Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Great Ghat! Pashupati

We took a recent houseguest to the top of the list of KTM's greatest hits: Pashupatinath. The Pashupati temple complex is a sprawling area along the Bagmati river that is one of the most sacred sites in the Hindu world. The inner sanctum is open only to Hindus but others can walk around the rest of the complex at will. There are always resident and visiting Sadhus, or holy men, as above. (I posted about Shiva Ratri and the Sadhus here.) It is fascinating and it is grim.

Along the ghats (steps leading down to the river) are burning platforms where Hindus cremate their dead. One is reserved for royalty. One is reserved for the wealthy or "important". The rest of the burning ghats are for everyone else. The very day people die their bodies are brought to Pashupati either by foot (bare!) on bamboo poles or nowadays often by ambulance. The Brahmin priests, dressed all in white, attend to the fire. The oldest son begins by putting a burning stick in the deceased's mouth. Once this catches the body is further covered in straw and kindling and the priests stoke the flames. These are not raging pyres, but a slow, steady consumption of the body that housed a soon to be unfettered soul . The family will sit vigil while their loved ones are cremated. It takes about three hours. The ashes are swept off into the Bagmati where children troll for any gold fillings or jewelery. Some families might keep some ashes to spread on other sacred rivers.
This platform has been prepared for the next mourning party to arrive.

This was a woman - a mother. Her head was exposed as I watched her son begin the ritual. Heart rending stuff. The priest covered her head a few minutes later. I just couldn't take a picture before this point.

I took this from the other side of the river. The platform on the left is the same as the one in the last picture. The decorated platform on the right is waiting for someone of higher station - possibly a member of the military. The alcoves behind the platforms are where the mourners wait.

It sounds incredibly gruesome to western sensibilities but I don't think it is. There is no denial when you see one of these parting scenes. It is respectful and the living have a somewhat complicated grieving ritual and schedule ahead involving head shaving and fasting.

It sure ain't the Liberty Bell! This is one of many temple bells with the year inscribed 1964 (Nepali year) which means it was made in 1908.

My reluctant Sadhu. He wasn't thrilled to have his picture taken since no rupees were to cross his hand. But he sneaked a peek anyway.

Other parts of the complex include gender separated homes for the dying. People from far away want to die at or near Pashupati. Ironically there are also two homes run by the Sisters of Charity (Mother Teresa's order); a home for the elderly and a home for children. Bless these women who are called to just BE with the suffering - all day, every day. They amaze me.



WillowLakeScents said...

Stopping in from SITS to say good morning ! What an interesting post !!

The Blonde Duck said...

That's really interesting. Thanks for educating us!

Blarney said...

Your pictures are the best! Thank you for sharing.

Nanny Goats In Panties said...

Funny how your "hastily grabbed photo", that last one...came out beautiful! As if posed in the perfect symmetry of the architecture.

Bruce of 29th St said...

Thank you for respectfully showing a facet of local custom usually not found in travel magazines. Was it coincidence being posted on the day 'W' lost his job?

Eudea-Mamia said...

Fascinating, as always!

The whole process makes more sense to me. Burial always seemed an odd choice - but I've been fortunate (knock wood) to not loose any close family, yet.

I imagine a place of rest can be comforting for some.

Thanks for an incredible tale.