We erroneously presumed that the predominant religion of Nepal is mainly Buddhist, however according to the 2011 census, 81.3% of the Nepalese population was Hindu, 9.0% was Buddhist, 4.4% was Muslim, 3.0% was Kirant/Yumaist, 1.42% was Christian, and 0.9% follow other religions or no religion.
Many Gods are worshipped and cows are considered by the Nepalese Hindus as guides for the departed souls going to heaven and so the consumption of beef is forbidden.
The spiritual leader, the Dali Lama fled from Tibet to India in 1959 and a guerilla movement fought the Chinese along the Nepalese border up until the 1970’s. The Dali Lama has been barred from visiting Nepal for fear of offending the Chinese, however, there is a considerable presence of Tibetan refugees living in Nepal. The Dali Lama and the exiled Tibetan government are based in India.
The weaving of Tibetan carpets and handicrafts has become a great source of income for both the Tibetan and Nepalese communities.
Pashupatinath, similar to Varnasi in India is Nepal’s holiest Hindu pilgrimage site. A time warp of shrines, temples and cremation ghats. We deliberated for quite a while whether or not we should visit such a sacred site and wondered whether or not it would be disrespectful to witness the cremation of those that have left this world – our guide assured us that all would be okay and so it was.
To die and be cremated here is to be released from samsara (the cycle of rebirth in this world). We witnessed the building of pyres that were then covered in a type of straw. The body wrapped in cloth was laid out with feet touching the waters so that the soul may be released more easily, as the relatives gathered round offering flower garlands and bid their loved one goodbye before the cremation.
I found the experience a very moving, loving and peaceful way to bid farewell to those departing this world. The fundamental difference between East / West thinking seems to be the belief that the sould leaves the body upon death, or, alternatively, must be ‘released’ after death.
[Portraits of sadhus or ascetics of Pashupatinath Temple]
Buddhist pilgrims from neighbouring Tibet continuously spin the embossed prayer wheels in search of good luck and fortune in life.
The Kumari, or living goddess was a fascinating insight into the various gods of the Hindu and Buddhist belief systems. Here we came upon a prepubescent girl who was chosen by the Newar Buddhist community to be their living goddess incarnate of the Hindu goddess Taleju. She lives a sheltered life cared for by several attendants until she reaches puberty. We were prohibited from taking photographs while she appeared to us from an open window, however, she is said to bestow wealth and good fortune to her devotees.
We then come upon a boy of about 12 years of age at the Golden Temple. He has been granted the privilege of being monk for a month. During this time, he is forbidden to wash or change his clothes – all in search of truth! Strange beliefs and yet so deeply rooted – difficult to understand.