CraSh Williams' Blog

Varanasi – Cremations on the Ganga

Posted by Cool Your Jets IV on September 3, 2011

Varanasi, one of the places I’ve always wanted to visit is a twelve-hour train journey from New Delhi Railway Station – twelve hours pah, having just been to Goa and back, a combined journey time of 60 hours with a full-scale monsoon meeting you the other end, with rain the size of a lake hitting you, twelve hours was going to be a breeze.

Only I was going on my own as Shelley pulled the NRI card having insitsted on staying in Delhi to catch up with friends and family, all of whom were questioning me as to why I’d want to go and visit such a place, moreso during Monsoon – the Ganges would be full to bursting the narrow alleyways full of cow shit and the general filthyness of the place. It has all of this in spades –  like a pigeon taking a dump on you is deemed good luck in the UK, here the same is true of cow-shit. Luckily for me, I’ve managed to tread in it several times…

As for coming here, well for one, it’s one of India’s oldest cities and is situated on the banks of the holy Ganga, or River Ganges – it’s all the place all Hindus go to bathe – absolving them of all previous sin. Also many old people come to die here as it’s the main highway to nirvana – you see them sitting there, praying to die with their wife in the background telling them to jump straight in – some look ready to go!

It’s also a place where they carry out cremations next to the river and should you unfortuantely be poor then you’re tossed straight in – there’s many horror stories of floating corpses, mostly headless with eels emerging from the neck though, so far I’m yet to see one!

We did however stumble across a cremation, two in fact – the first one was looking a tad small and we actually passed it by not realising that particular pyre had been underway for several hours and all that was left was a torso (we were told that the male torso is usually the last thing to burn and for women, the hips.) Bumping into a guy ‘…I want no money from you, honest guv…’ he gave us the grand tour and in actual fact turned out to be the owner of the ‘burning-business’ at this particular ghat. It was quite interesting, as mentioned above – if you’ve money, you’re burned, if not, you’re chucked in!

Apparently babies, pregnant woman and holy men are not cremated either, being as they’re pure…

Luckily for us they had one pyre ready to go, a whole bunch of logs with a body covered in a sheet laying across. The head of the family, in this case a young man with his head shaved circled the pyre with fire five times before setting it alight. We watched a while and once the smoke became too much, we were taken above for a grand-stand seat…

Being unable to take photos (though I did snap one before the fire started) we sat and watched as the fire took hold with the body quickly appearing from beneath the burning cloth. To be honest it was all a little surreal – the family don’t actually watch the cremation so there we were, directly above watching it all take place, us, the owner, couple of kids and a cow.

It didn’t take long and before too long the owner commented about a charity around the corner selling silk with some of the profit going towards wood for the poor fold… To be polite we went to look but none of it really appealed so we made our excuses and left, much to the dismay of the guy looking to make some commission.

Later today, along with Luis, a guy I met on the train – an American whose family are Mexican, are heading out to take a dip in the Ganges – not that I’m religious or anything like that but should I choose to get all religious at some point in my life, at least I’ve been in…

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2 Responses to “Varanasi – Cremations on the Ganga”

  1. toogreytogrind said

    Ganga looks dirty and that’s before you’ve washed away your sins!

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