This past Wednesday night, one of our last here in the chaotic yet captivating city of Patan, we boarded a local bus to see the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu. The Pashupati Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, and is the largest temple in Nepal. The Bagmati River, considered sacred to Hindus, flows through the religious site and creates a place of utmost holiness. The temple is famous for numerous religious reasons, but the cremations specifically, draw much attention from visitors far and wide.
One of the first things I noticed upon arriving at the site, were hundreds of people adorned in yellow-orange marigolds and elaborate tikka covering their foreheads and bodies. I watched from across the river in awe as fires were being tended to by men draped in white and piles of clothing were being washed in the holy river by families of the newly departed. In all honesty, I did not understand the majority of the rituals taking place before my eyes, but I certainly felt a wave of emotion pass over me that was clearer than I ever would have expected. I surveyed the scene as relatives shed tears as they dipped corpses feet into the Bagmati. This practice ensures an auspicious afterlife for the soul of the deceased. I watched from a safe distance, far enough from the crematorium to feel comfortable, but also close enough to feel the grief and witness the rites and rituals with clarity. I could have stood there all day long, and it would still be a meager attempt to take it all in.
A culture that culminates thousands of years lingers in the temples, traditions, and every street and gully of this city. This ancient and sacred beauty is something I am unable to attain at home in the U.S., and something many of us search for through travel. In moments such as the cremation ceremonies at Pashupati, I am reminded of how beautiful the intersection of history, religion, and culture can be; more importantly, I am able to be a part of something I simply can’t be back home. Maybe this is why I’m here- I thought to myself- to be a part of something that the modern world has not yet consumed in its wake. To exist in a place that has not yet been completely vandalized by the overwhelmingly powerful force, we call ‘westernization.’ To be in a place that continues to emanate beauty from practices and rituals of an ancient and nearly forgotten world. It’s moments like these that I think I’ll miss most, when we leave in two weeks.