After Bhaktapur we ventured to Pashupatinath the next day. Pashupatinath is only 12 minutes away via taxi and we spent the morning there. From Pashupatinath you can walk to boudhanath which will be written about in the next blog post. From all the places we visited in the Kathmandu district, Pashupatinath was my favourite because of it’s deep connection to Hinduism and Tantrism. Many places in Nepal have a split belief between Hinduism and Buddhism and walking around neighborhoods of Kathmandu you see numerous stupas dedicated to Buddha and plenty of shrines dedicated to many numerous Hindu gods & goddess and the Nepalese are lovingly devoted to both spiritual beliefs and so there is a peaceful balance and acceptance of both spiritual paths. However Pashupatinath is distinctly Hindu and only a 30 minute walk away Boudhanath is primarily Buddhist.
Non Nepalis and non Indians are required to pay a sum of 1000 Nepali rupees to enter this space. Lord shiva is also called Pashupathinath and so this is an important temple for the Hindus. The temple is beautiful. It is located on the banks of the river Bhagmathi. Non Hindus are n to allowed inside the temple. However they can go to view the river and the cremation rituals that are followed on the banks of the river. Every evening at 6.30 there is an aarathi that takes place on the banks of the river. It is a spectacular sight to behold and the shrine of supreme importance to Hindis, it attracts thousands of pilgrims every year.. There is music, chanting and an elaborate offering of incense, lights and camphor to Lord Shiva. You can view it standing on the bridge.
The significance of this site comes in no small part from the fact that the Bagmati River is is a tributary of the Ganges, and therefore is considered sacred. On the riverbank to one side of the main bridge, you can see a series of cremation platforms: there are sepatate platforms reserved for royalty, and the others are nobility and the general public.
On the day we visited, a cremation was taking place and I was respectfully enchanted. For years I have been drawn to Hinduism and it’s teachings (alongside some Sufi & Buddhist Philosophies) and the idea of death does not scare me for it is only another door to another place our human eyes can not see. It is a soul journey of rebirth and continuing of learning from your karma and so watching the body of a woman turn to ash brought about a feeling of peace as it reminds you how precious life is, we need to cherish every moment before it is too late, we only experience this life, in this body just once and our next life will be completely different with new karma to learn so why waste it?
The Hindi faithful bring their dying family members here to pass their final weeks, days or hours in the holy place. They are cared for by their families. Even royalty comes here. Once someone has passed from this life their cremation can take place quickly in the holiest of sites in Nepal.
Among the many holy people who make up the temple community are seers, the ‘ghate vaidaya’, who are skilled in predicting the moment of death by feeling the pulse rate. Using these skills, it is the ultimate hope of believers that they can leave their mortal form in a sacred place with hymns of praise around them. During the cremation process, the eldest son shaves his head and wears a white cloth. The body is wrapped in yellow cloth and lowered to the river to be anointed with water. Then the body is walked 3 times around the pyre and then laid on it. The pyre is lit by the head and the body covered with wood and straw. You can’t actually see the body being burnt (nor would you want to ). Eventually the ashes are swept into the river. Its is a moving process to watch, mainly because western society tries to deny the existence of death, whereas in the Hindu culture it is a fact of life. It was quite upsetting to hear people grieving but it did seem a very dignified way to send off a relative.
On the opposite side of the river are small temples with the traditional lingham statues inside. Mant Sadhus or Holy men frequent the site and will chat to you and let you take a photograph withthem for a small fee. This was something I have wanted to do since a teenager watching documentaries of explorers meeting tribes people, holy men & women, witch doctors and shamans so to meet a group of real life Sadhus was a dream come true for me and for Jon too. As a photographer Jon wanted to create more meaningful imagery that is totally different to his usual commercial and fashion based work. The Sadhus blessed us, chanted Sanskrit in our ears, told me I am lucky & will life an adventurous life and that Jon will lead a comfortable life feeling wealthy and fulfilled. Which makes sense because out of the two of us Jon is more practical and business-minded, he is like a magician creating a life from nothing and I am like the star reminding him it’s OK to to go off the beaten track, be a little alternative and do what the f*ck he wants with his life. He keeps me grounded and I remind him to be playful. He helps me turn my dreams into a fruitful reality and I help him to calm down and live a little, yes we all have to earn money to put food on the table but what’s the point in working yourself to death if you don’t get to enjoy the sweet things life has to offer?
Meeting the Sadhus for me was the highlight of my day, I must have spent at least 15 minutes chatting to them about Yoga! We later found out that Sadhus and infants are the only Hindus that don’t get cremated, they get buried, because they have already left this world. Later we headed to a small cafe for a bite to eat of traditional Nepalese spicy snacks of which I have forgotten the name and leisurely walked around the site to visit other temples.
Before we headed out to Boudhanath we discovered the Gorakhnath temple (photographed above) that is dedicated to Matsyendranātha, an 11th century Yogi who is the inventor of Hatha Yoga. So I just had to be photographed in Lotus pose on this beautiful building considering for two years I have primarily been studying Hatha yoga and some Vinyasa, it was an honour to have seen and touched this holy place in person.
Even if you visit Pashupatinath during the day, you must go there at 6 p.m. to watch the aarti ceremony on the banks of Bagmati River. It is fascinating.. Music with mantras, kirtan, bells, incense, lights and blissed out holy men makes this place feel cosmic, almost like a crossroad between our world and the next. Pashupatinath touched my heart and soul on such a deep level and I am full of gratitude I was given the opportunity to visit such a mystical place, I was moved to tears and it definitely lives on in my memory. It truly is a place like nowhere we have ever seen and we will never forget it.