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Himalaya

Day 57: Kathmandu

Pashupatinath, Nepal 
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Sadhus, itinerants who have renounced all worldly possessions and dedicated their life to lord Shiva, at Pashupatinath.
Michael Palin - HimalayaAs we watch, a corpse is carried down past the temple and onto the bridge. Six members of the family are in attendance. They turn off and lay the body down beside a pyre already decorated with garlands of marigold.

Pratima explains that in Hindu culture it is very important that people do not die in their house, or that on death they are removed as soon as possible, so that the spirits captured there can be released. Indeed, there are those who, thinking their time is up, ask to be brought down to this holy place to die, only to recover and get up and go home at the end of the day.

The family we were watching have taken up their litter and moved across to the other side of the bridge, having strayed inadvertently onto the ghats reserved for upper-class Brahmins. This, Pratima tells me, is where the various members of the Nepali royal family were brought after the massacre two and a half years ago. Five of them, including the King and Queen, their younger son, and two princesses were cremated the same day they were murdered.

The family have now found the pyre reserved for them. To aid combustion, an attendant inserts slices of ghee (clarified butter) between the split logs. The mourners, all men (no women mourners are allowed to attend a cremation), are preparing themselves. The eldest son is sitting on the steps of the ghat having his head shaved by a priest, a pandit, with a cut-throat razor. He wears a plain white robe, white being the Hindu colour of mourning. There is something quite affecting about seeing the way he submits to this very simple, very public act of obsequy, in full view of any who happen to be passing.

Pashupatinath, Nepal 
click to enlarge 
file size
Sadhus, itinerants who have renounced all worldly possessions and dedicated their life to lord Shiva, at Pashupatinath.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 57: Kathmandu
  • Country/sea: Nepal
  • Place: Kathmandu
  • Book page no: 130

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