Friday, March 31, 2017
Varanasi again. This may be overload, but I will only be here once and the culture fascinates me. At the river, we continued watching the bathers. Some soap up, others swim.
There are no rules. If this were the U.S., guards would be making you stand your turn in-line and directing you to go this way or that and keeping order.
Thousands of people on this river every day, bathing, and burning and depositing ashes. The government has to dredge ashes and move them out to sea.
Before we leave the boats, we pass the laundry. All that bathing, towels, and a change of clothes.
Untouchables do laundry. Our guide tells us the great fault of their religion is the caste system that designates children born of untouchable parents cannot change their lot. (An excellent book about the fate of an untouchable woman is, "The Space Between Us", by Thrity Umrigar.
On shore, people are setting up for business. In back, on the steps, people eating breakfast.
Long and steep stairs are covered with water during monsoon up to where the railing ends. Cremations move up with the river.
On shore, I see cell phones in use everywhere. In my hometown, in the grand USA, I do not get a dependable signal for a cell phone. I use it from my car when I travel.
A girl hides in the corner, her crippled feet wrapped in rags. A women gives her food. My entire time in India, I never heard a word spoken in anger.
Among the priests, there is no uniform clothing.
And if someone casually sits on your ghat to rest, no one seems to mind.
The priests have various markings on their foreheads, what they stand for I don't know.
Two makeshift barbershops. They shave their heads to honor a loved or maybe to be part of a cremation ceremony.
Those anointed have horizontal or vertical marks. Our guide tells us they indicate something about the person, maybe cast, or what sect they belong to?
A simple gesture, its meaning clear; but there was no hostility or anger because I aimed my camera at him.
The cobra handler's eyes mesmerize, intense.
The musical instrument he plays looks more like a pop gun, but the snake is flared.
Instruments are rudimentary, home-made and for sale. Interesting shapes. They didn't wake up his well fed dogs.
When we arrived in the cold, early morning, this bull was asleep on the steps. Someone anointed him.
We walk back to the bus. Ranvir points out the pilgrims headed for the river are barefoot.
This group of women were laughing and giggling.
I asked what was so funny. It seems one of them had broken her shoe.
Breakfast or lunch is ready.
Hefting their wares closer to the river for sale.
A young father with his son. We reach the parking area and load into the bus.
On the way home, Ranvir asks the bus to slow down so we can see a typical laundry. The main necessity, a steady source of water.
After lunch, some visit a silk rug shop. I was hoping the first rug shop would show the entire process. The removal of the silk worm larvae, winding the fibers, dying the fibers and then weaving rugs. I've seen it before, but Theo has been sleeping a lot and chose to stay in his room.
The bus took us for an afternoon visit to a Buddhist Museum. That next.
Thursday, March 30, 2017
From Khajuraho, we took a 40 minute plane ride to Varanasi and checked into our hotel. Because we leave before dawn to see the religious festival that attracts thousands of pilgrims to the sacred River Ganges, Ranvir asked to host our farewell dinner a night early. First a concert by two excellent musicians. The drum sounds like a deep throated bull frog between taps with hands and sticks.The stringed instrument emits high pitched notes our ear is not used too. Not easy to play, both men worked up a sweat while playing.
We dress up for dinner. Theo has a nice tie and a shirt with a collar.
Dinner is fast paced with food coming at you in waves of various smoked meats and vegetable dishes, sauces and exotic combinations. Adam told this great story of his college days at Cambridge. He would enter a pub and have a drink, then challenge anyone to eat three boiled eggs, without liquid to wash them down, faster than he could drink a flagon of beer. The loser paid for his beer for the evening. He always won. My son Doug would pull a similar trick. As a carpenter, his challenge was that he could pound 10 3-penny nails into the end of a piece of 2 x 4 in ten seconds. He always drank free.
Before dawn, the bus takes us where permitted and then we walk to the river. Everyone is bundled up and we take in the ever changing panoply of street people.
Beggars hoping for a handout.
This is our guide hailed by a holy man with white paint who anoints him with a red dot on his forehead. Our guide took us through a narrow alleyway shortcut. Motors and walkers in tight quarters squeeze past each other. He warned, stick together like glue. Theo wasn't feeling well and stayed in.
We load into boats and view everything from the river. They cremate 150 to 200 bodies a day on the Ganges River.
We watch the sun come up and view the bank where the cremations take place, from the boat.
It takes 200 to 300 kilograms of wood for one traditional cremation. The body is placed in the middle, covered in branches of sweet smelling herbs, then covered the rest of the way. It costs the equivalent of $6000 American for a traditional burial. Most people must use the electric, or in some communities, gas crematoriums, which are cheap.
In this picture, the man in white with a shaved head is the one who lights the fire for his father. (Or, brother, or wife, or son.) He walks around the funeral pyre three times clockwise, and three times counter clockwise before he torches. Notice the man, lower right corner, carrying a huge pan full of ashes on his head. The untouchables will go through the ashes and collect anything of value like gold fillings, or gold fibers before delivering the ashes to the river.
Here you see the body coming in under the red blsnket. Under that is the body covered in a saffron robe with gold fibers. It is removed and along with the pallet thrown into a separate fire. Taking pictures of a cremation is forbidden, our guides tells us.
This body is getting a dip in the Sacred River before cremation. Pregnant women, infants, people who died of snake bite, people who have leprosy or anyone who renounces faith will not be cremated. Women are no longer allowed to attend cremations because they would often throw themselves into the fire to go to a better place with a loved one. The government forbids that now.
The festival is very spiritual. It isn't only about cremation. On the riverside are ghats where people register their dead, and arrange for prayers and a proper entrance into the hereafter.
This man is performing his own ritual with the candles, flowers, fire and bells.
The participants sometimes get into a state of ecstasy or trance.
Each ghat has a priest who records the death for the government and performs the ritual for his customer. The government records births and deaths now. Ranvir tells us that at one time, a person could go to his village priest and he would have the records of your father, your grandfather and whoever died before him, handed down from a former priest. This city is 4,000 years old and death is a cause for celebration.
The Ganges is a mecca for pilgrims to come and take a ritual dip and cleansing in the sacred waters.
Some may travel across the country and make it once in a lifetime to the Ganges. Others come every year.
Bathers are everywhere. Some bring vessels to take the precious water home with them.
Bathing and lighting a ceremonial fire for a loved one departed.
The process is fascinating.
Men and women bath together.
These women sought a bit of privacy among the boats.