Pashupatinath is a complex of Hindu temples on the banks of the Bagmati River, about five kilometres north-east of Kathmandu. It is also the site of the burning ghats. The name Pashupatinath comes from Pashupati, another name of Lord Shiva in his capacity of husband (pati) of the animal (pashu) element of all non-liberated beings.
I went down to the river at Pashupatinath while I was at Boudhanath, and I knew that more than the temple complex, I wanted to see the burning ghats.
It was a twenty-minute walk out from the stupa at Boudhanath, across the road and then just following my nose downhill to the big tree at the road junction. Take the left fork there and walk down to the iron bridge across the River Bagmati.
Across the bridge that is a temple for Hindus only. Take the path to the right of the temple and up the stone steps. The temples are at the top of the steps.
There were a few cows grazing in the grounds around the temples. Maybe there were cows there when these temples were at the height of their use.
The Bagmati River
Take the path that wends through the many small temples dotted around, and take the steps that descend towards the Bagmati River where the burning ghats are.
The Bagmati River is a brown streak of sluggish water. On the north side from which I had come, the banks are lined with sadhus, fortune tellers, and mourners reciting rituals.
I took this photograph thinking that the man with the white hat was having his fortune read. A man next to me explained that the men were the relatives of someone who had just died, and they were going through the mourners’ rituals.
My first inclination was to delete the image from my camera. This was one of those essential moments in life, and I felt like a clumsy intruder.
Then I saw how very public everything was, and no one had objected to me taking the photo. I didn’t push my way in, or disturb the events, so I looked at the man besides me and he nodded and gestured that it was OK and so I kept the photo.
The ritual involved putting seeds, flowers, small coins, and dishes of water onto leaves while reciting verses to mourn a deceased relative.
Down To The Ghats
Preparing The Funeral Pyre
There are several steps to preparing the funeral pyre to receive the body. The first is to build the platform of wood. Then the attendant throws in big hunks of butter, several pounds of it.
That’s followed by bunches of reeds that he strews in among the wood, having first soaked the reeds in the waters of the Bagmati River.
Then there is the smaller kindling, and then a mixture of what look like seeds and things that seem to have symbolic rather than practical use in helping the funeral pyre burn.
What The Mourners Do
You can see the body here, wrapped in a yellow cloth, and the kindling, and the straw, and the attendant on the platform.
Soon he will invite the mourners onto the platform. The body is on a trellis of bamboo, and the mourners will carry the body several times around the funeral pyre. That is not an easy job given the weight of the body and the small area to negotiate around the stack of wood.
They remove the body from the trellis and put it onto the pyre. It is a very intimate experience, the body sagging while the mourners put it in place.
There is then a ceremony where the mourners put water and seeds and money onto the body. The attendant then stacks more wood on top of the body, collects the paper money from among the wood, and stands down while the mourners light the pyre.
The attendant puts more damp straw over the pyre and breaks up the trellis and uses the longer pieces of bamboo to push and prod the stack of wood as it burns.
A Line Of Funeral Platforms
There is a whole line of funeral platforms, and the remains of the previous cremations show as greasy smudges. There is more wood, and there will be more cremations.
Cremations Need Wood
The cremations need wood, and seeing this lorry arrive with fresh supply of wood for the ghats made me think of the wider picture. Somewhere in Nepal there are people cutting down trees for the wood for the cremations. Or who knows, perhaps the wood is all used up and they have to import it from India.
I watched for a while and then continued down to the ghats. Here is the lorry later that day, with the wood unloaded. Some of the sections of trunk have big holes through them.
So perhaps there is a sufficient supply of trees somewhere that are nearing the end of their natural lives and ready for use.
The Stone Platform In Front Of The Buildings
Finally, here is another shot of the river and the stone platform in front of the buildings. Although I sat and watched the proceedings for a long time, it did not occur to me until looking at this photograph now that this is a probably place of honour, given its location.