We wholeheartedly welcome you to Muktinath Temple
Buddhists also know Muktinath as ‘Jim-Pu-Chhe’. Jim-pu-chhe means a large pool of water. As you take the steps to the Muktinath Temple gate, you can see different snow peaks and mountain ranges around you. After you enter the gate, there is a Samba Gumba/Sangdo Gumba to the left side of the path. There is also Muktinath Brikshya ropan to the left side a few steps ahead. (This section of the temple includes the plantation of different species that are native to the Muktinath area).
Further steps ahead on the main path will lead you to Muktinath Yagyashala. Within this area, various worship ceremonies and pujas are conducted at the request of pilgrims or on auspicious occasions. There is also a display of the Shaligram Stone that has religious importance and it is considered an iconic representation of Lord Vishnu.
Just behind and towards the right side of Yagyashala, there is Mukteshwor Mahadev Temple. It is considered as 51st Shaktipeeth by many seasonal pilgrims. It is a pagoda-styled Shiva temple made by replicating the Pashupatinath Temple of Kathmandu. There are also four shrines at the side of the temple that represents Dwarka, Badrinath, Kedarnath, and Rameshvaram. On the right side of the Shiva temple is the structure of Vishnu Paduka and a stupa. The upper part of the texture is stupa while the bottom is the footprint of Vishnu – Vishnupaduka. It is believed that those who cannot see all the four dhams will have the same blessings as visiting all four dhams while circumambulating around Vishnupaduka.
You can continue the main path through the gate or just take a left turn from the Shiva temple to find the Muktikunda at the front of the central temple courtyard. There are two pools on the front side of the Muktinath temple that is called Muktikundas. The water in the Kunda comes from the 108 water spouts that are channeled underground. It is strongly believed by pilgrims that a holy bath in Dhara Tirtha and Muktikunda can purify one in the number of 8.4 million organic species in the cosmos through which the soul transcends in the cycle of rebirth.
Main Temple of Muktinath
Just beside the Muktikunda lies the main temple of Muktinath. On the front side of the temple, there are two muktikundas and on the back and side of the temples, there are a total of 108 stoned spouts. This temple is considered Vishnu Temple (locally called Muktinath or Muktinarayan temple). The word ‘Muktinath’ means that it is the abode of the highest lord (nath means greatest in Sanskrit) Vishnu who grants mukti or salvation and takes his devotees to baikuntha dham or heaven. Buddhists worship Vishnu as ‘Luwang Gelbu’. Both Buddhists and Hindus worship Muktinath in harmony.
It is a three-storied copper-roofed and topped with a pinnacle in pagoda style; southward facing built on a square platform of a single tire. The shrine is considered to be an antique of 2000 years (Dahal, 1998:350). However, the inscription on the bell located at the southern side of the temple and the brass plate of the second roof of the temple reveal that the present temple in Pagoda style was built around 1815 AD.
In the main shrine, under the shade of seven hoods of snakes, a four-armed lotus positioned (with cross legs) a copper image of Lord Muktinath is enshrined at the central north location of the Muktinarayana temple. The image of Lakshmi, goddess of wealth, fortune, and Vishnu’s consort, and Sarasvati, goddess of art & learning, and Brahma’s wife is sanctified on either side of Vishnu. Just in front of Lakshmi and Sarasvati sits small images of Garuda (the divine bird, carrier of Vishnu) and Ganesh (the younger son of Shiva) respectively. Three images of Buddhist Mahayana gods (42cm. Height) viz. Ho-Pang-Me, Che-Pang- Me and Dorje Sempa also exist in the front line of the same sanctum.
Right at the front entrance, there are two praying halls: a Hindu praying hall on the right and a Buddhist praying hall on the left. On the left, visitors do the homology by lighting the holy fire to fulfill their wishes. On the right, visitors light a fire and worship to fulfill their wishes. The overall space is occupied by bronze images of Buddhist and Hindu gods. Buddhist nuns, (locally called ‘Ani’ or ‘Jhoma’) in the inner space and Hindu priests from the Subedi, Bramhin clan in the outer space of the temple perform their rituals.
This temple can be considered to be a perfect example of the religious harmony between Hindu and Buddhist followers in the whole world.
Just behind the temple lies 108 water spouts that are considered one of the purest and holiest water by Hindus all around the world. The 108 (Go Mukh) cow-head-shaped waterspouts encircle the Muktinath Temple approximately as a semicircle. Also, it is said that there are natural underground connections between the source of Dhara Tirtha and the water on which the blue flame is burning, in Jwala Mai Gomba. 108 spouts symbolize 108 books of Tibetan Buddhist scriptures, 108 beds on the Buddhist rosary, the product of 122 zodiacs, and 9 planets-the cosmic circuits.
