Pashupatinath Cremation Ritual

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As you cross over the bridge leading into Lalitpur, the district where I live, you pass over the Bagmati, a holy river for the people of Nepal. The Bagmati River passes by the Pashupatinath Temple, a religious symbol not only for the Hindus living in Nepal but also for devotees in India and other South Asian countries. The temple is one of the oldest and most revered temples in Nepal originating in 400 A.D.

The Pashupatinath Temple is the largest cremation site in Nepal with an average of 37 cremations a day. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, the protector. The word can be broken apart to explain its meaning: Pash-organism, pati-protector, nath-Lord. Hindus believe that it is only through a sacred ritual performed at one of the Pashupatinath Temples that the body and spirit of the deceased can be released from the repeated cycles and struggle of birth and death that are at the root of the Hindu belief in reincarnation. This ritual allows the deceased to achieve nirvana, or oneness with the Supreme Being. It is no surprise, then, that the majority of temples, monuments, and shrines in the Kathmandu Valley are situated in close proximity to the Bagmati River banks.

If possible, all Nepalese people aim to make their ceremonial and festive washing in the river segment flowing past Pashupatinath Temple. The premises includes one large temple and 492 small temples situated in the vicinity of the Bagmati River banks. Every year, thousands of people from around the world, but especially Asia, come to worship at the Temple. The dying and the dead are brought to the temple to be burned at the most important cremation site in the Kathmandu Valley. Beyond its use in purification, whether the living or the dead, the river itself is worshiped because it is said to bestow divine blessings on the people of the Kathmandu Valley and of Nepal. In recognition of its role in the lives of the people of the valley and beyond, UNESCO has listed the Pashupatinath Temple as a World Heritage Cultural Site. The conservation and protection of the river upon which so much of religious life at the temple revolves is, therefore, crucial.

–All below photos by Ann Braun: Check out some of her other work from Nepal at