alphabets for the first time
on this day.
KUMARI 0r (the living goddess)
Kumari, the virgin goddess, represents the state deity
of Nepal known as Teleju and is said to be the incarnation
of kanya Kumari. A kumari Candidate is selected for
a highly honered Hindu temple from a Buddhist family
of Shakya clan. Once she is selected, she is highly
honored by both Hindus and Buddhists including the king.
She has taken out of her temple to participate in several
Once a Kumari attains puberty, she loses this divine
status and the selection for another Kumari begins and
she is made to leave the temple.
The famous Kumari temple is situated right across the
historical Gaddi Baithak Hall at Basantapur in Kathmandu.
There are different Kumaris in Patan, Bhaktapur, Bungmati,
Thimi and other Newar towns.
Hanumana or the monkey god is worshipped as the god
of protection. He is said to be full of shakti or strength,
thus, his whole body is shown to be red. He symbolizes
courage, strength and loyalty. The statues of Hanumana
are found in most palaces.
The Images of the Hanumana always show him with closed
eyes. It is said that the never married and does not
like seeing females, expectably unmarried female. People
believe that he can destroy them if he catches sight
The five Dhayani Buddha's- Vairochanda, Akshobbaya,
Rathasambhaya, Amitabha and Amoghasiddhi, represent
the five basic elements of which the world is made-earth,
fire, water, wind and ether. These Buddha's, described
as the progenitors of the five kulas, or families, termed
as Dvesa, Moha, Raga, Chintamani and Samaya, are associated
with the fulfillment of desire as well as the attainment
of Nirvana. Buddhist philosophy conceives these gods
to be the manifestation of Sunya or absolute void.
We often find the images of the Dhayani Buddha's in
Stupas. Akshobhaya is placed facing the east, Amitabha
facing the west, Amoghasiddhi facing south, Rathansambhava
facing north and vairochana in the center. Except for
Vairochana, which is considered to be the preciding
deity of a stupa, central Buddha is either hidden or
seated next to Akshobhaya.
Though there are only five Dhyani Buddha's sometimes
an additional Dhayani Buddha the Vajrasattva is also
included. Vajrasattva is regarded as the priest among
the Dhayani Buddha's and is seen holding a Vajra on
his right hand and a ghanta (bell) on the left.
Ganesha, the god of good luck, wisdom and success,
is very popular deity worshipped by both Hindus as well
as Buddhist's in Nepal. The figure of Ganesha is childlike
and unique as it has an elephant head, a big round belly,
an exceptionally short body and four or more hands.
His upper right hand holds a hook, representing the
right path to follow, and the lower hand is seen holding
noose, representing self restrain. The rosary on his
third lower hand represents concentration, which is
very important for the development of spiritual knowledge,
and his lower fur hands are in a gesture that assures
his devotees fearlessness, indicating that he is the
A religious text describes the bulky body of Ganesh
as he cosmos and his elephant-like shape as the embodiment
of cosmic intelligence. A legend has it that he even
broke his most valued tusk so that Vedic, a great Hindu
Vedic writer, could write could write the Mahabharat.
The god Kumara, The brother of Ganesh, has six heads
representing the six senses (including the extra sensory
perception). Kumara has six different names.- Kartiyeka,
Gangeya, Skanda, Sarrvanabha, Sadahana and Subrrahmanya.
Kumara. It is believed that he was born from the eye
of lord Shiva. Hence, making him the eternal child of
The work shipping of Kumara begins with the cleaning
of the house with cow-dung mixed with red clay. Then
a figure of a lotus with six petals is drawn with yellow
rice powder and vermilion. According to Hindu Pundits,
the six Chakras inherent in the human body is the medium
thought which Kundalini is to transfer its energy into
the Samadhi or Yoga.
On special festivals young boys are made the kumara
and are taken out in procession. The main kumara festival
is Kumara sasthi, which falls on May. On this festival
cleaning of the neighborhood is an important event besides
Laxmi is the goddess of wealth and the consort of lord
Vishnu. Laxmi is among the most worshipped of all gods
and goddesses in Nepal. One of the most important festivals,
among the multitude of Nepali festivals, is Laxmi Puja.
Laxmi puga is significant for those who celebrate it
for it gives them a reason to hope for financial progress
in the years to come. The celebration is usually done
with elaborate preparations. Lights play a huge role
during Laxmi Puja since it is celebrated at night. Oil
fed clay lamps are kept burning throughout the night.
Laxmi puja is also known as the festival of lights.
Mahakaala is one of the highly fascinating Vajrayana
Buddhist deties. In art forms the deity is portrayed
as dark, dwarfed and big bellied, with a mukta or headdress
with skulls set in and a garland of human heads. He
holds a Kurti (flaying knier) in his right hand and
a kapala (a skull cup) on the other. He has three eyes,
opened wide gaveling him a fierce look, and teeth dripping
blood. He wears tiger skin as girdle and snakes as various
ornaments. Though he looks fierce, he is said to be
very king hearted.
According to sadhanmala, a very old Buddhist test,
the number of arms and heads mahakaala would have depended
on the nature of purpose he was called for. He could
have one face with two, four or six arms or even eight
faces with sixteen arms. It is popularly believed that
his fierce look is not to scare every other person but
to scare away evil.
