A surprise discovery at India’s only Pashupatinath temple in Madhya Pradesh

-D K Hari

-Hema Hari


Sometimes we get unknown perks just by flying by. A chance journey and a last minute plan. Well, that’s another story. But what happened was this. We decided to go on a road trip from Maharashtra to Rajasthan. As providence would have it, we passed by the little town called Mandsaur.

I confess, I’ve never heard of it except in stray references since my husband spent a few years of his infancy there.

Nostalgia made his eyes only sparkle a tad shade brighter. We obviously just had to stop at one of his favorite landmarks – the Pashupatinath temple.

It’s the only Pashupatinath temple in India which is ashtamukhi (8-faced). It surprised me to know this temple is the second such temple in the world, second only to the famous Pashupatinath temple in Nepal, which incidentally features four faces.

Over the years, the temple complex has expanded to embrace the many devotees who come here to worship. Organized systems to enter and exit, colorful murals on the ceilings and the walls – and little sculptures caught my eye.

Legends say

There is a charming river called the Shivna which flows just where the temple steps end.
Legends say a young washerman would wash clothes on a smooth rock, every day. Slapping the wet clothes hard against the smooth surface would make them cleaner. This became his favorite spot. One night, Lord Shiva appeared in his dreams and told him to unearth his favorite stone. That very same which had become his daily companion in the midst of his washing chores. The washerman thought lightly of his dream and dismissed it away.

When the dream started recurring, the washerman finally spoke to his friends about it. Afraid of any untoward consequences, the group decided to pay heed and uproot the stone.

The ensuring efforts soon made it apparent – that stone was simply too heavy. Finally, many pairs of bullocks were tied together in a line. Helped with many men, and strong ropes, the stone yielded. What emerged was the stunning, 8-foot Pashupatinath idol, a hidden gem amongst India’s rich religious monuments (almost double of the idol enshrined in the Pashupatinath temple in Nepal).

There is a belief that the river levels rise at least once in the holy month of Shravan – in a gesture where the river water touches the idol of Pashupatinath and pays her respect. Devotees call it the ultimate jalaabhishekam.

The mystery of the 8 faces

Mandsaur lies on the Tropic of Cancer. The sun’s rays are mild during the winter solstice which gave the region the moniker: Mand Surya. Later, the name morphed into Mandsaur.

Although relatively obscure today, the town has a rich historical background. It was the capital of the Aulikara kings of the Gupta period. There are numerous references of the town in ancient scriptures like the Mahabharata, Kadambari, Puranas, and Bruhatsamhita, Jain literature, as well as Kalidas’ work, Meghdoot.

Undoubtedly, the stunning, ashtadhatu (made from eight alloys) idol of Lord Shiva is the centerpiece.

It is said that the various aspects of Shiva are represented through each of the eight faces:

  • Bhava – Existence, Creation
  • Sharva – Destroyer (of darkness and evil)
  • Rudra – Dispeller of Sorrows,
  • Pasupati – Lord of all beings
  • Ugra – The Fearsome,
  • Mahan or Mahat (Mahadeva) – The Supreme,
  • Bhima – The Tremendous,
  • Isana – The Directional ruler

The 28th stanza in the Puranic Shiva Mahimna Stotra enumerates the eight aspects of Lord Shiva.


Bhavah sarvo rudrah pasupati-rathograh sahamahan
statha bhime-shanav iti yadabhi-dhana-shtakam-idam,
amu- shmin-pratyekam pravicarati deva shrutirapi
priyayasmai dhamne pravihita-namasyo’smi bhavate.

Lord! Bhava, Sharva, Rudra, Pashupati, Ugra, Mahadeva, Bhima, and Ishana-these eight names of Yours are expounded in great detail in the Vedas. To You, most beloved Lord Shankara, of resplendent form, I offer salutations.

– Composed by Gandharva Pushpadanta

Just outside the main shrine is an endearing idol of Nandi – focussed, serene, decorative – almost alive in her devotion to Shiva. And a big tortoise as well. Other gods from the pantheon were also added later to the temple complex, including Goddess Parvati, Goddess Lakshmi, Lord Ganesh, and Saint Adyashankaracharya.

Blessings from above

We finished our darshan, following other devotees in the ardh parikrama (partial circumambulation), which is followed in the temple. Popular belief says prayers to Lord Shiva here makes a devotee fearless, strong, and happy.

After a stunning temple visit, we continued on our way – having a fabulous road trip, discovering new parts of life which I would not have discovered otherwise. During the week, my husband and I marveled at some of the spontaneous plans which beautifully worked out. It’s as though the trip has been blessed – we said. So while returning, we had to make a stop from where we began. At the temple.

It was the first day of Shravan – the temple was bustling with devotees who had come from afar. A samuhik (group) puja was on – a voice on the microphone led the chorus of the hundreds of voices that were seated there. I kept looking at the level of the river, hoping that I would witness Shivna coming to pay obeisance to the Almighty. While it was not to be on that particular day, suffice to say the moment was still blessed.