We spent the day walking from Pashupatinath to Boudha, from the cremation ghats along the Bagmati River, to one of the two holiest Buddhist stupas in the valley. At Pashupati we saw an incredible ceremony which Jenna filmed: the one-year anniversary remembrance of a beloved Pashupati sadhu's death.
Most incredible was a sadhu (holy man) dressed as Hanuman, the monkey god, with a huge hairy tail-appendage, curled up higher than his head, and his lower face masked with half a coconut hull, painted livid red. The effect was to make him seem as if he were really a monkey, but tall and dancing like a man, and in splendid garish marigold and silver and ruby swaths of ornamented cloth.
Jenna admitted that the costume actually spooked her, because the piercing painted eyes of this Hanuman figure seemed convincingly like a monkey-god's. I felt the same eerieness, and Mika later made the same observation, about the strange intensity of this dancing Hanuman.
Among the gypsy sounds of the sadhus, the manic tinny tambourines and the hoarse thigh-bone horns, and amidst the billowing smoke of the smouldering cremations, I saw the most impressive retinue of committed sadhus I have seen in my 25 years of traveling to south Asia. These men were handsome and elegant, emaciated and languid, classic in their statuesque features, like the Roman art of Praxiteles in the 5th century B.C.; like the Dying Gaul, or later, the Laocoon. Some were dressed in pastels, apricots my grandmother would have selected, and others, in acid lemons and pomegranate crushes of color. Some looked as if their faces had not produced sound for all eternity, and others were sweating, singing metallic plaintive prayers.
At Boudha, the world smells like juniper, and the Tibetan women walking round in their striped aprons look like sturdy satellites to the beautiful hemispheric reliquary, with its blue and golden eyes facing the four directions. I always feel relieved to be near Tibetans, especially when they write me an e-mail:
Date: July 1, 2010 07:49:43 +0000
From: Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Dear Jane Lillian Vance,
I have been directed by Mr. Chhime R. Chhoekyapa, Secretary to His
Holiness the Dalai Lama, to response to your letter.
He sends His prayers and good wishes for the success of your
We very much appreciated and congratulated for completing your film
project on Tsampa Ngawang Lama of Mustang, Nepal, which took over 9½
years to complete. We are very much sure that your film will bring about
greater awareness of the rich cultural heritage of the people living in
places like Mustang.
We once again very much appreciated your thoughtful gesture for sending us
NTSC version and PAL format of your documentary film.
With best wishes,
Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama
P.O. Mcleod Ganj
For now, goodnight from Kathmandu. Everyone on the team sends their love. Jane