In ancient times, a Gwala, or cow herder, had brought a cow from a Brahmin named Sudarshan. The cow was known for producing large quantities of milk. The Gwala used to take the cow to Changu for grazing. At that time Changu was a forest of Champak trees. While grazing, the cow always went to the shade of a particular tree. In the evening, when the Gwala took the cow home and started milking her, he got only a very small amount of milk. This continued for several days. He grew very sad, so he called on the Brahmin saying the cow was not giving enough milk. After observing this with his own eyes, Sudarshan agreed with the Gwala they should observe the cow’s daytime activity while she was grazing in the forest. Brahmin and Gwala both hid behind the tree. To their surprise, a small black boy came out of the tree and started drinking the cow milk. The two men were furious because they thought the boy must be the devil and tree must be its home. So the Brahmin cut down the champak tree. When he was cutting it down, fresh human blood came out of the tree. Both Brahmin and Gwala got worried, believing they had committed a great crime and began to cry. Lord Vishnu emerged from the tree and told the Brahmin and Cowherd it was not their fault. Vishnu told the story of how he had committed a heinous crime by unwittingly killing Sudarshan’s father while hunting in the forest. After that, cursed for the crime, he wandered the earth on his mount, ‘Garuda’, eventually descending on the hill at Changu. There he lived in anonymity, surviving on milk stolen from a cow. When Brahmin cut down the tree, Vishnu was beheaded, which freed Lord Vishnu from his sins. After hearing these words from Vishnu, Brahmin and Gwala resolved to worship the place and established a small temple in the name of Lord Vishnu. Ever since the site has been sacred. Even today, we find Sudarshan’s descendant as a priest of the temple and the Gwala’s descendants as Ghutiyars (conservators). There’s another legend too. About 400 years ago, a mighty warrior named anjal lived. He still lives today. He was the strongest in the entire country. Another warrior known all over Nepal named Changu challenged Pranjal. Changu defeated him and won the hearts of Nepalese people, so as a tribute to him this temple was constructed
Changu Narayan Temple is situated at the top of the hill surrounded by a forest of Champak tree. On the main way to temple courtyard, we can find a human settlement. People from Newar community live in and around Changu Narayan area. With the development of tourism in this place, we can find many medium and small sized hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, etc. An ancient stone tap is located on the way to Changunaran which is believed to have existed since the time of Lichhavi.
The Temple art and architecture
Changu Narayan is considered to be the oldest temple of Nepal. It remains a milestone in Nepali temple architecture with rich embossed works. The two-storey roofed temple stands on a high plinth of stone. According to Professor Madhan Rimal, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Tribhuvan university the temple is neither in Shikhara style nor the pagoda style. It has an architectural style which he would like to describe as a traditional Nepali temple. Many similar features are found at Gokarna Mahadev. The temple is surrounded by sculptures and arts related to Lord Vishnu. Also, we can find the temples of Lord Shiva, Ashta Matrika, Chhinnamasta, Kileshwor and Krishna inside the courtyard of the main temple. There are four entrances to the temple and these gates are guarded by life-size pairs of animals such as lions, sarabhas, griffins and elephants on each side of the entrances. The ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu and the other idols are carved in the struts, which support the roof. The entrance door is gilded with carvings of Nāaga (snakes). On the main entrance gate (i.e. western entrance gate), we can find the Chakra, Sankha, Kamal, and Khadga all at the top of a stone pillar. These stone pillars have an inscription in Sanskrit. This inscription is considered to be the oldest inscription of Nepal and the stone inscription pillar was erected by Licchavi (kingdom) King Manadeva in 464 AD. The following monument is located while visiting the temple from the right side after entering from the main entrance (Eastern gate) to the courtyard.
- A historical pillar erected by Mandeva in 464 AD
- Garuda:- flying vehicle of Lord Vishnu which has got a human face and is a devotee of Vishnu.
- Statue of Bhupalendra Malla, King of Kantipur and his queen BhuwanLakshmi.
- Chanda Narayan (Garuda Narayan):- a 7th century stone sculpture of Vishnu riding on Garuda. This sculpture has been depicted in the 10 rupee paper note issued by Nepal Rastra Bank
- Sridhar Vishnu:- 9th century stone sculpture of Vishnu, Laxmi, and Garuda which stands on the pedestals of various motifs.
- Vaikuntha Vishnu :- 16th-century sculpture of Vishnu seated on the Lalitasan position on the six armed Garuda and Laxmi seated on the lap of Vishnu
- Chhinnamasta:- Temple dedicated to Chhinnamasta Devi, who beheaded herself, offered her own blood to feed the hungry Dakini and Varnini.
- Vishworup:- 7th century stone sculpture- beautifully carved that depicts the scene from the Bhagwat Gita, in which Lord Krishna manifests his universal form to his devotee Arjun.
- Vishnu Vikrant :- 7th-century sculpture of Trivikram Vishnu that depicts the scene of popular Hindu myth of Lord Vishnu and his beloved Bali Raja.
- Narasimha :- a 7th-century sculpture of Narasimha, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, killing the demon King Hiranyakasyapa to save his beloved devotee Prahalad.
- Kileshwor:- small two-storied temples of Lord Shiva, who is believed to have appeared in this place for the protection of the hill.
The main image in the sanctum is worshiped by Hindus as a Garuda Narayan, and by Buddhists as a Hariharihari Vahan Lokeshwara. Only the priest is allowed to see the image.