Burning men.

Cremations at Bagmati River

Cremations at Bagmati River

“They took Shiva Linga from our village. And then, darkness came across our entire country.” the village elder said to Indiana Jones. When he knew that it is all about Sankara, wealth and glory, he headed out to the temple of Pankot. The place I visited involves also a legend around Shiva Linga, but I did not visit a tuk ceremony but what I saw there was also very unsettling for western eyes.

Pashupatinath is a temple area, located 6km east of the Kathmandu city centre. Armed with a map, I decided to walk there. That was a serious mistake. The streets in town are only particially asphalted. The rest is a dusty road. Every bus, motobike or car trailed a cloud of dust behind. Although the people sprinkle the roads with water, one is lost without a proper breath mask. I forgot mine at the guesthouse on that day, of course.

Pashupatinath is one of the most important Hindu temples, devoted to Shiva, one of Hindu’s supreme trinity. It is the oldest Hindu temple in Kathmandu, dated back to 400 A.D. A lot of legends tell how the temple has been founded. One tells that Shiva went in the form of an antelope into the forest near Bagmati River. The other gods found him, grabbed his horn and forced him to get back into his original shape. A horn broke. It was worshipped as linga, a token or symbol of Lord Shiva. Over time, it got lost until a heardsman found it on the place, where the temple area is today.

Shiva with the snake

Shiva with the snake

I already smelled some smoke in the air when I paid the 1,000 Rupies entrance fee. At that point, it did not interest me. I expected to see an area with a lot of pagodas, hoping that they will be as spectacular as in Patan. Of course, there were a lot of sadhus, too. Sadhus are ascetic wandering monks. They are renowed, but still they depend on the donations from locals and especially tourists. If you want to make a photograph, it will cost you 100 rupies.

I looked around, and next to Bagmati River, I should see what I did not expect: cremations. Indeed. Death bodies, burning next to the river. Shocked, I sat down, drank some water and observed the scenery. The family carries the body from the entrance of the temple to the shore of the river. The decedent, wrapped in white fabric, is being washed symbolically with the water of the river. Some family members seem to say “goodbye” to their deceased relative. Somebody brings a used water bottle, containing a liquid which is supposed to support the cremation (maybe fuel). Respectfully, the decedent gets moistened with the liquid. After, you can imagine what happens.

No church service, nobody holding a speach, no chant, no fine dresses. In the first moment, I was pretty shocked how nonspiritual this scenery is. It is now several days later that I write this, and I actually am a little ashamed of myself. Of course I had to be shocked, looking at it through a western and christian eye. We dismiss our deceased relatives and friends forever. Hinduism and Buddhism believe in reincarnation until one achieves Nirwana. It is less a goodbye forever, just another step for a person to get closer to infinity.

What is absolutely inappropriate though is the audience around this ceremony. Whilst the cremations take place on the western shore of the river, visitors take place on the other shore to watch the scenery. Vendors go through the rows selling water and snacks, like the ice cream vendors in cinema! Although it is an UNESCO World Heritage, the access and behaviour of the people need to be restricted or put under rigorous guidelines.

One thought on “Burning men.

  1. Markus

    Hey Max,

    vieles sieht mit einem “westlichen” Auge anders aus.
    Ich wuensche dir tolle Weihnachten und einen Guten Rutsch.

    Gruss
    Markus

    Reply

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