Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Pashupatinath Temple, or the temple with the cremations

While I liked the hostel I stayed at in Kathmandu, the first two nights the man in the room next to me watched movies until about 1 am, then would wake up at 5 and continue watching movies. He finally checked out and I managed to get some sleep. I woke up the following morning and headed to breakfast. I chatted with Lana from NYC who was on more than a year trip around the world that sounded absolutely amazing.

I had intended to go on a hike that day, but due to illness (my cough that lasted 2 1/2 months and my doctor thought might be TB) I cancelled the hike. My friend Ben recommended I go to Pashupatinath Temple, so I made my way over there.

The temple is on the Bagmati River and is dedicated to Shiva. Because the river joins with the Ganges River, which is considered a holy river, cremations are done at this temple and the ashes are pushed into the river, so they can eventually meet the Ganges. Elderly people come from Nepal and India to the temple in their last days, averaging a few hundred a year, to die and be cremated. "It is believed that those who die in Pashupatinath Temple are reborn as a human, regardless of any misconduct that could worsen their karma."

The website above explains that at this temple, "It is a temple with special atmosphere of death; death is present in almost every ritual and every corner of it," and I absolutely agree with that quote. It was a really indescribable experience that I will never forget. It was beautiful and moving and I sat on the banks for about two hours just watching and experiencing.

I didn't realize you can't go inside unless you are Nepalese or Indian Hindu, so of course, being me, accidentally attempted to break my way in along with a girl named Elise from Alsace, who was living in Montreal.

I didn't really try to break in, but was stopped at the entrance at the same time she was stopped. Naturally, also being me, she and I decided to wander about together since we were traveling alone.
I took a taxi to the temple but had to walk a considerable distance in the end because there was a huge funeral stopping traffic.

Elise and I decided to share a tour guide to go around the temple, which ended up being very interesting, though he was very focused on pointing out the various kama sutra images on the temples.
Here is one of the cremations that was happening while we were visiting.

Monkeys, as usual.

There was a definite class difference between the cremations. This was also noticeable in how the bodies were wrapped, especially in color. You'll notice the orange through the peoples' legs. During my time there, there were 5-6 funerals that happened, of various sizes. The one to the right was the medium sized funeral. We sat and watching from the other side of the river, which was very sobering. It was sad and moving, but also culturally very fascinating to watch.

A monkeys first bad photograph.
You'll notice on the left that there are people in the river. Apparently, within the temple, there is a fountain that people throw coins into for good luck, which wash out into the river, so young boys were in the river with nets collecting the coins.

The temple from the other side of the river.

The small huts are where the sadhus live, who are the holy men living in the hills around the temple. They are wandering ascetic yogis who are "trying to achieve liberation from the cycle of life and death through meditation." They are also the only people in Nepal allowed to smoke marijuana. Apparently Buddha smoked marijuana and, according to our guide, there are people who become holy men to smoke marijuana. Whether or not that is the case, I cannot say. Apparently, you cannot change your mind and decide to be a regular man afterwards.

A closer look at the huts.
The cremation started at the larger funeral.

According to our guide, there are different levels of cremations depending on how rich you are.

This is meant to help with fertility.

Those white towers in the distance are the Mother Theresa house, which our tour guide also took us to. She set up the house for the elderly to live for free decades ago. That was depressing. They live in pretty depressing conditions. I didn't really take photos there. Just three, which I'll point out as they come.
Those are the sadhus down there.

This was the Mother Theresa Social Welfare house.

The tour ended here, but Elise and I headed back to the opposite banks to sit and experience the temple.

There was a cremation of an old man that was very calm and peaceful, as though his relatives were at peace. There was an elderly woman with just a couple relatives attending. The dipped her feet in the river and poured water in her mouth before the cremation.

The hardest to watch was definitely the enormous funeral, attended by hundreds of people on either side of the river, for who we assumed was either a very famous or a very young woman or both. There were hundreds of people watching and crying and an extremely distraught family, especially the mother who had to be dragged away from her body. The woman's body was also treated very differently than the other people's were. She was wrapped in gold sheets with different flowers. I don't know a lot about Hindu funeral customs, but after doing a little research, I believe it means she was a married woman and her husband was still alive.
I also learned they are burned in their wedding dresses.

Honestly, it was an amazing and unforgettable experience that is extremely hard to explain. It wasn't easy but it was a necessary experience if you are ever in Kathmandu.

The Sandhus.

Afterwards, Elise walked to the other side of the hill and walked around for a while. We then took a taxi back to Durbar Square (so many pigeons!!) and walked around the square to take pictures. The guy at the ticket booth recognized both of us so we didn't have to pay, which was super nice of him.  Those pictures will be in the next blog though!

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely fascinating. Thank you for a glimpse into another culture