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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 - HimalayaThe priest then talks to the family, presumably instructing them as to how it's all done, and they then lift the body from its bamboo stretcher, carry it, a little awkwardly, three times round the pyre, before laying it down, the head exposed. It's the body of a woman, younger than I expected, maybe not his mother or grandmother but his wife.

Basil leaves and water are placed in the dead woman's mouth as prasad, food consecrated and blessed by the gods.

Ghee is then placed on her body, with sandalwood to add a sweet-smelling incense, and the oldest male heir then walks around the pyre three times more. Then it is he who applies a lighted taper to the body, always near the mouth.

Shaking with emotion, he then bows, walks to the end of the pyre and buries his head on her feet. I feel I should look away, but I can't. I know nothing about these people yet, in this brief ceremony, I feel a wave of empathy, not just for them, but for loss, for the end of a life. I come from somewhere where death is kept private, almost as if it's an embarrassment. We send our loved ones away hidden in a box, into a hidden fire. We don't even press the button that sends the coffin sliding into that fire. It's all at arm's length. Here in Pashupatinath it's very much hands on. The reality of death, the fact of death, is confronted, not avoided.
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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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