Monday, March 8, 2010

Pashupatinath--A lesson in life and death

Our first stop on Sunday was the Hindu temple and grounds along the holy Bagmati River.  Pashupatinath is where the dead are brought for cremation within 24 hours of death.  Bodies are brought to the cremation ghats, stone platforms along the river, and are placed atop pylons of wood.  After a ceremony with family members, the recently deceased are cremated right there along the riverbank.  After cremation, the ashes are swept into the river below. 



Ethan taking it all in... a big task for a six year old

 The Bagmati River is startlingly polluted, which really confounds me.  I can’t understand how such a holy place can be so very neglected in this way.  Like the Ganges River in India, some people partake in ritual cleansing in the river, particularly the holy men and women, the Sadhus, who live as hermits in the surrounding caves.  No matter how much I think about this, I cannot understand how it can be this way.

The Holy Sadhus

 Tika powders used in Hindu blessings
I have never witnessed death in this way.  To watch the cremation of bodies up and down the river, to breath in the thick smoke that hangs in the air, to watch the constant swirl of activity in this place was so unlike any funeral I’ve ever attended in America.  At first I felt shocked, saddened, awkward, even sickened by the sights around me.  It all seemed so matter-of-fact: a loved one dies; they are immediately brought to the river in the company of their family and cremated in front of everyone and anyone to see.  The ashes are brushed into the river and everyone moves along.  It didn’t seem right to me at first.  Shouldn’t death be more tragic?  The arrangements more planned out somehow?  That’s not how it is here. 

I’ve slowly come to appreciate what I witnessed at Pashupatinath.  Here in Nepal, and along the Bagmati River, death is a part of life.  It is not a tragic, scary mystery, as it often seems to be in America.  It is another step in the circle of life.  In fact, I recognize this acceptance of death all around me in this city.  Life is absolutely at risk just walking or driving around here, but people are out and about, living their life, and are not constantly worrying about the threat of death.  In America, we have so many laws, rules, and regulations designed to keep us safe and to keep death as far away as possible.  Here death is all around, and in my opinion, it seems everyone here knows it and lives alongside it without fear.  It’s a relatively new idea for me, but I’m starting to see how refreshing it can be to set fear aside and just live the life I’m given.

The home for the elderly, situated right next to the Bagmati River and Pashupatinath.  
Patiently awaiting death...

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