Religions In Nepal

In Nepal, Hinduism and Buddhism have coexisted continuously for almost 2000 years in an atmosphere of religious harmony. Although the religious and cultural roots of both the Hindu and Buddhist religions are derived from the Indie traditions, over the centuries, the Nepalese forms of Hinduism and Buddhism have developed the indigenous character that distinguishes them from the larger Indic context. Religions in Nepal contain great cultural aspects.

As Nepal is geographically part of the Indian subcontinent, and because of its proximity Nepal shares much of the social, religious, and cultural traditions with India. Hinduism in Nepal still maintains its doctrinal ideologies in the larger Brahmanical tradition, but in the process of transmission has created new directions in its religious practices.

The complexity and development of the religion are clearly expressed through the visual imagery of the objects of worship – specifically, the religious images and their various iconographic forms are documents of the religious practices and need to be understood in their cultural context. Many iconographic forms and religious practices are unique to Hinduism as practiced among the Hindus in Nepal.

To grasp the diverse aspects of both Hinduism and Buddhism in Nepal, it is important to analyze these iconographic forms of the popular Hindu and Buddhist pantheon in its religious framework

As Hinduism in Nepal is based on the larger Brahmanical tradition, the major Hindu divinities are found in shrines, temples, or wayside shrines. Many of the Hindu deities have both angry and benign forms. Some of the angry (Krodha) forms are influenced by Tantrism and commonly depict multi-armed and multi-headed deities.

Similarly, Buddhist deities of the Tantric Vajrayana pantheon also are represented with multiple heads, arms, and legs. These forms are conceived not as monstrous evil beings, but as manifestations of the cosmic nature of the deity.

All deities hold different attributes in their hand that symbolize their function and power. The same attributes may be held by different deities, both Hindu and Buddhist, and many.

have different meanings in different contexts: The multiple readings of symbols are. key to understanding to complex iconography of both Hinduism and Buddhism.

Within the Hindu tradition in Nepal, the major Hindu deities are Vishnu, Shiva, Sakti (the Goddesses in their various forms), Ganesha, Surya, and Karttikeya. The two principal religious systems revolve around Vishnu and Shiva. Both Ganesha and Kartikeya belong to the family of Shiva Known in Nepal as Sakti, Bhavani, or Bhagavati, the Great Goddess is also the focus of an important Shakta cult.

Vishnu is one of the most popular deities of the Hindu pantheon, and in Nepal, major temples and pilgrimage sites are dedicated with the four important Vishnu temples being the temples at Changu Narayana. Sesha Narayana. Ichangu Narayana and the Jalasayana Narayana at Budhanilakantha.

Vishnu is represented in his many manifestations, and Nepal is often identified with Surya in the form of Surya Narayana. In his role as preserver of the Universe, Vishnu’s cosmic manifestations such as the Visvarupa Vishnu and Sesasayi have become popular in Vaishnava imagery.

Furthermore, the ten incarnations of Vishnu are also of importance, among which Trivikrama (the Dwarf), Narasimha (half-man, half-lion), and Varaha (the Boar) are most often found in Nepalese art. His other iconographic forms include Vasudeva-Kamalaja, Garudasana Vishnu, and Jalasayana Vishnu.

Following the general development of the later Malla period, new Vaisnava iconographic forms influenced by Hindu Tantrism are found showing multi-headed and multi-armed forms of Vishnu.

Shiva is one of the major gods of the Hindu pantheon in Nepal and both his benign and wrathful forms represent the different aspects of the god. As the god of destruction and anger, he is known as Rudra. In Nepal, as the god of music and dance, he is known as Nrityesvara or Nasadyo.

As Lord of the Animals (Pashupati), he is the patron deity of the Hindus in the Kathmandu Valley, with the shrine of Pashupatinath in Deopatan dedicated to this form. More popularly, he is worshipped in his linga (phallic) form, symbolizing his creative power as the Great Lord Mahesvara.

In Nepalese sculpture, he is most often shown in his abode at Mu Kailasha in the Himalayas, where he resides with his wife Parvati, the daughter of the Himalayas This iconographic representation of Shiva with Parvati known as Uma Mahesvara murti is one of the most popular themes in Nepalese art, and there is much variation in the artistic imagery available.

His other iconographic forms include Ardhanarisvara (half-woman, half-man), Hari-Hara (the composite form of Vishnu and Shiva), and his terrifying aspect as Bhairava

The worship of the Great Goddess, as the divine mother, is extremely popular among the Nepalese people, and over the centuries, the Great Goddess has assumed numerous forms and is known variously as Bhagavati, Devi, Durga, Bhavani, Sakti, and Ajima. Mother worship in the form of anionic stones such as Saku Pithas, prevalent as early as the century A.D.

Continues to play an important role in Sakt worship in Nepal. Different forms of the goddess in her various manifestations are shown throughout Hindu art. As Uma, consort of Shiva and daughter of the Himalaya, she is the benevolent Universal Mother, while as Sri Laksmi, consort of Vishnu, she is the goddess of wealth, prosperity, and well-being.

In her wrathful terrific form as Durga Mahisamardini, she is the powerful angry destroyer of the buffalo-headed demon, Mahisa. An extension of the cult of the Goddess, especially among the Newars is her form as Ajima (grandmother), who is the protectress of children.

In the later period, a group of eight goddesses collectively known as Astamatrika (Eight Mother Goddesses) becomes important in the religious milieu of Sakta worship. In Nepal, however, the Goddess in her forms as Taleju, Durga, and Kumari perhaps has the most varied iconographic imagery.

