Do every Hindus know Varanasi? Of course, I guess! Varanasi is a city on the Ganges River known for its cremations. The Ganges is a holy river which is supposed to come from Shiva’s hair. (Shiva was loved by two sisters and he gave his heart to the first one and his hair to the second…)
We were really impressed by this city. The cremations ceremonies are “different” from everything we saw before. In fact, Varanasi is a holy place for the Death. Every Hindus wish to go to the Nirvana but this stage is usually accessible only after many reincarnations. So, that’s why they put a big importance on the death of the body. The tradition is that bodies are burnt with wood fires. Each body needs 300 kg of wood to burn (and this is really expensive). The dead body is carried in the city by the men of the family until the cremation ghat. Women are not allowed because their tears refrain the spirit to reach the Nirvana. The dead body is first immersed in the Ganges to be purified. The older son of the family puts Ganges water in the mouth of the dead person and then buy the fire in the fire temple. The « untouchable » cast takes care about this fire which is supposed to be 10000 years old. With the fire, the son circles 5 times around the body to represent the 5 elements composing human beings: fire, water, air, earth and karma. The body is put on the wood and they start fire. 3 hours per body are necessary and in Varanasi the two cremation places work 24/7 with an average of 200 people per day. During the cremation, the head of the dead is usually broken (with wood sticks) to help the spirit leave the body. After 3 hours, some parts of the body are not fully burnt. They through everything in the holy water of the Ganges! But 5 “categories” of people are not burnt, but directly put in the Ganges with big stones. It concerns children below 15 years old, pregnant women, holy men (for those men, they are put in Ganges in the lotus position), the lepers and the people who died by accident or crimes. The 3 first “categories” don’t need to burn because they will automatically reach the Nirvana but regarding the lepers and death by accident, nobody wants to burn them because if such a bag thing happened to them, it means that they have a bad karma and nobody wants to have it! It is very interesting to understand this old tradition but it is very weird for us to see burning people or floating bodies (or parts of bodies) in the Ganges! Of course, the Ganges is also a busy living place: people are bathing, praying, washing their clothes… and drinking the water! This water is full of bacteria but it is supposed to have “healing powers”… but as we heard “you need to believe it with your earth and not with your head”. We fully agree, that’s why we didn’t touch the water except with our feet!