Annointing the Dead

on the left of the photo there were four pyres burning and on the right were people bathing in the river. on the left of the photo there were four pyres burning and on the right were people bathing in the river.

During our sightseeing day in Bachtapur the temples were interesting but the cremations surpassed them in terms of amazement.

We were walking along a dirty river and across the way, we saw four burning pyres.

“They cremating people” our guide said.

“Real people”, I asked, “Right there, right now?” He seemed almost offended.

“This is very Holy River. Dead brought here to be anoint and cremated”, he replied.

Sure enough, we could see the outline of head, neck and body in the flames. Locals were milling around; some family, some just watching from across the river with a picnic, some going about their daily business and some bathing in the incredibly filthy holy river not paying any mind to the burnings on their left. And then four men appeared carrying a gauze-wrapped body on a plank of wood down to the water’s edge. They uncovered the feet and sprinkled them, then the genitals and then the head and mouth. Apparently, one’s last drink is from the holy river. Afterwards they started positioning wood on the concrete stand. We left before they laid the body on it and lit the pyre. Cremations are done 24/7.

I don’t know Hindu belief and our guide didn’t speak enough English to explain it, but clearly, there is no mystery or taboo surrounding the burning of their dead. It’s simply what happens at the end of life. And it’s public. It wasn’t viewed as offensive to watch or take pictures but the casual normality of it was alien to me. It was certainly an eye-opener for this westerner.

Another interesting place we visited in Bachtapur was the home of the living goddess, Kumari. The Kumari is a pre-pubescent girl that is chosen from select families when she is about 4 years old and is believed to be the reincarnation of the goddess Durga. She lives in isolation except a few times a year when she is carried out to festivals where she blesses multitudes of people by placing a red dot on their forehead. It is not allowable for her to bleed for any reason so she is carried everywhere. When she begins to menstruate it is believed that the goddess vacates her body. Once a day she appears at an open window and looks down into the public courtyard. We did not see her but it was fascinating for me to look up at the windows and know she was inside.

We finished the day at The Monkey Temple. No kidding, there were hundreds of monkeys. We had a bit of time to wander before meeting up with our group. Jim and I found some stairs and they led to a beautiful forested area away from people. Unfortuantley the trail wasn’t a loop as I thought. It ended and we had to bushwack at a run to get back to the group on time. Jim, the agile one, had to haul me up over a high stone fence. By the end of it, I had a shirt full of prickly things that I spent the next 2 hours trying to pick out.


One response »

  1. It’s amazing that what is normal to some is beyond our imagination. Quite an experience you’re having, Arlene; and you thought it ended when you came down off the mountain.

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