This time in Varanasi we stayed very near to Harishchandra Ghat and invariably spent evenings sitting on the steps of the ghat. Taking a seat on the steps of Ghat and watching the life and death happening around you is an incredible experience. Usually in all other cities the crematoriums are kept away from the bustling life around by erecting high walls etc. Death is not allowed to be mingled with life but in Varanasi it’s entirely different. Here life and death co-exist.

Boys played cricket on the steps and their boisterous shouting echoed in the atmosphere intermittently, hawkers sold their items, groups of people sat sipping tea, playing cards, tourists and pilgrims walked across continuously and in close proximity a pyre was lit, the flames leapt into the air, sparks sprang around and a body was being disintegrated into ashes. Family members stood around waiting while other mourners sat silently on the steps. Another corpse lay on the earth near water, wrapped in white cloth.  Relatives stood near it while woods were being piled to get the pyre ready. A crowd of people with a corpse wrapped in red saree were descending the steps.  A boat laden with logs of woods was drifting in waters towards Manikarnika Ghat perhaps. The ashen grey sky on the other bank of the river appeared to be closing in. Watching all this some how I did not feel disturbed, rather a feel of calm acceptance slowly spread within. Watching a corpse burn away on the ghats as if is like burning away the fear. It’s like burning away the trash, the apprehension piled inside. My own reaction left me intrigued rather than disturbed.

Why was it so?  Why I felt differently about death there on the ghats of Varanasi. Perhaps because here death is not shunned. It’s not kept apart. The smells of death here mingle inseparably with the smells of life. Death is here for everybody to see and life along ghats move on, gazing at the subtle smoke rising from the funeral pyre I was getting attuned to death. Ever presence of death midst the bustling life initiate us to confront/face our morality. It did not scare me. It did not frighten me rather this ever exposure to death somehow felt like preparing me to accept our transient morality. It initiates us to face the reality. Encourage us to live life to it’s fullest. To embrace life in a way where it is not consumed by the fear of death.

Varanasi is a place where people come to breathe their last. It is a staunch Hindu belief that dying here in Varanasi ensures freedom from the cycles of rebirth. Hindus from far and near arrive here and await their end. Some go on with their daily routine of taking bath in the holy river, praying and worshiping while waiting for the end. Others, who are too weak and incapacitated just keep lying and praying to Lord to free them from the bondage of life.

Here we learn to live side by side with death while everywhere else we run away from death. Here death for us is not merely an abstract concept but  a visually real presence. Death is deeply ingrained in everyday life.

The diesel fumes belched out of engines of wooden boats carrying laughing and enjoying tourists mix with the smoke rising from the funeral pyre, the rituals of getting blessings of mother Ganges by newly wed couples are performed side by side the cremation rituals..it somehow imparts the essential meaning of life…the harmony in juxtaposition.

Karl jung said when man’s conscious thinking is in harmony with the deep truths of unconscious revealed in mythology, fear of death is no longer overwhelming. Being comfortable with one’s own morality one can release the anxiety of death.

 

and I felt perhaps liberation means being free from the anxiety of death. Varanasi  truly does liberate.

for nam12

 

 

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Manikarnika Ghat also known as mahashamshan. literally means huge crematorium

 

 

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on Harishchandra ghat in front of a temple of goddess this fire burn continuously perhaps a pyre symbolically

 

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stairs leading to the idol of goddess above. Dogs are always present here. Looking at them I remembered the story of king Harishchandra.The ghat is dedicated to this king. When Satyavadi raja Harishchandra gave away his whole kingdom and had to work as an assistant to a dome[a person looking after the affairs at the cremation ground}, a faithful dog always gave him company. Are these dogs still keeping on the tradition of their ancestor……

 

 

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Boat carrying logs for pyre……death making a way for living

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show must always go on

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benaras1

Shiva’s Kashi

 

All the pictures courtsey Sunder Iyer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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