Dhub Thob Gyazju is associated with the tale of visiting Mount Kailash from India in Buddhist texts related to the origin of 108 dhara in Dhara Tirtha. After visiting Mount Kailash, he brought water in a Kamandalu (water vessel). He came to Muktinath with a stick in one hand and a kamandalu with water in the other. It is then believed that he planted the water he brought in Kamandalu at the same place with the blessings of Muktinath. It is also believed that water taps were formed at the same place later.
It is believed that when 80 tantric monks including Gyazju came to the site on a pilgrimage, they buried the stick they had brought and held their soul (Som) inside the tree. Even today, Buddhists believe that the spirit of Dhub Thob Gyazju is present on these trees.
The Jwala Mai Gumba
You can find this monastery of the miraculous flame situated on the southern side of the Muktinath temple. In the Buddhist language, this monastery is also called ‘Dhola Mebhar’, in which Dhola means rock and Mebhar means flame. In the middle of the monastery are the deities Chingresig/Lokeshwar, Zhimbiang/ Manjushree on the right, and Chhyagna Dorje (BYANJAR PANI) on the left. Although there are three kinds of flames: “Saale Mebhar” (holy flame from the soil), “Dhola Mebhar” (holy flame from rock), and “Chhyula Mebhar” (holy flame from water), currently only one flame is burning. These flames are also considered the power of the three gods.
Hindus believe that this miracle of fire lighting was an offering made by Brahma himself and worshiped it as Jwala Mai (lit. goddess of fire). Both Hindu and Buddhist traditions claim this site to be the only place on Earth to host all five elements (fire, water, sky, earth, and air) from which all material things in the universe are made. Along with the ambient earth, air, and sky, there is a water spring co-located with a flame fueled by naturally occurring gas outflow — giving the appearance of the water itself burning. No other co-located water source and burning gas are known to exist. Even now, Buddhist Nuns are cleaning and worshiping the temple.
You can find this Tibetan-styled Gomba on the western side of the Shiva temple at a distance of about 65 meters. Buddhists call it the ‘Mhar Me Lha Khang’ monastery. It contains a clay image of Padmasambhava as the main deity. The clay image sits on a tree made up of real Sandalwood which is considered a sign of purity in the Buddhist religion. The images of two nurses Khando Yeshi Chogyal (Tibetan) and Khando Manderewa(Hindu) sit on either side of the main deity.
Another image sanctified in this Gomba is of Sen Dong Ma (Tibetan Tantrik Guru). There are statues of Guru Tapu on the right, and Khando-Sing-Dong-Ma on the left. On account of its partial shape of a Lion, Hindu pilgrims pay homage to this image as Narasimha-the fourth incarnation of Vishnu. The main deity of the Gomba is a Buddhist god but it is popular with the Hindu name “Narasimha”. The Hindu goddess Vajra Varahi is enshrined on the other side of the main deity.
Besides these locations, there are also other important locations around the Muktinath area.
High Altitude Sickness Treatment Center
For people suffering from High Altitude Sickness, there is a treatment center within the Muktinath Temple Area. In 2057 BS, Muktinath Health Service Center was opened for people visiting Muktinath and it is also located in this area.
Muktinath Bikas Samiti Office
For people requiring extra information or for any other queries related to the Muktinath area, this office can be found within the area. This office is located nearby Nun’s residence some distance away from the left side of Mukti Kunda.
There is also a police quarter nearby to report any missing personal materials or any other queries. It is situated some distance away from the left side of Mukti Kunda.
This residence is for Aani (Buddhist nun) for living their daily life. This residence is located nearby the Muktinath Bikas Samiti Office and some distance away from the left side of Mukti Kunda. Hira Bahadur Thakuri Wangyal Lama is now the chief lama looking after Ani Niwas and Muktinath Chhetri. The selection of lamas is hereditary. Before this, from the seventh generation, his family has been working to promote the development and protection of this area. Similarly, the Muktinath Development Local Conservation Committee working for the welfare of the Muktinath area’s current chairperson is also Hira Bahadur Thakuri Wangyal Lama.
There is also a helipad located on the right side of the entrance gate to the Muktinath Temple area.
Location and Short History
Muktinath is 21 kilometers (trail distance) northwest of the district headquarters Jomsom (2710m, Dzongsom in Tibetan), and one kilometer away from the nearest settlement Ranipouwa. Besides, Ranipouwa (Dharmashala, rest house built in 1806 B. S. by Subarna Prabha Devi, the wife of King Rana Bahadur Shah), the settlement of Ranipouwa village is connected with the growth of mountain tourism in Manang and Mustang Valley. These valleys were opened for mountain tourists in April 1997.
Muktinath is a suitable location for a night halt for the trekkers of the famous Annapurna circuit route, who traverses the Thorung pass (5416m) from the Manang side. From the pass, Muktinath is located at a trail distance of 15 kilometers.
