While being a part of a cultural exchange program like the Media School Nepal Germany, there will always be at least two different views and perspectives on the things and activities you experience. The views of the visiting participants and those of the participants of the home country will merge and create a whole new point of view for everyone who is a part of the exchange. You do not only realize the similarities, it also makes an individual realize how different everyone is and make them value their uniqueness. The participants of the home country start to appreciate their own cultural values because their foreign counter parts value them and the visiting participants create new impressions on cultural values for themselves. In this article we want to outline the similarities and differences of the two points of view that meet each other during a cultural exchange. The religious place Pashupatinath is a moving experience for both of the participants groups which is why we chose to focus on this cultural good.
As a visitor from Germany I did not really know what to expect from Pashupatinath. I heard that it is a sacred place where Hindus burn their dead relatives and where several ceremonies take place. I also heard that Hindus either celebrate a prosperous and long life or say goodbye to their relatives at Pashupatinath. In the retrospective, I can say that I wasn’t expecting the emotional struggle I would go through when I arrived there.
One of the first things I recognized was the smoke that I could already see when I walked through the entrance. I tried to prepare myself for what I would get to see. As a Christian I’ve only been to Christian funerals and therefore had no idea how the procedure is during such a ceremony. Right after I walked through the entrance of Pashupatinath, I tried to deal with a lot of impressions, feelings and emotions at once. As I was walking up to the spot where the burnings take place, I was constantly struggling with myself. On the one hand, I wanted to respect the relatives who had just lost one of their beloved ones but on the other hand I was also curious about the whole ceremony.
During my visit of Pashupatinath several burning ceremonies took place at the same time. I could see how the relatives prepared the burning sight and the dead body itself. People covered the bodies with blankets and orange flowers. The relatives stayed until the fire died out which can take hours. I was standing on the one side of the river and the burnings took place on the other side. It was like I was standing behind a window looking through the glass into another dimension. The whole situation felt unreal. Between the crying and the shouting of the relatives one could hear laughing people or dealers who offered their goods to the tourists. I remember the constant feeling of wrongdoing. In Germany, it would be unthinkable to be a guest on a stranger’s funeral or worse to visit a funeral as a tourist. As I was standing there unable to move I saw people taking pictures and making videos and there was again that feeling of a wrongdoing.
Another thing I instantly recognized was the men with the shaved heads. Later I found out that this was part of the ritual. The male relatives within the family shave their heads to clean their body as a part of the religious process and as a sign for their grief.
When I left Pashupathinath I was left with controversial feelings. It is a place where people either celebrate a prosperous and long life or say goodbye to their relatives. It combines grief and happiness, laughter and crying. When I walked through the gate to leave I turned around for a final view on this unique place and I could see the smoke above Pashupatinath.
Being born in a Hindu family of Kathmandu, as a child I knew that the word ‘Pashupatinath’ meant something religious. Later on when I started growing up, around the month of July and August, I watched as my mother woke up one day, took a bath and dressed up all in red and she started preparing herself for the day. But it wasn’t just a normal day. My mother told me, “Today is Teej and I have a fast today”, arranging her green beaded long neck piece.
Teej is a festival where wives take a fast for their husbands’ long and prosperous life. We keep a fast, wear red and green and go for puja (worshipping) at Pashupatinath today,’ she told her curious little eight-year-old.
I hadn’t been to Pashupatinath as a child but I’d watched it in Television every year during Teej when women would dress up in red saris and come to worship Lord Shiva. Observing the long lines were in the Temple, I could see how important the festival was.
But when I grew up a little more, I understood Pashupatinath meant not only “red” and “green” but colorless “white” too. We would get a phone invitation from relatives to visit Pashupatinath for the funeral ritual of their demised. I haven’t been to many funeral rituals because little kids were not invited there. But about two years ago the thought of the place Pashupatinath had sacred me. My grandfather was really sick and hospitalized. It had been about a week he was in hospital. The doctor gave up hope and as my grandfather’s last wish; we brought him back to his home. My father was taking care of him in my grandparent’s place. Two days later, at 5 am in the morning my father called my mother. I overheard their phone call as I wasn’t asleep. He said, “We’re taking him to Pashupati.”
Chills ran down my spine and my eyes watered because taking someone to Pashupatinath meant death. Losing someone is never easy and knowing about the place where they will be cremated is not pleasant too. At that moment, Pashupatinath was not a pleasant place for me.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the cremation because I got my monthly periods and as per Hindu culture, we weren’t allowed to enter a temple or take part in any religious rites. On the thirteenth day of the funeral rites, I visited Pashupatinath. It wasn’t filled with women wearing red saris and green beads. It was filled with men and women in white, grieving for their loved ones. As I walked each step, my heart grew heavy because the only red I saw was the eyes of mourners.
Pashupatinath is a sacred place where holy rituals are performed. Whether the rituals are for long life or end of life, Pashupatinath is a place where when I visited it, I felt connected and I felt a sense of belonging because, even though I want it or not, it’s one of the most important parts of my life.
Andreas Mehring, Reeti K.C.