Stories about this temple’s origin are found in the holy book of Swasthani. The legend has it that after Goddess Sati threw herself into the holy fire following the insult brought to her husband Lord Shiva by Dakhshya Prajapati and Lord Shiva, who dearly loved Sati, was uncontrollably angry. Then, the livid Shiva performed a fearsome and awe-inspiring tandava dance carrying Sati’s charred body upon his shoulders.
Another version says that Lord Shiva, grieved and angry, ran about the whole world carrying Sati’s body upon his shoulders. During this, Sati’s body came apart and many pieces fell at different places on the earth. And the Koteshwor Mahadevsthan Temple is the spot where her left hand had supposedly fallen.
The exact date when this temple was constructed remains unknown. But myths point out that this place started being worshipped from the fifth century BC, though the concrete structures and pillars, as they now stand, were build much later.
Near the Koteshwor Temple is a place known as Shankhamul. It is believed that Lord Shiva, while wandering in his boundless grief carrying Sati’s body on his back, had rested his one foot down on this place. And from the very land where Mahadev had tapped his foot sprang an incessant stream of water. It is said that in the Treta Yuga, Bhimsen – the brother of Ravan, the powerful king of Lanka – used to fetch water from Shankhamul, and carry it up to the Koteshwor Temple to offer it to Lord Shiva.
Inside the temple periphery, there is also another Shiva Lingam, popular by the name of Khileshwar Mahadev.
In addition to the Mahadev Temple, there are many other deities inside the temple periphery. One important deity is Chhinna Masta Bhagwati who is supposed to be an incarnation of Changu Narayan in Bhaktapur. Legends have it that she had been transported from Bhaktapur and resettled in Koteshwor via elaborated Vedic tantras and mantras. Next, there is a temple of Sapta Rishi, one of those very few in Kathmandu. As a result, hundreds of devotees gather around the temple on Rishi Panchami day every year. Each of these temples and deities has their own story behind their origin and significance.
The temple is 1,000 meters inside to the west (15 minutes walk) from Koteshwor Chowk on the Ring Road. The best way would be to walk or drive (if you have a private vehicle) from the chowk. Or alternatively, if you happen to be anywhere near Baneshwor, you can also take a micro from there that takes you directly to the footsteps of the temple. The temple is two kilometers to the south from Baneshwor.
Many devotees visit this temple and their number has increased significantly over the last decade. In Shrawan every year, a special mela is organized by the temple management committee there. Shrawan is a special month of worshipping Lord Shiva when unmarried women fast and worship him for good health and long life of their husbands, and unmarried women pray that they find a husband like Lord Shiva himself. During the Shrawan Mela that peaks every Monday, the especial day to worship Lord Shiva, the temple is packed with women worshipping the Koteshwor Mahadev, dancing, as well as shopping for at stalls set around the temple.
According to Rabindra Thapa, the Mela Management Committee’s Coordinator and General Secretary of Community Service and Development Society, the number of devotees visiting the temple has increased rapidly after 2005. The temple stands in its full grandeur, decorated with artistic entrance gates that are newly built, and several monuments that remind spectators of the rich cultural and artistic past of the eastern faith and religion.