Pashupatani

grey PashupataniSitting here in the lobby of the Hotel Marshyangdi, surrounded by fellow westerners all plugged into various high tech gizmos it is astounding how damn disconnected we have become. To get to the hotel lobby I walked less than one kilometer from Fire and Ice, the Pizzeria where the team met to eat dinner and get to know each other.

grey PashupataniOn they way I was Namaste-d by numerous people, sure most wanted to sell me hash or singing bowls, but some genuinely wanted to say, ‘hi’. The young chap who sold me a shirt yesterday said, ‘G’day’ (he knows my nationality) so I sat next to him on the gutter and we had a brief but pleasant chat about the unusual weather. All the time he was connected with a friend by holding hands. In Nepal this is a sign of friendship, not homosexuality. The guard at the hotel gate saluted me with a wide grin before asking how I was and telling me that Thamel will be really busy tomorrow with a festival. Walking inside the hotel to my favourite couch (with the good wifi signal) I automatically said a friendly, ‘Hello‘ to some Swedish men sitting nearby. They looked at me as though I had thrown glitter over them.

grey PashupataniUs westerners have truly become disconnected. Lost in our own personal ecosystems, sheltered from awkward conversations by music players, iPhone fiddling or dark sunglasses. The same goes for death, we desperately hide from it, we hide from it’s ominous march behind age defying skin creams and shiny new sports cars … when the inevitable happens we efficiently deal with death by dressing it in fine clothes, lathering it with makeup, then quickly burying it. We are desperate to hide from the fact that death is something we all have to deal with someday.

Not so the Nepalese.

After visiting Boudhanath, Bish and I went to visit Pashupatinath, a temple by the river in Kathmandu where locals cremate their loved ones. This was incredibly confronting. Not only were we faced with the sight of bodies being cremated, but we were hit with the smell and the sound, along with the uncomfortable thought that we should have skipped this sight. It is after all a very personal time for mourners. The Nepalese do not grey Pashupataniseem to mind the intrusion though. They seem totally at ease living out their most private moments in public, sharing such a small space with 4 million other people will do that. Not only do they seem okay with visitors, but they actively encourage us. Tickets are sold at the entrance, guides are placed around to shunt tourists to the right viewing places and, not surprisingly, touts line the walls.

A cornerstone of the Buddhist faith is the belief in Karma and re-incarnation. When someone dies their soul leaves the body to be reincarnated as another human (or a cockroach depending on how much good karma they have accrued). This is a massively watered down version, but for now it will do. The body becomes an empty vessel which can be invaded by evil spirits, so it is important to destroy the body as soon as practical after death. Fire is the best way achieve this.

grey PashupataniAfter a death the cremation ceremony begins within minutes or hours. The body is shrouded, adorned with money or flowers then taken to the edge of the river. It is dipped three times in the holy river to purify it then placed gently on a pyr of wood. More wood is added, along with straw, before the first born male lights the fire. It is important that the fire start around the mouth as this is where it is believed evil spirits enter. The rest is a matter of time. After a few hours the body is considered cremated enough. The charred body (called an Astu) is taken by the first born son and released into the holy river. A caretaker sweeps the remains into the river so the soul is free from the physical world. It is customary for the son to then wash himself in the river to purify after the ceremony.

We watched a ceremony from the very start, this is a multi-sensory experience to say the least. Bish and I were uncharacteristically solemn while watching. On the drive back to the hotel I was thinking to myself that maybe I need some time alone, with my iPhone plugged in, to rationalise what I have just seen…

One Response to Pashupatani

  • One day I hope to visit Nepal but probably not this area. I appreciate the rituals and welcoming people. Reminded me of a backpacking friend who went to Tibet in the 80′s. He attended a sky burial & was changed forever. Me too just from the recounting. The power of storytelling. Thank you for the thoughtful post. Namaste.

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