May 11, 2012

pashupatinath and boudhanath

Filed under: general — cohn17 @ 4:07 pm

we finished the evening by strolling through pashupatinath on our way to boudhanath. (don’t worry, the explanation follows.)

pashupatinath temple is a holy site for devotees of lord shiva. located on the bagmati river, it is an enormous temple complex, and people cremate their dead along the river banks, much as they do in varanasi. we could see a few bodies burning, and i would have liked to have gone down to photograph the cremations up close, but my hosts told me that it was considered rude to go in; and having asked about it, i couldn’t then go ahead and do it anyway. (next trip, i pack the 70-300mm lens.)

views of the cremations; stupas on the hill above the temple complex; and a monkey. there were a lot of monkeys up there, and they were not happy to see us.

if we’d had more time, we would have explored the areas of pashupatinath that were open to non-hindus, but we were eager to get to boudhanath, which is one of the largest stupas in asia and the holiest temple, outside tibet, for tibetan buddhists. (there are are tens of thousands of tibetan refugees in kathmandu and nepal, and the temple has been a center of tibetan culture since 1959, but boudinath already had been a tibetan pilgrimage site for centuries.) because it was the evening of a full moon, we expected to see crowds of pilgrims circling the stupa, which would be lit up with small lamps. the stupa was impressive in the light of the full moon, but the area was strangely quiet: people were holding back until the next day, may 6, which is celebrated as the buddha’s birthday.

we returned in the morning to see the square packed with worshippers circling the stupa counter-clockwise, both at street level and on the stupa itself. (according to some websites that i consulted, buddhists are supposed to circumambulate clockwise, but the tibetan bonpo go the other way. it just gets more complicated than i want to go into here.) there is a legend associated with boudhanath that a devout woman and her four sons wanted to bury the remains of kāṣyapa buḍḍha on the site, and she approached the king with an animal hide and asked to be able to construct a tour within the space marked by the hide; when the king agreed, she cut the hide into thin strips and laid out an enormous square, and the king had to keep his word and allow the stupa to be built. the structure is between 1,300 and 1,600 years old, depending on whom you ask.

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