Mysteries around Budhanilkanth & the largest stone carving in Nepal

Budhanilkantha statue
The largest stone carving in Nepal, Vishnu at Budhanilkantha
The largest stone carving in Nepal is Vishnu at Budhanilkantha reclining on a bed of snakes over a pond just outside Kathmandu – a place with several mysteries

The Budhanilkantha Temple Mystery

Budhanilkanth temple falls under the mystery category of difficult to reach and still can’t get to see it temples in Nepal. It’s only about 8 km from Kathmandu but in reality it can take a hour or more to get there if you time it wrong and get stuck in traffic. That’s half the problem with small sites in Kathmandu, traffic. Why spend an hour stuck in traffic just to see a big statue?

At the entrance to Budhanilkantha
Budhanilkantha is a place for Hindus, Buddhists and the occasional tourists

Well, it’s Nepal’s largest stone carving so that’s a sort of bucket list reason to see it. Unfortunately more mysterious rumors of the statue being off limits to non-Hindus also persists. It’s not so true. But it’s still obstacle number two in the two top reasons most people give it skip. I don’t blame them really. That said, don’t be too put off as there are ways around these things.

If you leave early, then you’ll be there in 20 minutes by micro-bus or taxi. That’s the key to getting to Narayanthan which is the township Budhanilkanth resides in. It’s an open temple, so you can see the statue through the open fence with relative ease and go down to it. So there you go, two problems and mystery solved.

How to see the Vishnu statue at Budhanilkanth temple

It’s really hard to hide a 13 meter long statue floating on an open pond. They’ve built a concrete fence around it. But you can easily see the statue from all sides through the gaps. There’s an entry gate down to the pond and a separate exit. Security guards on both sides of the fence ensure that visitors don’t spend too long there.

Stone fence in Budhanilkantha
There are several shrines around the stone fence in Budhanilkantha where you can descend down to see but not photograph the largest Vishnu statue in Nepal

There used to be a rule that non-Hindus were not allowed down to the statue. It’s loosely still enforced depending on the mood of the guard. There have been incidents of tourists told they can’t go to the statue. However most of that is down to the strict “no camera or photographs” rule. You simply can’t bring one inside.

So there you go, two ways to see the giant sleeping Vishnu statue.

Around the Budhanilkanth temple

There’s not a lot much else to do around Budhanilkanath temple. There’s your typical amount of small shrines dotted around the outer fence but that’s about it. There used to be a big wall by the entrance to the temple but it was damaged in the 2015 earthquake and has been taken down. It makes the whole area a lot more pleasant.

There’s a Buddha statue close to the entrance gate and a now a pleasant paved area leading directly to the Vishnu statue.

The Budhanilkanath temple contains the largest stone carving in Nepal

Note that this Vishnu statue is the largest “stone carving” in Nepal. The largest statue in Nepal is Shiva at Kailashnath Mahadev. Carvings rather than size is what Nepal is known for and this Vishnu statue does not disappoint.

Another mystery about Budhanilkanath is if it actually floats on the the pond.

Measuring 5 meters in length (16.4 feet) the black basalt Vishnu statue lies over a section of a pond. It is said the statue is actually floating but the priests will not allow scientists to examine it. That said, the basalt could be porous enough to allow flotation of some sort. Though it should be note that the statue does not float “around”. It is stationary and can take the weight of several helpers who lay flowers on it and clean the carving. Does it float? This one remains a mystery today.

There’s another mystery over the name Budhanilkanath which is easily solved. Many make the mistake of assuming it is a Buddhist name. It’s not. The name Budhanilkanath means “old blue throat” which refers to Vishnu who is depicted with blue skin. However, their is a very important Buddhist reference here that makes it important for Hindus and Buddhists alike.

stone Vishnu statue floating on water
Is the stone Vishnu statue floating on water or does it reach the bottom … one more mystery that has yet to be solved

The statue of Vishnu wears a cloth garment and a silver crown that has a depiction of Buddha at the center. Thus it is worshiped by both Hindus and Buddhists alike. This fact diminishes the old rumour that only Hindus can enter inside the temple.

When people do enter they give offerings to Vishnu. A young man or boy scrambles over the statue to place the offerings around it.

Lasting impressions of Budhanilkanath

As I previously mentioned I’ve visited Budhanilkanath on several occasions. From updating my guidebooks to Nepal to preservation to mapping. I’ve met few tourists here. Most are long-term travelers who come out of curiosity. Budhanilkanath is out of reach for tours and the like as it’s not on the main heritage route.

There’s one exception to all this. Shivapuri is a popular day hike in Kathmandu. If doing the hike you need to pass by the town of Narayanthan and the Budhanilkanath temple. It makes good sense to tick off visiting the largest stone carving in Nepal if you are passing by!

A monk prays by a statue of Buddha in the Budhanilkantha temple complex
A monk prays by a statue of Buddha in the Budhanilkantha temple complex

 

It’s an interesting place which no doubt makes the statue and its mysteries a focal point. There is something very serene at seeing this large black statue in a place nicknamed “old blue throat”. A place people often confuse with being a Buddhist site due to a name alone yet at the same time the Hindu statue bears a crown with Buddhas image.

Above all else, Budhanilkanath holds a mysterious curiosity worth quenching if you have time in Kathmandu.

For more, do read my full guide to Budhanilkanath.


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