Pashputinath Temple is a fascinating place.
On my first visit to Nepal we didn’t make it here with all of the other places we wanted to visit.
Located right near Tribhuvan International Airport on the west of Kathmandu, this can be a confronting site for some to visit.
Before you scroll through the rest of this post I want to warn you that Pashputinath Temple is home to a significant cremation site.
This post contains images of actual ceremonies at the ghats which are a part of everyday life in Kathmandu.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Pashputinath Temple sits on the banks of the holy Baghmati River and is the seat of the deity Lord Pashputinath.
The most expensive of the entry fees right after Bhaktapur, this site is well worth a visit for those wanting to know what real Nepali life is like.
When I paid and entered the southern gate a man in his late 40’s approached me and took the tickets from my hand.
There was nothing official in his appearance, in fact he looked like he would fit right in with the Melbourne idiots screaming in the wind.
I protested at his imposition and took the tickets back. He gave me a foul look and muttered indistinguishably.
We pushed or way through persistently aggressive offers for guides from people who were previously slumped over on the side of the path hiding from the sun.
Some key advice for a visit to this area; be patient and polite. Yes, the incessant hassling for the provision of unwanted services wears thin after a while, but this is a sacred site and one needs to behave in a suitable way.
Observing the cremation ceremony as a non Hindu is respectfully done from the eastern bank (opposite the ghats). This is also the most respectful place to position yourself if you wish to capture this unique scene.
Don’t make yourself a spectacle in doing so. Setting up cumbersome photography equipment would be glaringly intrusive; discretion is the key.
The waters of the Baghmati River run slow and shallow here. Clogged with trash and mud, recent efforts to clean the river have made a dramatic improvement on the appearance and the smell.
It was an emotional undertaking with wailing and outpouring of grief in a very free and unbound manner. No stiff upper lip here, just raw emotional expression.
The process was both elaborate and respectful with the deceased wrapped in an cloth and placed upstream of the ghats on the bank.
As the waters of the Baghmati River passed by they washed the body to cleanse it of earthly sins before the cremation.
After what seems to be around half an hour the procession then carried the deceased to the pyre.
The bearers carried the deceased around the ghat, circling the pyre, before laying the body atop the pyre and draping it with strings of Chrysanthemums.
Then the procession moved around the deceased in circle as the prayed. The lighted torch was finally carried around the pyre, lighting the straw kindling, and lastly it was placed at the top of the head of the deceased.
The family stays for a while as the flames take over. They stay with their loved one as the belief is that their spirit is still tied to the physical body and is still in this world.
There comes a very specific point where the majority of family move on. This is marked by a distinct popping sound.
That is the sound of the skull of the deceased exploding under the heart of the fire.
Some family stay longer, but most leave as the belief is that the spirit is now free to move on. Those who leave often believe that if they stay, the spirit of the deceased will not leave this world and will follow them home. Subsequently unable to progress in their afterlife journey.
Depending upon how wealthy the family is, there may, or may not be enough wood to fuel the fire for sufficient time to burn the entire body.
A caretaker stays to keep the fire going until the last of the wood is burnt.
Once there is no more wood to burn the ghat is swept clean as the ashes are pushed into the holy Baghmati River.
Many believe the bathing in the holy Baghmati River will wash their sins away. It is not uncommon to see this happening right under a ghat with an alight pyre.