I am in the City of the Dead

In my iPod: Everything Changes - Staind
State of mind: feels like dancing
Location: Varanasi, India

I may not have been to all the cities in the world but I dare say that Varanasi is one of the cities that I will never forget. As I mentioned in my earlier posts, Varanasi is a holy city, the Jerusalem of India; its streets are crowded with life; a city that is filled with bright colors, culture and bhangs (*slurpss); it has so many temples that it is possible to dedicate more than one temple to each day of the year. Yet it is impossible not to say that this city is an ancient city of the dead that still stands even to this day in our modern world.

The fucking Hindus believes that Varanasi is the most auspicious place to die; shit loads of Hindus comes to spend their dying days here or have their fucking bodies brought from all over the country to be cremated and fucking tossed into the Ganga. They believe that when they die and are cremated at Varanasi; they will achieve the state of Moksha which means being liberated from the life cycle of re-incarnation.

For the fucking Chinese, anything to do with death and funeral is totally not a good omen and they will totally try to avoid crossing path with it or even mentioning it. But when you are in a city where over 250 people are cremated every fucking day, there is almost no chance in hell that you will not see a corpse being cremated and usually along the Ganga, you can see about 10 lines of funeral pyre smoke towering to the sky at any given time. To the fucking locals here, there is nothing morbid about death, cremation, corpses, ashes; it is just a part of life.

Trying to cast aside the superstitious Chinaman in me, I headed down to the Burning Ghat where all the cremation takes place. On my way to witness a funeral process, I walked passed a burning mounds and I saw a human arm on fire; I was told that the wood keeps the bodies from smelling while they burn but I beg to differ.

The first sight of the Burning Ghats is overwhelming, I saw sky scrapping towers of wooden logs being piled together as they await their fate; as I sat there for a good while and watched the essentially aspect of the ritual; holy cows, goats, dogs and monkeys lay around the piles of logs that are to be used in the cremation; the children play happily and swim nearby. As the funeral starts, the body is covered in the most beautiful fabrics which one would expect of India and it is carried by the men working in the Burning Ghats through the winding lanes of the old city. These men working in the burning ghats are apparently outcasts from their society as they are always touching the dead. They are considered the lowest class in their society. Yes even to this day, the fucking Indians here still maintain caste system. Yet the irony part of it all is, even though they are the lowest class in their society, the people still treats them with respect because it is impossible to carry out a funeral without them. One of them told me that even though they are the lowest of the low, yet even the president has to come to him when he is dead.

towers of wooden logs that will be used for the cremation

Upon reaching the Ghat, the family takes the body and immerses it in the river. Once this has taken place, the pyre is built and they will place the body on the pyre. The “outcast” worker of the Ghat would place several more pieces of wood on top of the body and set it alight with the sacred fire that comes from the Holy Fire Temple; which has said to have been kept burning for over 5,000 years. It is believed that the God Shiva himself started this fire.

outcast worker getting the body ready for the cremation

The fucking body takes about three hours to burn. When the fire is out and the body is turned to ashes, the eldest son takes the remains to the Ganges and tosses them in and this would signify the end of the cremation. You know, in all of the queer rituals and customs that I witnessed today, I don't feel that it is gruesome at all, yet it is oddly peaceful.

Some other interesting facts that I gather there while talking to the person around me, I found out that women relatives of the dead are not allowed to come to the Ghat to witness the funerary process because it is believed that crying would disrupt the soul of the deceased and would be bad luck. Another thing that I learned was that not all dead bodies are cremated. Dead bodies of babies, pregnant women, Hindu Sadhus, cows and victims of cobra bites are not to be cremated but are tied to large stone and then thrown into the Ganga.

You know after knowing these facts:

  1. 30 large sewers discharging into it the Ganga;
  2. Over 60,000 pilgrims a day immerse their body into the Ganga over the 7km stretch of Ghats;
  3. Ganga contains 1.5 million faecal coliform bacteria per 100ml and for safe bathing this figure should be less than 500!!! Fuck man, those pilgrims fucking drinks from it, now I see why they will never get food poisoning eating in the dirtiest stall; and
  4. Ganga is the toilet for cows, goats and dogs, the thousands of pilgrims and homeless who live on the streets, resulting in more shit per square meter than you can imagine and simply making it the world's largest toilet.

... I still hold steadfast to act of taking a dip in the great Ganga; but after what I witnessed today, I am thinking twice. Bacterial sewer water filled with human and animal feces are still tolerable to me but I just can't get pass swimming in a fucking soup filled with dead bodies.

xniquet's journey across India