worship

They burn the dead

When a Dom is born, it is said that people weep, they weep for the newborn’s impending life of hardship on one of the bottom rungs of Hindu society.  As an Untouchable, they’re destined for an almost inescapable life of ‘unclean work’ in the community.

In a culture where death is viewed as contagious and touching the deceased as impure, it is the Dom’s job to burn the dead.  They weigh the wood and build the pyre.  On the banks of the holy Ganges, they burn over 70 bodies each day. Using scarves as masks, they walk with heat and smoke.  They bend and break the bones until only ash is left.  After the fire has burned, they sift through the remains for gold teeth and jewellery.

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The Holy City

In the early morning, there is a pocket of time, just as the sun rises, before the crowds descend onto the ghats, before the heat sets in, when the eternal river seems deserted – there is a moment of clarity.

Bodies lie sleeping in the morning cool, a barefoot family undress dutifully and walk in silent admiration to the water’s edge, a few men bathe quietly, drifting with the cleansing current, another prays, eyes closed and cross-legged. It is now, in this moment, a moment that passes in seconds that I can fully feel the holiness of this city, the reverence in the devotees and the sacredness of the flowing river.

A sacred feeling, although it is ever-present, in this moment, it is untainted by crowds, pollution, stray animals, heat or hassle. It is these few seconds that I will remember when I recall the holy city of Varanasi.

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