Varanasi the oldest city in India, bathed in the holy waters of the Ganges River. Is a city with tiny streets, temples on every corner and bonfires prepared to cremate dead bodies 24 hours a day. All Hindu want to die in this place and do not matter from which place in India they have to come; their families will take his body there or at least its ashes.
A year ago, I had the opportunity to travel to India and live there for five months, it was a very enriching experience for my life. From long time, I have had the dream to travel and have approaches with different cultures and places. Among those, I wanted to meet India, but I never imagined that it would be truth so soon, besides it was missing me four months to finish college and leave everything sounded illogical; but I decided to do it and I do not regret anything.
Varanasi has something very special because it’s where all the rituals related to death of people of Hindu religion are made. This site is visited by thousands of tourists and travelers who are interested in learning and experience how it feels to be there and be witness of such activities. It is a place that exudes tranquility and is far from everything that death represents for Western culture. Varanasi is a city of narrow streets filled with markets, restaurants, temples, yoga centers, silk factories, candy and the best variety of places to drink or eat Lassi, everything just in one side of the sacred waters of the Ganges River. If one day you visit this place you cannot miss going to Blue Lassi Shop is one of the most visited by all the travelers who are in that city, being recognized and named by the best travel guides; it is something like a point meeting. There you can get the best Lassi in all India, being this the most typical drink apart of chai (tea with milk). Lassi is a drink made with natural yogurt and sugar, but also you can get mixed with various fruits and if you want something more, also in some restaurants is very popular get Bhang Lassi (lassi + weed) or as identified in the menus of some restaurants Special Banana Lassi, which is a success.
Besides, Blue Lassi Shop has a plus, because it is located in one of the main streets of the city which is compulsory route to the main burning ghat. So while you enjoy a lassi you can also watch the processions that take place as part of the rituals which occur approximately every 5 to 10 minutes, so you can imagine the number of bodies being burned daily. In these the male relatives of the deceased, carry his body on their shoulders while reciting mantras to purify the soul of the person, preparing to bid farewell.
Hindu people are very open to foreigners and are aware that we are curious people, and we want to know more about them and their habits, so there is no objection to you approach the fires to witness the whole process, as long as you offer them respect and be prudent. Since many tourists and travelers are arriving there daily there are always many people who will be willing to tell stories and explain the whole process in exchange for money, I suggest that if you go and you’re not willing to pay, do not show them interest, so you can avoid problems and bad times.
Apart from the procession and chanting of mantras, the bodies are bathed in the Ganges River to purify and cleanse all evil, wrapped in different fabrics with which they are decorated and covered. Red fabrics represent young women, yellow or gilded fabrics are old women and white fabrics are men; curiously, India is still a country with a population significantly greater in men, however, I observed that most bodies are women. The bodies are submerged with all their jewels, as is tradition in India after marriage, women wear a chain, two earrings, and bracelets in pure gold, because their religion requires it, men wear chain and a ring. Sometimes these fall into the water, then it is very common to see men around with something similar to a colander or sieve looking for these pieces in the water and then sell them in the market.
The body is submerged by the eldest son, who is also obliged to remove all his hair and beard with the intention of being as clean as possible, after the bath on the river, all fabrics that are covering the body are removed from the body and passed to the stake, it is not used any fuel for accelerating the incineration, only wood and sandalwood, that can last about 4 hours. When you approach the fires, you can see in great detail the charred bodies. However in the vibe do not feel sadness and a lot less scary because all the people who are there reflect tranquility, there is no room for crying because they see and accept death as part of life. The female members of the families are prohibited in these places, because there were cases before where wives jumped into the fire to burn themselves alive with their husbands, so because of this were banned. Not all Hindus who die, pass for this ritual, pregnant women, people bitten by cobras or lepers are left in the Ganges River tied to big rocks, as it is believed that these people have not yet completed their goal on earth and can reincarnate or revive.
During the early hours, you can take a boat to watch the sunrise and see rituals from the river, you can also do it in the evening to watch the rituals of light that are performed by local people and incidentally give a wreath to the river to bring good karma. This river is visited not only to meet the life cycle of a person, but also by thousands of people who want to purify their soul. Also local people and some hotels do the laundry there, give to drink to their cattle, among other activities.
Varanasi is an amazing place to spend a quiet time, learn about the culture and the Hindu tradition, drinking Lassi, enjoy incredible rooftops with the Ganges River view and take yoga classes.
Versión en español: Varanasi, entre vivos y muertos