Come one, come allRegardless of whether you are a believer or not, visiting the magnificent Pashupatinath Temple gives you a sense of peace.
Regardless of whether you are a believer or not, visiting the magnificent Pashupatinath Temple gives you a sense of peace. While the eternal beauty of the holy site is mesmerising, the realisation of the ultimate reality of life—inherent mortality—also awakens inner goodness in human beings. At the same time, Pashupatinath is a place where discrimination prevails, which is most well illustrated by the huge sign saying ‘Hindus only’. The way pilgrims are treated by the authorities is also terrible. From the cold look of the priests to the pushing and shoving by the security guards, visiting the temple is one of the worst experiences I have ever had.
I have been to several world famous Christian and Muslim religious sites, ranging from St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and the Helga Sophia Mosque in Turkey to Notre-Dame Cathedral in France. These holy sites have the same meaning that Pashupatinath holds for Hindus. But Pashupatinath lacks proper management to welcome thousands of pilgrims and tourists. It is undeniable that the ‘institution’ itself has taken a rapid shift in the past decade in many ways. So how has the management of Pashupatinath, which is also a Unesco World Heritage Site, failed to utilise its potential to the fullest?
The first thing that immediately comes to my mind is the waste of resources that takes place on a daily basis at Pashupatinath. The amount of materials that is offered here swells more than a hundredfold on special occasions. It is fascinating how much Pashupatinath earns, both in cash and kind. The piles of fruits, milk and other food items offered here are enough to feed hundreds, if not thousands, of destitute people. However, it is heart-breaking to see gallons of milk poured over the Shiva idol eventually ending up in the Bagmati, further polluting the river. What good are offerings that go to waste when homeless children down the street stay hungry? Is it possible to collect all the milk that is offered and give it to poor or old people residing at the pilgrims rest house at Pashupatinath?
Second, it is unfortunate that when we speak about corruption and nepotism, we often associate it with government officials because I do not think that our religious institutions are any different. Visiting the temple is driven by control, business and greed rather than by faith, respect and consideration. We see pilgrims being made to stand in a queue and guards shoving them around and ordering them to stay away from the temple windows. This clearly shows that the authorities only want to collect the offerings they bring and send them away as soon as possible.
I have personally faced harassment at the hands of the authorities at Pashupatinath. I have witnessed a priest making small talk and giving fruits, garlands and tika to his friends or relatives in front of me while completely ignoring my request for tika. Asking why there is discrimination or starting a logical argument was not possible because a guard was pushing me to move faster. Who gave him the right to touch me or any other pilgrim?
After the dark days of the decade-long People’s War, the monarchy was abolished; and democracy and secularism was established in the country. More than a decade has passed since then, but practices still favour Hinduism and not secularism in almost every aspect of life. I have a hard time understanding the logic behind the ‘Hindus only’ system at Pashupatinath. If the idea is not to let non-Hindus enter Hindu premises, why are they allowed at other Unesco World Heritage Sites such as Patan, Bhaktapur and Kathmandu Durbar Squares?
After all, these sites also house important Hindu temples such as Taleju Bhawani, Dattatreya and many others. If we were to follow this logic, non-Hindus should not be allowed at any of the Durbar Squares or temples. If they are allowed into these places, why not at Pashupatinath? And what is the point of getting a site included in the World Heritage List if people from all over the world cannot visit it and experience its wonders? The identity of Nepal and Nepalis is characterised by unity in diversity. This is what our political leaders are proclaiming everyday. And this is what is written in our national anthem: ‘Bahul jati, bhasa, dharma, sanskriti chhan vishal’ (great multiplicity of communities, languages and cultures). But we do not live by this principle.
If important World Heritage Sites such as St Peter’s Basilica and Notre-Dame were to allow only Catholics, and the Helga Sophia Mosque were to allow only Muslims, imagine the division it would create in the world. Why should it be any different for Pashupatinath? It is high time we caught up with the rest of the world. Doing so will not only generate more revenue for the country, but it will increase the popularity of the site and Nepal too.
As a Nepali and a Hindu, I do understand that it might be difficult for some believers to abandon the old idea that Hindu sacred places are only for Hindus. But why? Changing something is always difficult. Ending suttee, giving voting rights to women and giving women the right to inherit parental property in the same proportion as men are some of the changes that did not come easily. While keeping the authenticity of Hinduism, we need to understand that Pashupatinath has a huge commercial value because it is a World Heritage Site. Thus, visitors should be provided the service they deserve.
The essence of all religions ultimately is the same—to be a good human being. We need to be able to see and treat all the people in the world with equality, respect and love. All religious places should welcome people of all faiths, especially because they represent some of the best achievements of human civilisation. Besides being architectural marvels, their spiritual energy inspires all visitors. These diverse creations should be valued as they are what makes the world a beautiful place. Everyone, regardless of their race, religion or personal choice, should have equal rights to experience the wonder that is Pashupatinath.
Gajurel is an independent consultant