At a sprawling shrine to Shiva, Nepal’s Hindus help the dead on their way

A group of men move to ignite the funeral pyre of a relative at the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu, Nepal. Cremations are held every day at the famous Hindu temple. RNS photo by Jair Cabrera Torres
KATHMANDU, Nepal (RNS) — The Pashupatinath Temple complex in Nepal is one of the world’s most important sites dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, comprising more than 500 temples, shrines, ashrams and monuments. Located on the banks of the Bagmati River in the Himalayan country’s capital, Kathmandu, the temple is also the seat of Nepal’s national deity, Lord Pashupatinath. It is here that many Nepalis bring their dead for Hindu cremation rituals.

Located on the banks of the Bagmati River in Kathmandu, Nepal, the Pashupatinath temple complex hosts many Hindu funeral rites and cremations each day. RNS photo by Jair Cabrera Torres

Hindus understand that death is a part of life and an important step on the soul’s journey.

When a person dies, relatives ritually wash the wrapped body in the river’s waters before cremating it on wooden pyres built on one of several platforms along the river.

Hindus are expected to cremate a deceased person’s body within 24 hours of death. The ritual cremation is believed to help sever the person from their earthly experience and expedite the soul’s spiritual journey. Hindus believe that a human must return to the five elements, and cremation is faster for that process than burial.

A family procession accompanies their relative’s body to its cremation at Kathmandu’s Pashupatinath Temple complex. RNS photo by Jair Cabrera Torres

Once the cremation is complete, and everything has been reduced to ashes, the remains are put in the Bagmati River to be returned to nature.

Cremations often take place simultaneously at Pashupatinath temple along the Bagmati River in Kathmandu, Nepal. RNS photo by Jair Cabrera Torres

A cremation takes place, left, while another group, right, bathes the feet of a deceased loved one in the Bagmati River at the Pashupatinath temple complex. RNS photo by Jair Cabrera Torres