Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Holy City on the Ganges - Varanasi

After a quite exhausting time traveling the bustling cities of Rajasthan, Varanasi set a compelling contrast evaporating an air of holiness and a more tranquil ambience.
For about three days I just wandered through the narrow streets and along the riverbanks, soaking up the specialness of the place.

Varanasi is the holy city to the Hindus, the place they wish to die and be cremated on the Ganges river banks since the soul will then be directly transferred to Nirvana. Upon a recent death families bring their deceased as far as from Delhi or Mumbai to Varanasi and held a cremating ceremony on the Ganges river. The cremating fires never burn out. From our hotel I could see the smoke rising day and night.
A ceremony begins with a procession through the narrow streets of the old town, passing by various shrines and temples, accompanied by citing religious texts and songs. Arriving on the river banks, the corpse, beautifully wrapped in silk and other tissues during the procession, gets unwrapped and is lowered in the Ganges five times (with five symbolizing the four elements on earth and the spirit as a fifth). The corpse is then immersed in butter and loaded with different woods for the cremation. Notably, it is important that the body takes on the fire quickly and burns fast since this allows for a smoother transition to Nirvana. Hence, the choice of wood is important, wealthier families can therefore choose the more expensive woods to guarantee a safe passage over to Nirvana.
Women are not allowed down on the river banks due to their emotional instability (meaning all the crying) since this interferes with the pureness of the moment. There have been reports of women throwing themselves in the fire with their deceased husbands so since then it is formerly prohibited.
After the cremation ceremony the family moves on to a nearby washing ghat to wash themselves in the river, all the while the workers on the burning ghat search the ashes of the deceased for rings of gold or gold teeth before discarding the ashes into the ganges.

In all their holiness the cremation ceremonies are also a reckless business...

Without any further ado, a few pictures from Varanasi, naturally, there aren't any pictures of the burning ghats themselves, respect for the deceased and their family prohibits this.

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