Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu

Always on the lookout for hydrologic oddities, I usually do a lot of neck-craning driving over bridges. Every time we came anywhere near the airport in Kathmandu, however, the driver would wave upstream and mention "That place, very holy, very famous". That place was the Pashupatinath Temple, the most sacred site dedicated to Shiva in the world, built before 600 AD. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and the complex has close to 500 temples. 

Too bad for us, but only Hindus are allowed inside the actual complex. Kitty and I don't exactly blend in, especially with me on crutches, and we only got about 15 meters in before a cane-yielding guard accosted us and turned us around. Non-Hindus can go around the edge of the grounds to where cremations take place on the bank of the river, however. If the pictures look small and distant it was because I was trying to be respectful; the area does have a solemn air to it.  
Cremation area along river

Visitors stay on the far bank, and mourners stay on the other. 

The corpses are wrapped in cloth and brought to the Bagmati River's edge where they are blessed. 
A few bodies arrived in shipping crates and caskets, suggesting to us they were from overseas
A funeral pyre of wood and grasses is prepared and then the bodies are set alight. After the cremation is finished, the ashes are washed into the river. The ceremony is an all-day affair; we were there for three hours and only witnessed some of the process. There are many pyres going on in parallel along the river banks.  
Cremation stations along the far bank

Ashes are swept into the river
The river itself is not clean, aside from the obvious things going in it. I'm in no position to judge, but it is always a little disorienting to see someone lay chrysanthemums and other items in ceremony on their loved ones and then immediately toss the plastic bags in the river. Gangs of children would fish through the river to collect coins left with the bodies. Occasionally a cane-yielding guard would come and half-heartedly chase them off. 
Wild monkeys abound, wandering around the river's edge
In a nearby park there are more monkeys than you can shake a stick at. 
In terms of water supply and drought, there is a story that in a drought in 1964, "the people of kathmandu pleased Pashupatinath by filling the temple with the last bits of water until the Shivalingam drowned in the water. At that very moment dark clouds arrived and heavy rainfalls made an end to the drought."

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