I revere fire be it the one in my belly which sustains me or the one in my heart that shows me the way or the one that I light every evening symbolically. Fire is one of the elements of nature and is extremely sacred to Hindus. The sacred fire is a constant companion through birth, marriage or daily prayers and finally embracing our physical body in death. In most Hindu homes an oil lamp is lit everyday to ward off negative energy. Fire rituals or Yagna which are elaborate fire ceremonies are an integral part of important auspicious events specially marriages which are solemnized around the fire.
I was in Kathmandu and decided to visit the famed Pashupatinath Temple in the evening to watch the arati on the banks of the river Bagmati. The arati is held out side the temple on the river bank facing the temple idol. I reached a little early when the preparations were going on. Bagmati river nearly resembles a canal, with its dark muddy waters that seem to be quite stagnant. Looking for a convenient spot to watch the evening ceremony my gaze fell on the other side where a funeral pyre was being lit.
Soon the 3 priests took position and with the ongoing chants in the background, they turned the flaming stands around to invoke the deity and perform the worship while the flame on the other bank continued to burn. Both flames were burning bright on either bank of Bagmati, one to worship the lord with bated breath and the other that paves the way to merge with the lord after last breath.
After a while, nearly everyone got up and matched steps with the chants of Shiva Panchakshari Strotram (Om Na Ma Si Va Ya representing the 5 elements of nature), celebrating life. The spontaneous participation from the crowd cutting across age groups encouraged me to give my camera a break and join in. I tried to match steps, occasionally stealing glances at the funeral flame on the other side. Everyone else seemed to be unfazed and I wondered if it was only me who was struggling with the story of 2 flames. Maybe I landed there to overcome my fear of death and realize that death is not the end, but an opportunity for a new beginning !!