Varanasi, Where Bodies Burn

Varanasi, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, is the spiritual capital of India.  Thousands of Hindus make a pilgrimage here to bathe in the holy waters of the Ganges River and perform funeral pujas (ceremonies).  It is believed that bathing in the Ganges (the 2nd most polluted river in the world) will wash away all of one’s sins.  It is also believed that placing someone’s cremated ashes or body in the river will release them from the cycle of reincarnation (called ‘moksha’), thus avoiding returning to Earth in the next life as an Indian street dog.  Rituals surrounding the cremation take place along the ghats all day, every day with up to 300 bodies being burned daily at the main ‘burning ghats’.  If you stop and watch for a while, you’ll see body after body go into the pyres.  You can observe people burn from as close as 30 feet away in some ghats.  Bodies wrapped in orange and gold shrouds are carried down to the riverbed, dipped into the river, clothing is removed minus a white gauzy wrap, and then set onto the fire.

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