Death Knells and Wedding Bells

Added on by John Fahy.

WARNING: There are photos below that some people might find disturbing

From the safety of a small cafe in Bhaktapur, I sat and waited as the thunderstorm whispered itself into an inconvenient drizzle. People began emerging from doorways, and the market square, deserted just moments before, was now teeming with those brave enough to second guess the storm. Just as the narrow alleyways once again were pulsing with a steady flow of tourists, labourers and sacrificial goats, a carnival-like boom announced itself on the horizon. I had no idea what the occasion was but being a nosey photographer, I had to find out.

This post is about people coming together and pulling apart....

Throughout the day, there were dozens of these marching bands heading up wedding processions in Bhakapur. 

Nothing a little tape and ingenuity can't fix...

As there were several stops along the route (at the groom's house for example), the band would play through the rain, making sure to keep the party going through the formalities.

The wedding procession is a deliberately public affair. As it went by, windows and doors would slam open along the route, to see the bride and groom arrive.

Outside of the temple, the groom is greeted by the father of the bride...

He is given blessings before being allowed to proceed with the ceremony.

Over the past year I have attended several Hindu funerals and visited some of India and Nepal's famous 'burning ghats' (where dead bodies are cremated in the open air). For those not familiar with how Hindu tradition both perceives and ritualises death, some of the practises involved are likely to be shocking. Ideas of how we should leave this world are of course different across cultures. This is not the place, however, for an in-depth investigation into underlying ontologies and 'culturally-particular' notions about how we honour the departed but instead, I have offered an insight into these ideas through some shots of poignant moments of a Hindu 'funeral'. As in the west, where we have removals, wakes, burials etc. the cremation ceremony is but one aspect of a larger series of rituals, involving the family and friends of the deceased. 

The bodies of the deceased arrive at the Pashupatinath Temple sometimes just hours after death. Among the purifying rituals, the body is bathed in the water before being taken to be cremated.

Once bathed, the men take over, while the women traditionally don't take part any further in proceedings (one of the reasons for this is that women are thought to be emotionally incapable of coping with the situation)

Along with various offerings, prasad (or ritually offered food) will be placed in the mouth of the deceased for the journey)

The body, along with flowers and offerings, is placed on the pyre by family members 

The eldest male in the family is the chief mourner and carries out the main duties throughout the ceremony (though in some traditions it can be the youngest male). He must have his head shaved and following the cremation (along with other family members) will be purified over the course of several more ceremonies.

An offering of ghee is poured on the body before burning

Everyone queues to throw a stick on the pyre, offering their final goodbyes in the process (the women are still kept at a distance at this point)

Circling the pyre seven times, the chief mourner lights the pyre

Once this is done, he collapses into the arms of his family 

As the pyre begins to burn, a monkey gathers some of the fruit offerings intended for the Gods

In devotion to Lord Ram, this sadhu spends his days writing out his Sri Ram mantra. Page after page are filled with a few devotional syllables that are thought to facilitate a transcendence between the mundane and the spiritual worlds. This is somewhat strange as most such traditions in Hindu theology are based on the sound vibration of uttering the mantra.

A few metres away from the burning ghats, there is an elderly home where people have come to spend their last years in the hope of attaining a good death in this holy place. Despite such a morbid premise, they were surprisingly a cheerful bunch!

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