Thursday, November 09, 2006

Blue skies, burnt out

Substandard subtitle
Kathmandu, Nepal

I'm officially burned out. Between the requisite appearances and celebrations of the holiday season, lots of late nights in crowded temple squares trying to photograph masked gods, lots of pilgrimages to holy sites of all stripes, and all the immigration rigamarole (which finally resolved - guess I need to do a thanksgiving puja now) I just do not feel creative. Actually I have been creating and documenting things all along, and now, just have no energy to upload and share them!

So here are just a few photos. About 10 days ago, I took a walk with my friend Jessamine down to Pashupati Temple.

This Brahmin pujari (ritual priest) in the photo is preparing offerings of rice balls, bananas, incense and so on for a memorial ceremony or shraddhanjali.

Pashupati temple is one of the most sacred in Hinduism, the most sacred in Nepal and seat of the national patron deity Pashupatinath (lord of the beasts, a manifestation of Shiva). This temple is the most prominent place to be cremated (here on the Bagmati River) or to hold the required memorial pujas for loved ones and family members.There is a special place just up the river bank for cremation of nobility. At the time of the 2001 Royal Massacre, there were so many royal bodies that special ghats (body platforms) had to be built just to accomodate all the cremations.

These are traditionally-dressed Nepali ladies (probably from the Gurung or Tamang ethnic group) worshipping the lingam, or sacred symbolic phallus, of Kirateshwor Mahadev, a manifestation of Shiva. The Kirateshwor temple is at the top of a flight of stone steps near Pashupati temple, but unlike Pashupati is open to foreigners and non-Hindus. The copper vessel hanging over the lingam is filled with holy water and "bathes" it continually.

This lingam-stone appears to be naturally formed, but someone has carved an OM symbol on it.

What looks like little stone bunnies next to the lingam are Nandis. They represent Lord Shiva's animal vehicle of choice, or vahana. Murugan rides on a peacock, Durga on a lion, Saraswati on a swan, and for some reason, Shiva chose a bullock. I guess he wasn't in a hurry.

The people in the next photo are Newaris, worshipping on Kartik Purnima - the special full moon that just passed on Sunday - at the Chobar Temple just outside Kathmandu. Like an amazing number of Nepali temples, Chobar has both Hindu and Buddhist deities. The Newaris have a special festival just for this full moon (actually they have a special festival for everything). It represents a unique opportunity for the women of the community.

If there are Newari couples who have separated or had disagreements over the past year, the women can come and offer five days' puja service at the temple. That means, they have to fast, ritually bathe every morning in the river, and not let anyone touch them, as they perform the pujas for the god. This year, there were about 41 women doing this sort of service at the Chobar temple.

At the end of the five days, the woman's husband can either come to "claim" her again, or leave her there. If he does not come, the woman is free to remarry with another person. Since divorce is rare and highly frowned upon in this society I wondered if there was any stigma on these women. My Newari companion told me that lots of them do remarry, also rare in this part of Asia. I wonder how many women secretly or not-so-secretly hope that the husband will not come for them!

Before I go completely supernova, I think I might head for Pokhara, the lazy hangout spot, for a few days. We have a new peace agreement - the Maoists get a "piece" of everything! And you thought The King (Mr Ten Percent) was bad. Maoists are still effectively running 80 percent of the country and hitting up local people for donations and accomodation. But there haven't been many strikes lately. In fact I had gotten so used to using "strike" as an excuse for being late, now I am disappointed at having to arrive in a timely fashion.

Here is a peaceful, contemplative image of a giant Buddha statue, from the entrance to Swayambunath Stupa. Funny how getting these peaceful, spiritual images is so much work, I just feel dirty and tired and gritty and exhausted by the time I get home. Someone needs to make a t-shirt: "Spirituality Is Not Pretty."