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Nepal

Death rites among the Hindus

During your trip to Nepal, at the gates to Kathmandu at Pashupatinath you will have the opportunity to attend one of the most sacred rites of Hinduism, the cremation.

The rules to respect

During your trip to Nepal, once you have got your bearings, soaked up a little of the atmosphere of the city and have visited a few Hindu temples, you'll probably want to learn a little more about the culture and rites of this fascinating religion. Whether on foot, by taxi or by bus, you should go to Pashupatinath on the outskirts of Kathmandu. On the banks of the Bagmati River you will witness the most impressive rite practiced by the Hindus. Before you go, be aware that once there you will need to show the greatest respect and discretion. Don't go unaccompanied to the other bank for the cremation where you risk being sent away. Also, be very discreet about taking photos and don't snap away at everything in sight. You are already very lucky to be able to attend this rite. How would you feel if a horde of sadhus came to take photos at the funeral of one of your relatives? Their tolerance is immense - don't abuse it.

The ghats, the place of cremations

The cremation

A body arrives, covered with a yellow pall. It is entirely immersed in the river and then lain on the pyre. The members of the family pour water from the Bagmati into the mouth of the dead. Just before the ceremony, the eldest son will have shaved his head. It is his responsibility to light the fire after circling the pyre five times. Before 1829, widows were burned at the same time as their spouses. It's what you might call "to burn with love"! After circling the pyre for the fifth time, the son strikes the skull of the deceased with an axe to release his or her soul. A full cremation lasts three hours and requires approximately 400 kilograms of wood. At the end of the ceremony, the ashes are thrown into the river. Pure souls like the sadhus, babies or the victims of cobras are not burned but are entrusted whole to the holy waters. Be aware that even if this rite generates an atmosphere of unrivalled force, a cremation remains a formidable experience. Be certain that you really want to attend. If this is the case, you may experience the most intense emotions of all your travels.

In such circumstances is it impossible not to think of the tragedy of the earthquake of 2015 that killed thousands.

David Debrincat
459 contributions
Updated 15 October 2015
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