Nepal in the Mahabharata Period, Part 13

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BY: SUN STAFF - 22.10 2018

Shiva and Parvati - Nepal's 'Transcendental Royals'

Sri Krsna's liberation of Banasura, the Yadava dynasty's presence in Nepal, and the events that preceded and followed.

Over the course of this series, we have gotten a brief look at the cultural and religious life of the Kirats. Described in the context of Mahabharata Period pastimes of the asuric kings, we see that the Kirats are closely associated with the yavana and mleccha presence in northern India. While some famous Kirat personalities are Vaisnava, others are Shaivite or Buddhist.

Generally categorized under the umbrella of 'Hinduism', the majority of Kirat religious practices are a combination of Shaivism and Mundhum. The Mundhum religion, still practiced today, is basically animalism. Most Kirats worshipped Lord Shiva along with serpents, trees, stones, etc. But among the higher classes of Kirats, temples like Kirateswar Mahadev and Birupakshya demonstrate a high standard of architecture and art. Likewise, the Buddhist Kirats built many beautiful stupas and pagodas across Nepal. Excellence in art and architecture was manifest throughout the era of rule by the Kirat kings we have been discussing.

The King's Old Palace in Kathmandu, c. 1865

In succession after the 1st Kirat king in the Mahabharata Period, Yalamber, there were five more rulers up to the time of King Jitedasti, the 7th Kirat king who fought at Kurukshetra. The 6th king was Humati Hang, who we'll briefly discuss today.

Humati Hang was King at the time Arjuna, the son of Pandu of Indraprastha, visited Nepal. Arjuna came to acquire the special skills needed for deploying the Pashupat-astra, as described earlier in this series. The Sanskrit kavya Kiratarjuniya ('Of Arjuna and the Kirata') explains that Arjuna adopted the name, nationality, and guise of a Kirat for a certain period in order to learn archery and the use of other weaponry from Lord Shiva.

When Arjuna and Bhimsena came to the eastern countries for the first time, they had to fight against the Kirat people, who had a strong confederacy in the Himalayan region. Bhima fought with the Rakshas servants of Kirat king Kubera in Alkapur, a capital city of the Himalayan Kirats near Badrinath. Fighting and hoping to subdue these Kirats, Bhima was looking for men to increase the ranks of his fighting forces for the Kurukshetra war. Kubera advised Bhimsen not to depend only upon the strength of Rakshasas, and to search out alternative tactics to win the war. Bhimsen was thankful for the great advice and always respected Kubera.

Bhima later fought with a Gandharba Kirat near a stream in the Himalayas. King Kuber instructed Bhima by explaining the meaning of civilized people, devata, which the Gandharba, Yakkha and Kirat Ashur proudly considered themselves to be. Others, including the Rakshasas Bhima fought, were actually among the mleccha/yavana Kirats. Not surprisingly, to this day Kirat people are offended at being referred to by these derogatory terms.

The Pandavas setting fire to their enemies 
Nepali Mahabharata, c. 1800 

Arjuna's interactions with the Kirat are described in both the Mahabharata and the Skanda Purana, which tell the story of Arjuna fighting with a Kirat hunter, then discovering that it was Mahadeva. Properly addressing Shiva as Mahadeva, Arjuna begged forgiveness and humbly prayed for blessings to acquire Pashupatrastra. Lord Shiva in a related pastime with Arjuna is described as taking the form of a boya hunter. This is said to be the only form in which Shiva appears black in color. According to Skanda Purana, Lord Shiva resided at Kailasa, in the Tibetan range at this time. (SP 3-39,49). Shiva is described as sometimes assuming the form of Kiratas, Pisachas and Savaras, or other tribes (SP 13,14).