The old settlement of the area Dzarkot (in the Tibetan language Dzar-Dzong, which means a fort or castle) is three kilometers (trail distance) away from the sacred site. Dzarkot is the largest among the villages of upper Muktinath Valley and the home of the former ruling chief of the area (Bista, 1971:38). Khinga, Dzarkot, Purang, Chhongu, Dzong, and Putak villages inside the valley form remarkably homogeneous attributes in terms of religious (Tibetan Buddhism) and socio-cultural entity.
Therefore, the manifestative power of the place attracted believers and kings to provide special protection and related programs resulting in the development of various monuments, gompas, pouwas(resting places), etc., and complexity, not only in the sacred site but also in the pilgrimage route leading to it. Buddhists also believe that it was a place where Guru Rimpoche (Padmasambhava); the scholar and founder of Tibetan Buddhism; once meditated and gained the lifetime achievement of spiritual enlightenment, while on his way to Tibet in the 12th century.
The sacred temple area of Muktinath (3749 m) is situated on the western slope of Kalodanda (So-So Danda, in the local Bhote language) in between Annapurna Himalaya (South) and Damodar Himalaya (north). It lies in the rain shadow area of the great Himalayas and so there is no drastic effect of the South Asian Monsoon on the region. This region experiences cool summer and cold winter weather.
Historical Mention of Muktinath
In a passage from the Hevajratantra containing the phrase ‘sgrol-ba’i zhing’ (Muktikşetra); in the dialect of Indian Prakrit that was common among the yogins of his period, Muktikşetra is pronounced as Muku- takṣetra. The sacred site itself is characterized as ‘108 tree trunks together with 108 spouts’ (Tibetian: shing sdong brgya rtsa brgyad/ chu mig brgya rtsa brgyad dang bcas pa).”
The Hevajra Tantra, also known as the ‘King of Tantras’ is one of the Indian Buddhist tantras that is included in both the Tibetan Canon and the Chinese Canon. Due to this reason, Muktinath is called ‘Mukti Kshetra’ which translates to ‘liberation arena’ (moksha). It is the only one among the five most important holy places of Vaishnavism located in Nepal.
Under the religious texts, Damodar Kund is considered as Shikha or top of the head, Muktinath is considered as mouth, Kagbeni is kantha or Adam’s Apple, Galeshwar is considered as chest, Ridi (Rurukshetra) as waist, Devghat is considered knee and Triveni of Gajendra Mokshya Divya Dham is considered as feet.
The Kaligandaki River that lies in Mukti Kshetra is the only river in the world where Shaligram is found. There are many Shaligrams (Ammonite) found here that is considered the incarnation of Lord Vishnu by Hindus and worship them. According to Hindu myths, Lord Vishnu turned into the Shaligram because of a curse by Brinda, wife of Jalandhar. Buddhists worship this Shalagrama as ‘Luwang Gyalbo’ meaning Nag Raja/’the serpent deity.
Celebrations and Special Occasions
The cultural heritage of the temple is looked after by Buddhist nuns along with daily prayers. All the puja rituals performed here are done by the lama and local nuns. As per the temple traditions, devotees after completing their prayers and puja rituals visit Mebhar Lha Gomba which is a small monastery famous for miraculous fire.
The temple is, however, flocked by devotees throughout the year but on the occasion of Ram Navami, Vijayadashami, and Rishitarpani the temple is heavily crowded with devotees. These festivals are organized in a grand way at Muktinath Temple. During the prayers, devout pilgrims offer prasad and Shaligram to Lord Vishnu.
Also, there are many other local festivals that are celebrated in the Muktinath area. Yartung, perhaps the most famed festival of the valley, is celebrated during August/September. This is the festival of harvests and horse races that takes place on Janai Purnima at Ranipauwa. Devotees from surrounding villages and Manang gather here during the festival. Other important festivals include Lhosar (New Year), Dhajyang/Toranla (Festival of Archery), Dhekyap, Bakchhap (festival of Lama Dance), Fangyal (festival of taking rest), and Buddha Jayanti.
Muktinath is the main religious and cultural place of both Hindus and Buddhists. The Muktinath Local Conservation Committee has also started a project for the establishment of Buddha and Vishnu statues within the Muktinath Area. Former President Bidya Devi Bhandari has already inaugurated a 35-foot Buddha statue after its completion and now a 35-foot statue of Lord Vishnu is also in the process of being built.
Hira Bahadur Thakuri Wangyal Lama. Chief of Muktinath Development Local Conservation Committee
Muktinath Baba. Supreme spiritual guru of Nepal Yoga Retreat
Rinzin Namgyal Gurung. Chairperson of Waragung Muktikshetra Rural Municipality
Tibetan Sources on Muktinath By Dr. Franz-Karl Ehrhard
Poudel, P. (2000). Muktinath, Nepal: Spiritual Magnetism and Complexity in Space. The Himalayan Review(31); 37-59.
Dahal, S. P. 1988: Muktikshetra. Jomsom, Mustang: Muktikshetra Sodkirti Prakashan Samiti,(V. Smt. 2045).
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