Shrine | Buddhist | Hindu | Ruins | Restoration | Mahabharata

Kakrebihar monastery | Photo: Kritika Dhungana
Kakrebihar monastery | Photo: Kritika Dhungana

Art & Culture

Kakrebihar: Tale of ruins, restoration efforts, and folklores

The 12th century shrine in a hillside location features figures, images and narrative scenes of Buddha, depicting his life history.

By Kritika Dhungana |

Kakrebihar, located in Birendranagar of Surkhet district (Karnali province), is a fascinating ancient Buddhist-Hindu shrine that holds historical and religious significance, while its secluded hillside location adds to its mysterious aura.

The site was abandoned before the Department of Archaeology first initiated excavation activities in 2004, but stopped soon after, and restarted in 2015.

Today, Kakrebihar is known as a Buddhist monastery adorned with intricately carved figures, images, and narrative scenes of Buddha, depicting his life history.

In addition, the shrine features sculptures of other deities — Tara, Jambhala, Saraswati, and Ganesh — crafted on stone slabs, reflecting the coexistence of Buddhism and Hinduism in the region. Thus, it stands as a testament to the religious unity, tolerance, and harmony among the local inhabitants.

Despite its historical and cultural significance, Kakrebihar remains relatively unknown. The identity of the shrine’s creator remains elusive as historical records providing concrete evidence are lacking, thus adding to its allure.

Meanwhile, a signboard at the site attributes its construction to Ashok Challa around the 12th century, however, experts speculate that it might have been built earlier by King Kraa Challa. The exact origin and builder of Kakrebihar are subjects of ongoing speculation and research.

One theory holds that the temple was destroyed by Shankaracharya’s disciples and apprentices when they were travelling to Tibet in an effort to stop the spread of Buddhism. According to evidence discovered by archaeologists, the temple was constructed in the 12th century and was in ruins by the late 16th century.

The 2015 earthquake was another tragedy that left the remaining bihar in ruins. The reconstruction efforts, beginning the same year, were expected to complete the restoration within three years. Due to inconsistencies and a lack of funding, the temple could only be brought back to its previous splendor in September 2021.

The expert artisans of Bhaktapur cobbled together the repair procedure utilising concrete blocks and the remnants of the old Bihar. A total of 2,028 artefacts, each with considerable historical and archaeological value, were uncovered throughout the excavation operation. These artefacts include conch shells, chariot wheels, and sculptures of Padma, Saraswati, Buddha, and Vishnu. 

Although these legends deviate from actual historical events, the ruins of Kakrebihar have inspired a variety of fantastic tales and folklore.

According to local Tharu mythology, the shrine was formerly a mansion for the Pandava princes — figures from the Hindu epic Mahabharata. The Pandavas were warned of an impending effort to burn them alive in a lacquer palace (Lakshagriha). They were able to flee, but the palace was destroyed.

All in all, Kakrebihar is an enigmatic shrine that captivates the local folklore with its fascinating remnants and the tales spun around them.

Compiled from various sources by Kritika Dhungana

Kritika Dhungana is an Art & Culture intern at the_farsight.

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