Friday, May 8, 2015

Pashupatinath: Holy Nepal Hindi Site in Danger

We often think of Nepal as a profoundly Buddhist country, but the largest number of Nepalis (up to 83 percent according to the 2011 census as reported in Wikipedia) are Hindus. The most holy Hindu site in the Kathmandu valley is the Temple of Pashupatinath, located along the banks of the Bagmati River. The Pashupatinath Temple (Nepali: पशुपतिनाथ मन्दिर) is one of the seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kathmandu Valley. According to Wikipedia, the area of Pashupatinath covers 264 hectres (652 acres), within which are 518 temples and monuments.
The Bagmati River (in Nepali: बागमती नदी) flows through the Kathmandu valley, separating the Kathmandu from Lalitpur regions. Both Hindus and Buddhists consider it a profoundly holy river. It eventually joins the equally-holy Ganges River. Unfortunately, the Bagmati is badly polluted from raw sewage and industrial waste that pours into it.

As a first-time visitor, it is hard to get a sense of the scale of the temple complex. It seems to extend indefinitely over a jumble of buildings, terraces, alleys, and walls.
The Bagmati is sacred to Hindus because the dead are cremated on the banks of the river. From Wikipedia: "According to the Nepalese Hindu tradition, the dead body must be dipped three times into the Bagmati River before cremation. The chief mourner (usually the first son) who lights the funeral pyre must take a holy river-water bath immediately after cremation. Many relatives who join the funeral procession also take a bath in the Bagmati River or sprinkle the holy water on their bodies at the end of cremation. The Bagmati River purifies the people spiritually."

But in the aftermath of the April 25, 2015 earthquake, thousands of families brought their dead here for traditional cleansing and cremation. But a cremation requires 300-500kg of wood and has led to massive deforestation in the Katmandu area as well as air pollution. A 2009 BBC article described the installation of an electric furnace, but I do not know if was ever put into operation.
Before and during a cremation, family members gather along the river with food offerings. Rice is put in boats made of woven leaves and floated down the river.
These bright powders are used in the ceremonies, but I am not sure exactly how.
Monkeys wander around the grounds. I suppose they are skilled at stealing food scraps.
Vendors sell garlands of flowers, coconuts, and other supplies.
The architecture at Pashupatinath has evolved and been rebuilt over 400 years. According to Wikipedia, the original 5th century temple was largely destroyed by Islamic invaders in the 14th century. The subsequent temple was consumed by termites and then rebuilt by King Bhupatindra Malla ain the 17th century.
The stonework and carving is intricate, and some of it reminds me of carving in Ankor (Cambodia).

Pashupatinath survived the 2015 earthquake largely intact, but has been witness to immense sorrow among the grieving families who brought their dead her to this sacred site.

Photographs taken with an Olympus E330 digital camera.

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