11.01.2008 - 11.01.2008 21 °C
Here is a photo from the first moments we approached the Ganges:
After settling in, we met our guide, Papuu for a brief evening tour by boat to the Cremation Ghat (Ghat means a pier, or landing on a bank of water) and to the eventing Aarti.
He explained how many bodies are either released into the ganges, or thrown in as ashes. The water containes particles from millions and millions of bodies. All who were brought to Varanasi because of the belief that, if their bodies are burned and released into the water, they will not have to go through another cycle of reincarnation. They will be liberated from life. The point at which the Ganges crosses through varanasi is believed to be a sacred spot filled with the power of the God, Shiva.
The boat slowly took us towards the burning pyres. There were about 4 cremations happening simultaneously. Apparently the Bramhin caste is burnt on the top pier. Does that mean their soul gets to reach liberation quicker? i don't think so...Papuu told us that women are not allowed to set foot close to the cremations. They can watch from a boat, in the distance (like me). But it is an ancient belief based on the idea that women are too sensitive to watch the bodies burning.
We then took the boat to the main ghat, where the evening prayers and singing are done (Aarti). Hundreds of people were gathered to watch 7 priests on podiums, leading the prayers, chanting and making offerings with candles and fire. Even though the ritual was beautiful to watch, I was not able to get into a spiritual state of mind. I was pondering how tightly the rules of caste and gender still live on here in Varanasi.
I remembered the conversation I had with Pami about religion, that it is important to allow religion to change in ways that make sense to people. Let go of traditions that are no longer valid, and create new ones to keep religion meaningful.
In the meantime, local kids were hopping from boat to boat, selling small candle offerings. Here is the silhouette of a girl who approached our boat:
A tea vendor also came to our boat, and served hot chai masala in clay cups - which are then tossed into the Ganges as a biodegradable product. I kept mine for memory's sake.
Varanasi is a place that exists in between dimensions. The energy here is intense, full and transformative. It is a blessing to be able to experience it...