The gates open to the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal. Crammed up against the mouth of a ravine, four kilometers East of Central Kathmandu. Step into a sacred crossroad, the holiest Hindu pilgrimage site of Nepal, by the legendary Hindu Vedas tradition since 4000 years. The Riverbank of Pashupatinath is the heart of Nepal where Hindus and Buddhists hold crematories, saying goodbye to the dying and honoring them. A very important family and community treatment in South Asia. This is a city place where all different levels of castes cremate relatives by rituals and ceremonies on ghats (sacred river banks) in the open; 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
A smoky place, rich of cultural history by symbolic art and craftsmanship, greeted by Sadhu men and Kali women. Kali is known as a holy woman, the Hindu Goddess who removes the ego and liberates the soul from the cycle of birth and death, associated with empowerment. She walks around, giving blessings to keep away evil shadows. Sadhu men are religious Hindu persons who devote a lonely meditation life, surrendering life for the gods in search for universal peace (like Monks in Buddhism). By the stories of legend, Buddha is known as one of the 330 thousand reincarnated Hindu gods. The religions are very close to one another; a monastery is the home of a Monk, an Ashram or a Sadhu.
The story of being human in Nepal promises that the soul never dies. The body does and has to be returned to nature. Following the Hindu tradition, we are made of the five basic elements (fire, air, earth, wood and water). After death we have to return back to nature. In Nepal people have four ceremonial ways of respecting death, with the use of all elements. The bodies go completely back to nature.
The first way is burning bodies, cremations (done by 85% of the population). The second ritual is buried in the ground in a coffin. Third is a sky funeral, cutting the body into pieces and giving it as food to the birds. At last, a water funeral, where the body is knot to a big rock and the family let it sink in the water of the ocean.
Hindu and Buddhist first burn the dead bodies with the same materials which takes three to four hours. Relatives light fire, wood, bamboo and ghee butter on a ghat. The bodies are covered with white and orange cotton (for the grown ups). After the fire the family collects pieces of the bones, wraps them with a cloth and members bury it in the bottom of the river. The first mourn period lasts for thirteen days, during this there is a period of close gathering and sharing, the relatives have to wear white clothes for one year. After one year the family comes back to the river and does a guided memorial ceremony. The members strengthen their faith in really good karma for the dead, then they do not come back in the material world; they’ll go to heavenly worlds (like Buddha, Brahma etc). If not, fine too – they go on in Samsara, the wheel of life – where they say “we wear another beautiful cloth”; a next life to grow our souls of wisdom.
On the other side of the Riverbank, where the funeral ceremony takes place, there are prayer temples for fertility. So close to each other in the middle of the city, Himalayan people find treatment for life and death.
From beggar to king, the funeral ritual is the same for every human being. Although the castes are not so much of matter in city life any more – because of good education and general development – even today castes do matter for people who live in rural areas. Varna is the term for the four broad classes into which many traditional Hindu society was divided from the time of the Rig Veda. The four Varnas (castes) are: the Brahmins: priests, teachers and preachers. The second, Kshatriyas: kings, governors, warriors and soldiers. the Vaishyas: cattle herders, agriculturists, businessmen, artisans and merchants. The Shudras: forced laborers and service providers.
During the last 150 years, various cast movements in India arose and changed the societal idea of an inherited class system. Now they still believe in true Varnashrama dharma as described in the Vedas but nowadays in city life the Vedic system has changed. City people can not recognize the social divisions (Varnas system) anymore, but at traditional ceremonies (like marriage, anniversary, funerals) this Varnas system is followed and encouraged to strive for a balanced and harmonious existence of life. The city people are no more divided and are liberalized by accepting other perspectives equally. This is the basis for the ideal Varnashrama dharma system of life now.
The capital city of Nepal is also the largest city in Nepal. Kathmandu means house of wood in sanskrit. Kashthamandap is a sanskrit compound word; Kashtha means wood, Mandap is house. The old name of the city was Kantipur. The city’s name changed after the construction of a scattal from the wood of a single tree, named Kathmandu. Most of Kathmandu’s people follow Hinduism and many others follow Buddhism. There are people of other religious beliefs as well, giving Kathmandu a cosmopolitan culture that allows all kinds of people giving energy to live and die in harmony. With these purposes for being human they use diverse ceremonies, rituals, belief systems and a human smile; every creature is called welcome by “Namasté”, meaning “I see the divine god or goddess in you”.