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Love, Life and Death at PASHUPATINATH TEMPLE

Designated as UNESCO World Heritage site, the Pashupatinath temple is one of the most celebrated pilgrimage destinations in Nepal.  This enormous structure is nestled on a hillside beside the banks of the Bagmati River, which ultimately joins the holy river Ganges. The Bagmati River has highly sacred status for Hindus, and it is believed that taking a bath in Bagmati River releases one from all sins, thus the banks are lined with many bathing spots for the pilgrims.

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Panoramic view  of the Pashupatinath Temple 

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Marigold flower for sale at the entrance of the temple.

The main temple houses the sacred “linga” or holy symbol of Shiva  by which only Hindu are allowed to enter.  For a non-Hindu, like me, a good view of the temple can be observed from the hill which is situated on the other side of the river. The western bank of Bagmati also hosts the  Panch Deval (Five temples) complex, which once was a holy shrine but now serves as a shelter for old people waiting for their demise.  Apart from that, you can also look at the burning ghats (stairs where you can descend to the river) where bodies are cremated.

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Ghat – viewpoint for tourist from the adjacent side of the river.

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Old people waiting for their death

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Panch Deval – a shelter for old people waiting for their demise.

As soon as we reached the river, a smoke of burning wood mixed with the vague odor of burnt flesh greeted us. But no matter how strong the smell was, for some enthralling reason, I gravitate towards the burning. At the ghats, I saw a young man clothed in all white and stoking the flames underneath a pile of wood and hay. Our guide informed us that the young man was the eldest son of the man being cremated, and he would continue the grieving period for the next year by wearing only white clothing.


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Funeral Pyre up close

The moment the pyre ignites into flames the body is covered with a mass of wet straw which produces a cloak of white smoke. The smoke shields the body from view as the cremation process takes place.  The family then wait a number of hours until the body has been completely cremated.  They threw little bits of marigold petals on the fire and then retreated back into the building behind the ghats where there are rooms for the traditional Hindu mourning ceremonies.  Whatever left of the body inside the orange rob was either swept towards the Bagmati River or now part of the air we breathe.  Looking at the river, the water is murky and not what I would call an adequate resting place for loved ones remains.

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Different sections of the river are reserved for different classes, one for the royal family, one for rich families with prestige and several others for the ‘normal’ people. The cremation places for the ‘normal’ people are located on the other side of the bridge, out of sight from the places that are used by the royals and the rich.

I had never witnessed a body being cremated before, until now.  And something about it was very disturbing to me. This certainly was the most culturally jarring thing I have witnessed thus far. You can’t actually see the body burn because the wood and grass hides it, but it’s still a very disquieting just to know that under the grass and wood is a once living human being.

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Also, while some people are preparing a relative on one of the plateaus along the river, only a couple of meters away, devotees are taking a ritual bath in the same holy river.

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Boy fishing coins in the river after the cremation using wire with a magnet.

While in deep thoughts, our guide led us to the other side of the river.   We walked around the various pagodas and little temples and up the hillside on opposite bank.  We  passed a series of eleven small temples of Shiva to the top of a terrace – where the holiest of the Sadhu’s resides. They are covered in a plain piece of clothing with white powder spread all over their body. These sadhus have spent most of their lives here. They live a life bereft of any luxury or pleasure. The only pleasure they know is serving the lord. These Brahmins feed their hunger by begging for alms from the temple or from the devotees.

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Pashupatinath Temple complex 

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 Pagodas around the complex

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This small temple depicts a mirror image. 

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The majority of sadhus are very tourist friendly and eager to pose for the photos with foreigners.  Just like these three, upon noticing our approach, they strike their “holier” pose!  But  be cautious because it is not free of charge.

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Spotted this monkey near the cave where Sadhu’s live.

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Temple within the complex with a lot of erotic carvings engraved throughout the wall.

As we continued to wander the temple grounds, amazed by the rituals,  I started to contemplate on the notions of death & mortality and how Hindu’s view it as rebirth and not the ‘end’.   But whatever your beliefs, a trip to Pashupatinath helps to dissolve cultural barriers by presenting to us the one truth that we all must inevitably experience.  And here it’s presented to you right in your face, uncensored and naked.

TRAVELLER’s NOTE:

  • The ticket cost is 500 rupees (as of this writing). The ticket booth is close to the river by the main road.
  • It’s about 15 minutes from Thamel in non-rush hour. Taxis will try to overcharge, set the price before getting in with a friendly bargain. Average price is about 150 to 250 rupees
  • Photo credits:
    • Panoramic view  of the Pashupatinath Temple: Photo from Wikimedia Commons by Thapa.laxman
    • Funeral Pyre, Pashupatinath Temple: Photo courtesy of flikr.com by Philip Milne
    • Pashupatinath Temple complex: Photo courtesy of flikr.com by Matt Werner

Have you ever had such exposure to death and its various religious rituals? Would you visit if you get the chance to explore Kathmandu? Please leave a comment below 🙂

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37 comments on “Love, Life and Death at PASHUPATINATH TEMPLE

  1. konviktion
    October 30, 2015

    Reblogged this on konviktion.

    Like

  2. Prianka | Map Halves
    November 5, 2015

    You have some really beautiful pictures of this very important site here. Thanks for sharing!

