MB mentioned the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal in last weekend’s post. A few words of explanation:
The temple complex is located on the holiest river in Nepal called the Bagmati. This Temple is the location where dead bodies are brought each day for cremations, both Hindu and Buddhist. Both religions believe in reincarnation, that a body dies and is reborn on a journey that will eventually reach the ultimate state of the perfect peace of Nirvana.
The cremation ceremony witnessed by MB involved the arrival of the dead body by Government ambulance. Family members dressed the body in an orange robe and proceeded to some concrete steps leading down to the river bank. The purification of the dead body takes place by dipping the feet of the body into the holy water.
The body is then moved to the area of pre-prepared funeral pyres of timber logs and straw where the second part of the ceremony takes place which is the release of the soul from the body.
A family member places oils on the face and forehead of the body and straw is also stuffed into the mouth. The straw is then set alight, and at this instant the soul is deemed to be released and the body is considered truly dead. The straw and timber underneath the body are then set alight and the body is reduced to ashes which are washed with a few buckets of river water into the holy river. Sugar is thrown on the burning body from time to time to prevent foul smells wafting from the fire.
On two separate occasions in the year preceding MB’s visit to the temple, according to MB’s Indian born guide, at the very stage of burning the straw in the mouth, the bodies coughed when the straw was set alight and were obviously not dead. But as already stated, the soul has already left the body at this stage, therefore such instances are considered attempts by evil spirits to revive the body. Family members or onlookers then grab some heavy timber or bamboo poles and ‘kill’ the already ‘dead’ body. This ‘killing’ thus ensures that that the evil spirit fails in his dastardly attempts and the body remains on the pyre to be consumed by the flames and the soul is not disturbed as it moves onwards on its journey.
Because of the whole concept of reincarnation with its ongoing cycle of birth, life and death, such funerals are not very sad occasions. There will inevitably be some tears from those closest to the dead person, but not many, and happiness is the prevailing mood amongst all in attendance that the deceased is one step closer to the perfect state.
Taking photos of the funeral occasion is not considered disrespectful, if carried out from the opposite side of the river, which is still within the temple complex. Obviously one remains respectfully quite at all times. Many local guides are also on hand to explain all aspects of the ceremony to visitors for a modest fee.
Posted much of the above a few years back, so apologies to those who may have read previously. But lots of new followers in the intervening period and Nepal very much in the news at present. MB read this week that the Nepalese government is seeking specialist help to try to rescue its tourism industry, on which it is so heavily reliant. Nepal is a truly stunning country and is a photographers dream location. Urge any followers looking for a ‘something different’ holiday to consider.
Some photos from MB’s October 2012 visit: