Varanasi - India
One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Varanasi is located on the banks of the most sacred river in Hinduism – The River Ganges. Varanasi, the holiest of cities in India is one of the most important pilgrimage destinations for Hindus. Among the five most polluted rivers on earth, pilgrims from all over India come to Varanasi’s ghats to wash away their sins with holy water. In the open air of the burning ghats corpses are cremated day and night in the public presence. To die in Varanasi and in the Ganges one can be liberated from the cycle of birth and death – “moksha”
Varanasi once known as Kashi – “City of Life” - is a fascinating place. It was a fascinating experience to go to the gaths in early morning to watch pilgrims practice puja (respect) and worship their gods. They pray and offer flowers and float clay dishes filled with roses and a lit candle. The water from the Ganges is not only pure but also to purify. Pilgrims come to bath and to cleanse away a lifetime of sins; they drink the water and wash their clothes; they depart taking holy water to use in religious rituals back home.
The Manikarnika Ghat is one of the most important places for Hindus to be cremated. The details of cremation are based on hereditary class since Hinduism still applies the caste system. Piles of various kinds of wood are precisely weighed so that the price of cremation can be determined. Each type of wood has a different price. Sandalwood is the most expensive among others. Corpses brought to the river on bamboo stretchers and covered in fabric are burned. The ash remains are than collected wherein the closest male relative than disperses it into the holy river. Now the free spirit is encouraged to pass to the other world.
It was an unforgettable experience to watch all this. At first I did not know what to think or feel. When I touched the holy water of the Ganges and lighted a small float clay I felt deeply touched and connected with India. In my last day in the country I took a boat ride trough the Ganges and I felt an incredible peacefulness.