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Chasing Varanasi

by on January 19, 2011

VaranasiMy last visit to Varanasi- the holiest cities of the country was overall an interesting affair. Thousands of Hindu pilgrims visit Varanasi every year to wash away their sins in the holy Ganges waters. It’s actually difficult to describe in words the images I saw, the emotions I felt – void and empty as I walked along the ghats. Then the smells of foul waters, the images of naked people bathing, the sounds of beating drums and hymns are truly an overdose to senses.

Anything and everything is done around the holy river here – life seems to start and end there. Buffalos soaking in waters, locals brushing their teeth or quenching their thirst all through the day, washing of clothes along the ghats, children playing cricket, men swimming for exercise, women getting their heads bald and offering hair to the sacred Ganges, all of these are a common site. Each individual seeks some kind of “spiritual” enlightenment by performing all these actions. But at the same time, everyone must go by its daily life. Meals must be cooked. Clothes must be washed. Money must be earned.

Varanasi Ghats

One main ghat you will surely not able to forget for whole of your life is Marnikarnika ghat – commonly known as “burning ghat”. It is a crematorium where dead bodies are burnt. Photography is completely prohibited here. Once the bodies are fully burnt, its ashes are thrown into the sacred Ganges. Burning fires is a common scene here and about 200 bodies can be cremated once in a day here. Every Hindu possesses the right to be buried in this respectable way. A special kind of wood must be bought to burn the body- one which prevents the smell of decaying bodies and burning hair. Before burning, bodies are wrapped in gold silk and orange or red cloth. Well, not all people are cremated. Children under the age of 10, holy men, pregnant women and leppers are thrown directly into the river with rocks tied to their limbs to serve as anchors. Innumerous sick and elderly people come to Varanasi so as to die close to the ghats, thereby seeking cleansing of their souls for afterlife.

Prior to the burning ceremony, the corpses are first bathes with holy waters of Ganges, which is the last cleansing bath. Once it is done, the bodies are put on the piles of wood, specially selected one. Only male member of family and friends can be close to the body – it’s believed that women are too weak, emotional to hold on their grief. They just stand afar and mourn. The family members take five circles of the corpse before lighting the fire, once for every element (sun, water, air, earth and fire).

Well, no words in this world can describe the pain of seeing all this…really painful. Hard to digest, the pain of life! The same waters serve as a source of life for hundreds daily and also take in its arms the ashes of the dead. A river both respected and worshipped at the same time, this is what Ganges is all about. Truly, in a country like India, things are just that way….

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