This week’s travel photo takes us to Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal to learn about a traditional Hindu funeral. Pashupatinath Temple is the oldest and most sacred Hindu temple in Nepal and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Nepalese legend says that Lord Shiva was so taken with the beauty of the valley that is now Kathmandu that he transformed himself into a deer to better enjoy the beautiful valley. The other Hindu deities became concerned and went looking for him when they found him he refused to leave, a scuffle broke out causing him to loose an antler. The antler was found centuries later when farmers discovered that a “lucky wish granting” cow was depositing milk on the ground. When the farmer dug down he found that the antler had transformed into a large linga statue (lingas are common symbology of Shiva). A temple to house the Shiva Linga statue was built in the spot where it was found along the Bagmati River in Kathmandu. The translation of the Sanskrit word Pashupati is Lord of the Animals. The Pashupati incarnation of Shiva is the patron deity of Nepal. Non Hindus are not permitted to enter the temple but are encouraged to watch the funeral pyres from across the river.
Cremations are an important part of the Hindu religion as it is believed that fire, associated with purity will release the spirt to be reborn. The fire also scares off harmful demons and spirits. When a Hindu dies their body is oriented so that the feet are pointed to the south, the direction of the dead, to get the spirt headed in the right direction. The body is cleaned, adorned with jewelry and wrapped in a white sheet, women are often dressed in their wedding gowns. They are carried on bamboo litters to the Shmashana or cremation ground usually on the shores of the Ganges River (the Bagmati feed by the snowmelt of the Himalaya feeds into the Ganges River). The body is placed on the pyre with the feet again pointing south. The oldest son walks counter clockwise around the pyre three times sprinkling sacred water or ghee (clarified butter). The jewelry is removed and the eldest son starts the fire. It is hoped that the skull will explode in the fire releasing the spirit, but if it doesn’t, it is up to the oldest son to split the skull with a stick. The remaining ashes and unburnt parts are swept in to the sacred river. Crying is seldom seen as body fluids are unclean and could negatively affect the next life cycle as it is believed that the spirit is released from this life to a better one. This is the same ceremony that is ritually preformed for holy men before their transformation to a Sadhu.
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