There are three kinds of intelligence: one kind understands things for itself, the other appreciates what others can understand, the third understands neither for itself nor through others. This first is excellent, the second good, and the third useless.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Nepal - Day 6 and Pashupatinath temple.

Upon visiting this temple I was given a free booklet, neat, on the inside of the booklet was many a badly phrased English verse, possibly the best one being ;
“He can pack golden monkey’s jumping playfully about into his movie roll”
what? GOLDEN monkey’s? No they have that wrong. There are only big scabby monkeys covered with fleas with big red arse’s roaming around here, none of which are getting into my movie, bastard monkeys.
Anyway this temple complex is huge and I do mean huge, and it is also dedicated to loard shiva and his many incarnations. In fact the minute you walk in you are confronted with the giant bull Nandi, lord Shiva’s trusty steed. Stinky but tame.

This is a temple of contradictions, it is full of both the beauty of life and the pain of death. Near the far end of the temple you can climb a series of steps that lead you up into a small area filled with shrines. It’s quiet, peaceful and the views are stunning. From the stone benches you can see the whole of the temple, I’m not sure but I think the area is called the Gorakhnath complex.
Possibly the most moving part of the temple complex is the area that surrounds the Bagmati river – a tributary of the Ganges no less – which is where the cremations are held. Death is quite an open thing in Nepal, the cremations are done in plain view of everyone, and the bodies are not hidden away. As soon as a person dies they are taken from their house and the ceremony is started. I was lucky enough, or unlucky enough, to witness a cremation this time, last time I waited for hours to see one but nothing. The key to surviving in a place like Nepal is having the ability to detach yourself from your western perceptions, I’m usually quite good at it but not this time, this was a trial.

The woman was bought out -fully clothed, face uncovered, feet and arms crossed- and placed upon the pyre by the attendants. Rather sadly, a member of her family snuck forward and stole a brief moment of personal sorrow by reaching out to caress her face and feet before slowly stepping away. I couldn’t tell what the relationship was, I was too far away to make out the details, but she might have been his mother, maybe even grandmother.
In order to help with the burning thin slices of ghee were forced between the wood. Once this was done some kind of liquid was poured into her mouth. Then, unceremoniously, the pyre was lit firstly from a taper placed in the corner of her mouth and then from underneath. It’s very unsettling to watch a human body slowly burn away, to witness the darkening of skin, to smell the air when it’s coloured with the scent of burning flesh. All my instincts told me to look away, to be mindful of their sorrow, to have some respect for the dead and give them their moment of peace with their loved one. But everyone else was watching, then I remember, death is not private here, it is shared and embraced by all. If that is not a truly foreign concept I don’t know what is.

A lot of this temple is off out of bounds to non Hindu’s because it is so sacred, but fortunately my free booklet explains a lot of stuff. Apparently, and I quote;
“In the sanctum of the temple stands a Jyotirlinga –believed to have self appeared – the likes of which is not found in existence anywhere else in the world. It is a phallic idol, the symbol of Pashupatinath which has four images carved on its four sides.”
According to Sharma this Jyotirlinga or shivalinga is ten foot high. I am missing out on seeing a ten foot high carved penis… life just isn’t fair sometimes.


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