12.01.2008 - 12.01.2008 12 °C
There is no way for me to really describe what it is like in Varanasi. I will leave that to others who have a greater ability with the written word. People say that time in India has changed their lives in a deep and profound way. To this point, I have found India to be exotic, exciting and an intense experience for all my senses. Varanasi however, has been an experience that I feel has changed my perception of life, and death for that matter.
This mornng we took a boat ride along the Ganges at daybreak. It was visually exhilerating to see the activities along the ghats while the sun was rising. People doing their morning ritual baths, performing yoga, washing their clothes, and chanting. I was snapping away with my camera, my head dizzy with so many sights to take in at one time.
Our guide, Papuu, then told us that we were approaching the ghat where the "poor" people are cremated and that we should not take any photos. We approached very close to the shore and the first sight I saw were men raking the ashes of last nights cremations into baskets, bringing them down to the Ganges and dipping them into the river to sift for any jewelry or stones that have not melted or been destroyed during the cremation process. It took me a minute or so to realize that only fifteen feet or so behind this activity was a family preparing their mother and wife for cremation. The pyre was already prepared, the body was first wrapped in white cloth and then shrouded in a more decorated and colored fabric. I watched what appeared to be the husband of this women so carefully and gently unwrap the womens face and wash her with the waters from the Ganges. The way he so tenderly held her head and stroked her face showed the obvious love he had for her. The rest of the family stood by quietly and somber.
I felt like we were intruding in a very personal moment and did not want to watch the actual cremation process take place. Somehow it felt different last night watching four or five cremations taking place at one time with the fires lighting up the sky. From the boat last night it seemed like a spectacle with lots of viewers along the ghat taking it in. One body after another was marched down to the ghat and stacked on the steps awaiting their turn. It did not hit me as hard then as we somehow felt removed and distant from the process.
This morning however, I felt that I was an intruder at a very special moment in this family's lives. The closeness to the rite and the ability to see it so clearly during daylight made the sight personal and human.
I often think about the process by which I want to leave this earth when the time has come. More and more, I see cremation as being the better option for me. Coming to Varanasi and viewing the process and all the many rituals associated with it has given me a great deal to reflect upon. Varanasi is said to be the oldest living city in the world, over 6000 years old. I think of how many cremations have taken place through the ages here with husbands and fathers and brothers, washing, stroking and caressing the faces of their loved ones as they part with them.
I close this entry with a photo that has no relevance to the subject matter that i wrote about today. Just a womans portrait that I liked alot.