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N31. Pashupatinath - Cremation and Cleansing

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Published on Jan 10, 2012

(14'44") Hindus are not buried when they die but are cremated wherever possible on the banks of a stream which will carry their ashes to the Ganges river. The opening sequence shows the procession of a poor man near Bharatpur: but the preferred place for cremations is the temple of Pashupatinath in Kathmandu.
Situated on the Bagmati River (which eventually joins the Ganges) the temple at Pashupatinath is a focus for pilgrims who come with offerings which demonstrate their reverence for Shiva ... whose presence is signified by a series of stone phalluses. Women come here at the end of their menstrual cycles to purify themselves, changing into new saris afterwards. It is a place for ritual bathing also.
At cremation the spirit of the deceased is released, so the corpse is rotated several times before it is burned, to confuse its spirit so it will not be able later to find its way back into the same body. The round burning ghats (platforms) in front of the temple were reserved for royalty. The square ones are for commoners.
Prior to its cremation the body will be wrapped in a yellow shroud because this is the colour ascribed to Shiva; and it will be encircled for between three to seven times by those paying their respects. The ritual of cremation can properly be performed only by sons of the deceased. If no son is available the family will need to hire a man to do the job.
The corpse will be screened while it is prepared. White, rather than black, is the colour of mourning: and among Brahmans the deceased will be mourned for 13 days by surviving members of the family.
After the body has been placed on the pyre, water, rice and ghee will be placed in the mouth of the deceased, and the pyre will be covered in damp straw to ensure a slow burn.
While bodies are prepared for cremation at different points in front of the temple, stallholders market ceremonial items, and a stream of women pay homage to Shiva's lingum and scoop holy water from the river. (For high resolution images and a wealth of additional information go to johntyman.com and select "Photo Journals" then "Nepal".)

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