The taxi drove us to the river bank and agreed to wait for us.
The night was warm. The steps to the water’s edge were filled with pilgrims making their way over the sandy bed of the Yahuna River. For some reason I expected a cremation ceremony to be serene and quiet. Heavens no, the atmosphere was electrifying, with action all around us. Rowboats waited near the shore to take visitors along the river for a quieter viewing.
As far as I could see, the shores of the Ganges, Hinduism’s holiest river, was dotted with dancing fires. Dusk descended, candles were lit, and I watched people of all ages assisting in the rituals.
Planks of wood were measured and weighed to make certain the
correct amount of firewood was used, according to the physical size of the deceased. Funeral pyres were built. Holy men stood in a long line,chanting verses, while waiting to perform the last rites. Bodies were wrapped in several layers of cloth, set on wooden planks, and taken to the sacred river for cleansing. After the cleansing, the body was placed on a pyre and the fire was lit. The evening was alive with a fiery glow, and the sounds of ringing bells and beating drums.The odor of burning flesh filled the air. I covered my nose, watched and waited with others for the moment when bones burned to ashes, and the soul ascended to heaven.
Amidst the chaos, I felt a calm, an appreciation for being witness to the departure of so many souls. A sacred moment.
We returned to the hotel for dinner and an early night. Of course I had many questions for the hotel clerk on duty.
“What happens after the cremation?” I asked.
“The focus changes to purifying relatives of the dead. Exposure to the corpse makes them impure.”
“Wow,” I said, “I thought it was beautiful watching relatives clean and wrap the body.”
“The eldest son or male relative shaves his head and wears a white robe and pours milk over the pyre.”
“Oh,” I said, “another reason the cow is sacred.”
“Yes. Family members wash and pass under a cow yoke and pray to the sun, and walk away. Never looking back.”
“How long is the mourning period?”
“Ten to thirty days, depending on the caste, and the age of the
I thanked her for answering my questions. We headed to the restaurant for dinner.