The very last thing with did on our trip to Kathmandu, Nepal, was to visit the Hindu site where bodies are cremated on their final journey. I know that all sounds a bit morbid, but it was actually quite beautiful to observe, especially as night started setting.
Cremation is an extremely important ritual for Hindus. They believe it releases an individual’s spiritual essence from its transitory physical body so it can be reborn. If it is not done or not done properly, it is thought, the soul will be disturbed and not find its way to its proper place in the afterlife and come back and haunt living relatives. Fire is the chosen method to dispose of the dead because of its association with purity and its power to scare away harmful ghosts, demons and spirits.
There’s a whole ritual associated with this, which starts with washing the body (not literally, but symbolically with holy water) at the bank of the river, then throwing into the river all the clothes of the dead person. The orange cloth is usually reserved for married women.
The (covered) body is then taken by stretcher carried by the relatives to a pyre on the other side of a small bridge.
The main relative (usually the eldest son) walks around the body three times with a lit flame in his hand, then starts the cremation in the mouth of the passed relative. The body is the covered in additional straw and wood for burning.
When the body has been fully cremated (3-4 hours), the remaining ashes and wood are tossed into the river. For Hindus, a 13-day mourning period starts; for Buddhists, it’s 49 days. This relatively short period of mourning is explained by the belief Hindus hold that once a person is born he or she never dies. Death is often viewed in a positive light: as an escape from one life on the road to a better an ultimate moksha (nirvana), shanti (peace) and paramapada (the ultimate place).
An interesting (and unexpected) note on which to close our journey…
More on other components of our Nepalese trip in a future blog post.