Riverside Cremation in Nepal: A Powerful Reminder of our Impermanence
For several months during the Fall of 1989, I lived in Boudhanath, Nepal, a town on the outskirts of Kathmandu. Every once in while, usually during the late evening, I would walk from Boudhanath to the nearby sacred river which passes through a place known as Pashupatinath. Among other things, this is a place where the dead are cremated.
Outdoor cremation is quite the norm in Nepal. I would watch with a bit of sadness as every once in a while, another dead body would be brought down to the river. They would put the body on top of a platform of wood and would place dried grass and wood all around the body and then, the body would be set aflame.
I watched as the skin slowly burned and melted away exposing the bones of the deceased. After about an hour, the bones would start to shrivel up and turn black and eventually, they would crack and break up into little pieces. After several hours, there would be nothing left but a few bone fragments and a small pile of ash. This would then be swept off the platform and into the sacred river. What three hours ago was a human body was now part of the river bottom. I would contemplate for hours upon what I had witnessed thinking that someday my body too would be nothing but a pile of dirt.
The monkeys, seemingly oblivious to what had just taken place, would be chattering in the background and in the distance, a Sadhu could be heard playing a harmonica. Statues of the gods didn't say a word, but silently kept vigilance as they shone in the moonlight.