Varanasi is widely spoken of as the holiest city of all to the Hindu faithful. Here, the democracy of that faith’s theology – and its contradictions -are evident.
The ultimate leveler – meaning the final, permanent, uncompromising end – of all, of every one, regardless of faith or the lack thereof – is the fate we share. Regardless of the station in life to which one is born or achieves – sooner or later, each and every one of us will die and leave our physical remains to the living.
In the western world, a famous poem says, “the paths of glory lead but to the grave.”
Here, in Varanasi, the ideal end is in a rosewood pyre whose ashes will be scattered by the wind or dumped into the Ganges. Those whose survivors do not pay up to 20,000 Rupees for that privilege may be put in a shroud and floated out on the Ganges. (We’ll return to that alternative, and some of its consequences, in a subsequent post.)
To a Hindu, either method, done in acciordance with their beliefs, releases the spirit from the tedious cycle of reincarnation of life that begins and ends in pain. The spirit ascends directly and permanently to the highest plane.
These photos of pyres at the Manikamika Ghat were shot from the balcony of the nearby Scindhia Guest House.
In the post, further along, entitled “Dawn on the Ganges” the same site is seen in photos taken less than 5 minutes into the morning boat tour.
For more information about this practice, here are links to three excellent resources: