June 30, 2010 3 min read
Dusk at the Bagmati river behind Pashupatinath temple. Pre-monsoon clouds. Steep steps going up from the river on the opposite side of the river to worship platforms. Lower cremation platforms on this side. The mush revered Pashupatinath temple on this side. All black stone architecture. The river visible for only a few hundred metres in length and winding off on both sides into the forest. People, men women and children sitting around in colorful clothes on the worship side, waiting for the priests to commence the evening arti. The 3 priests arrive at their stations – about 5 metres from each other – on the high worship platforms across the thinned out pre-monsoon river. They face the river. A woman – who has her hair covered in cloth – possibly freshly bathed – attends to the fires and other requirements of the puja – bustling from one priest’s station to the next. Bhajan music playing live behind the priest stations. The beauty s that its all authentic. It’s not for tourists. It’s not for commercial reasons. It’s all there because the local people are living that experience. Every day. Every evening. As a part of their daily lives. The arti begins. The fires are lit and the priests lift them up and perform the arti in simple dancelike graceful rythmic motions. All 3 synchronised. The crowd sings and claps along. The bhajan mandal provides the music with tabla, harmonium and professional melodious singing on a loudspeaker.Amazing atmosphere of peace and beauty.
A tantric dressed in black appears. Sways to the music. He has a stick with a mop of black hair at one end. Matted hair. Forehead smeared with sindoor. Damru in one hand. Uses one end of his stick to rake the ashes from a cremation platform – as though he is looking for something. What’s he trying to find? The soul of the departed?
The 108 arti diyas light up the dark background – creating a photographer’s delight. The arti ends and another feisty bhajan to raavan begins. The crowd begins to dance – men and women – each on their own – dancing in worship.
And on the other side, the family of a newly departed has just rinsed the body of their loved one with the holy water, and laid it on the pyre. Relatives scurried, pushed and jostled urgently to ensure that they do not miss their last chance to give to their loved one. One by one, they bow and touch the feet of the dead. Are they asking forgiveness for things they did and didn’t do? Are they thanking them? Are they caressing their physical form one last time? The head-shorn sons circle around the pyre and then one of them lights the pyre. The wood, the straw, and the ghee create a huge cloud of white smoke that covers them all, hiding their grief. They move away to another spot.
And on the other side of the river, the worshippers, the dancers, the priests continue their revelry of worship.
Grieving and celebration face to face. Both viewing the other. Within 50 footsteps of each other.
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