Sunset & Sunrise in Varanasi, India’s Oldest & Holiest City.

varanasi, india

The city of Varanasi (var-ah-nah-see) is right up there with Jerusalem for the “Holiest City Award.” The Christians and Jews get Jerusalem and the Buddhists and Hindus heart Varanasi. (Wiki here)

For Buddhists, the area is an important landmark in the history of the Buddhist religion because after obtaining enlightenment, Lord Buddha went to Sarnath, Varanasi to deliver his first sermon and set in motion the Wheel of Law.

For Hindus, Varanasi and the Holy River Ganges, is the holiest city of them all – and you feel it. Thousands of Hindus make spiritual pilgrimages to the “Ghats” (riverside stairs) of the Ganges River each day to bathe in the holy river water, participate in elaborate ritual ceremonies and to cremate their loved ones in the most holy way possible.

To submerge ourselves as much as possible in Varanasi, we did two boat rides that perfectly corresponded with our final moments in India. A sunset tour on our last evening and starting our last day in India at dawn on the Ghats.

SUNSET

Each night at Dasawamedh Ghat near the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, young Hindu priests perform a ritual ceremony with candles, incense, bells and chanting. Both up and downstream are the official cremation sites.

Because of Varanasi’s holy status, people will intentionally make their way towards the city at the end of their life so that they die there. Once a Hindu has passed on, they’re to be cremated as quickly as possible. The cremation ceremony is very traditional and sacred. The men from the family carry their loved ones body down to the riverside, where the body is wrapped in a sheet and then submerged in the holy water of the river. The body is then brought up to the Ghat (steps) to dry while the family prepares a wood-burning fire (300 kilos per body). Once the body is dry, it is cremated and the ashes are collected and then spread at sea. For the following 12 days, the soul of the person travels to afterlife while the family and loved ones grieve. Then, on the 13th day, when he/she arrives in the final afterlife, the entire family reconvenes for a celebration. Note: this process is not done for children under the age of 12 or pregnant women.

To see this process in person is both jarring and fascinating. You can see the multiple fires from the distance and as you get closer… it’s just surreal.

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it’s hard to capture in a photograph but there are hundreds of kites in the air.

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danny snapped this of me after a 6-minute car ride to lunch turned into a (frustrating) three hour journey. we never made it to the restaurant we wanted, but at 5:05pm we arrived at “lunch” which was our first meal of the day. gotta love language barriers & mis-communications. oh, and that nobody can read a map!
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{after surrendering to the fact that we’d never make it, we had to ease our frustrations by turning the nightmare situation into a game. we had wagers on the time we’d actually arrive and/or eat food that day. i won}.
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our rooftop view from dinner at Dolphin Restaurant before the boat ride. we decompressed & watched lots of monkeys play.

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on the Ghats (steps) getting ready for the evening ceremonies.
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one of the most sacred cremation sights. the fires are cremations. intense.
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back on the main steps to watch and listen to the nightly ceremony – a lot of bell ringing. varanasi, india varanasi, india
people travel from all over the world for this moment.
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even the holy cows want in on the action. this guy claimed himself a nice spot on the ghats.

 

SUNRISE

Right before dawn, you’ll hear Hindu temple bells ring to wake the Gods. Once the Gods are awake and the sun has risen, you can eat your first meal of the day. Dawn on the Ghats is bustling with activity. Each day, thousands of people head to the Ghats to practice yoga, bathe in the holy water, pray, do laundry and obsevaranasi, india

varanasi, india

varanasi, india

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watching the sun start to peak over the horizon.

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our vessel.

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morning cremation site. it’s a weird feeling to be allowed to watch something so personal as a tourist. but hey, that’s just the way it is. we were pretty caught off guard (and turned off) when a gentleman offered to give us a paid “tour” of one of the neighboring hospice-type places where the elderly are waiting to pass on. sad.

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laundry the old fashioned way… beat on a rock and lay out to dry. 100% those are someone’s hotel sheets. varanasi, india
queue the beatles…”here comes the sun…”

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our last morning in india… we made it.

 

And a totally random Varanasi fact for you music peeps: Norah Jones was born there.

1 Comment

  • Reply March 6, 2014

    Elaine

    Having breakfast with your dad tomorrow.

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