Dying the good death

 

Varanasi has a deep and lingering association with death, it is possibly the most famous aspect of the city. Unlike other Indian cities where cremation grounds are seen as inauspicious, and located on the outskirts, in Varanasi, the two sites for cremation are thronged by tourists.

 

Manikarnika ghat, the larger and busier of the two burning ghats, is located right at the centre of the stretch along the river Ganga – the proverbial navel of the city. According to the city's mythology, all creation was birthed here and at the end of time the corpse of creation will burn here too. In the present, the heat, chaos, and level of activity make the atmosphere less sombre. In Hindu belief, the shedding of tears hinders the passage of the soul; a show of grief is ritually anathema. The experience for most visitors is meditative, not sentimental. The world whirls around the dead, tea is sold, wood is cut, men stand around and chat, dogs stretch, bark and nap, as multiple pyres burn simultaneously. Those involved in the business of cremation often say how you won’t feel grief here, that this place is beyond rules, that liberation here is not just for the dead, but for the land itself.