Religion and Death
28.10.2013 - 28.10.2013 22 °C
Religions are everywhere in Kathmandu and Nepal. Hinduism , Buddhism, Christianity,Islam and every other religion you can name, can probably be found somewhere in Kathmandu. However, central to most is Hinduism.
Temple's are everywhere, and shrines are as numerous as corner shops. We decided to visit the Holy Shrine of Pashupatinath which is a World Heritage Site on the banks of the Bagmati River. This is the most sacred place for Nepalese Hindu's to bring their dead for burning. It is open to the public for the princely sum of 1,000 rupees each (about £6) and if you are really lucky, a man will latch onto you, and act as your unofficial (and unrequested) guide. He was worth every rupee though, as he explained the whole process to us and took us to the best vantage points.
To many, and to be fair, to us too, going to see bodies cremated is perhaps not top of everyone's itinery. But, to Nepalese Hindhu's, death is a public affair. They have no objection to people watching the cremation or to photographs being taken. Within hours of death, cremation takes place. Family gather at the river side, a pyre is built and a Priest sought to guide the family through the process. First the body is taken to the river, stripped and washed by the son's or family. It is then taken to the funeral pyre where it takes around 6 hours for the body to be consumed, while the family stay in attendance. At the end of that time, the ashes are pushed into the river and what remains, is buried on the bankside for the monsoon to wash away to the holy River Ganges.
Death is seen as part of a cycle. If people have led a good life they may reunite with Brahman , if not, they will be reincarnated and start out on the circle again. Cremation takes place to allow the soul to escape. The only one's not cremated are children under three years and Sadhus.
Sadhus are holy men (and a few women) who devote their life to following the God Shiva. They have no possessions, are not allowed to beg, marry, have sex or have homes. Here in Kathmandu many live in caves on the river bank next to the Shrine. They are consulted by many Hindu's, as perhaps we would consult counsellors.
So it was, Mrs G and I stood on the banks and watched cremations taking place and bodies being washed. In our western eyes, a strange experience, especially when shared with fifty or sixty others, including curious Nepalese from other castes, eager to see how it's done. It is not to be missed, especially with a guide. Without him I think we might have felt like voyeurs instead of curious westerners eager to see and experience Nepalese life, and death.