Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Return from Crematorium

A bewildering array of sights assailed us on our boat ride back to Assi Ghat.

1) The sales boat full of necklaces and other good to sell to tourists (by now it was 7:15 am).

2) The peaceful dip of the oar in the water as our boatman, Bhajnad, rowed the five of us.

3) Men and women washing clothes by whacking them on rocks.

4) Bhajnad, who turned out to be 75 years old and the father of four boys and three girls. May we all be as strong and healthy at 75! Apparently that requires a lean diet and lots of exercise.

5) I noticed several dogs in a group along the bank of the Ganga and quickly took a photo of them, wanting to show Indian dogs to my kids who own a chihuahua, Welsh corgi, and mutt.

But a few seconds later, Karen realized what the dogs were doing: tearing at a human corpse that must have washed ashore from the river.

A half hour earlier our guide had explained that five kinds of deceased persons are not cremated. The first four are wrapped in a cloth and placed in the river with a stone to make them sink:
-----children (who are pure and do not need to be cremated. "They are like flowers we give to the river," he explained.)
-----pregnant women (they are carrying the innocent and are therefore pure).
-----holy men (who have no house, no money and are therefore pure).
-----persons who died of leprosy. They had bad karma in this life, so Mother Ganga receives them whole and cleanses their bodies. They forget their bad life and are reborn in a new pregnancy.

The fifth category of deceased persons not cremated is those bitten by cobra. These people are not really dead. They are placed in a banana leaf boat and the wrapped body with a note attached to it ("This person died of snake bite") is floated downstream to a jungle area. There the people take out the poison and the person comes back to life.

The corpse being attacked by dogs must have fallen into one of these categories. Or perhaps another group: my guide book says that "the poor who cannot afford to buy firewood just float their corpses down the river." Good Earth Varanasi City Guide ed. Swati Mitra, 2002.

I felt nauseated. Why had I agreed to this boat ride? I had wanted another peaceful, meditative morning on the Ganga.

6) A more bucolic scene, Brahman bull and little dog, on steps above the river.

7) People bathing and pouring water into the Ganga from brass pots.

8) A woman washing clothes in a tub of water on the steps of the Ganga.

9) View back down the river toward where we had been.

10) Our boatman, Bhajnad, with one of his sons and a granddaughter.

No comments: