Updated: May 04, 2015 08:29 PM GMT
Narayan Prasad mourns the death of his wife (Photo by Ritu Sharma)
Narayan Prasad is mourning the death of his wife. He repeatedly breaks into tears while recalling the devastating earthquake in Nepal that took her life.
“She was preparing food for us and we were sitting outside when the earthquake came. It was so strong that it toppled us from our chairs,” Prasad told ucanews.com.
The 60-year-old widower, who is from Kathmandu, said that he and his son saw the kitchen slab falling on his wife but could not do anything except shout for help.
She began bleeding, and the pair watched in horror as the house slowly crumbled over her. When rescuers came, it took four hours to dig out the body.
In the Nepali tradition, family members of the deceased follow precise funeral rituals. Male relatives have their head shaved at the time of cremation, mourners wear white unstitched cloth for a 13-day period, boiled unsalted food is cooked at a clean place away from the home, mourners avoid contact with low caste people and prayers are given by a priest once a day.
At the center of such rituals is the home, which is where the ceremonies are carried out.
“These rituals are to be performed at the house where the dead person used to live. After 13 days, the house is purified, food is distributed among relatives and those who were performing the rituals can start eating proper food,” Purushottam Sharma, a Hindu priest, told ucanews.com.
“These are necessary for the salvation of the dead. You cannot run away from this. If you don’t do it, the community will make you do it,” he said.
Sharma said that in these rare circumstances where people have lost everything, “the bereaved can perform these rituals within one year of the death of a person but it is better if they are performed immediately after death”.
Many of the houses in Kathmandu collapsed and a majority of them developed cracks and are unfit to inhabit due to the April 25 earthquake that claimed over 7,500 lives. With no money and not much to eat, people are forced to live in tents in camps. Giving the dead the proper rites has become impossible and all consuming.
Prasad, whose son and daughter-in-law are performing the 13-day ritual, said the family has been renting a room in the famous Pashupatinath temple in lieu of holding the ceremony at their house.
While some have taken to conducting rituals in the tent camps, Prasad said he found them too crowded.
“You need some privacy and isolation during these days to mourn the dead,” he said.
Instead, the family has decamped to the rented room for the past eight days — something that has calmed them but posed a more immediate challenge.
“We thought that in this time of difficulty the temple authorities would not charge anything but they are taking 250 Nepali rupees (US$2.50) per day,” Prasad said.
A temple official who refused to give his name said that since the temple authorities provide a place to stay, food, cooking gas, services of a priest and everything that is required to be done during these days, “it has to charge a very nominal fee. Otherwise how will we cover the expenses of these items?”
For Saroj Bisht and Krishna Bahadur Bisht, two brothers who hail from Nepal’s worst-hit Sindhupalchowk district, the costs have posed a challenge to mourning their dead.
The men came to the capital along with their aunt after losing their house in the earthquake. When their aunt died a natural death on May 2, they had no space or money to go through with the 13-day ritual.
“We lost everything in the earthquake. Now we do not have any money to even pay to the Pashupatinath temple officials and rent a place there,” Saroj Bisht said as he sat at the Pashupatinath cremation ground, his head freshly shaved.
He said that they plan to erect a tent at some isolated location and start the rituals. “We are dependent on donations now. The least of the rituals is going to cost over 10,000 Nepali rupees ($99).”
Bisht said that even the priest who would come to conduct the prayers is asking for 10,000 Nepali rupees. “We are stuck in this situation,” he added.
Krishna Bahadur Bisht (left) and Saroj Bisht sit at the Pashupatinath temple after cremating their aunt (Photo by Ritu Sharma)
Narayan Poudel, who lost his mother-in-law in the earthquake, said they have rented a place in Kathmandu to observe the funeral customs.
“These rituals should have been performed at my mother-in-law’s house in Sindhupalchowk but that is collapsed now. This needs to be done and we are doing whatever we can in these given circumstances,” Poudel said.
Meanwhile, there are many who have not been able to unearth their dead relatives even eight days after the incident.
Nakul Gadal of Toutholi village in Sindhupalchowk district said that he was in Kathmandu with his wife and three children when the earthquake struck.
“My parents were back in the village and got buried in the debris of our house. Somebody from our village called me and gave me the news of their death,” he told ucanews.com.
Gadal said that he has not been able to go to his village and cremate his parents because the roads are blocked, adding that he last spoke with them a week before the tragedy.
“Now they are gone forever,” he said.
“They are lying there buried and here I am feeling so helpless. I can’t sleep at night thinking what condition they would be in after so many days in the debris.”