SOUL SEARCHING

I’m not going to lie… digital artefacts freak me out. A self-professed analytical sociology student who loves to write essays hears those two words and internally screams. Add ‘autoethnography’ into the mix and it turns into a full-blown external scream. Yet here I am, having overcome my initial panic I can confidently say that maybe a new experience will be good for me…

Digital Asia has proven to be an eye opening, culturally immersive subject so far. Personally, I came into this subject with minimal knowledge about Asian platforms or films… or anything really. So why not take this opportunity to immerse myself in the holy waters of autoethnographical research and truly engage with the idea of experiencing a new culture.

One of the oldest and largest religions on the Asian continent, Hinduism not only blends thousands of years of practices and traditions, but accounts for 25% of Asia’s religious affiliation. A whopping 80%+ of the Indian, Balinese and Nepalese populations cite Hinduism as their main religion. Hinduism as a diverse, ancient religion is far too extensive for me to cover, instead I aim to delve into the religion’s death and burial rituals still readily practiced throughout the Asian world and on our doorstep here in Wollongong. As will become clear, my current knowledge regarding Hindu practices is minimal to say the least…

I have always been fascinated by the photographs my Mum took when she visited Nepal in the 1990’s. Captured on the banks of the sacred Bagmati River, they depict the Hindu tradition of the burning of the dead. These images are representative of my first ever personal experience with Asian religious death and burial customs, thus I hope that through personal engagement with these cultural practices, my experience can be further enhanced.

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So where to start? I did what every other curious person has ever done and whipped out that trusty google search bar. Low and behold, Helensburgh is home to one of the most famous Hindu temples in the Southern Hemisphere. The immersion of oneself into an authentic cultural experience is a crucial aspect of autoethnographical research (Ellis et al. 2011), hence the discovery of and plans to visit the Sri Venkateswara Hindu Temple in Helensburgh will prove to be a fundamental aspect of my cultural experience.

Note: This video depicts the burning of the dead.

My initial experience of Hindu death and burial practices through digital sources has been quite eye opening. The Pashupatinath Temple, depicted above, is Nepal’s most famous Hindu Temple, situated on the Bagmati River in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu. Culturally, these customs are so far removed from the typical death and burial practices I have experienced in Australia. The burning of the dead in public places was initially quite a confronting experience. However, through further research I discovered that within Hinduism death is in fact not viewed as the ‘end’, instead the person’s spirit is freed, and rebirth occurs (soul searching… (just like me!!)). It is amazing how diverse religious practices are around the world, I have often turned a blind eye to them (being the atheist I am), however, as of late I have started to really become intrigued by cultural practices, that thanks to globalisation and the flow of people, have spread on a global scale. Thus, I ultimately hope to really delve into and understand how life and death are viewed within the Hindu religion, compared and contrasted to my own (atheist) experience.

The ultimate goal of this digital artefact is to analyse my personal experiences and hopefully many epiphanies through visiting the temple and immersing myself in online YouTube video sources and academic/news sources. In an attempt to truly understand and communicate this diverse cultural experience with you, I am considering incorporating photographs and self-reflexivity into either an auto-ethnographic vlog or blog series.

Maybe this digital artefact business won’t be so bad after all…

Until next time… 

– Abby 

 

5 comments

  1. Hey, this is a great post! It provided me a lot of insight into Hinduism and the different ways of “burning the dead” and I really enjoyed reading through your experience. What really caught my attention was the burning of the dead in public places and how people did not exactly freak out since it was viewed as not the end of their life but rather a person’s spirit being freed and re-birthed. I never would have thought of it that way.

    Ellis et al (2011) suggests that authors should be aesthetic and evocative to engage readers and bring readers to the scene. I believe you have done this extremely well with the video and real-life pictures you have provided!

    I’ve only been to several small death ceremonies here in Australia, so I don’t have too much experience and have had only been exposed to a western style ceremony. Do you think that there are some of the burning rituals would happen here in Australia at these temples?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your writing skills clearly transfer over quite well into autoethnography – the post flows naturally through the autoethnographical process. Using the epiphanies sparked by your Mother’s photographs as the starting point gives the narrative a personal connection. This in turn enables your description to both show and tell, as per the guidelines set by Ellis et al.

    Stepping the reader through your research process is helpful in building the narrative and is something I wish I’d utilised more in my own post. It’s a tight piece of autoethnography, and it’s sparked my curiosity on the regulation of such practices here in Australia, that led me to this link –

    https://www.southasia.com.au/2015/03/06/hindus-australia-first-funeral-pavilion/

    It seems cremation is more common as open funeral pyres are not legal.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Abby,

    A really great read and introduction to your topic for the digital artefact. I completely agree that this subject truly has been eye opening and admittedly a little challenging, but I’m enjoying the process!

    This sounds like such a fascinating focus area to explore and while it’s something I know very little about, I’m really excited to read what you come up with and follow along with your research as it unfolds for the rest of semester. Drawing on your personal experience with the photos your mum took is a really great example of auto-ethnographic research, as you say, and this is furthered by Ellis et. Al. when they write that “auto-ethnographers recognize the innumerable ways personal experience influences the research process” (2011). Visiting the temple will also be a great way to engage with the culture on a more personal, tangible level.

    Here’s an article I found with a little insider knowledge about the temple – some light reading if you were interested! https://www.broadsheet.com.au/sydney/food-and-drink/article/local-knowledge-sri-venkateswara-canteen

    Liked by 1 person

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