    Like

    • Ynah CA
      November 5, 2015

      Glad you like it Prianka! 🙂 🙂 🙂

      Like

  3. Sue @ NoFixedAbodeForSue
    November 6, 2015

    Its so fascinating learning about the culture of countries we visit. Your article is so informative, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Elizabeth
    November 6, 2015

    Very interesting post and nice pictures. Yes I would go, learning about other cultures the beliefs, rituals and customs are what travel is all about. The more you know the less back and white the world is.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 7, 2015

      I agree with you Elizabeth. Witnessing such activities/rituals can be off footing at first but all this made my trip to Nepal more memorable.

      Like

  5. heather843
    November 6, 2015

    It’s great to hear about what it’s really like to visit the ghats, we hear so much about them yet I don’t know if I’d ever want to see it myself. It is a very respectful end to life though, just not sure I’d like to end up in the river like that either.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 7, 2015

      Hi Heather! It can be shocking at first, but it’s so fascinating how Hindus view death as a new beginning and not the end.

      Like

  6. whileimyoungandskinny
    November 6, 2015

    I don’t know much about Nepal but it’s becoming increasingly appealing, thanks for this!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 7, 2015

      The pleasure is mine! Yeah, Nepal is really great country to visit, hope you’ll make it there someday. 🙂

      Like

  7. Girl, Unspotted
    November 7, 2015

    Love reading about India! I need all the inspiration to encourage me to brave the country already 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Natasha
    November 7, 2015

    Very interesting article! I’m not sure I understand this practice as it’s so different but what an interesting and educational experience. I personally would like to go as well as to try and understand it better.

    Like

    • Ynah CA
      November 8, 2015

      Hi Natasha, glad you like it! The whole experience is quite shocking at first, especially seeing the body turns to ashes right in front of you. But knowing the principle behind it in relation to their religious belief will make you understand and even appreciate it.

      Hope you make it to Kathmandu someday, its a great place to explore! 🙂 🙂 🙂

      Like

  9. Oyster
    November 7, 2015

    I would definitely visit! Sounds like you had an amazing experience! I think there is no non-disturbing way to dispose of the dead. I always feel a bit claustrophobic to think of my body in a casket. Except I won’t even know it’s happening… right?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 8, 2015

      Heheh yeah you are definitely right about that! Hope you’ll make it to Kathmandu someday 🙂

      Like

  10. Maria Holmes
    November 7, 2015

    That sounds like an amazing experience, I’d love to go one day.

    Like

    • Ynah CA
      November 8, 2015

      It was amazing Maria, and I wish you’ll be able to experience it too 🙂

      Like

  11. anneklien
    November 7, 2015

    Its so amazing to witness the different cultures of people when travelling, I haven’t been to Kathmandu it seems interesting place to go

    Like

    • Ynah CA
      November 8, 2015

      That’s what I love about travelling – discovering new things that is totally different from what i used too. It gives a different meaning to life.

      Kathmandu is a wonderful place tp explore and i hope you make it there someday. Happy travels Anne!

      Like

  12. Grietje | TravelGretl
    November 8, 2015

    What a beautiful world you share here! 🙂

    Like

    • Ynah CA
      November 8, 2015

      Thank you Grietje! I am glad you like 🙂

      Like

  13. Nic Hilditch-Short
    November 8, 2015

    A fascinating and moving read. When we visit the region we will be sure to visit but expect it to be a visit of mixed emotions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 9, 2015

      Thank you Nic! Hope you make it to Pashupatinath someday. Hap

      Like

  14. Shailender (@againboarding)
    November 9, 2015

    Great post, beautiful pictures. I hope to visit Pashupatinath temple someday. Thank you for sharing this great experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 9, 2015

      Thank you Shailender! The pleasure is mine. Yeah, I hope you’ll make it to Pashupatinath someday. It would be a great adventure. Happy travels 🙂

      Like

  15. Alexis
    November 9, 2015

    I hope to make it to Nepal one day!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 9, 2015

      Hi Alexis! You will 🙂 Positive vibes!

      Like

  16. NYC JetSetter
    November 9, 2015

    I haven’t heard of this temple before. Looks like I need to go!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 9, 2015

      Well its not as popular as the monkey temple. But Yes, you should go. Its a great place to explore!

      Like

  17. evankristine
    November 9, 2015

    This is a wonderful experience. I don’t know about witnessing a body being cremated, it sound a bit.. something I probably or probably would not want to witness. However, why not right? This place (based on your photos) look so holy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 9, 2015

      It was an amazing experience Evankriatine. And i encourage you to go and visit the temple. The place is somewhat peaceful despite the morbid overtone of the rituals. I guess it has something to do with how the Nepalese view death in general. Since they believe that death is not the end but a new beginning, it somehow creates a mental state that all these is but a normal part of ones life cycle.

      Like

  18. Marjorie
    November 10, 2015

    It’s kind of disturbing but at the same time, fascinating to learn about their culture. I mean, they burn their own dead and some old people wait for their date? Interesting. And the temples, they look beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 10, 2015

      Yes Marjorie, there’s a special place in the complex for the old and dying Hindus – literally waiting for their death. Because they believe that dying near a river is lucky and considered as a blessing. Also while waiting for “that day” they wash themselves in the river to free them from sins. Fascinating isn’t it?

      Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on October 29, 2015 by in Nepal and tagged , .
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