This week I was able to visit 2 holy sites here within Kathmandu, Pashupatinath and Boudhanath. Pashupatinath is a site sacred to Hindus and Boudhanath sacred to Buddhists. One of the things we have found here is that most Nepali are quite syncretistic, particularly between these two religions. Our neighbor told us that some weekends he will go to the Hindu temple, other times to the Buddhist temple, and sometimes the Christian church. It is a confusing sort of religious tolerance. So while both sites were primarily inspired by one religion or another, for some Nepali there is a lot of overlap, and it would not be unreasonable to worship at both sites in one day. There are many similarities between the two religions including concepts like Karma and reincarnation. Both sites are culturally rich, ancient, and beautiful. They are also both UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Pashupatinath – Located along the holy Bagamati river in Kathmandu. It is considered the most holy Hindu site in Nepal. In addition to being a popular site for worship, it is also where many Saddhus, or wandering sages, congregate. This is also where most Hindu cremations take place in Kathmandu. Cremation is a very important ritual in Hinduism, as it is believed that without a proper cremation performed by one’s son, it is not possible for a soul to be reincarnated. While there I encountered monkeys, many people doing puja (worship), plenty of Saddhus including one dressed as a monkey, and I was even able to witness a cremation, which I tried to tastefully and respectfully photograph. Unfortunately there are no photographs from within the walls of the temple, because non-Hindus are not allowed inside. Some of the photos I was able to take can be found at our photo site, but here is a teaser.
Boudhanath – The holiest Buddhist site in Nepal, a massive stupa. This is one of the largest in the world, and is surrounded by a number of monasteries. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. It is thought to contain the remains of the third Buddha. Buddhist visitors will walk around the Stupa and spin prayer or mantra wheels, which are thought to utter a prayer (or mantra) each time they go around and add to ones favorable balance of karma. There are multiple levels, which represent gaining higher levels of being. The face on the Stupa represents the all seeing eyes of Buddha, the nose is the nepali number 1, representing unity, or the one way to enlightenment. There is also a third eye which represents the wisdom of Buddha. Above the face are 13 steps, which represent the 13 steps to enlightenment. More pictures of Boudhanath at our photo site too.