The Sanskrit liṅga pedestal inscriptions produced in the Kathmandu Valley during the Licchavi period between 466 and 645 CE are the earliest dated sources for local Śaiva religious activities. This article aims at a comprehensive survey and analysis of this group of inscriptions, examining (1) their material aspects and locations, (2) donative patterns and related social and economic features, such as the prominent agency of merchants and women of high rank, and (3) religious concepts linked to the spiritual and soteriological reasons for establishing the liṅgas, as expressed in the donative formulas. In addition, these formulas will be compared to contemporaneous prescriptive literature (e.g. the Śivadharmaśāstra) as well as to Buddhist donative practices. As will be shown, the Pashupatinath temple emerged as a key site in the propagation and shaping of liṅga worship, with the accumulation of wealth and related socio-religious activities contributing to the appearance of local Pāśupata groups and the elevation of Pashupatinath’s status to that of a national shrine.
The Paśupatināth temple in Kathmandu, dedicated to the deity Śiva Paśupati, is Nepal’s national shrine. The existence of this site and local Śaiva religious activities can be traced back to as early as the fifth century ce, but it was the ruler Aṃśuvarman (fl. 605–621) who first publicly declared his allegiance to the god of the main shrine by styling himself as “favoured by the Venerable Lord Paśupati” in his inscriptions. This allegiance would remain deeply implanted in the religio-political discourse of Nepal thenceforth. Mainly on the basis of the epigraphical record, this article investigates some historical and political processes responsible for shaping the links between Śiva Paśupati as a religious symbol and the ruling elite of Nepal in this early phase, a period in which powerful ministers gradually supplanted the royal elite. Thus, in the wake of Aṃśuvarman’s reign the Paśupatināth shrine had also risen to enough prominence to be included in the list of sacred Śaiva sites in the Indic religious scripture Skandapurāṇa.