No matter what’s happening in the world, it doesn’t seem to get inside the walls that bound the Social Welfare Center’s Home for the Elderly at Pashupatinath. This old home for the elderly was built as the Panchdeval Pakshala during the reign of King Surendra Bir Bikram Shah during the mid- to late 19th century. Situated amidst the temples of the famous Hindu temple complex, this place seems to manipulate time. Once you enter the premises of the Briddhasram at Pashupathinath you can’t help but feel like you are transcended time back at least half a century or more, to a place where the world moves very slowly.
You see as many as a sixty grey haired elderly citizens doing nothing but spending blissful moments basking in the sun for hours in the courtyard and on the shrine platform. Some curious eyes follow you as you walk pass the welfare gate. One of them is busy reading a book and the other is trying hard to bend and dust off his trousers. All you hear is the steady sound of the wheeled metallic support of an elderly with crippled feet and a faint sound of a TV somewhere in the background playing a Nepali song. The residents of the home don’t talk much to each other, which gives you an aura of wilderness where no word is spoken; but they really live for each other. For some it is a depressing scene to see people at the end of life, away from family, living in the Briddhasram. But for many, this is a place where they seek refuge from an ever speeding life and feel satisfied enough simply helping and sharing talk with the older citizens.
Also known as Siddhi Shaligram Briddhashram (Home for the Elderly), the only government sponsored home for seniors lies 4.8 kilometers northeast of the heart of Kathmandu city, surrounded by the Pashupatinath Hindu temple grounds. The temple to Pashupati is a famous pilgrimage for Hindus from around the world, and also an abode for Holy monkeys and of Holy sadhus with tangled hair who come from all across the Indian subcontinent.
With the advancement in medicine people are living longer. This means more old people. In addition, modernization and urbanization are inducing people to adopt luxurious lifestyles. Young people are encouraged to switch from traditional and conventional extended family life, to living in nuclear families. So, the elderly are having hard time, as they are dependent on the breadwinners of the family. Under the nuclear family system, more elderly are on the verge of homelessness. This implies that the shelter for seniors could face a ‘more people/less money’ crisis; but with donations and support from many organizations and well wishers, this barely seems to be a point of concern.
Briddhashram residents consider themselves some of the most fortunate elders in all of Nepal. The center is currently managed by The Woman, Children and Social Welfare Ministry and sustained mostly by donations. In truth, they are fortunate. Persons admitted here receive good food and shelter, and are given clothing twice annually.
This home for the elderly fills one with hope. What gives hope is that although they have lost families and possessions, the residents still care, they care for each other and they retain a deep sense of humanity.