Tamang Death Rites in a Nepali Village
In Nepal, rural lifestyles and traditions are still alive. As a visitor, you can easily witness them if you immerse yourself in the countryside for a few days. You don’t have to go very far from the capital, just be open and willing to embrace whatever opportunities arise. Such opportunities for cultural connection and understanding will appear, as Nepalis are very friendly, always ask questions when they see tourists, and will maybe even invite you somewhere. That’s what happened to me.
I hadn’t planned my trip around the Kathmandu Valley too much, but as I had a spare week to spend in the countryside, I randomly booked some accommodation and headed into the unknown. Bhaktapur, Dhulikel, and Panauti seemed good options to wander around and better understand the Nepali life. When I reached Bashgari, a small village near Dhulikel, the unplanned even occurred.
The family who owned the homestay where I was staying had to take part in a ceremony for the grandfather, who had died two weeks before. When I arrived, the landlord invited me for tea and biscuits at a small shop near his house, and told me about this ceremony following his father’s death. He invited me with him to Kuttal village to join in the commemoration. I jumped at the chance, so we got on his scooter and made our way down a rocky, broken dirt road.
Soon we reached a household in Kuttal, a Tamang village with 400 inhabitants and 40 households. It was the former house of the dead grandfather. All the people of the village gathered in the courtyard. In an empty warehouse, a man was cooking dal bhat for everybody in big cauldrons, which was to be served to all attendees. I was served a big portion, but turned down the invitation for seconds.
In the courtyard of the household, members of the dead man’s family were putting grandpa’s belongings up for auction: his bed, his wardrobe, a few chairs, a table. His daughters and sons stayed in front of a group of people, and kept a list of grandpas’ items. They shouted out the name of an item and the participants bid on it. The happy winner gave the money to the members of grandpa’s family, and took charge of his or her new possession. At the back of the house, grandpa’s furniture was broken into smaller pieces and awaited transportation to its new owner’s house.
In one room of the house, several old men from the village gathered and prepared offerings for the monks who had helped organize the ceremony. On small plates, the elders put bananas, rice, a marigold, and money for the monks. Each person had a certain role and helped with as aspect of the dead’s commemoration. All of his sons had to shave their heads, leaving only a short tuft at the back of their head.
As everybody was busy, including the landlord of my Homestay, I had plenty of time to watch, be surprised, and sometimes stare with curiosity. When all the villagers left to go home, we finally returned to the Homestay in Bashgari, along the same rocky, bumpy road.
Spending a few days in a village, interacting with locals, and participating in peoples’ lives is an authentic way to witness and understand Nepali traditions and ways of thinking. Even if you’re just an observer, having the chance to experience local customs is a way of getting in touch with a part of their culture and lifestyle, gain more knowledge directly from the source, and live like a Nepali for a short period.