Rato Machhendra or Bunga Dyo
The Buddhist rain-god, Bhunga dyo or Rato Machindra
is also known as Karunamaya Lokeshwara (The most compassionate
god of the universe Bunga Dyo is worshipped in its male
as well as female from like umaneshwara, Laxminarayan,
Praynaopaya and so on. There are two temples of Machhendra,
one is at Bungmati, which is about 8 km away from Kathmandu
and one is at Patan.
The Festival of Bhunga dyo begins every on the first
day of Baishakh (March- April) and continues for a month
or so. Since Nepal is an agricultural country the monsoons
are very important for the Nepalese. This festival frees
the farmers from worries about not getting ample amount
of rain as this festival implies the worship of the
rain god. During this festival a chariot carrying the
machindra is pulled and thousands of people participate.
Bheemasena is one of the heroes of the Mahabharata
and the god of trade and commerce. Bheemasena is portryed
in images as a red-faced deity with angry eyes and a
thick black moustache. He is often shown lifting a horse
in the air and pressing an elephant under his knee with
a guge cobra and a lion watching in awe. This fierceness
in his images is meant to symbolize his determination
to kill Dushshasan, his enemy who had insulted Draupadi
by trying to denude her in public.
Nepali traders worship Bheemanena widely. Several guthi's
(a sort is trust) are devoted to the regular service
of this deity. One of the most remarkable statues of
Bheemasena can be seen in Patan Bheemasena Temple built
by Shreenivas Malla in the early 18th century.
Krishna is by far the most widely worshipped around
the world. The devotees of Lord Krishna take him to
be spiritual guide, a kumarayogi, a highly perfected
man of good action, a supreme statesman, a protector
of the poor, an eternal lover and so on. He is taken
to be a versatile divinity. In art forms Krishna is
depicted as a divine lover of cow headdresses. Though,
his love is different from that of mortals as the single
minded devotion between the cow hairdresser’s
and the lord is supposed to symbolize the single-minded
devotion to god.
It is believed that Krishna could put all his devotes
into a trance by playing his magic flute. In art forms
he is shown holding a flute in his hand and his leg
slightly bent in tribhanga mudra. This gesture represents
his involvement in Karma-yoga (continual action) which
keeps the world in order, So, our saints call him the
Karma-yogi, the highly perfected man and the god of
action. The Geeta is a divine fight of Lord Krishna
for the people of he world who aspire for illuminating
In his various forms of incarnation:
Vishnu Dhama Purana (an old Hindu text) describes Vishnu
as the preserver of the universe and the upholder of
Dharma. According to the Geeta, whenever lord Vishnu
sees Dharma declining, the weak and innocent suffering,
he comes down in different forms of incarnation to undo
the wrong. The different incarnations of Vishnu could
1. Matsya-The Fish
Vishnu in the form of a Fish saved Manu, the first founder
of human civilization, from a terrifying flood. The
flood is said to have been caused by Hayagriva, the
most cruel sea-monster dwelling deep in the ocean with
innumerable fierce marine animals.
2. Kachhap or Kurma- The tortise
When Vishnu saw the sins of Danavas or devils weighing
down the earth he assumed the form of a tortoise and
dived deep into the sea to raise the earth on his back
and changed the earth to its natural self.
3. Varaha - The Boar
When a demon named Hiranyakashyapa drowned the earth,
Vishnu rushed to rescue the earth incarnated as a Boar
(Varaha). He plunged into the water and rescued the
earth killing the demon.
4. Narasimha- Man-lion
Vishnu, in this incamation killed Hiranyakashyapa by
tearing open his stomach for his attempt to kill his
own son-Prahlad, the most sincere devotee of the Lord
5. Vamana - Dwarf Brahman
In this Avatar (incarnation) Vishnu reclaimed the earth
from Mahabali, the lord of all the three worlds, by
visiting Bali in this avatar and asking him to give
the land measured by three steps. As soon as Bali agreed
he got back to himself and in three steps covered the
universe and won it.
The heroic Brahmin with a militant personality Vishnu
in this form, with an axe on his hand and a bow on the
next, is said to have annihilated all the "Kshatryas"
(warrior class) in 22 battles.
7. Rama-The highly perfected human-god
Vishnu incarnated as Rama, the ideal king and the hero
of the Ramayana, killed the king of demons- Ravana.
8. Krishna - The most widely worshipped
incarnation of Vishanu
This incarnation of Vishanu killed the ogress Punta
whent she tried to kille him by feeding him poisoned
milk when he was a child. Later, Krishna subdued the
ost fatal cobra - Kaliya.
9. Buddha - the supreme teacher
Buddha, the enlightened one, was born in Lumbeni of
Nepal at about 563 B.C. This incarnation of Vishnu was
burning to guide suffering souls to the right direction.
He has taught lessons of humanity, truth and peace.
10. Kalaki ro Kali- The last incarnation.
The last incarnation of Vishnu has come, but people
believe that it will appear at the ent of the Kaliyug.
It is believed that this incarnation of Vishnu will
come mounted on a horse, killing all the evil and saving
only pious souls.