Other Hindu deities worshipped in the Valley are Ganesha, Indra, Kumara, Surya, the Dikpalas (8 Guardians of the Directions), and the Navagrahas or Nine Planets. Known as Vinayaka, and venerated by both the Hindus and the Buddhists, images and shrines of Ganesha are found in virtually every corner of the Valley.

Similarly, Indra, the ancient god of the Vedic pantheon enjoys great popularity in the valley, among both Hindus and Buddhists in his annual festival of Indra Jatra. During that time, images of Indra, mostly of wood or metal are seen throughout the Valley

The cult of the Navagrahas and Dikpalas are common to both Hindus and Buddhists. The Navagrahas are the Nine Planets which include Surya (Sun), and Chandra (Moon). Mangal (Mars), Budha (Mercury), Brhaspati (Jupiter). Sukra (Venus), Sani (Saturn), as well as Rahu and Ketu. As astrology plays an important role in religious life, the Navagrahas and Dikpalas are propitiated during rituals and ceremonies.

The Dikpalas, particularly in the Buddhist context are extremely important, with Indra presiding in the East, Yama in the South, Varuna in the West, and Kubera in the North. The regents of the four comers are Agni in the Southeast.

Vayu in the Northwest, Isana in the Northeast, and Nairitti in the Southwest. As protectors of sacred space, representations of the Navagrahas and Dikpalas are frequently encountered in art, particularly in Hindu and Buddhist mandalas.

While Buddhism and Hinduism have coexisted together for almost two thousand years, Vajrayana (esoteric) Buddhism in the Kathmandu Valley has its distinctive features, which could be closely tied with a certain aspect of Hinduism Newar Buddhism is highly complex, in which the social, religious, and cultural practices incorporate the caste system, with a hereditary priesthood and membership into an entirely non-monastic Buddhist community.

In this context, there has been a tendency in scholarship to interpret Newar Buddhism as dominant of Hinduism, deliberate syncretism, or Hinduism in all but name. The main focus of Buddhism remained quite active Among the Newar community in the three principal cities of Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur Newar Buddhism had developed its distinctive character.

Among the Buddhist Newar community of the Kathmandu Valley, complex rituals and rich visual imagery are actively practiced. In this context, a systematic study and chronology of its development are somewhat difficult.

While there was a flourishing tradition of the Hindu pantheon by the Ist century A.D. there has been no archeological and epigraphic evidence of Buddhist imagery before the Licchavi period. However, it seems likely that Buddhism was prevalent long before the Licchavi period.

We have accounts of the Buddha’s chief disciple Ananda, and more probably of the Buddhist monks from Sravasti visiting the Valley. Furthermore, the great Buddhist teacher. Vasubhandu is said to have visited Nepal in the 4th century and died here, It is said that he initiated the Nepalese practice of Mantrayana.

The epigraphic evidence states that as in India, early Nepalese Buddhism probably followed the teachings of Sravakayana, Theravada, and Mahayana. However, by the post-Licchavi period, Vajrayana Buddhism was already in its full-fledged form. This can be attested not only by images but also by epigraphs,

In the Tantric context, the Five Jina or “Dhyani Buddhas” are important in reiterating Shakyamuni’s Enlightenment process. These five Buddhas are perhaps the most important in the Newar Buddhist pantheon, and the iconography of these Buddhas is also specific to the Newar context.

Besides this, there are many elaborate rituals incorporating mantras, dharanis, and mandalas. For the Newar Buddhist practitioner, the Vajracharya priest acts as the preceptor to the path of Enlightenment. Various levels of initiations and passage rites are important for the Newar Buddhist community.

Furthermore, much of the devotional life centers around the worship of the Bodhisattvas, in particular, the Bodhisattva is most popularly known as Karunamaya to the Newar Buddhists. The annual festival of Macchendranath in Patan signifies the importance of the Bodhisattva to both Hindus and Buddhists.

Even Hindu and Buddhist in major two religions in Nepal. Nepal has never had religious fighting till today from the history.

In Nepal, the Buddhist pantheon is as numerous and varied as the Hindu deities. The sculptural traditions show many of the complex iconographic forms of the Buddhist pantheon. The seven Manusi Buddhas along with Shakyamuni are frequently represented.

However, the proper identification of these Buddhas can only be determined by contexts, as the iconography is identical to that of the Five Jina (Dhyani) Buddhas: The concept of the five transcendental Buddhas or Panca Buddha’ Aksobhya (East), Ratnasambhava (South). Amitabha (West). Amoghasiddhi (North), and Vairocana (center), is a ubiquitous feature throughout Newar Buddhism.

Other important Buddhist deities of the larger Vajrayana pantheon such as Cakrasamvara in his many forms, Hevajra, Kalacakra, etc. are found throughout Buddhist art. Among the most popular female deities are Tara and Vasundhara. As the counterpart of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Tara is the saviouress who protects her devotees from earthly dangers and calamities.

Iconographically, she is similar to Avalokitesvara in that she holds a lotus in her left hand, while her right hand displays the gesture of munificence. In the later Malla period, she was worshipped by the Hindus as the deity of transcendental knowledge (prajna) in the group of 10 female deities of knowledge known as the Dasamahavidya.

Religions in Nepal (data 2011):

Religion Population Percentage
Hinduism  21,551,492 81 81.36%
Buddhism 2,396,099 9.04%
Islam 1,162,370 4.39%
Kirat 807,169 3.04%
Christianity 375,699 1.41%
Prakriti (Nature Worship) 121,982 0.46%
Bon 13,006 0.04%
Jainism 3,214 0.01%
Bahá’í 1,283 0.01%
Sikhism 609 0.01%
Others/Unspecified 61,581 0.23%
Total 26,494,504 100%


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