Day 15 – Monday – We are off to Varanasi after lunch. The forty minute flight to the holiest city of the Hindu cities is pleasant as can be expected. The city was known as Bernares during the British occupation.
We have arrived. The airport is beautiful. It was paid for by all of the tourists coming to see the erotic statues. The city was built at the confluence of the Varni and Asi Rivers.
In the afternoon we took three cars down to the river. The traffic is impossible and impassible. Top speed, a snail’s pace. good part, great views of everything for a long time. Easy photo taking.
It took us an hour to go two kilometers in town with bikes, motorcycles, cars and pedestrians walking all over. Don’t forget the cows, watch out!
We reached the river and walked through the throng of people. Prayers and music were blaring. We walked up to where they do the cremations. It is eerie and beautiful at the same time.
It is the oldest continuously occupied city in the world. It has a written history going back 4000 years. It is the city where people come to die so that they might be cremated and placed in the sacred River Ganges.
There are many old folks homes here so that the elderly can die here. Pilgrims come here from every part of the country. People bath in the river at the ghats, (stairway) to wash away their sins and to begin a fresh new year.
There are endless temples for all to pray in as they arrive here at the holiest of rivers. The sacred light ceremony of aarti is performed here by the priests all along the river on raised platforms.
The word aarti means complete love. The Sadhus or monks perform the ceremony with a candle. The light was passed over a deity’s statue in the distant past as a sign of love and respect. Remember, there are thousands of Hindu goods. It is complicated to an outsider.
The small boats on the river are not available while we are here. There has been a strike as the government has crated larger boats which threaten the lively hoods of the small boat operators. We will walk among the people tonight and tomorrow night, which is New Years.
Two hundred or more people are cremated here everyday. There is the traditional wood cremation and the more modern gas type. There are many families here with their dead and they are sending them off to the great mystery. It is a complicated emotional time, I’m sure. Their family member’s suffering is over and they are off to the great reward. Yet those remaining are sad as they say goodby to their family member or good friend. Sadly, that is life.
If you die in Varanasi, you do not reincarnate.
We are off to the hotel for New Years dinner. Tomorrow morning we will be back here again to see the morning prayers.