Death, Dying and Rites of Passage


Bala Chaturdashi/Sata Byu Charne Aunsi (November 16-17) : Honoring and accompanying the defunct!
The festival of Bala Chaturdashi is a celebration in Nepal that is held at Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu and all the sacred places throughout the country every year in between the months of November and December(8th month of Nepalese lunar calendar: Mangsir). Pilgrims from different parts of the country and abroad gathered at Pashupatinath which is considered to be the most sacred temple of Shiva (Pashupati), the Lord of the Animals. An all night vigil by the light of small oil-wicker lamps yesterday marked the beginning of Bala Chaturdashi.
Throughout the night the pilgrims and bereaved families, chanted and danced by the light of their oil wicker lamps while paying homage to Lord Shiva and the family deities: Kul Devata!
At dawn worshipers in very tight and chiaotic situation walked down the sacred river Bagmati for ritual bathing and purification. River Bagmati flows through the Valley and has a number of temples located on her banks. She is considered to be a sacred river by all the people of Nepal.
After bathing in the Bagmati, pilgrims offered prayers, flowers, fruits, incenses, candle wickers, etc. at many shrines inside Pashupatinath temple and outside.
But for this special occasion there is a labrynth with 84 lingams called 'Chaurasi' with a temple at the centre were every member make offerings. This represents the eternal journey of the soul: transmigration from one life to the other. Here the pilgrims and the relatives of the defunct offer a special prayer so that the soul of the defunct may have a 'better next re-birth' or 'not to come back again' in this unending 'Cycle of Samsara: birth, death and re-birth'. The other importance of this ritual is to help the soul to cross over if it is still distracted and confused in the earthly realm.
Besides the regular offerings on other days and occasions, today every pilgrim brought a mixture of seven types of sacred grains, different types of fruits, vegetables and flowers (sata byu) to sprinkle and offer in the sacred path. This sacred walk starts from the bank of river Bagmati after the oblation and offering water in the river-bed lingam and than proceeds inside the temple complex of Pashupatinath including all the shrines, and than to the hill above the temple called the Kailash Parvat and follow the path to Gaurighat and Hanuman Ghat, than to Kiretshawar Mahadev, Guheshaweri and than to the Sleshmantak Ban/forest where many shrines dedicated to Gorkhanath, Hanuman, Vishwaroop (the universal manifestation of Lord Vishnu), Ganesha, etc. On every step people make offerings. In the Slemantak Ban where Shiva had shape-shifted into a deer in the hide and seek game with Parvati has a special importance.
"On the top of this sacred hill there is a particular statue of Ganesha called the Baira Ganesh (deaf Ganesha). Every pilgrim pat, massage and bang their head calling, “listen, listen, listen to me Ganesha”. So this Ganesha is meant to listen to the suffering and sorrow of the bereaved families. In this way the pilgrims descend down to the temple complex of Ram Mandir, to the Arya Ghat (cremation ground) thus completing the sacred circuit. Thereafter the people little by little start dispersing".
Sata Byu, the seven types of sacred grains are offered for the soul of the dead so that 'it' has enough food or fuel for the journey to the other world and on the other hand to remind the defunct, 'how beautiful the life was on this earth plane, full of love and abundance'. The oil wickers offered are to enlighten the soul to see the path clearly without any distractions. This dark moon is considered to be the 'dark night of the soul' so that with all the prayers, rituals, sacred grains, sacred water, flowers and different types of edibles, rice pudding, etc. the soul is fully equipped to get through obstacles on the way. And also through this ritual the wondering distracted souls are alerted or brought in to consciousness so that they can understand that they had already left their bodies and are only in spirit form and have to find their path. The love, affection, offerings, prayers and rituals of the living here in the 'earth plane' are the sources of support and help for the soul to transit into other realms and for better successive lives depending upon the merit/karma acquired while in physical body here.
Though Shantideva had said, “ If we haven't accumulated any virtuous merit, then we will be totally isolated, and we will have very great fear”. Shantideva had expressed death and fear in the following sentences:
When seized by the messenger of death,
What benefit will friends and relatives afford?
My merit alone will protect me then
But I have never relied on that.
But here during this Balachaturdashi and Satabyu Charne Aunsi, the family, relatives and friends participate in helping the soul to be free from fear, hunger, thirst and distraction. They help the process of detachment, letting go and acceptance processes. The bridge between the defunct and the living is created through the rituals, gratitude, honor, love and remembrance.
May the distracted ancestors, the timely defuncts and the premature dead accept our offerings, light and love.
(A rope is created by weaving together pieces of special grass Babiyo/Eulaliopsis binata (sabaigrass) and different types of sacred leafs and flowers are inserted. This special rope is used as a protection of house and sacred places by typing around the structures. The same rope with combination of sacred leafs and flowers is also used as a 'bridge' or 'rainbow' to support the souls of the dead to travel to the other realms. They are hung in the river creating a bridge between earthly realm and the realm of the ancestors and devas. This rope is called toran.
Irrespective of culture, tradition, or any spiritual backgrounds, we all can participate to support the souls of the by-gone by offering music, drumming, prayers, meditation, singing, lighting candles, offering flowers, fruits or whatever is available.
Namaste, Love and Peace to All!