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Nepal: Pashupatinath Cremation

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Pashupatinath Cremation > Nepal > Asia

[Visited: April 2007]

After getting off the taxi, I walked into a park belonging to the Pashupatinath area. Some teenagers were playing cricket, older people were sitting down for a chat, and a monkey rushed past as I walked on. I turned a corner and saw some souvenir stalls, and paid my entrance fee. Just around the corner, I entered a platform and saw a line of people hanging over the edge, smoke rising behind them, coming from below. When I joined them to look down, I saw fires burning below, and realized that this was the famed cremation site of Kathmandu. I walked down, crossed the small river and joined another line of people sitting on the stairs. It was hard to imagine that this narrow stream of water was actually the holy Bagmati river, on a par with the Ganges in India. However, the atmosphere was different: it felt relaxed, it seemed that locals around me came her for a day out, almost like going to a picnic.

Picture of Pashupatinath Cremation (Nepal): Burning corpses on pyres at six platforms at Pashupatinath

I sat down with the Nepalese opposite the cremation site, and watched. For me, the foreigner of a continent where death has virtually disappeared from public life, where seeing a funeral car is the closest you can come to be faced with death in daily life, the openness and accessibility of this cremation site has a tremendous impact. Families with young children were watching with me while a corpse, wrapped in a white cloth, was carried to one of the platforms. A few relatives were bidding their last farewells to the corpse, some flowers were tossed on the corpse, after which it was lifted and carried on the pile of wooden blocks that had been constructed just before. I watched yet another cremation. One of the people working at Pashupatinath was making a pile of wooden blocks, making sure it was the right length and had a more or less straight surface. A coffin, that had been waiting next to a platform, was surrounded by people, and a man opened the lid. He threw clothes and shoes in the holy river Bagmati, which actually is no more than a trickel nowadays thanks to overpopulation. After the coffin was broken apart, its remains were also deposited in the Bagmati. The corpse was covered in flowers, lifted and put on top of the pyre. After relatives walked around it to show their last respect, it was covered by straw and the fire was lit. This was surprisingly little ceremony surrounding the event, and when smoke started billowing out of the pile of wood, straw and human remains, the relatives disappeared.

Picture of Pashupatinath Cremation (Nepal): People and corpse on the stairs of a ghat at Pashupatinath

On the other side of the two bridges spanning the Bagmati river, there are more platforms, for cremation of royalty and those high on the societal ladder. A crowd had gathered around a corpse covered in an orange cloth. Relatives were tossing white and yellow flowes on the cloth, and one woman had to be contained because she was desperate. It was the only display of sorrow and emotions I saw in the few hours I watched the scenes on the banks of the holy river Bagmati. The corpse was lifted, and carried to one of the platforms on the south side of the bridges. It was only when they had left, that I noticed something else, left behind on the stairs. It took some time to sink in: I was looking at a corpse, almost uncovered, lying feet-down on the stairs of the river. I was deeply impressed. When I returned to the south side of the bridges, I noticed that the fire that I had seen started, had almost disappeared. Someone was trying to wake up a fire that had almost extinguished. It was only when I studied my pictures at home that I realized that there were arms and a foot sticking out of the dying fire. Most of the spectators were gone, and someone just pushed the ashes from the platform into the muddy shallow holy water of the Bagmati.

Picture of Pashupatinath Cremation (Nepal): Lifting of corpse covered in orange cloth and flowers to be carried to the cremation platform
Picture of Pashupatinath Cremation (Nepal): Relatives cover the corpse, covered in an orange cloth, with white and yellow flowers
Picture of Pashupatinath Cremation (Nepal): People on the ghats of Pashupatinath gathering to bid farewell to corpse
Picture of Pashupatinath Cremation (Nepal): Burning corpse at Pashupatinath cremation site while someone tries to revive other fire
Picture of Pashupatinath Cremation (Nepal): Keeping the fire alive: cremating corpse at Pashupatinath
Picture of Pashupatinath Cremation (Nepal): Holy Bagmati river, some platforms with burning corpses, and spectators at Pashupatinath
Picture of Pashupatinath Cremation (Nepal): Pashupatinath cremations: family watching the burning of bodies
Picture of Pashupatinath Cremation (Nepal): Lifting the body of a deceased on a cremation platform at Pasthupatinath
Picture of Pashupatinath Cremation (Nepal): Just before lighting the fire: the cremation is about to actually start
Picture of Pashupatinath Cremation (Nepal): The covered body is starting to emit smoke: the fire has started
Picture of Pashupatinath Cremation (Nepal): After the corpse has been taken out of the coffin, the latter will be thrown into the Bagmati river
Picture of Pashupatinath Cremation (Nepal): Playing football on the banks of the Bagmati river with cremations in the background
Picture of Pashupatinath Cremation (Nepal): More bodies need to be cremated, so the platform must be cleared - the ashes end up in the holy Bagmati river

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