Uttar Pradesh, India
January, 2023

  The water is full of orange flowers, pieces of white cloth, green leaves, plastic garbage, human ashes. Puppies walk around the burning ghat, old dogs are sleeping all over, under the sun. Sometimes cows make their way through the dead bodies, but most of the time they just lay down anywhere, watching the ceremony. One old sheep with messy hair stays at the entrance of the temple, where the eternal fire never stops burning. On the sky - lots of kites, all colors, small in size. On the other shore - sand and camels. This shore - lots of burning feet, birds, and kites. Plastic transparent strings from the kites get stuck in between the legs while walking. It's a mess, but so powerful and strong. Hundreds of people watch the cremations. Mostly indians, and no women, except one or two tourists. My stomach is turned upside down, inside out, something is not well. I guess it's the smell of dead bodies, or the half burnt legs I saw. Or the view of dead bodies in the water, being washed and prepared for the cremation.
    Next to me a few people hold something wrapped in white cloth. It’s very small, perhaps thirty, forty centimeters. They tie it with rope to a flat heavy stone. They are very solemn, serious, touched. They handle it with so much care. Tie it well. Underneath the white cloth is a small sweater, green and yellow patterns. Then I realise. Baby sweater. Baby. They prepare the tiny tiny dead body of a new born baby. To take it on the river and to drop it in the water. They spend some time saying some prayers, then they carry the heavy stone to a boat near by. The new born babies, children, and pregnant women are never burned. They are wrapped in white cloth, tied to heavy stones, taken on the river, then let to sink down in the Ganges. Back in the main ghat, dead bodies are burning on all available piles of wood. They burn for two or three hours, then other dead bodies come. They are all waiting their turn. Silently.

    The hair cut, beard shaved. The body wrapped in white cloth, laid down on bamboo sticks, covered with shinny orange fabrics. Then it’s carried to the water by the family. They wash the body, then bring it back, put it on the pile of wood. The older son gets his hair shaved, with a small exception - a small flock of hair in the back of the head. He wears a white cloth covering his waist. He brings fire from the temple with eternal fire, and goes around the body performing the proper ritual, then sets it on fire. Safron water and ghee are poured on the dead body, from a flemsy plastic bag. They shake it all on top. The fire then burns stronger. After everything is finished, only ashes, some people are searching for gold. They collect earings, rings, all sort of jewels that the dead person might have had, in metal bowls, to sell them later.
    Next to me, on the other side, a bamboo stick is prepared with butter. It looks like a human, but with bamboo arms and bamboo legs. The family lost the body, so they are going to burn the stick instead.

    The hindus believe anyone who is cremated here goes straight to heaven. So it’s so busy, dead bodies are burning all day and all night. Bodies are coming from Varanasi, but also from the rest of the country. Old people approaching death, from any corner of India, come here to die. In this holy place.
    The smell of the dead bodies reminds me of the smell of burning pigs in winter at the countryside, back home in Romania. Paper cups are everywhere on the ground. Also brown spits, from the drugs the locals are chewing.
    I feel dizzy and weak. Ashes are flying in the air, they land on my skin, in my eyes. They bring me tears of ashes. It’s very strong to be here. It’s a perfect place to meditate on impermanence and death. The cycle of life and death. Here you see clearly that when death comes, there is no discrimination. Everyone dies, definitely, completely, wealth and reputation don’t help in any way.  May these beings around me go where they want to go after their death. May they be happy. May this work, may they go to heaven, or any wonderful place they wish for.


© raisa iubinescu 2024